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Absentee Voting

Accessibility Benefits and Costs

Absentee voting, that is, systems that allow voters to vote at a voting location other than the voting station (or stations) at which they appear on the normal voters list, is an additional voting facility that can considerably increase accessibility to the voting process. For many voters, absentee voting facilities may be the most practicable means by which they may participate in voting. This would include voters, for example, who:

  • for employment, security or other reasons are away from the area in which they are registered to vote on voting day;
  • are confined to institutions through illness or disability.

However, the more extensive absentee voting facilities are, the greater the cost in additional materials and in the complexity and quality of systems that need to be implemented to control their integrity. This latter requirement needs to be very carefully considered when determining which, if any, methods of absentee voting are to be included in legal frameworks and implemented.

This section should be read in conjunction with Early Voting. In many environments absentee voting facilities may also cater to persons voting in advance of the general voting day or days, either in person or by mail.

Potential Frameworks

Potential frameworks for absentee voting could allow absentee voting:

  • in advance of voting day, on voting day or both;
  • only at voting stations within the voter's electoral district of registration, or at voting locations within a restricted range of electoral districts, or at voting locations in any electoral district in which voting is being conducted, or include locations outside the country in which the election is being conducted (see Voting in a Foreign Country and Refugees and Displaced Persons);
  • at special voting stations or locations for absentee votes (often electoral administration offices), or in conjunction with normal voting at regular voting stations or both;
  • by voters attending a voting location in person, voting by mail or both;
  • through prior application or registration by voters, or available to any voter attending a voting location designated for absentee voting.

The greater the number of choices provided to voters in the methods and locations of absentee voting available, the more complex the system will be to administer and the more intensive controls and more experienced staff will be required. More complex systems of absentee voting--those allowing voters wide freedom of choice in the voting station at which they may vote or combining on-voting day absentee voting with absentee voting in advance of voting day--would generally only be considered for implementation when there is strong and experienced central management oversight of election processes.

(For further information on absentee voting, see Absentee Voting.)

Issues for Consideration

In implementing procedures for absentee voting, there are a number of significant issues that require consideration, including:


Qualifications for Absentee Voting

Limitations on Access

As absentee voting is a more complex, more costly and potentially less transparent form of voting, access to absentee voting facilities is often restricted to those with particular legislatively-defined qualifications. The qualifications (if any) imposed for absentee voters will depend on the ability to provide and manage absentee voting facilities, and equity considerations for those who are unable to attend the voting station(s) at which they are registered to vote. In part, this will come down to a societal ethos of whether voting is seen as a right or a duty.

In its most narrow interpretation, absentee voting may be restricted to those whose official duties prevent them from attending their normal voting station--for example, polling officials, security forces on duty on voting day, officials of the state employed at foreign locations. If absentee voting facilities are to be provided, restricting them to serving employees of the state can raise questions about the integrity of the election process - especially where state organisations or the military are perceived as closely aligned to or under the influence of political forces.

Where equity considerations are given more weight, qualifications for absentee voting may be extended to categories of voters whose physical condition or employment duties prevent them from attending the voting station(s) at which they are registered to vote. Such categories could include:

  • serving military personnel or security force personnel;
  • people with physical disabilities, such as bed-ridden patients serviced by mobile voting facilities (see Hospitals and Other Care Institutions) or wheelchair patients whose assigned voting station lacks wheelchair access;
  • other institutionalised voters;
  • voters whose employment requires them to be absent from their area of registration on voting day or who have moved residence, since the deadline for voter registration, out of the electoral area in which they registered.

No-Limitation Systems

In systems where voter accessibility and maximising of participation are the dominant principles, access to absentee voting facilities provided may be open to any otherwise qualified voter. Implementing such systems requires a high level of professionalism in election administration and will have a significant effect in increasing election costs.

The convenience for voters of being able to vote at multiple voting locations is likely to encourage voters to use this more costly method rather than make some effort to attend the voting station at which they are basically eligible to vote. Less rigorous systems of establishing voter eligibility may not be sustainable with high numbers of absentee voters. Large numbers of absentee voters will exacerbate administrative pressures on integrity controls, voting materials supply, issue and return, and staffing requirements.

Locations for Absentee Voting

Locations Where Absentee Voters May Vote

Legal frameworks for absentee voting should be clear about any restrictions on the voting locations at which particular absentee voters may vote. There are two different factors that need to be defined:

  • the relationship between where the voter is registered to cast a normal vote and the electoral areas in which the voter may attend a voting location to cast an absentee vote;
  • whether normal voting stations may be used for absentee voting or whether special absentee voting locations are to be established.

Voting within Electoral District of Registration

In their simpler forms, absentee voting frameworks would restrict the geographic area in which an absentee voter may attend a voting location to vote. For example, in constituency-based electoral systems, absentee voters could be restricted to voting at voting locations within the constituency for which they are entitled to vote. Where proportional representation elections for provincial or national bodies treat the whole province or country as a single electoral district, election or voter registration administration areas, or alternatively local government areas, could form the basis of such restrictions.

This simple process has a limited impact on accessibility, as its impact is restricted to voters still able to attend to vote within the electoral district for which they are registered to vote, and within what would be, in all but sparsely populated regions, a relatively small geographic area. Particularly in constituency-based systems it will minimise the impact on election administration, as:

  • ballots used by absentee voters are those that would normally be supplied to voting stations in each area;
  • there is little added complexity of systems to control ballot distribution and return for absentee voters;
  • the impact on normal vote counting and tallying processes is minimised.

Voting Outside Electoral District of Registration

More accessible frameworks would also allow absentee voters to vote at voting locations in other electoral districts. Thus, widening the availability of absentee voting is likely to have significant impact on the operational actions and management capacities required. Where voters may vote at a voting location outside their electoral district, significant additional systems for distribution and return of ballot-related material will be required.

Where elections are for individual constituencies, voting material for multiple electoral districts may need to be supplied for issue at voting locations, with a consequent need for more intensive controls on both distribution, issue and return of ballot materials. There may be increased usage of this facility, and thus a potential need to appoint officials especially for the purpose of issuing absentee votes, or have separate voting facilities for absentee voters, either within normal voting locations or at special absentee voting locations.

Where procedures require absentee voters to register before voting day, pre-printed absentee voter ballot envelopes, or packs of voting material for each individual absentee voter, may be possible to prepare. While this may assist in ensuring that the correct material goes to each voter, it is an expensive option, and will require very strict controls on supply of materials to absentee voting locations.

More complex systems will be required for the handling of voters' completed ballots, as to whether at absentee voting locations, for example, there is a separate ballot box for each electoral district into which the appropriate ballots must be deposited. Generally, this may be a confusing exercise for voters and officials alike. However, in voting locations set up specifically for large numbers of absentee voters, it may be possible to set up separate voting stations or ballot issuing areas and ballot boxes for each electoral district.

In other cases, absentee voters ballots may all be deposited into the one ballot box and sorted after the close of voting. Using this system effectively would require that ballots be enveloped distinctively for each electoral district before being placed in the ballot box.

Reconciliation procedures at close of poll will also need to account for the ballots issued for each electoral district.

Sites Used for Absentee Voting

Where absentee voters may vote only at another voting station within their electoral district of registration, providing absentee voting facilities at all normal voting stations can be achieved relatively simply. In systems where absentee voters may vote at locations outside their electoral district of registration, whether absentee voting is accommodated at all normal voting stations, at a selection of normal voting stations, or only at specially set up absentee voting sites will again depend on careful consideration of the accessibility gains achieved balanced against the additional costs and abilities to maintain effective control of integrity, materials and logistics.

Use of Normal Voting Stations

Making absentee voting available at all voting locations will:

  • maximise accessibility;
  • require effective implementation of complex materials handling and integrity control procedures across all voting stations, and thus a generally higher level of election administration polling official skills;
  • increase the complexity of operations in all voting stations.

More training for staff and often additional staff will be required; voting stations of larger physical area may also be required to allow a separate area for absentee voting. Limiting the number of voting stations that offer absentee voting facilities will moderate these requirements, at the expense of accessibility.

Use of Special Voting Locations

It can be more efficient to set up special absentee voting locations--for example, one in each electoral district (if elections are constituency-based), or in central and regional locations--rather than allowing absentee voting at normal voting stations. This management efficiency needs to be considered against the resulting reduction in accessibility .

Using this format can provide more effective controls, through concentration of specific absentee voting training and allocation of more experienced staff, and reducing the number of locations having to implement the more complex procedures and be supplied with additional materials for absentee votes. Thus it may be a more appropriate path to take where election management capacities are less abundant.


Absentee Vote Eligibility Procedures

Determination of Voter Eligibility

No matter who may be qualified to use absentee voting facilities (see Qualifications for Absentee Voting) or what restrictions are placed on where absentee voters may vote (see Locations for Absentee Voting), additional measures will need to be implemented to check the eligibility of voters using absentee voting facilities. These measures will need to ensure that:

  • voters are who they claim to be;
  • voters cast their ballots for the electoral district for which they are eligible to vote;
  • voters do not vote more than once in any election, particularly by casting both an absentee ballot and a ballot at any other voting facilities.

Possible Control Methods

Potential control methods for voter eligibility would include requiring:

  • absentee voters to apply prior to voting day to the electoral management body and be granted a certificate entitling them to an absentee vote, which is surrendered when they vote;
  • absentee voters to apply to the electoral management body prior to voting day for registration on special lists of absentee voters to be used in absentee voting locations;
  • absentee voters to complete a declaration containing their details before being issued voting material at the voting location.

In this last instance, since there has been no prior application made, these details must be checked following the close of voting, at locations with access to full voters register details, to determine the eligibility of the voter and that the voter has voted only once, to determine if these ballots may be included in ballot counts.

Absentee Voting by Certificate

Under such systems, absentee voters obtain, prior to voting day, a certificate from the electoral management body authorising them to vote at a specified voting station, other than the one to which they are assigned. Effective characteristics of such systems would include:

  • voters must apply for an absentee vote, prior to voting day, in an official form that enables the electoral management body to determine if the voter meets any restrictive criteria in election rules as to who may cast an absentee vote--and, if eligible, voters are issued certificates specifying which voting station they are entitled to use for an absentee vote (with lists of expected absentee voters provided to the relevant voting station managers);
  • to maintain integrity, voters issued with such certificates would preferably be identified by the electoral management body on the voters register to be used at their home voting station;
  • at the voting station, voters are subject to an identity check and must surrender the certificates to the appropriate official, who arranges for the voters to be issued the correct voting material and maintains a record of all voters issued with all such voting material;
  • controls on voter identity and multiple voting remain the same as for ordinary voters;
  • records of absentee voters are included in reconciliations of voting material at the close of voting (see Collection of Ballots).

Such procedures, while well suited to systems only allowing absentee voters to vote at voting stations within the electoral district for which they are registered to vote, can be unwieldy where there are large numbers of absentee voters or where voters may vote at voting locations outside their electoral district. There may also be problems in administering such systems where an election involves more than one round of voting.

Use of Special Absentee Voters Registers

Alternatively, control of absentee voting can be instituted by establishing special voters registers for absentee voters. This may be an effective means for controlling voter eligibility where absentee voters can vote at a location outside their electoral district of registration, and where special absentee voting locations are provided. Effective characteristics of such systems would include:

  • a requirement for registered voters to apply, prior to voting day, to the electoral management body for registration as an absentee voter at a specific absentee voting location--with deadlines for such registration allowing sufficient time to determine if the voter meets any required qualifications for absentee voting and for printing and distribution of relevant voters lists;
  • to preserve integrity, the names of voters assigned to absentee voters lists would preferably either be removed from copies of normal voters lists or be marked on these lists, prior to the issue of such lists to voting stations, to indicate they have been included on an absentee voters list elsewhere;
  • to make location of the voters' names in the list easier, absentee voters lists would preferably list all voters alphabetically, with the relevant electoral district of registration indicated against each voter's entry on the list (where relatively small numbers of electoral districts are involved, a separate list could be produced for each district);
  • on arrival at the voting location, the voter undergoes normal eligibility checks, for identity, against the absentee voters register, and for multiple voting, and if these are passed, is issued voting material for the appropriate electoral district as indicated in the absentee voters list;
  • at close of voting, voting materials issued to absentee voters should be reconciled against names marked as issued with voting material on absentee voters lists.

Such systems can be complex to administer in the hectic period before voting day, when the preparation and integrity checking of yet more voters lists can be a significant load on electoral management bodies. They are more suited to systems where there are limited numbers of separate absentee voting locations in major regional centres (rather than available in all normal voting stations).

Absentee Voting upon Application at a Voting Station

Rather than imposing eligibility controls on absentee voting by verification checks before voting day, eligibility could be checked after the close of voting. Under such systems qualified voters can request an absentee vote at any voting station at which absentee votes are issued. Effective characteristics of such systems would include:

  • normal identity and multiple voting checks applied to each absentee voter;
  • before being issued voting material, the voters make signed declarations of their personal details--for maximum effectiveness these would include name, address of registration, date of birth, any other particulars that may assist in determining the eligibility of the voter under the particular electoral system (this statement could be witnessed by a polling official or another voter registered at that voting station and, where voters are issued voter identification cards, relevant details could be copied by the polling official or voter from the voter identification card);
  • on the basis of the information in this statement, the polling official determines the appropriate electoral district for which the voter should be issued voting material (in systems where voters are not issued and required to bring voter identification cards when voting, polling officials will require reference material linking addresses to electoral districts to ensure the correct voting material is issued);
  • when voters have completed their ballots, the ballots are sealed in an envelope containing the voter's declaration before being placed in the ballot box;
  • after the close of voting, ballot envelopes are reconciled to ballot issue records, sorted by electoral district, and returned to the appropriate location (the home electoral district office or a regional centre) for eligibility checking of the details provided by the voter, and further processing;
  • care needs to be taken to ensure that multiple votes are not allowed into ballot counts.

As a basic precaution, absentee ballot envelopes for an electoral district must be checked against voters lists for the relevant voting stations, and where a voter is marked as having voted at their regular voting station, the absentee ballot invalidated and multiple voting investigations commenced. All voters from whom absentee ballots are received should also, during this check, be marked as having voted, on the relevant electoral district's voters list to guard against multiple absentee ballots from the one voter being counted.

Measures also need to be taken to ensure voting secrecy. This could be done by using a double enveloping system, where the voter's ballot is placed in an inner envelope which is then placed in an outer envelope containing the voter's identity details. Once the voter's details have been checked after the close of voting, the inner envelope is separated from the outer envelope and mixed with other absentee vote inner envelopes before the ballot is extracted for the count. Alternatively, a single stubbed/counterfoiled envelope could be used, with the voter's details being written on the envelope stub/counterfoil which is removed after eligibility checking and the envelope mixed with other absentee ballot envelopes before ballots are extracted for counting.

Such systems are complex to administer. In planning for voting day there is no mechanism, apart from prior election experience, to determine how many absentee voters will attend to vote at individual absentee voting locations. Thus materials supply and staffing for voting locations catering to absentee voters will be more difficult to plan, and resource allocations may be less efficient. Additional materials and training for polling officials may be required to ensure effective materials control.

Strict control systems for return of completed ballots are also required. It would generally be simpler for eligibility checking and counting to be conducted at a central location. As eligibility checks occur after the close of voting, if there are large numbers of absentee voters, results of counts may also be delayed. Implementation of such procedures in environments where there is no history of integrity in election administration would not be advisable. However, where systems promote maximum voter accessibility by allowing absentee voters to vote at any voting station, or at a large number of locations outside their electoral district of registration, it may be the most practicable method of eligibility control.

Absentee Ballot Formats

Format of Ballots

Two major control issues with absentee voting in systems where voters may vote at a location outside their electoral district of registration are

  • the supply of ballots to voting stations;
  • ensuring that voters are issued the correct ballots.

In systems where normal voting is done with an enveloped ballot (as is used in France), where each party list appears on a separate ballot and voters choose which ballot to use to make their vote, ballot supply requirements can make absentee voting outside the electoral district of registration very difficult to implement.

Even where voters have to mark their choice on a single ballot, ballot supply and issue to voters will be complex to control. There are two potential alternatives for the ballot format:

  • ballots showing full details of the candidates, parties or groups contesting the election on which voters mark their choices;
  • write-in or open ballots--blank ballots which are not printed with candidate, party or group details.

Similar considerations apply for ballots for early voting (see Early Voting).

Full Detail Ballots

Using full detail ballots in each electoral district for absentee voting ensures that the correct information is on each ballot, but will generally result in a more complex supply process. Where electors register in advance for absentee voting, personalised ballot packs with full-detail ballots for each absentee voter could be pre-packaged and supplied to the correct voting station. However, this is an expensive and time consuming pre-voting day activity. In other circumstances, a full range of electoral districts' ballots will need to be supplied to voting stations catering to absentee voters. While this will ensure that all ballots issued are correct in detail, it will require very careful materials control in the voting station, particularly if there are large numbers of electoral districts engaged in the election.

Blank or Write-In Ballots

This method makes supply to and control of ballots within the voting station considerably easier, since the same ballot form may be used for absentee voters from any electoral district. How these ballots are completed will depend on the overall legislative requirements for ballot design. Where it is held to be important that the ballot displays all available choices to the voter, the polling official issuing the ballot would generally be required to write on the ballot the required details for all contestants in the relevant electoral district. This will:

  • slow the issue of ballots;
  • require that all absentee voting locations be issued with lists of candidate, party or group details as they are to appear on the ballot for each electoral district;
  • be subject to transcription errors by polling officials.

A simpler system would be for officials to endorse the name of the relevant electoral district on an otherwise blank ballot, on which the voters, in the voting compartment, then write in the candidate or party for whom they wishes to vote. This will maintain ballot issue speed. However, it will also depend on voter access to lists of relevant candidates or parties, and may be subject to a higher number of errors by voters, for voters to mark a preference is less complex than to write in a candidate or party name. It is not a method very suitable for election systems where voters have to indicate more than a single preferred candidate or list in each election.

Count Considerations for Absentee Voting

Possible Alternatives

Alternative models for counting absentee ballots include:

  • counts take place in the voting station at which absentee ballots were issued;
  • absentee ballots from all voting locations returned to a central point for counting;
  • absentee ballots from all voting locations despatched to the voting station where each absentee voter appears on the normal voters list;
  • absentee ballots from all voting locations returned to a central point in each electoral district for counting.

Issues to Consider

The method adopted would depend on:

  • the organisational structure and management strengths of the electoral management body--where there is a strong local presence and good control systems, return of ballots to a local level for counting is more feasible;
  • logistical abilities to return absentee ballots to a single, a limited number or a large number of locations for counting;
  • the method adopted for determining absentee voters' eligibility to vote;
  • the ability to maintain transparency if absentee ballots are counted at locations distant from the electoral district for which they were cast, which may prevent party or candidate representatives for the relevant election from attending.

Where special absentee voters lists are compiled and used at a limited number of locations, counting at absentee voting locations can be more feasible. Where absentee votes are issued without the requirement for prior special registration or certification of the voter's eligibility, checking voter eligibility and counts would not be feasible at voting stations, and would be better undertaken at regional or central locations.


Voting in a Foreign Country

Eligibility to Vote in a Foreign Country

Voting in a foreign country, as a form of absentee voting, may be provided for equity and access reasons. There may be restrictions on eligibility to use this form of voting to registered voters who

  • have been outside the home country for not more than a defined period;
  • intend to return to the home country within a defined period.

A general question arises as to whether voting from a foreign country should be restricted to voters who were on the voters register before they left their home country, or whether persons can register as a voter from a foreign country. While allowing persons to register as a voter from a foreign country would satisfy equity principles, particularly with regard to migrant workers and their dependants or refugee populations, there may be greater difficulties to be overcome in maintaining integrity regarding

  • applying a similar standard for authenticating and validating voter registrations as would be applied in the home country;
  • determining in which electoral district these voters should be registered to vote.

More restrictive systems may limit the availability of external voting to particular classes of state employees whose employment has required them to be located in a foreign country. However, this does little to improve general accessibility, and may raise questions of the motives behind and integrity of foreign country voting facilities.

The question of eligibility to vote from outside the country is likely to be contentious, especially where potential voters outside the country are

  • a significant proportion of the voting age population;
  • from specific national or political groupings (for example, in the case of refugees).

Information on eligibility for and how to vote in a foreign country should be permanently and publicly available, with target locations for its availability at such places as travel agents, foreign missions of the home country, airports and similar points of departures. (For examples of such information material, see Forms for mail-in and write-in ballots - Canada and Overseas at an Election Pamphlet - New Zealand.)

Administrative Issues

There are considerable administrative difficulties that need to be overcome to ensure that voters voting in a foreign country have their ballots authenticated and returned in time to be included in the count and to ensure that these voting facilities offer the same standard of voting integrity as voting stations in the home country. Providing external voting facilities can be a practicable service for elections for larger electoral districts, at national and possibly provincial levels. The provision of foreign country voting facilities for local government elections, where there may be massive numbers of small electoral districts, is generally impractical.

There may be additional issues where potential voters in foreign countries are refugees or illegal immigrants in another country. Methods of registration and voting which do not endanger the voter's current status, yet retain election integrity require careful consideration.

Special Registration

Requiring specific registration for voting in a foreign country, either before leaving the home country or through diplomatic missions in foreign locations, can make the planning and resourcing of foreign country voting easier. From such registrations special voters registers could be compiled for use in the various foreign locations or normal voters registers annotated to indicate voters in foreign countries. (For an example of registration forms for external voting, see Voting abroad registration forms - Spain.)

Electoral Districts

The electoral legislation will determine for what electoral district voters in a foreign country vote. It would be equitable for them to retain or regain their voter registration in their last electoral district of registration in the home country, or if not registered before they left their home country, an electoral district with which some formal connection (such as residence of relatives, place of birth) can be established. Special lists of voters in foreign countries or other methods of identifying voter eligibility will need to be used. Rigorous controls are needed to prevent voters voting in a foreign country and votes being recorded in their names at a voting station in the home country.

In some countries (e.g., Croatia), special "non-geographic" electoral districts are formed for voters living in foreign countries. Given the general lack of capacity for independent monitoring of foreign country voting stations, such special electoral districts can often be seen as an attempt to manipulate the outcomes of elections, especially if qualifications or opportunities for voter registration for such electoral districts give advantage to particular nationalities, communities or groups.

Voting Methods

There are a number of alternative for implementing foreign country voting. Voting itself may be conducted in several different ways:

  • by mail;
  • at voting stations in foreign country locations;
  • by fax or other electronic means.

It may be practical to use these in combination.

If a mailed ballotis used, this could be sent to the voter from either an overseas location (such as an embassy or consulate of the home country) provided with bulk stocks of voting material for all electoral districts, or it could be mailed directly to the voter from the electoral management body. Return of mailed ballots from the voter could be to a foreign voting location or to specified offices of the electoral management body in the home country.

If conducted by attendance voting, locations used could be voting sites especially chosen for this purpose or existing offices of the state, such as embassies, consulates, trade missions and the like. The attendance voting could be conducted only on the normal voting day for the election, or it could be open for the same or longer period that early voting in the home country is available.

Where completed ballots are collected at foreign voting locations, actual voting and counting procedures could be the same as for a normal voting station, including:

  • voters' eligibility being checked from a list of eligible voters;
  • ballots being deposited in a ballot box (or boxes for various electoral districts) and reconciled and counted at the close of voting;
  • count totals being immediately transmitted by fax, phone or computer to the electoral management body;
  • all materials being later returned to the electoral management body for checking and storage or destruction.

Alternatively, votes could be placed in a sealed envelope designed to identify the voter yet maintain the secrecy of voting (as for enveloped methods of absentee voting or for mail voting--see Absentee Voting) and then in the ballot box. At the close of voting, voting material is reconciled, packaged and immediately despatched securely to the electoral management body where voter eligibility is checked and ballots counted. Ballots could be counted separately or amalgamated with other ballots for the same electoral districts before counting. (For further information on counting procedures in these instances, see Consolidating Voting Results.)

General Administrative Issues

There are a number of problems and additional planning, materials and training costs that are likely to arise with voting in a foreign country. Different voting methods adopted will have different specific problems. However, there are some issues that will need to be considered no matter what the voting method used:

Longer supply lines and increased delivery time for material to foreign countries means that materials for foreign country voting have to be prepared well in advance of the normal voting day, even where foreign country voters cannot vote in advance. It also means that finalisation of ballot counting may be delayed in waiting for return of voting material.

It is more difficult to provide voters in foreign countries with information on electoral processes, parties and candidates so that they may make an informed vote. Advertising of available facilities in foreign countries will increase voter information expenditure. Whether, and how, any political campaigning or official publicity of voting rights can be undertaken in foreign countries will be dependent on the law of each foreign country.

Monitoring of voting in foreign countries by all political participants and independent observers is unlikely to be possible. Particularly where staff of diplomatic missions in foreign countries are not publicly perceived as politically neutral, there may be doubts about the integrity of the process and the validity of votes cast. Rigorous controls on despatch and checking of returned materials can only partly allay such concerns.

There are also basic concerns regarding the checking of voter eligibility and the effect methods adopted may have on voting integrity and the time needed to complete ballot counts. Where ballots are issued from foreign locations using special foreign country voter registers, counting could be undertaken at these locations, and the count results transmitted to the electoral management body soon after the close of voting. This method will ensure that finalisation of results is not delayed.

However, given that these locations are not under tight management control of the electoral management body, nor generally subject to observation by party or candidate representatives, it would be prudent to treat results of such counts as preliminary, unpublicised, and to be confirmed by thorough checking of all relevant material on its return. Additionally, since the number of votes cast at some foreign locations may be small, it would be preferable to amalgamate these with other locations' votes before counting in order to maintain voting secrecy.

Alternatively, integrity may be better served if all foreign ballots are treated in the same way as for mail or absentee ballots. Ballots cast are each placed in a sealed envelope, accompanied by documentation identifying the voter and, on return to the electoral management body, are subject to thorough checking to establish eligibility to vote as well as challenges by representatives of candidates or parties. This will cause some further delay in finalising results.

Both options can be costly. Printing special voter registers will incur additional formatting and printing costs and require checks that voters are not duplicated on domestic and foreign registers. Sealed votes will require special enveloping materials. On balance, the use of sealed ballots is likely to be the preferable option for maintaining integrity. However, control procedures for sealing ballots in individual envelopes, maintaining voting secrecy, accounting for all voting material, and security of completed ballots need to be particularly rigorous.

Mail Voting Material Direct to Voter

This is the simplest and lowest cost method to adopt administratively. Either following an application directly to the electoral management body by the voter, or by direct mail to electors on special voters lists of those living abroad, voting material is mailed to voters at foreign locations. These may be returned to a special clearing or reconciliation centre or to the relevant electoral district's office for validity verification and counting.

Additional costs are limited to despatch (and return, if this is "reply postage paid" by the election management body) international postage, and staffing for the return clearing centre, if this additional level of control is warranted by validity or transparency concerns. The major disadvantage of using this method is the time that will elapse between despatch and return of material. Either material has to be despatched well before voting day (placing pressures on materials production) or deadlines for return of voting material extended after voting day, to the point where they delay final result calculation, for there to be any significant increase in accessibility for voters in foreign countries.

Mail to Voter from a Foreign Location

As a variation on mailing direct to the voter, bulk voting materials may be despatched by secure courier or diplomatic pouch to central locations, such as embassies, in foreign countries, on the basis of historical voting records or, where used, registers of foreign voters. Use of embassies as mailing centres will ensure that processing staff will have some basic knowledge of the electoral system. For efficiency reasons, such facilities would usually only be provided in countries where significant numbers of voters are likely to be present.

These foreign locations operate as mail voting centres, despatching, by local post, voting material to voters either following their application for a mail vote or on the basis of information in foreign voters registers. Completed ballots must be received by mail or in person at the foreign centre by a defined deadline. This could be close of voting for in-person returns, with some extension for mailed returns to allow for votes completed and posted, but not received, by close of voting. There materials are reconciled, packaged securely, and returned to the electoral management authority by secure courier or sealed diplomatic pouch for validity verification and counting.

This method has some accessibility advantages. Bulk courier or pouch despatch and return with local post can cut the turn-around time considerably, making it more likely that voters in foreign countries will have the opportunity to vote within voting deadlines. It is important that voting material is stored under security and that completed voting material is stored in sealed ballot boxes until its return to the electoral management body. Logistical costs may be greater, and there will be significant additional organisational and training issues to be confronted.

Special despatch and return facilities may have to be set up for dealing with foreign country voting material. These are likely to be complex and require skilled management control to ensure that correct amounts of all material for all electoral districts is forwarded to each foreign voting location. To overcome the limited training of staff at foreign locations it may be useful to make up voter packs, each containing a complete set of voting and information material for the relevant electoral district. This will add further to shipping costs.

Foreign locations will be staffed by persons who will not have undergone any face-to-face let alone any significant training. Additional training manuals (for an example, see Instructions to Overseas Issuing Officers, New Zealand), videos (for an example, see Overseas Voting Procedures Training Video - Australia), and worksheets may need to be produced for staff in other countries. The lower level of training may affect the accuracy of treatment of voters.

Where embassies are used as the foreign location, and their staff as polling officials, there may be concerns about whether voting is being conducted impartially, particularly in the absence of independent or political participant monitoring. Such officials may not be direct, accountable employees of the electoral management body. The need for urgency in election material despatch and, particularly, the return to the electoral management body of completed voting material, must be impressed on embassy staff

Attendance Voting

Whether early voting facilities are available for attendance voting at foreign locations or facilities are available only on voting day, similar issues as discussed under "Mail to Voter from a Foreign Location" above, are relevant. Depending on perceptions of impartiality and integrity of staff at foreign voting locations, this method may provide greater validity checks at the point of voting. Setting up full voting station facilities at foreign locations will incur additional materials costs.

Method Combinations

Most effective coverage of voters in foreign countries may be obtained by using combinations of the above methods, for example:

  • mailing voting material direct to the voter from the home country, but having completed ballots returned by the voter to a foreign location, from which they are returned in bulk to the electoral management authority for processing and counting;
  • providing both attendance voting and mail voting facilities from foreign locations (as long as such complexity does not unduly strain electoral management body and foreign location management resources).

Refugee Voting

Special considerations for voting in foreign countries may occur where significant proportions of a country's population are refugees in neighbouring countries at the time of the election. Political, security or logistical problems may prevent their returning to vote. In such situations, there is a significant case for the electoral management body, with international assistance, obtaining neighbouring government's agreements for setting up of voting stations under international control in refugee populated areas. How, and for what electoral district, to register such voters will be significant and likely politically disputed issues in election planning and management. (For further discussion of this issue, see Refugees and Displaced Persons.)

Use of Faxed or Voice Transmitted Ballots

As for remote areas within the country which are not reachable by normal voting means, transmission and return of voting material by fax, radio or phone could be considered for foreign locations where postal services are unreliable or non-existent. To ensure that such ballots are only received from eligible voters, and to reconcile materials, voting by such methods will mean that voting secrecy cannot be wholly maintained, and potential voters must be made fully aware of this. However, it is only by such means that some persons--for example those located in remote areas of Antarctica or the Arctic--may be able to exercise their right to vote.


Early Voting

Basic Issues

Providing facilities for early voting will allow those voters who cannot attend a voting station on the general voting day to vote on a special day, or series of days, prior to voting day. A balance between accessibility and cost-effectiveness is needed. Providing these additional facilities can add significantly to materials, premises and staffing costs. However, elections conducted using one traditional method of early voting, by mail, have been shown to be extremely cost-effective.

This section, and Early Voting in Person and Early Voting by Mail, should be read in conjunction with Absentee Voting. In many environments early voting facilities will also accommodate persons voting, either in person or by mail, at a location outside the electoral district in which they are registered to vote.

Methods of Early Voting

The two basic methods of early voting are:

  • in person, at an office of the electoral management body, a normal voting station or other premises opened for early voting (see Early Voting in Person);
  • by mail, in which the voter requests, or is automatically sent, the relevant ballots and other voting material, which are then returned by the voter to the electoral management body (see Early Voting by Mail).

A combination of both in-person and mail early voting facilities is in place in some jurisdictions. While promoting maximum accessibility, services may be duplicated in these environments.

Other special voting facilities, such as mobile voting stations (see Other Special Voting Arrangements), and radio or fax voting conducted for remote locations may also operate in some jurisdictions prior to voting day.


Critical issues for early voting would be better defined in legislation. These would include:

  • the period for early voting;
  • any qualifications required of early voters;
  • methods of defining locations at which early voting may take place;
  • voting secrecy and count frameworks, especially for mail voting;
  • information required from early voters voting outside their electoral district of registration.

Other issues, such as the hours early voting offices are open during the early voting period and the numbers of early voting offices used, would be more practicably left to the electoral management body to determine according to need.

Eligibility to Claim an Early Vote

Some systems make early voting facilities available to any voter who wishes to use them. However, as there are additional costs involved with early voting, legal frameworks may include special qualifications for voters using these facilities. In its most restrictive form, voters who qualify for an early vote would be limited to those whose official duties preclude them from voting on voting day, such as voting operations staff, security forces or others officially engaged in election activity throughout the hours of normal voting.

In less restrictive systems, a broader range of qualifications dealing with voters who may not be able to attend their voting stations during normal voting hours would be available. These qualifications could include, for example:

  • being outside the country on voting day;
  • on voting day, being more than a specified distance from the normal voting station (or stations) at which they would be eligible to vote--further qualifications as to the reasons for this absence (such as work duties) may be required;
  • being employed in specific occupations (such as emergency services) that would not allow taking leave to vote on voting day;
  • having religious beliefs that would not allow attending a voting station on the designated voting day;
  • being a patient in a hospital or other institution, or being pregnant, or being too ill or infirm to attend a voting station on voting day;
  • being engaged in caring for a pregnant, infirm or ill person throughout voting day.

Additional qualifications may also exist, where early voting is in person, on the locations at which a voter may lodge an early vote. This may be restricted to the electoral district in which the voter is registered, or some other electoral administration area. Where voters can lodge an early vote in person outside their district of registration, this in effect becomes an early absentee vote, bringing with it the same control requirements as absentee voting (see Absentee Voting).

Where early voting is by mail, there may be restrictions on the location from which a voter can request an early vote. This may be limited to the electoral management office in the voter's district of registration. Conversely, voters may be issued mail votes from any electoral management office. This latter method, while promoting accessibility, requires sophisticated control systems.

Period for Early Voting

Periods designated for early voting can also vary widely. In restrictive systems, where relatively small numbers of voters will be eligible for an early vote, a single early voting day may be designated.1 Normally early voting periods would be in the range of five to fifteen days before voting day. Some considerations determining an effective period for early voting include:

Ensuring that there is sufficient time for printing and distribution of all materials prior to the commencement of the early voting period. Where ballots fully printed with candidate or party details are used (see Absentee Ballot Formats), it is critical that there is sufficient time between close of nominations and commencement of early voting for ballots to be printed and distributed. Early voting. particularly mail voting, would generally not be suitable for systems where later changes can be made to parties or candidates standing for election.

The early voting period, especially if mail methods are used, is sufficient for voting material to be despatched to and returned from voters in all parts of the area under election.

Where early voting is by mail, the period for receipt of ballots returned by mail could be:

  • on or before the closing time for normal voting stations on voting day;
  • extended beyond voting day, to allow a period for mail ballots completed up until the close of normal voting to be returned through the mail.

Setting the deadline for return of mail ballots on or before the general voting day will not cause any delay to the finalisation of election results, but may limit accessibility, especially in countries with extensive remote areas with infrequent mail services. In other jurisdictions, the view, on principle, is taken that any mail vote actually cast and handed to the mail services for return by the time of closing of normal voting stations should be given a reasonable chance to be included in counts. Depending on the mail service environment, a period of up to two weeks after normal voting day could be allowed for return of these votes. While this may enhance accessibility, it can result in additional control costs and delays in finalising election results.

Controls on Accountable Voting Materials

Where early voting facilities are available for a number of days, control of accountable ballot materials becomes critical. Major issues that must be considered include:

Security of accountable materials. All completed ballots, whether completed in person or returned by mail, must be maintained in ballot boxes under security until the commencement of counting. Where early ballots are contained in envelopes with voter details, systems that protect the secrecy of voting and maintain the security of ballot material need to be devised for checking these voter details. All accountable materials, such as unused ballots and ballot envelopes, should be stored under security both during and after operating hours.

Maintaining periodic reconciliations of accountable voting materials, at the very least at the end of each day's early voting operations. For mail voting, more frequent checks are advisable. It can be useful to collate applications for mail votes in standard batches of fifty or one hundred, issue mail ballot materials according to these batches, and reconcile ballots and other mail voting materials (e.g., ballot return envelopes) at the conclusion of processing of each batch.

Mobile Voting Stations

Legal frameworks may also allow mobile voting stations to operate during any period for early voting. For mobile voting stations in remote areas particularly, this is generally necessary for cost-effective operations.


Early Voting in Person

Voting Only in Electoral District of Registration

Some systems for early voting in person require that voters must vote within their electoral district of registration. In such systems, it would be possible for voting procedures to be similar to those used in ordinary voting stations on voting day (see Normal Voting Stations and Voting Hours Operations). This would particularly be the case if it is a requirement that all voting stations are to be open for in-person early voting.

Voting Outside of Electoral District of Registration

Where voters can use in-person early voting facilities outside their electoral district of registration, procedural alternatives would closely follow those for absentee voting on voting day described in Absentee Vote Elegibility Procedures.

Under these systems some early voters will still vote within their electoral district of registration. It would be more effective to process these voters in the normal fashion, without the need for special voters lists, enveloping systems and the like used for control of integrity of early absentee voters.


In-person early voting systems should make provision for at least one early voting location in each electoral district. Systems that require early voters to vote at their normal voting station are basically an expensive form of multiple day voting. However, it does have advantages of familiarity, and little, if anything, in the way of additional procedures, materials or staff training for early voting would be required. Integrity can still be maintained by opening a limited number of sites within an electoral district (perhaps only one), depending on expected numbers of early voters. Distances that voters may have to travel to use early voting facilities, and the availability of suitable premises, will be considerations in determining the number of early voting locations.

Conducting early voting within already established electoral district managers' offices, rather than setting up separate voting sites can be cost-effective. However, unless a separate area for early voting can be provided, the flow of voters can prove a considerable distraction to administrative staff at a time they can ill afford it, and space within the office can be at a premium. Where considerable numbers of early voters are expected, it would generally be preferable that separate premises be used for early voting.

Hours of Opening

As many voters using early voting facilities may be doing so because of work or care commitments, it would make sense that early voting locations are open beyond normal business hours.

Early Voting by Mail

Voting by Mail

Voting by mail is the most widespread form of early or absentee voting. Following request by the voter, voting material is mailed to the voter's specified address by the electoral management body. The voter then completes the ballot and returns it, either by mail or in person, to an electoral management body office. Integrity checks would generally rest on the requirement for a statement of the voter's identity and eligibility to accompany the returned ballot material. Successful mail voting systems depend on an efficient mail delivery service throughout the area under election. (For infrastructure issues relating to voting by mail, see Communications.)

Integrity Issues

The rather loose nature of possible integrity checks means that mail voting can be regarded as being more likely to be affected by attempted malfeasance. Perceived integrity problems with mail voting include:

  • the high level of proof of identity and eligibility standards that can be applied in voting stations cannot be applied to mail voting--particularly where voters themselves provide the address to which mail voting material is despatched;
  • there is no opportunity for party or candidate representatives to observe voting by mail;
  • it is not feasible to provide complete security for all voting material as it moves through postal systems;
  • there can be no guarantee that the voter who signs any declaration accompanying the ballot, in fact completed the ballot or was not subject to influence or intimidation when completing the ballot.

Perceptions of malfeasance can arise where large numbers of mail ballots are received from institutions for the aged and infirm. For this reason mobile voting stations, though more costly, are generally held to be a more effective means of enabling access to voting for voters in care institutions (see Hospitals and Other Care Institutions).

Vote by Mail Elections

In the last decade some jurisdictions have turned to holding elections entirely by mail.2 Analysis of these has revealed cost advantages and generally a positive effect on voter turnout. Particularly where efficient, high volume automated mail contractors are available, this voting method can produce considerable administrative advantages, although the doubts about assuring total integrity of mail voting still remain. In developed societies, vote by mail elections can be seen as a stepping stone from traditional in-person voting methods and the future of voting via personal telecommunications links. (For an example of procedures manuals for a national election implemented entirely by mail, see Manuals for Election by Automated Mail Out, Australia.)

Characteristics of Mail Voting Systems

While mail voting systems differ extensively in detail, there are necessary basic characteristics for any mail voting system. These would include:

A signed request from the voter for a mail ballot. This may need to be in a prescribed form, and may need to be provided for each election or as a request for permanent registration as a mail voter (see below). There would normally be a cut-off date for receipt of such requests, aligned with the time sufficient for the voter to receive and return voting material before the return deadline. (For examples of applications for voting by mail, see Application for a Postal Vote - Australia, 1996 and Absentee Vote Application - United Kingdom.)

Despatch of voting materials to the voter immediately on receipt of the request.

Requirement for the voter to include a signed (and, often, witnessed) statement attesting to his her identity and eligibility to vote with his/her returned ballot.

Use of voting materials that both protect voting integrity and secrecy, even when returned voting material is identified to a specific voter. These may entail double enveloping systems for returned materials, or ballot envelopes with detachable flaps containing voter data (see Postal Vote Certificate Envelope - Australia, 1996). (For further discussion of these methods, see "Absentee Voting on Application at Voting Station" in Absentee Vote Elegibility Procedures.)

Systems for reconciling early voting materials requested, issued, unused and returned.

A method of return. Some jurisdictions include postage paid return envelopes with voting material sent to the voter. In others the voter is responsible for the return postage. This can make a considerable difference in mail voting costs. It would be generally held that requiring the voter to pay for return postage is a negligible imposition. Additionally, some jurisdictions have successfully used secure drop-in deposit boxes where voters can return mailed ballots by hand without postage.

Methods for determining the eligibility to be included in the count of returned voting material. To assist in maintaining integrity, these would require measures such as comparing signatures on applications for mail votes, and returned declarations of eligibility, with voter registration records, as well as checking dates of recording or return of the vote against cut-off dates.

Checking returned mail voting material against voters lists to ensure that voters do not vote both by mail and in person on voting day. There are two approaches to this. For one, when mail ballot return deadlines are before voting day, the names of voters who have voted by mail can be marked on voters lists before these are provided to voting stations, so that a further normal vote will not be issued. Alternatively, and this can apply whether deadlines for return of mail voting material are before or after voting day, voters lists returned from voting stations are checked against voters who have returned mail ballots. If a voter is marked as having voted at a voting station and has also returned a mail ballot, the mail ballot is disqualified (and appropriate voting investigations commenced).

Ballot count systems that ensure that mail ballots are not counted until after the close of normal voting. Returned mail voting material could, however, be checked for eligibility, ballot envelopes opened and ballots placed in ballot boxes prior to the close of voting in normal voting stations. In some jurisdictions where mail voting closes before voting day, returned mail ballots are despatched to the voting station for which the voter is registered, to be included in the count for that voting station. It would generally be regarded as more effective to count them at a central location.

Permanent Registration of Mail Voters

In some jurisdictions with continuous registration systems, facilities are available for voters to be placed, on application, on permanent registers of mail voters, thus ensuring that they will be automatically despatched voting material for elections for their electoral district. Maintaining this facility can reduce considerably workloads for voting operations staff during the election period and provide a beneficial service to voters.

In some jurisdictions, more restrictive criteria are applied for inclusion on such registers than are applied for eligibility for mail voting in general, such as:

  • permanent disability;
  • residing a considerable, specified distance from the nearest voting station;
  • incarceration (in systems where prisoners may vote).

There would seem to be no compelling reason for introducing any stricter criteria for other early voters (see Early Voting). However, given the lesser controls that can be exercised over the integrity of mail voting, it is important that these permanent registers are regularly reviewed to ensure continuing eligibility of the voters listed.


Proxy Voting

Reasons for Proxy Voting

In a very few systems, voters who fulfil certain legislative qualifications may be able to appoint a proxy voter to vote for them. Such conditions might include their inability to attend a voting station through infirmity, employment requirements, or being absent from the area on voting day--often similar qualifications to those for voting by mail (see Early Voting). Such arrangements may be implemented to provide accessibility where other forms of absentee voting are relatively restricted or unavailable.

Proxy voting is a method that is at odds with the usual notions of integrity of voting practice and a throwback to earlier notions of voting accessibility. It allows registered voters to appoint another person to vote in their name. Unlike assisted voting in voting stations (see Language and Literacy Assistance and Physically Handicapped Voters), there can be no controls to ensure that the registered voter's instructions on how to vote are followed by the appointed proxy, and, therefore, it may very easily be subject to abuse. It can be of particular concern where systems allow a proxy to cast a vote for more than one registered voter, and especially where a single person may cast proxy votes for any number of relatives.

Elements of Proxy Voting

Where proxy voting is allowed, its elements would normally include:

  • an application from the voter stating the reasons for wanting to appoint a proxy, naming the person as the proxy, and signed by both the registered voter and the proxy, to be received by the electoral management body in sufficient time before voting day to determine and advise voting stations of proxies;
  • determination by the electoral management body if the reasons are sufficient and the proxy named is qualified to act as proxy (it would be normal for the proxy to be at least qualified to vote, if not a registered voter; there may also be restrictions on the number of registered voters a proxy may represent);
  • advice, including copies of the approved proxy applications, to be provided to the voting station managers in voting stations where voters on their voters lists have appointed proxies;
  • when a proxy appears at the voting station to vote, verification by the voting station manager that the purported proxy is actually the person appointed by the voter, before voting material is issued;
  • voting station managers should also maintain lists of proxy voters who have voted, as well as the voters for whom they have been issued voting materials.

(For an example of an application for a proxy vote, see Application to Vote By Post or Proxy, UK, Manchester.)

Election integrity is much better served by implementation of other measures to assist voters who may not be able to attend the voting station at which they are registered to vote, that is, through provision of more comprehensive absentee voting facilities (see Absentee Voting), early voting services (see Early Voting) and mobile voting station facilities for the infirm (see Other Special Voting Arrangements).

Use of Appointed Agent to Collect Voting Material

While not truly proxy voting, a very few election systems allow voters who cannot attend a voting station on voting day--for specific, legislatively-defined reasons such as illness, pregnancy, infirmity--to depute someone else as their agent to pick up voting material and documentation to authenticate the vote from a voting station or electoral management body office and bring this to the voter. The voting material and authenticating documentation can be returned either in person by the agent or mailed to the electoral management body by the voter.

While cost-effective, this would generally only be a useful addition to voting services where comprehensive systems for mailed ballots and/or mobile voting facilities for the infirm are not made available. Such facilities may be available only on voting day or, additionally, for a period of early voting prior to voting day. This method shares the same concerns about who has actually completed the ballot as mail-in voting, particularly where a pattern of its use by institutions for the elderly or frail is found (see Early Voting by Mail). (For an example of an application for this form of ballot, see Application for a Special Vote - New Zealand, 1996.)


Provisional or Tendered Votes

Why Use Provisional or Tendered Votes

The use of provisional or tendered votes is a mechanism to

  • defuse potential dispute and maintain voter service under the pressures of voting station operations;
  • provide an opportunity to vote for persons claiming that they have been subject to administrative error in the compilation of voters lists, or in the marking on these lists of persons who have already voted.

It springs from the philosophy that it creates a better service to issue a voter who claims, but cannot prove, eligibility to vote at that voting station a ballot in a form that can be subject to later eligibility verification than to risk disrupting voting for other voters, and possibly denying the opportunity to vote to a voter who has been the victim of an official error in compiling or marking voters registers for that voting station, or who has been challenged as to the right to vote on unsustainable grounds.

While this minimises disputes in the voting station, prevents disruption to voter service, and maximises equity and accessibility for voters, this method has some major disadvantages, including:

  • additional costs of special materials and staffing (both to issue and investigate eligibility of such ballots);
  • the necessity for strict management control of the process;
  • the potential to delay count results while the eligibility of voters voting in this fashion is being investigated.

The need for provisional or tendered vote facilities is likely to be greatest in those environments that can least afford them, in terms of costs and management capacity, with inexperienced election administrations, hasty or cost-cutting voters register compilation and production, and less well-trained polling officials. Whether provisional or tendered vote facilities are provided, and the classes of voters who may be eligible for such ballots, will depend on analysis of the consequent risks to general acceptance of election outcomes if errors in voters registers used for voting cannot be remedied in this or some other manner (such as by provisions for voting day registration--see Election Day Registration Additions and Revisions and Election Day Registration Additions and Revisions).

Qualifications for a Provisional or Tendered Vote

Circumstances under which voters may be issued with provisional or tendered votes must be clearly defined in legislation. Relevant circumstances could include:

Where a voter claims not to have already voted, yet their name has been marked as having voted on the voters list. Polling officials do make errors in marking voters lists, particularly where there are a number of similar names on the list.

Where a voter claims to have registered to vote at that voting station, yet their name cannot be found on the voters list. (This should not be confused with systems for absentee voting in voting stations on voting day--where a voter is applying to vote at a voting station other than the one(s) at which his name appears on the normal voters list). Even in highly experienced electoral administrations, errors can occur in the compilation and production of voters registers and voting station voters lists that are not discovered during in-house checking or periods for public review. In environments where there have been significant changes to the franchise or electoral boundaries, where there is inexperienced management or new systems for voters register compilation and production, and particularly for first-time elections, there are likely to be some significant errors in voters lists. Implementation of provisional or tendered vote facilities (or facilities for voting day registration) can be a major influence on maintaining harmonious voting station operations in such situations.

Where a voter has been officially challenged as to eligibility to vote by polling officials or (where allowed) by party or candidate representatives, with no conclusive resolution. In these situations it may not be possible for the voting station manager, without further information at hand, to make an informed decision on whether to allow the voter to vote. Use of a provisional/tendered vote can allow later, fuller investigation and adjudication.

Voting Methods

It is important that the provisional or tendered vote process is not perceived as, or in fact is, a sham, and that these votes are seriously investigated to determine if they are eligible for inclusion in the count. In some jurisdictions, tendered votes are issued of a different colour to normal votes, are placed in the same ballot box in the same fashion as normal votes, and are not further dealt with, apart from being excluded from vote counts. While this may appease potentially aggravated voters during voting hours, it does little for election integrity.

More effective and equitable systems for provisional or tendered votes would ensure that these votes were subject to investigation and included in the count where the vote was found to be eligible. While the provisional voting method would be established in legislation, the following steps are one method of implementing a sound provisional or tendered voting system.

Establish Eligibility

After establishing the voter is in a category entitled to a provisional or tendered vote, offer this to the voter. Some verification may be required, such as:

  • for voters who cannot be found on the voters list, firmly establish that the address for which they believe is registered to vote is within the geographic area covered by the voters list in that voting station;
  • for voters marked on the list who claim they have not already voted, a check of any multiple voting controls instituted--for instance, where a system of marking persons who have voted with ink has been effectively implemented, such a mark would be firm evidence that a voter had already voted and not be entitled to a provisional vote.

Record Voter Details and Issue Ballot

Voters' identity information should be recorded for inclusion with their ballot to enable later eligibility checking. Such details would include name and claimed registered address, as well as information that would assist in eligibility checking, such as:

  • date of birth;
  • any former names or aliases used by the voter;
  • details of any receipts for registration or voter identification cards shown by the voter.

Voters should sign a declaration, preferably witnessed by the polling official or another registered voter, that these details are correct. Once this declaration has been signed, the voter is given the relevant ballot(s).

Enveloping of Ballot

When voters have completed their ballots, the ballot is sealed in an envelope containing their declaration before being placed in the ballot box. Measures need to be taken to ensure voting secrecy. This could include:

  • using a double enveloping system, whereby the voter's ballot is placed in an inner envelope, which is then placed in an outer envelope containing the voters' identification information; once this information has been checked, the inner envelope is separated from the outer envelope and mixed with other ballots before being opened for the ballot count;
  • alternatively, a single stubbed or counterfoiled envelope could be used, with the voter's details being written on the envelope stub or counterfoil, which is removed after eligibility checking and the envelope mixed with other ballots before being extracted for counting.

Eligibility Checking

Following the completion of counts for regular ballots (where provisional or tendered ballot envelopes may be required for checking of voting material reconciliations), provisional or tendered ballot envelopes are forwarded to the electoral management body. Depending on the confidence in the electoral management body, eligibility checking could be conducted by it or be part of the duties of any election tribunal constituted to resolve election disputes. The eligibility checking process should be open to party and candidate representatives and independent observers.

Clear criteria for this checking must be specified in the legislative framework, particularly in terms of what may constitute "administrative errors" that have resulted in a voter being omitted from a voters list. For example:

  • Can eligibility be established only if an administrative failure or error in correctly processing information proven to have been received from a voter can be shown?
  • Are there wider criteria, involving removal from a register due to the voter failing to respond to objection or other voter registration revision proceedings?
  • In continuous list update systems, can votes be accepted if the voters have not updated their registration after moving to a new address?

Counts of Provisional or Tendered Votes

Those provisional or tendered votes from voters deemed eligible to have voted are then opened and admitted to the count of ballots for the relevant electoral district. (For further information on counts of these ballots, see Consolidating Voting Results.)

Update of Voter Registration

In continuous voter registration systems, other provisions may be appropriate as well, including:

  • provisional or tendered ballot voters to complete a voter registration form in the voting station;
  • to reinstate or add to the voters list those who were wrongfully omitted;
  • to follow up with those whose votes were ruled ineligible to encourage them to update their registration.

Service from Polling Officials

Voting station managers should ensure that polling officials are not reluctant to issue voters provisional or tendered votes in circumstances where electors are eligible to be treated in this fashion. Polling officials' resistance may be due to any of the following reasons:

  • additional work involved;
  • a reluctance to accept that there may be errors in voters lists;
  • a lack of emphasis in their training that legislative provisions for provisional or tendered votes create a right for voters, rather than a privilege of which the voter may or may not be advised.

Polling official training should make clear any rights of voters to a provisional or tendered vote.


Other Special Voting Arrangements

Arrangements to provide voting services that cater to the needs of particular minority or disadvantaged segments of the community are an important part of maintaining accessibility and equity in voting operations. The types of special voting arrangements that may be offered will in a large part be determined by the flexibility and opportunities provided by the voting alternatives contained in the legislative framework (see Voting). Providing these opportunities cost-effectively is the province of voting operations administrators. (For further discussion of management of accessibility issues, see Equal Access to the Electoral Process.)

Assistance for Voters

Voters may have special needs in relation to their understanding of the voting process or completion of voting material (see Language and Literacy Assistance, Physically Handicapped Voters and Voter Information). Integrating these needs into voting materials design, information campaigns, recruitment qualifications for polling staff and provisions for assistance in voting prevents such voters from being marginalised from the election process.

Occupational or Situational Disadvantages

Some sectors of the eligible voting population may not be able to access normally assigned voting facilities due to their occupation (see Remote Areas and Security and Emergency Forces) or a disadvantaged situation (see Homebound, Infirm and Aged, Hospitals and Other Care Institutions, Prisons, Refugees and Displaced Persons and Suppressed Voter Addresses). Providing voting facilities for these sectors of the population may come at an increased cost per voter. Whether it is an effective expenditure will depend on the risks to election validity of such voters not being provided with an opportunity to vote, the importance with which the principle of equity is held within the electoral system, and the efficiency of methods chosen to provide voting access for these voters.

Mobile Voting Stations and Ballot Boxes

The use of mobile voting stations can significantly improve access to voting facilities for those voters living in remote areas (see Remote Areas), in hospitals or other institutional care (see Hospitals and Other Care Institutions and Prisons), and for other persons too infirm or aged to attend a voting station (see Homebound, Infirm and Aged).

The organisation of any mobile voting facilities requires special care, as they can be particularly susceptible to allegations of lack of security, integrity and transparency. Unless carefully controlled and subject to monitoring by political participants and independent observers, they can be open to abuse. On the other hand, in some environments mobile voting stations have been introduced partially as they have been seen as less open to abuse, if properly monitored, than alternative means of providing access to the above categories of voters, such as mail voting. While they increase accessibility, for them to be effective requires an environment with high levels of trust and transparency in the operations of the electoral system.

Operations of Mobile Voting Stations

Different methods of operation for mobile voting can be adopted, including:

  • in its simplest format, it could be a provision allowing staff to bring voting material on voting day to persons outside the voting station but too infirm to enter (so-called "kerbside voting");
  • alternatively, staff members from a voting station could make pre-arranged visits to dwellings and hospitals in the area to allow infirm residents to vote;
  • In a more extensive mode, specially trained polling officials can make planned visits to homes of the aged and infirm, institutions such as hospitals (visiting each ward to allow voting), or on a planned route of remote locations where the population is too mobile or too scattered to effectively locate normal voting stations.

Such mobile voting stations might operate only on voting day, or during any period allowed for advance voting. Particularly in hospital environments, they will only be effective where the election system allows absentee voting. (For video footage of a mobile voting station operating in remote areas of Australia see Remote Mobile Team Operations - Australia 1996.)

Planning Mobile Voting Operations

In planning mobile voting station operations, the following guidelines should be considered:

Careful consideration needs to be given to whether special registration procedures should exist for voters wishing to be serviced by mobile voting stations, and then special voters lists be compiled for this purpose.

At the very least, planning of mobile voting station routes requires careful liaison between voting operations administrators and managers of institutions, community organisations in remote localities, and other potential clients to establish the numbers and, for maximum integrity, identity, of persons wanting to use mobile voting facilities. To maintain equity and protect against allegations of bias, all relevant institutions, remote communities and the like should be approached to determine if the service is desired. Planning should envisage a sufficient number of mobile voting stations and attempt to schedule routes that provide convenient times of service to these voters, who may be in restricted institutional routines.

Mobile voting schedules should be planned in advance of the election, and locations officially announced by the electoral management body. Allowing mobile voting requests received, say, on voting day to be satisfied can create distrust about the activities of mobile voting and disrupt voting station operations. A cut-off date, after which requests for mobile voting services cannot be considered, should be required. This is of particular importance to voting integrity in systems that require a minimum percentage of voter turnout for an election to be declared valid. Touting for "home" votes on election day can be seen as a partisan attempt to reach such a minimum percentage,

Political participants must be advised of schedules in sufficient time to allow them to send representatives with the mobile voting station. Where mobile voting stations visit remote locations by air, boat or road, opportunity could be provided for party or candidate representatives and independent observers to travel with the officials.

There should be a minimum of two experienced polling officials assigned to each mobile voting station, one of which would preferably be at a skill or training level of a voting station manager.

Where mobile voting stations require polling staff to leave their duties in a voting station to conduct mobile voting, service to voters at the normal voting station, in terms of materials available and staffing levels, must be maintained at an acceptable level with the remaining resources.

Materials carried by the mobile voting station must at least be comprised of the voting materials that are standard in a voting station. Equipment provided, such as ballot boxes, seals, voting compartments, needs to be lightweight yet very sturdy. For example, corrugated plastic, rather than cardboard or metal ballot boxes and voting compartments, may be more suitable.

For security reasons, ballot boxes used for mobile voting should feature a lockable slide or other closure over the slot. This closure must be locked (in the presence of any observers) at close of voting at any location, and unlocked (again in the presence of any observers) only when voting commences at the next location.

The planning and implementation of mobile voting--particularly for remote areas involving extensive transport, accommodation and provisioning requirements--can be a major undertaking for which additional resources need to be allocated. Mobile voting station voter processing capacities will be considerably less than that of normal voting stations--in hospital environments, for example, often only in the range of five to ten voters per hour.

Implementation will generally be at a cost per voter serviced many times that of a normal voting station, or a mail vote. However, on public service, accessibility, equity and even on transparency grounds, when strictly controlled and monitored, it can make an important contribution to inclusiveness in voting operations.

Accountability for Mobile Voting Materials

There are a number of issues which require particular attention to ensure accountability for voting materials used by mobile voting stations. These would include:

Ballots and other accountable voting materials should be kept in locked containers when not in use, and, with the ballot box, should never be left unattended, whether during transport or voting.

Accounting and reconciliation of ballots requires very strict controls. This is especially vital where ballots are removed from a voting station to conduct mobile voting, or where mobile voting stations are in operation over several days.

Records must be kept of ballots issued at each location visited by the mobile voting station. Where a mobile voting station operates over more than one day, voting material should be reconciled accurately at least at the end of each day's voting, and discrepancies immediately reported to voting operations management.

Where a mobile voting station operates over more than one day, strict security measures for voting materials must also be implemented outside the hours of voting. In urban areas, this may be return of materials to secure storage in the local or regional election administration office, or to other secure storage (police or bank storage may or may not be appropriate, depending on the political environment). In remote areas, one or more security officers may need to accompany the mobile voting station.

Other Special Locations

Often accommodating particular sectors of the community may come at no or little additional costs. In systems where early or absentee voting is permissible, careful analysis of voting history will indicate optimum locations at which additional service points may be provided--e.g., colleges, airports, bus and rail terminals, and student hostels.

In systems where there are reserved seats for particular minorities, care in designing voting station layouts to enhance access to special voting materials (perhaps through separate ballot issuing areas) and language assistance where necessary, will enable this voting to be conducted within normal voting stations. Such arrangements should minimise differences between reserved seat and other voters.

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