Normally, when we speak of votes counting, it's along the lines of whether a vote matters, as in "If you live in New York, and you vote for Romney, it won't count". The implication being that the results of the non-swing states are virtually predetermined. But that assumes that your vote is accepted by the body that counts the votes, and it's completely possible that if you vote in certain ways, your vote will not even be accepted in the pile of votes that get counted.
We're all aware of the problems with voting machines, and registration and suppression problems. But we also need to be concerned with absentee ballots not being counted, and just basically thrown on a pile and not even opened after they are received by Voter Services. Think that's not a problem?
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is dedicated to improving the electoral process to ensure that all eligible citizens have the right to vote and have their votes counted accurately. This is the go-to place for voting information. The Commission compiles a report after every even-year election. Their 2010 report is after the jump. Some key findings relate to the percentage of absentee and provisional ballots that are thrown out for a variety of reasons. And that number is high enough to change an election. In 2010, the Commission reports, over 17 million ballots were submitted absentee (that doesn't include Oregon, where all voting is by mail.) States reported that almost a quarter of a million of those were rejected for a number of reasons, but the Commission admits that the numbers could be higher due to differences in how states compile data.
Provisional ballots? Over a million were submitted in 2010, and the rejection rates vary widely, with Kentucky and South Dakota rejecting over 90%. Think about that for a minute - does it make sense that almost all provisional ballots were "unworthy"? Nationwide, almost half were rejected because the person theoretically wasn't registered. Welcome to my wheelhouse. I suspect that a lot of those rejected for not being registered actually were registered, as it's not easy to get an absentee ballot in most states if one isn't registered. Fill out an application? Sure - but there is research accomplished by Voter Services prior to sending out that ballot, so I'm thinking there's something else at play here, and I'm not a conspiracy theorist.
Here's another take on the issue:
Voting by mail is now common enough and problematic enough that election experts say there have been multiple elections in which no one can say with confidence which candidate was the deserved winner. The list includes the 2000 presidential election, in which problems with absentee ballots in Florida were a little-noticed footnote to other issues.
In the last presidential election, 35.5 million voters requested absentee ballots, but only 27.9 million absentee votes were counted, according to a study by Charles Stewart, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He calculated that 3.9 million ballots requested by voters never reached them; that another 2.9 million ballots received by voters did not make it back to election officials; and that election officials rejected 800,000 ballots. That suggests an overall failure rate of as much as 21 percent.
What to do? First, make sure you're registered if you live in one of the many states where registration closes tomorrow (9 October). You can check here. Check on everyone else, too. Then, make sure that you and everyone you know is aware that Election Day is 6 November 2012. I point this out because there have been many times that the Republicans have sent mailers to Democratic voters with the wrong election date on them, causing people to miss elections. Next, canvass or phone bank (or both!) to help turn out voters. Yeah, we all hate doing it, but do it anyway. And then, if you live in a non-swing state consider helping out in one of the states where we know there will be voting issues. Think Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. This year, Florida has sent absentee ballots to all voters, and my guess is that the attempt here is to check returned ballots against a list of people with their party affiliations and then to do bad things on a county-by-county basis. The ballots in some Florida counties run 20 pages, all in an attempt to make it harder to vote.
Finally, if you know someone who is filling out an absentee ballot, help make sure that they understand the specific rules, such as signing the outside of the envelope, and filling the ballot out correctly (no stray marks, fill in the circles, etc.) I'm thinking here of people who are older.
It is a terrible thing that our democracy (which is a democracy BECAUSE we have free elections) makes it so hard to vote. We need to all do the best we can.
Elections are won one voter at a time.
Get yours today.