Monday, November 17, 2008

Alaska Voter Turnout

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at

It had appeared that the turnout in Alaska was comparatively low. Turns out, turnout will end up being larger than at any time in history in terms of numbers, although a percentage point down from 2004. Specifically,

The state will count the final absentee and questioned ballots Tuesday -- about 24,000 of them. Even if a third of the questioned ballots are disqualified, that will put the turnout above 320,000, the most Alaskans who have ever voted.
The turnout numbers are definitely helping Mark Begich,who was up 1022 based on the most recent numbers. Ethan Berkowitz, not so much, as it appears that Don Young has kept his seat.

The issue ssems to be when the absentee ballots are counted. In Alaska, it seems that the absentee ballots are not counted until after Election Day, once the state is satisfied that someone did not vote in person, and therefore twice (if their absentee ballot was counted in addition.) It's one way to approach absentee ballots.

Here in Pennsylvania, we have a reverse process. All absentee ballots are required to be at County Voter Services offices by the Friday preceding any election. They are packeted in a sealed envelope and given to the local precincts. Absentee ballots are counted/scanned immediately after the polls close, and no tallies are taken until the absentees are counted. A list of absentee voters is posted at each polling place, so that people who want to vote in person can do so, which causes their sealed absentee ballot is removed and voided.

These are two diametrically opposed views of absentee ballots, each with benefits and liabilities. In Alaska, it's easier to early vote compared to Pennsylvania, where you need an excuse to do so, and those excuses are limited to "will be out of town", "physically cannot vote in person" or "over age 65." On the downside in Alaska, as we're seeing now, in a close election, the results are delayed.

So, how should election systems balance voter flexibility (to make it as easy as possible for people to vote) with the necessity of keeping elections honest (one man, one vote)? Remember, while the date for Federal elections is set by the Constitution, the implementation is set individually by states, and in some cases, counties.

Would a Constitutional amendment making all Federal elections one system, such as mail-in ballot only, be a good idea? If so, what are the ramifications to the election of a President? Do you go with an all electronic-system? To keep that system honest, would you employ use of retinal scans or fingerprints? What would the effect of THAT be on privacy and records? If you go with optical scan ballots, what does that mean for people who need help voting? If they are all mailed in, does that present an opportunity for partisans to go door to door and "help" people vote a certain way? Is this something we want in Federal hands, or it is best left to the locals?