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Published December 2008 | Accepted Version
Journal Article Open

Whose absentee votes are returned and counted: The variety and use of absentee ballots in California


Absentee voting is becoming more prevalent throughout the United States. Although 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 in the wake of 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 – nation's largest and most diverse voting jurisdiction – for the November 2002 general election, we test a series of hypotheses that certain types of 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.

Additional Information

Published version © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. We thank Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder Conny McCormack and her staff for access to data from the 2002 election. We also thank Mary Sikora for her assistance, and Steve Ansolabehere for his assistance on a related project. Participants at a seminar presented by Hall at Brigham Young University provided helpful comments to an earlier version of this paper. Alvarez's research was supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, by grants to the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, and by the IBM Corporation.

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