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Vote by mail: trading accuracy for convenience?

In the U.S. election system, gains in accuracy from updated voting machine technologies could be undermined by errors through absentee voting.

A new report on the U.S. election system shows that while voting machine technologies have improved, these gains could be cancelled out by errors through mail and internet voting. MIT News reports.

So, the Florida situation of 2000 probably won’t happen again, since outdated voting systems – such as punch cards and lever machines – were replaced with more reliable optical-scan or electronic voting machines.

But, there’s an increase in early voting through the mail, which is turning out to be a relatively low-accuracy method of voting, according to a new report released by MIT and Caltech.

  • Although a small set of counties still hand-count paper ballots these days, roughly 60 percent of counties use optical-scan machines, and 40 percent use other forms of electronic equipment.
  • As a result, the overall residual vote rate (the difference between the number of ballots cast and counted) dropped from 2 percent in 2000 to 1 percent in 2006 and 2008.
  • However, absentee voting is more prone than in-person voting to residual vote rates – a real problem since the percentage of Americans voting by mail or at early election centers has doubled from 14 percent in 2000 to 28 percent in 2008.
  • In all, 36 states now conduct some kind of early voting.

“We’ve settled for convenience at the cost of accuracy and making sure that every vote counts,” says study coauthor Charles Stewart III at MIT.

And then there’s the issue of identification and claims of voter fraud.

The report suggests that the computerized statewide voter-registration databases required by federal law should be used in polling places, and coordinated with driver’s license photos or other identification databases. Rather than forcing all voters to first acquire ID cards, poll workers could quickly confirm voters’ identities through the use of connected databases in the polling place.

The report was released by the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project this week.

[Via MIT News]

Image by rynosoft via Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com