Definitions

casts vote

Absentee ballot

An absentee ballot is a vote cast by someone who is unable or unwilling to attend the official polling station. Numerous methods have been devised to facilitate this. Increasing the ease of access to absentee ballots are seen by many as one way to improve voter turnout, though some countries require that a valid reason, such as infirmity or travel, be given before a voter can participate in an absentee ballot.

Methods

Postal voting

In a postal vote, the ballot papers are posted out to the voter - usually only on request - who must then fill them out and return them, often with some form of certification by a witness and their signature to prove their identity.

Proxy voting

To cast a proxy vote, the user appoints someone as their proxy, by authorizing them to cast or secure their vote in their stead. The proxy must be trusted by the voter, as in a secret ballot there is no way of verifying that they voted for the correct candidate. In an attempt to solve this, it is not uncommon for people to nominate an official of their chosen party as their proxy.

Internet voting

Corporations and organizations routinely use Internet voting to elect officers and Board members and for other proxy elections. Internet voting systems have been used privately in many modern nations and publicly in the United States, France, the UK, Switzerland and Estonia. In Switzerland, where it is already an established part of local referendums, voters get their passwords to access the ballot through the postal service. Most voters in Estonia can cast their vote in local and parliamentary elections, if they want to, via the Internet, as most of those on the electoral roll have access to an e-voting system. It has been assisted by the fact that most Estonians carry a national identity card equipped with a computer-readable microchip and it is these cards which they use to get access to the online ballot. All a voter needs is a computer, an electronic card reader, their ID card and its PIN, and they can vote from anywhere in the world. Estonian e-votes can only be cast during the days of advance voting. On election day itself people have to go to polling stations and fill in a paper ballot.

Absentee ballot examples

Germany

In all Germany elections, postal votes are available on demand.

Ireland

In Ireland, postal votes are only available in a restricted set of circumstances. The Irish constitution requires a secret ballot and the courts have interpreted this quite narrowly. Postal votes are available to people who by reason of their occupation, cannot vote normally. They are also available to students living away from home, to people with disabilities, to prisoners (since January 2007), and to long term residents of hospitals, nursing homes and other similar institutions.

Netherlands

In the Netherlands, liberalised proxy voting is available. Voters can authorise someone else to cast their ballot without having to go through a registration procedure. Voters can cast a maximum of 2 proxy votes along with their own ballot. Postal ballots and Internet voting are only available to Dutch citizens living abroad, or having occupational duties abroad on election day.

Switzerland

Postal voting is possible in federal and most canton elections.

United Kingdom

In all United Kingdom elections, postal votes are available on demand - no reason must be given - although a vote rigging scandal involving postal votes marred the 2005 Birmingham local election.

United States

In the United States, an absentee ballot is a ballot that the voter records and casts other than at a designated polling station on Election Day. Typically these ballots are mailed, though some states provide provisions for emailing ballots, faxing ballots, or delivering them in person to a designated location. Typically a voter must request an absentee ballot at least a week before the election occurs. Each State's Secretary of State or Director of Elections is in charge of the election process, including voter registration and absentee ballot requests. Balloting materials may be sent via the United States Postal Service without prepayment of postage for members of the Armed Forces, members of the U.S. Merchant Marine and U.S. citizens residing outside the territorial limits of the United States and the District of Columbia and their spouses.

Absentee voting by mail is allowed in 28 states, with an excuse in 22. No-excuse permanent absentee voting is allowed in 4 states. Early voting in person is allowed with no excuse required in 31 U.S. states, with an excuse in 3, and not at all in 16. The District of Columbia requires an excuse for both early voting and absentee voting.

Voters (usually) mark their ballots, which may be an optically read ballot marked with a pen or pencil, or may be a punch card ballot. They then mail the ballot to the state, or may bring the ballot in person to a designated location.

Each state has different laws regulating when absentee ballots must be counted, and who does the counting. Most states count absentee ballots on Election Day which can continue for several days after. The latest deadline is 10 days after Election day (for Washington, D.C., and for overseas absentee ballots sent to Florida.)

Oregon

Unlike any other state, the ballot in Oregon is mailed to all residents, who are then supposed to fill out the ballot and either mail it back to the elections official or bring it to a drop box. The term "absentee ballot" in Oregon refers to mailing the ballot to the county elections official, and not merely to receiving the ballot in the mail. As with most states, Oregon residents must register in advance to be able to vote via absentee ballot.

California

California's Secretary of State has reported that in every general election since 1993, between 20% and 30% of ballots cast have been absentee ballots.

Maine

In the state of Maine, any voter may cast an absentee ballot and is not required to give a reason. They must fill out an application, available from the Secretary of State or their town clerk, and turn it in by hand or mail. They are then given or mailed a ballot, which must be returned to the town clerk by hand or by mail before the polls close on Election Day.

Absentee Ballot applications are available at http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/absent.htm Ballots may be requested up to three months before an election. The ballots are available 30 to 45 days before an election. Maine voters can find their town at http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/clerk.htm

Maryland

Any registered Maryland voter may vote by absentee ballot. Voters are not required to provide a reason for voting via absentee ballot.

To request an absentee ballot, complete the Absentee Ballot Application. To use this form, enter the required information, print the form, sign it, and send it to your County Board of Elections.

After the deadline, a Late Application for Absentee Ballot must be completed in person at the board of elections.

Under the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, military and overseas voters can vote by absentee ballot. If you are a military or overseas voter, learn more about absentee voting and the FVAP's On-line Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot.

Ballots are typically mailed approximately three weeks before an election.

After ballot is received, vote the ballot and return it to your County Board of Elections on or before 8 p.m. on election day. A ballot received by the county board of elections will be counted provided:

  • It has been received by 8:00 p.m. on election day; or
  • It was mailed from a location within the United States before election day, bearing a postmark verifying that fact, and the ballot is received from the postal service by 4 p.m. on the Wednesday following election day; or
  • It was mailed from a location outside the United States before election day, bearing a postmark verifying that fact, and the ballot is received from the postal service by 10 a.m. on the second Friday following Election Day or 10 a.m. on the second Wednesday after a Gubernatorial Primary Election.

South Dakota

Any registered South Dakota voter may vote by absentee ballot. Absentee ballots are available for primary and general elections six weeks prior to the election. Absentee ballots for city and school elections are available several weeks prior to the election.

To receive a ballot by mail, a voter must file a written application for an absentee ballot with the person in charge of the election. The application must be mailed or hand delivered to the person in charge of the election. The application cannot be submitted by fax. The voter's signature on the application must be notarized or witnessed by an official who can administerwho will deliver the ballot to the voter. An application for a ballot by authorized messenger must be received by the person in charge of the election before 3:00 p.m. the day of the election.

The voter must sign a statement on the absentee ballot envelope prior to returning the ballot. All voted ballots must be returned to the person in charge of the election in time to be delivered to the appropriate polling place prior to the closing of the polls.

Texas

In 1997 the Texas legislature passed a bill allowing residents to cast absentee ballots from space, because of the presence of the NASA Johnson Space Center and the astronauts that live in the Houston metropolitan area.

Washington State

Originally, absentee ballots in Washington State were mailed prior to election day to those voters who contacted their local county by indicating that they would be unable to vote at their local polling place on election day. In 1993, the state began allowing all voters to vote by mail on a permanent basis. Since that time, voting by mail has gained in popularity, and the term "absentee ballot" has become synonymous with voting by mail. According to the Secretary of State, in 2006, over 88% of all voters cast votes using the vote-by-mail method. Currently all but two of the state's 39 counties have switched entirely to vote-by-mail (King and Pierce). Many counties provide drop boxes throughout the county to allow voters to drop off their ballot on or prior to election day, rather than paying postage by sending it through the mail. Washington State will be 100% mail-in in the 2010 elections.

References

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