Military absentee ballots in NC 2008, 61.2% success rate

The Associated Press reported in early October that in 2006 only 30% of military absentee ballots were counted, noting that:

“No one keeps centralized records on military ballots or voter turnout. But anecdotal evidence collected from local voting districts, which number more than 7,000, points to ballots that arrived late, ballots not properly filled out and ballots mailed to the wrong location — most of which get discarded. “

In response, The N&O editorialized “The answer ultimately does lie in the Internet, using either a centralized voting system for troops abroad (plugging into precinct-level ballot choices) or through intensified efforts by the states to give military voters a much higher priority and a clearer route to effective participation in the democratic system that they’re protecting.”

I took a few free minutes prior to the Thanksgiving holiday to see how North Carolina did in 2008 in this regard. I analyzed in MSAccess a North Carolina State Board of Elections file on 2008 general election absentee voting, and found that 13,501 absentee ballot applications were received from military personnel using the federal postcard form (it is possible that some already registered military personnel might have used a regular absentee application), and of those 8,262, or 61.2% of the total, were voted, a far better number than the 30% reported in the 2006 study nationwide.

31.6% of the ballots sent out were never returned at all, but there were some smaller categories of nonvoted ballots:

2.4% spoiled (the applicant got the ballot and returned it, asking for another. It is unknown how many of those were eventually voted as they would be lumped in a second time in one of the other categories)

0.5% rejected for no signature

2.2% returned undeliverable

0.4% application rejected (reason not stated in the file)

0.1% returned unvoted

1.5% voluntarily cancelled by applicant

0.01% no application

0.01% “conflict”

0.01% duplicate.

If you exclude the voluntarily cancelled category, the success rate rises to 62.1%. 

The 61.2% successfully voted military ballots compares with an 82.56% success rate for the 259,857 civilian applications from already registered voters, and a 72.23% success rate for the 5,596 overseas civilians using the federal postcard application.

North Carolina begins to mail out absentee ballots 50 days prior to the election, added by a primary election cycle that ends with the second primary in late June. About 20 states have primaries in August and September, making timely mailout and return of absentee ballots more difficult, especially for the military.

I will be in Atlanta December 11 at the NCSL Fall Forum where the issue of improving access to absentee voting for the military and overseas voter will be discussed:

2:45 pm – 3:45 pm Improving the Voting Process for Military and Overseas Citizens
Westin Peachtree Atlanta A–7 Redistricting and Elections Committee

Many legislatures are looking at ways to improve the voting process for Americans who are serving overseas in the military or otherwise are out of the country during elections.

  • Speakers: David Becker, Pew Center on the States, Washington, D.C.
  • Representative Jeremy N. Kalin, Minnesota
  • Senator Cecil Staton, Georgia
  • Steve Wilborn, Uniform Law Commission, Kentucky
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