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Voting by mail

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Early voting by mail has become popular and convenient, but also flawed.

Several states are moving from voting at a polling place to voting by mail. Some 23 percent of Florida voters cast absentee ballots in 2010, up from 15 percent in the previous midterm election in 2006, the New York Times reported.

Nearly 20 percent of all votes are now cast by mail. The trend has more than tripled since 1980, the Times notes.

The practice has been widely accepted to help people exercise their right to vote. It helps the disabled and homebound elderly. Those who are abroad or serving in the armed services can cast their ballots through the mail.

Absentee voting can shorten the lines at polling places and reduce administration costs. It gives people more time to think about the choices on the ballots.

These are sound reasons justifying the trend toward early voting. But there are problems. Mailed-in votes are less likely to be counted than votes cast in person. Likewise, the chances of votes being challenged or compromised are greater with the absentee process.

Voting by mail accounted for 18 percent of the vote in the nine states expected to decide this year’s presidential election. In four states, people vote predominantly by mail.

But analysts say that voting by mail is more susceptible to fraud and miscounts than in-person voting. An MIT study suggests that the failure rate of absentee ballots in the last presidential election may have reached as high as 21 percent.

The close margins of some elections, even presidential elections, call for careful counting of votes and reduction of the chance for error or fraud. If 20 percent or even 10 percent of legitimate absentee votes are not counting as they should, something needs to change. Democracy demands that each vote counts.

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