[Really, *REALLY* cool image courtesy of Oscar Diaz]
Last Friday, I blogged a story describing concerns about the slow pace of absentee ballot requests across the country, especially in the military. Those numbers were (in part) the focus of a hearing in the House Armed Services Committee yesterday. The slowdown is giving rise to fears that efforts to encourage and enable military and overseas voting (specifically, the MOVE Act) aren't working -or aren't being implemented - the way Congress intended.
But now, thanks to George Mason's Michael McDonald and his United States Election Project, comes the information that other factors may be at work - and that absentee ballots might not be slowing down as much as people think:
The number of ballot requests ... continues to steadily increase, with an updated 2,476 reported on Tuesday (revised from 2,129) and a preliminary 2,386 on Wednesday. The number of absentee ballot requests is now 32,158. I previously discussed an apparent decline in the number of absentee ballot requests in comparison to 2008. Then, at the start date of mail balloting there were 37,539 absentee ballot requests. Now, at the start of mail balloting last Friday, the number was 20,695. As I cautioned, the start date for requests is not entirely comparable since mail balloting began over a week earlier in 2012 than in 2008 -- but the election [is] also two days later into November. This Saturday marks the same number of days from the election as when mail balloting began in 2008. If the rate of requests continues on the current pace, it may be that the number of requests will be on par or exceed 2008, including for those among the military, which now stands at 3,236, compared to 2,127 last Friday and 3,949 for the start of mail balloting in 2008. [emphasis added]
In other words, it might just be a calendar thing.
The requirement that Election Day fall on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November (3 USC § 1) makes it a bit of a bouncing ball from cycle to cycle as it fluctuates from November 2 to November 8 and everywhere in between.
Because it falls relatively late this year (November 6) and absentee balloting starts earlier, there is a longer period of time for voters to make their requests - and they may be taking their time as a result. We saw the flip side of this in 2010; because Election Day was early as it could be (November 2) states with September primaries were especially pinched on the 45-day ballot delivery deadline in the MOVE Act.
This bouncing ball - when combined with changing deadlines for absentee balloting and other procedures to begin and end - can create anomalies in the election schedule.
It may turn out that fears of a decline in absentee ballots (including by the military) are actually valid - but we'll need at least another week on the calendar to know for sure.