Absentee voting reform kicks in

After various national studies showed abysmal success rates for military and overseas absentee voters in 2006 and 2008, several pieces of legislation have worked reforms in North Carolina’s process since 2008. Those reforms kicked in partially in 2010 and are being fully implemented for 2012. Absentee ballot mailout for the May 8 primary begins next Monday, March 19, 2012.

First, the 2009 legislative session passed Senate Bill 253 which (i) cut the number of witnesses required for absentee voters from 2 to 1, (ii) provided for ballots to be sent out 60 days before the general election, rather than 50 (it remains 50 for the primary) and (iii) provided that rather than having to be received by the day BEFORE the election, civilian absentee ballots must be postmarked by election day and received by the Friday after the election, and military and overseas ballots have to be received by the Friday after the election (no postmark required for military ballots because military mail tends to NOT use postmarks) — thus extending the back end of the process by 4 days in all elections, and the front end by 10 days in general elections. The 2009 legislation was in part prompted by Congressional consideration and enactment of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act which required states to make reforms in military voting for federal elections.

Second, the 2010 session passed House Bill 614 which ended the practice of automatically sending out ballots to all military voters who had voted in the prior election, return rates were abysmal befause two year old military addresses were in the most case useless. In 2008 just 169 of 1169 military absentee ballots requested prior to 12/31/2007 were voted (14.4%),  compared with a 67% return rate for military personnel who applied after the start of the absentee voting period and a 74% success rate for civilian absentee voting in general.  The 2010 legislation did “grandfather in” military who voted in 2010 so they will still get ballots in 2012, but that process ends after this year.

Third, the National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State laws prumulgated late in 2010 the Uniform Military and Absentee Voters Act,  which North Carolina adopted unanimously in both houses by House Bill 514 sponsored by the two current members of the General Assembly then in the military, Representatives Ric Killian and Grier Martin. That bill streamlined the military and overseas absentee voting process, allowed for electronic transmission, and extended the return date for military and absentee voters to the day before the county canvass — this means in the 2012 primary military and overseas ballots will be counted if received by Monday May 14 (six days after the election) and in the general election they will be counted if received by Thursday, November 15, nine days after the election. The deadline for in country civilian ballots will continue to be three days after the election as set in the 2009 reform. The Uniform law has now been enacted in six states (CO, NC, ND, NV, OK and UT) and in the District of Columbia.

Now, for some stats:

In 2008, there were 37,214 mail-in absentee ballots requested for the primary, of which 26,034 were successfully voted (69.96%).  31,698 of the requests were from in-country civilians, with a 74.4% success rate, 4494 were from military voters with a 44.35% success rate, and 1022 were from overseas voters, with a 44.42% success rate. As mentioned above, only 14.4% of the military ballots requsted prior to 12/31/2007 were succesfully voted.

In 2008, on the first day of mailout (50 days before the primary) 7,735 ballots were mailed out. Next week we will be able to see how many ballots are going out first day, Monday March 19, 2012.

I will try to keep up with this during and after the primary and general election process.


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