US & World

Survey: Absentee voters have least confidence in voting system

This week, KPCC Special Correspondent Kitty Felde has examined the issue of "election trust," whether voters are confident that elections are on the up-and-up. Thousands of Californians mail in their ballots. But election experts say those voters aren't sure pollworkers correctly count their ballots. Here's Kitty Felde with the third part of her series on election trust.

Kitty Felde: When you cast your ballot, how certain are you that your vote will be counted – and counted accurately?

Thad Hall: The least confident voters are absentee voters.

Felde: Thad Hall is a political science professor at the University of Utah. He and some colleagues at Caltech in Pasadena surveyed voters around the country to gauge their confidence in voting systems.

They found the most nervous voters are the ones who stick their ballot in the mailbox. Hall says they're not sure it'll be counted correctly – or even counted at all.

Hall: When you cast an absentee ballot, you are then putting your ballot in the hands of multiple other people. It goes through the Postal Service, and then it goes through the process of being examined at the local election official's office, and they determine whether you've signed it and all of that.
Felde: But if that's the case, then why is there a growing number of people who want to vote by mail?
Hall: You know, it's an interesting conundrum in our findings in that we do see a big push toward people voting absentee. And I think especially in California, where ballots are so long and complicated, you know, people really need the time to be able to sit down and sort through the issues.

Felde: A growing number of Californians are choosing to vote by mail in every election. In the midterm elections two years ago, only Oregon, which has mandatory vote by mail, had a higher percentage of absentee voters than California.

More than half of the Californians expected to vote in the upcoming election will send in an absentee ballot. That still leaves half the voters who'll visit the polls. Donna Davidson is with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Donna Davidson: We have a lot of people that touch elections. Do you know pollworkers throughout the nation, we have over a million, 200 pollworkers? You know, we're all human. And they do make mistakes.

Felde: But the University of Utah's Thad Hall says despite the chance of human error, the human factor is the key to voter confidence.

Hall: And we've done studies that show if you want to determine how, if a voter who votes in a polling place is confident, their interaction with their pollworker is the single most important factor in determining if they're confident at that moment that their vote was done correctly.

Felde: And by the way, if you want to boost your confidence, your county registrar is always looking for new pollworkers – even now, with the election only a few days away.