No excuse for missing out on no-excuse absentee ballots

Posted By: John Russell

Post Date: Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Connecticut General Assembly is currently considering a series of reforms intended to make voter registration and voting itself easier and more accessible. Among the proposals, which are backed by Secretary of State Denise Merrill and Governor Dannel Malloy, is the plan to introduce so-called “no-excuse” absentee ballots. This system allows any registered voter to cast a ballot by mail (or in person) ahead of Election Day.

While all states permit some form of absentee or early voting, currently only 27 states and the District of Columbia allow citizens to vote in elections by absentee ballot without requiring an excuse. Washington and Oregon exclusively use mail-in voting, which makes absentee ballots superfluous.
Therefore, 21 states still set an unnecessary bureaucratic hurdle for absentee voters, who must prove that they will be unable to vote on Election Day. Permissible excuses generally include physical disability, military service, religious reasons or being absent from the jurisdiction on Election Day (e.g. away on vacation).  However, the requirements in these states mean that voters who may not have an acceptable excuse but will still struggle to make it to the polls – those who work long hours or who work some distance from where they are registered – could be disenfranchised. This could affect millions of working Americans.
Introducing no-excuse absentee ballots in these states would alleviate these issues and the added convenience may attract new voters to register and participate in elections. Voting by absentee ballot has proved popular in states without the requirement of an excuse – in California for example, over 40% of voters in recent general elections have used absentee ballots, with the proportion in primaries even higher – close to 60%.
In their opposition to no-excuse absentee ballots, many lawmakers have cited an increased risk of voter fraud. In Virginia for instance, a bill which included the provision was halted in the Republican-controlled House in February. However, the evidence suggests that the risk of voter fraud has been exaggerated. For example, in Florida – the nation’s fourth largest state by population and one which offers no-excuse absentee ballots – there have been only 49 cases of any type of alleged voter fraud since 2007, making shark attacks a more common occurrence. Indeed, a recent New York Times editorial argued that “there is almost no voting fraud in America”.

If states wish to encourage greater participation in elections, then no-excuse absentee ballots are a simple measure to take. Connecticut legislators who wish to help, rather than hinder, their state's voters, should bear that in mind.