Thanks to King County’s delightfully accommodating absentee voting program, I’ve voted absentee since about 1993 or 1994, despite having been fully present and able to reach my precinct polling place on Election Day. In addition to permitting me to cast my vote at home with consideration and deliberation (and, with the advent of Accu-Vote ballots, to make a photocopy of my marked ballot), absentee voting has guaranteed a near-100% turnout for this voter (ironically, I missed a vote last May when I was genuinely absent; my ballot for an otherwise unheralded fire district levy arrived less than a week after I had left for a three-week vacation in France, and the election was held a few days before I returned). I typically mark and mail my ballot a day or two after I receive it, defiantly ahead of the deluge of political advertising and spin that intensifies in the final week before Election Day.
The 2000 Presidential Election was not the first occasion for opponents of absentee voting to decry the delaying effects of counting absentee ballots, but it did provide them with additional momentum. Two of the more risible arguments against absentee voting are 1) that voting in person strengthens the "civil bonds" which make for better citizens (and, by extension, better voters), and 2) that by voting early absentee voters deprive themselves of "important information" that candidates reserve for the last days of the campaign. It is hard to believe that proponents of such arguments have ever dropped by a typical polling place or watched a political commercial.
It wasn’t until the advent of the telegraph that national election results could be determined and announced in less than a few weeks; there is no Constitutional right to "speedy results." Even if there were, however, it seems that the threat of habitual litigation will make traditional election night vigils increasingly vain, mooting objections to absentee voting on the grounds of timeliness.
A more significant objection is Constitutional: Article II, Section 1, requires votes for President and Vice-President to be cast on the same day. While I wouldn’t put anything past this Supreme Court, I haven’t seen any recent cause for concern that absentee voting is in imminent legal danger. Nevertheless, I would embrace the idea of reform if it were part of a larger program to revisit other aspects of our Presidential elections.
Despite my bilious criticism of many of the parties to the 2000 Presidential Election, the party I most wished to see defeated was in fact the Electoral College itself. As outrageous as the Bush v. Gore (2000) decision was, it has obscured the fact that it was the undemocratic nature of the Electoral College that made the decision so, well, decisive. Both increasingly-apparent widespread "voter irregularities" and the patent offense embodied in the Electoral College argue for Presidential elections to be federalized. I propose a Constitutional amendment eliminating the Electoral College and mandating national voter registration for Presidential ballots only; all other candidates and issues will remain on local ballots, but every four years the federal government will issue Presidential absentee ballots. A simple plurality of all votes cast shall determine the winner.
Some reformers have suggested requiring absentee ballots be received by their precincts a number of days before Election Day. I have no objection to this; polls will still be open on Election Day for in-person voting for those voters who need every last day to make their decisions. What matters is that voter turnout cannot help but increase, which is far more important than timely results.