Whose Absentee Votes Are Counted: The Variety and Use of Absentee Ballots in California

Working Paper No.: 
34
Date Published: 
11/30/2008
Author(s): 
Betsy Sinclair
Thad E. Hall
R. Michael Alvarez

Absentee voting is becoming more prevalent throughout the United States. While there has been some research focused on who votes by absentee ballot, little research has considered another important question about absentee voting: Which absentee ballots are counted and which are not? Research following the 2000 presidential election has studied the problem of uncounted ballots for precinct voters but not for absentee voters. Using data from Los Angeles County -- the nation’s largest and most diverse voting jurisdiction --for the November 2002 general election, we test a series of hypothesis that certain types of ballots and voters have a higher likelihood that their ballots will be counted. We find that uniform service personnel, overseas civilians, voters who request non-English ballots and permanent absentee voters have a much lower likelihood of returning their ballot, and once returned, a lower likelihood that their ballots will be counted compared with the general absentee voting population. We also find that there is little partisan effect as to which voters are more likely to return their ballots or have their ballots counted. We conclude our paper with a discussion of the implications of our research for the current debates about absentee voting.

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