Absentee Voting

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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Participation in an election by qualified voters who are permitted to mail in their ballots.

The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (42 U.S.C.A. § 1973 ff et seq.) covers absentee voting in presidential elections, but the states regulate absentee voting in all other elections. According to Article I, Section 4, of the U.S. Constitution, "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may ? make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of ch[oo]sing Senators."

Originally created to accommodate overseas military service personnel in WORLD WAR I, absentee voting has since expanded to include all those expecting to be absent from their precincts on election day. The right to vote, even by absentee ballot, is no trifling concern. A state may restrict it only to the extent that doing so serves a compelling state interest such as preventing FRAUD.

Although all states allow absentee voting, the procedures and qualifications vary from state to state. For example, the amount of time that an application for an absentee ballot must precede the election can vary. In Minnesota, it is one day (M.S.A. § 203B.04[1]). In Louisiana, it depends on the voter. For example, a voter who goes in person to apply for an absentee ballot must do so between 12 and 6 days before the election (LSA-R.S. 18:1309[a][1]); a voter who registers for an absentee ballot by mail must get the registration form to the registrar not more than 60 days and not less than 96 hours before the election (LSA-R.S. 18:1307[b]); military personnel must return the application not more than 12 months and not less than 7 days before election day (LSA-R.S. 18:1307[c]).

Many states allow absentee voters to vote again on election day if they are present in the state. If voters so choose, they may change their votes. Officials in states that allow this practice count the absentee ballots after the poll ballots have been counted, and any duplicate absentee ballots are simply disregarded. This is the case in Minnesota (M.S.A. § 203B.13[3a]). In Louisiana, however, a person who has voted by absentee ballot may not vote again on election day (LSA-R.S. 18:1305). In 1977, Louisiana amended its law to allow absentee voters to change their votes on election day, but in 1980, it changed the law again to prohibit the practice.

In any state, to cast an absentee ballot, citizens must be eligible voters and have a reason for being unable to vote at the polls. Between August 1, 1991, and November 30, 1992, Minnesota experimented with allowing voters to cast absentee ballots without explanation, but this practice was discontinued on January 1,1994. All states allow persons with permanent disabilities and military personnel to cast votes by absentee ballot. Other valid reasons for voting

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A sample absentee voting ballot application

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in absentia include illness, temporary disability, and religious observances or practices. In Louisiana, any person age 65 or older may vote by absentee ballot.

All states require that the application for an absentee ballot be requested before election day, but this rule has some exceptions. In Minnesota, for example, a HEALTH CARE patient who becomes a resident or patient in a health care facility on the day before the election may vote by absentee ballot on election day if she or he telephones the municipal clerk by 5:00 P.M. the day before the election (M.S.A. §...

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