Absentee voting should have a place, not a priority

decentralization

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Here’s an easy New Year’s resolution. It doesn’t involve weight loss, exercise or financial goals. In fact, you’d only have to alter your schedule once or a few times each year.

Make the resolution to vote at your local precinct, when possible.

Too many are voting with absentee ballots.

There’s a place for absentee voting.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, the practice originated with Civil War soldiers. Then, members of the military who were stationed overseas were given the opportunity. By the 1970s, it became available to many more—the elderly, the disabled, the business traveler, the vacation-goer, and just about anyone for no particular reason at all.

The Election Assistance Commission now reports that two out of five votes are cast early or with an absentee ballot. It more than doubled from 24.9 million in 2004 to 57.2 million in 2016. And unfortunately, that increase is not from new voters. The majority are citizens who had historically voted on Election Day at their local precincts and are now choosing to vote with an absentee ballot.

Despite the big numbers, absentee voting has its drawbacks.

Citizens who vote an absentee ballot at home may be more susceptible to pressure from other household members to vote for particular candidates. At a precinct site, it’s just the voter and a privacy booth—with no helpful suggestions from those around you.

There’s a certain amount of trust that goes along with sending in an absentee ballot. The voter gives up ownership of the ballot to a county auditor’s office for safe handling until Election Day. But at a precinct site, the voter inserts the completed ballot into a ballot machine where it is instantly accepted and counted.

Absentee ballots must be reviewed at the county level with an absentee board. Missing signatures, signatures that do not closely match or other directions not properly followed could result in ballots that are rejected and not counted. However at the precinct site, election officials obtain information from the voter and most questions are typically addressed immediately and resolved.

The absentee ballot must be postmarked the day before the election, and yet the post office is not required to postmark absentee ballots. Probably very few in Iowa knew this until dozens of mail-in ballots in Winneshiek and Fayette counties were not counted because of missing postmarks. An Iowa House seat in that district was decided by just nine votes.

Because the absentee ballot must be mailed early, the voter runs the risk of not having late-breaking information that could sway a vote. Election Day precinct voters have current information.

And perhaps the biggest concern with absentee ballot voting is the consolidation of election power into fewer hands. There are about 1600 precincts in Iowa where voting takes place on Election Day, but there are only 99 county absentee boards.

We will always have absentee ballot voting. It’s necessary for those who truly depend upon it to exercise their right to vote.

But keeping the vote decentralized as much as possible is pretty important.

It was former President Obama who once stated, “There is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even—you could even rig America’s elections, in part, because they are so decentralized and the numbers of votes involved.”

Obama is right. A decentralized vote is the best way to run an election.

And the vote is most decentralized on Election Day at the precinct level.

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