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DIY Absentee Ballots

Instead of trying to produce one ballot per voter, what if we put ballots everywhere and allowed voters to cast their ballot wherever they could verify their identify?

Photo of Rachel Happen
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Typically, absentee ballots are mailed to voters ahead of time, who have to fill out and return the ballots to the electoral agency in time to be counted. What if we put ballots everywhere and allowed voters to incorporate their vote into their daily routine? 
- At the end of an ATM interaction, the user may be asked "Would you like to vote in the 2012 election at this time?" If the user answers "yes" they are presented with the ballot, enter in their selections, and submit the ballot electronically. (Much like James' Voting via ATM concept)
- Paper ballots can be picked up at the post office or grocery store at any time and mailed in to the election center with a photocopy of the voter's government issued ID (possibly a better way to verify identity?)
- Votes can be cast online through at any time, after a voter has registered their account in person at a government office, like the post office or DMV.
- Paper ballots can be printed from, if the voter does not have an online voting account, and mailed in with a photocopied government ID or presented in person with an ID at a post office, or other government office, to submit.

The key improvement this system makes is multiplying the ways a vote can be cast. With so many touch points, each voter is more likely to remember to vote and will have plenty of opportunities to do so. The primary challenges of this concept are privacy and identity verification. 

Privacy: To overcome privacy issues, the actual voting should use traditionally private systems, like ATMs, or (to a degree) home internet connections. Where this privacy isn't possible (like for a voter without an online voting account who wants to cast how or her ballot at the post office), the actual contents of the ballot should be obscured. One way to do this might be funneling votes through the online system before they have been verified. For example, a voter with no account goes to, completes their ballot and submits the form. The vote is marked as unverified, and given a verification code. The voter is then told to present this code and a government ID at any government office to have their vote verified. This way, when the voter comes to the post office, they are only presenting an ID and a code, not their actual vote. Once the post office worker has verified that the name on the ID matches the person and matches the name on the unverified vote, the vote is officially cast.

Identity Verification: The separation of voter and vote as described above is one way to increase voting places while still requiring an in-person identification. This is difficult issue to address because even the existing system is not immune to voter fraud. While photocopying IDs and mailing them in is perhaps not ideal, this is the extent of many private firms' remote identification process.

How will this concept improve election accessibility for everyone?

This improves accessibility by sending the ballots wherever the people are. In sparsely populated rural areas, this system consolidates voting with the weekly trip to the grocery store or post office. In urban areas, it allows voting to be a part of each person's daily routine to work and back, without requiring an extra trip to a polling location. No matter what your abilities or limitations, making voting ubiquitous is sure to improve accessibility, by making it a part of the systems we already know and use, which, in many cases, are already adapted to disabled users' needs.

What kinds of resources – whether time, money, people, partnerships, technology or otherwise – will be needed to get this concept off the ground?

I don't think much would have to change to immediately implement voting from government offices. Employees are already familiar with identification processes and could take on the occasional remote voting verification without much adjustment. If the state governments simply legalized DIY absentee voting, then NGOs and community organizers could immediately begin distributing ballots and signing up grocery stores and local businesses to be ballot carriers. The identity verification process could be outsourced as well, if an online interface were built by a third party and authorized by the government to process ID checks and verify votes.

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I love the idea of making it easy to get your ballot, and separating marking and casting.

At the ITIF Accessible Election Design Workshop, one of the teams also explored the idea of being able to vote and register simultaneously.

"This concept reverses the usual process of first registering and then voting. In this concept, a person can take a step toward voting when they are motivated by the issues, gets the appropriate ballot, and then register when they decide to actually vote. For example, they might send in their marked ballot and their voter registration form at the same time, like Election Day registration."