Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Absentee Voting Is Awesome

(Thanks to Zlatko Unger for the sweet photo)

Along with an unprecedented number of other excited citizens, I recently voted with an absentee ballot for the first time (OK, it was only the second presidential election in which I’d been eligible to vote). Nonetheless, the beauty of the absentee ballot was quickly apparent to me. In fact, this type of voting offers so many benefits over traditional polling-place voting, that I believe it should become the standard. Let me explain.

First, the obvious: convenience. The ballot comes to you. No waiting in long lines in the early morning. This inconvenience is a major deterrent for many dispassionate voters, who cannot be bothered to wake up early or take time off from work to head to the polls. Bring the ballot to the voter, and see turnout explode.

This convenience also has an important side benefit, the ability to learn about unknown candidates or referenda instead of casting a blind vote. There are many minor local races that fly under the radar of most voters, but being able to vote at home allows proactive citizens to research the issues online in order to make an informed decision. Thus absentee ballots make the election process both more rational, as well as less prone to common voter biases (first name on the ballot, cool-sounding name, etc.)

Some might argue that mailing tens of millions of ballots is bad for the environment, given the massive amounts of paper it would require. I argue the contrary. Most voters currently drive to the polls, generating large quantities of carbon dioxide, as well as clogging up traffic. Although paper requires energy and resources to produce, it can be recycled. Thus absentee voting is more environmentally friendly.

There is one final bonus to absentee voting: government revenue. Returning a ballot costs each voter about 60 cents, which, when multiplied, is tens of millions of dollars in revenue for the Post Office (suffering lately due to competition from email, as well as reduced quantities of junk mail and catalogs). The cost of a couple stamps is negligible, especially when compared to all the hours of productivity and pay lost when people miss work to vote.

Though it’s too late to vote absentee this year, I strongly encourage everyone to give it one more go at the polls before they close. But we can all hope for a more fair and effective voting process in the future.

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