NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Changing Face Of Voting

November 30, 1998

Polling places used to be open only on Election Day and absentee ballots were reserved for those who were legitimately out of town or who couldn't reach polls because of a physical handicap. But no more.

  • An increasing number of states have turned to "no-fault" absentee balloting, as well as to providing early voting at polling stations that remain open for weeks before Election Day.
  • More than 20 states have in place one or both of these early voting options -- most of which allow voters to cast their ballots up to 21 days before the election without having to provide a reason for doing so.
  • Experts say that such practices are altering the way candidates conduct their campaigns -- driving up campaign costs and generating a cottage industry of political operatives with expertise in mail-balloting.
  • Protracting the voting process, critics say, results in voters making early, ill-informed choices before they have studied the candidates and the issues.

Critics also maintain that a permanent mail system cannot help but invite fraud because ballots can and frequently do land in the wrong hands.

Campaigners in California are permitted to reprint official applications for absentee ballots, personalize them, mail them to supporters and then retrieve them before taking them to the county clerk's office -- which then mails the voters the actual ballots.

In what is viewed as a revolutionary step, Oregon will be the first state to go on an all-mail ballot in the next cycle, the result of a November initiative approved by 69 percent of the state's electorate.

Source: Lois Romano, "Growing Use of Mail Voting Puts Its Stamp on Campaigns," Washington Post, November 29, 1998.


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