Are absentee ballots the new hanging chads? More than 4 million presidential votes were lost in the 2000 election which was notoriously plagued by the hanging chads fiasco. Although voting technology has since vastly improved, the steady rise in absentee voting may undermine any gains in accuracy. Why is this important in California? Because last year’s presidential election was the first statewide general election in which a majority of Californians, 51 percent or 6.8 million to be exact, voted absentee. By comparison, less than 3 percent of California ballots cast in the 1962 general election were submitted by mail.
The mail-in balloting surge is attributed to the fact that California is one of 33 states that have instituted “no-fault” absentee voting; voters aren’t required to provide an excuse for not voting at the polls to request an absentee ballot.
“We have possibly gotten way ahead of ourselves in encouraging people to vote by mail,” said Charles Stewart III, a political science professor at MIT and co-director of the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project.
After studying two decades of elections data from California, Stewart co-authored a report concluding that all the accuracy gains California made in the in the past two decades by replacing outdated voting technology had been canceled out by an increase in lost votes due to the rise in absentee voting.
Elections officials attending a recent Future of California Elections (FOCE) meeting in Sacramento also expressed concerns about the impact of the rising popularity of mail-in voting, even though it is seen as a way to reduce costs.