Why best practices are so important for absentee ballots: Austrian edition
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BPC Report on Voting by Mail

Those of you who follow my twitter feed or this blog have seen me engage in friendly debates with Doug Chapin and Tammy Patrick over best practices for absentee ballots and voting by mail.  It is always in a spirit of helping to figure out the best way to handle the growing number of absentee ballots in the United States and avoid election meltdowns.

This came to mind today as I read about the unprecedented decision by the Austrian highest court to order a new run-off election, apparently because of “irregularities” in how local election officials handled absentee ballots. According to testimony, absentee ballots were processed (which generally means signatures checked, ballots separated from secrecy envelopes, and ballots scanned or otherwise counted) on election day, and without proper monitors, rather than starting at 9 am the next morning, as required by law.

There was no evidence of purposeful manipulation and no indication that the irregularities changed the outcome.  Scientific analysis shows no evidence of election fraud.  Yet what the Court described as “sloppy management” led the jurists to overturn a national election at political moment where the European integration project is at risk.

Tammy, Doug, and I may have our friendly disagreements about some aspects of the vote by mail process, but we all agree that absentee ballots are subject to some unique risks because they leave the hands of government officials.  Slow counts because of archaic absentee ballot counting rules can needlessly create a space for conspiracy theories.  (I could be wrong, but I know of no American states at this point that don’t allow officials to start to at least begin to process the absentee ballots on or before Election Day, subject to appropriate scrutiny of course.)

I’m heartened to see a newly released Bipartisan Policy Center report, The New Realities of Voting By Mail in 2016.  It contains many excellent recommendations for voters, election officials, the USPS, and state legislators.  Many of these same recommendations could improve election integrity in other countries, where, according to the ACE Network, more than 20% of ballots are cast by mail (with totals much higher in many nations).