Whose Absentee Votes Are Counted? (April 2004)
Working Paper No.:  6
Date Published:  2008-11-30


R. Michael Alvarez, California Institute of Technology

Thad E. Hall, The Century Foundation


Absentee voting is becoming more prevalent throughout the United States. While 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 following the 2000 presidential election has studied the problem of uncounted ballots for precinct voters, but not for absentee voters. To study which absentee ballots are counted we use data from Los Angeles County – the nation’s largest and most diverse voting jurisdiction – for the November 2002 general election. We develop three hypotheses regarding the likelihood that various types of ballots will be counted, which we test with our unique absentee voting dataset. We find that uniform service personnel, overseas civilians, and language minority voters have a much higher likelihood that their ballots will not be counted compared with the general absentee voting population. We conclude our paper with a discussion of the implications of our research for the current debates about absentee voting.


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