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Voting By Mail More Prone to Errors, Study Says

Technology has improved the accuracy of in-person voting, but absentee voting is another story, a new study finds.

The inaccuracy of voting systems made headlines in 2000 when events in Florida led many to dispute the election of President George W. Bush. While technological advancements have eliminated many of the problems of voting machines, MIT News reported, a study released on Oct. 18 found that early voting by mail is much less accurate than in-person voting.

“A lot of changes over the last decade have made voting in America better,” said Charles Stewart III, a professor of political science at MIT, who co-authored the new report with five colleagues at four universities. “The possibility of a [situation like Florida’s 2000 election] is much lower now than it was 12 years ago. [However,] we have possibly gotten way ahead of ourselves in encouraging people to vote by mail. It’s pretty clear that the improvement we’ve gotten by having better voting machines in the precincts may be given back by having more and more people voting at home.”

Outdated machines, like those that use punch cards and levers, have largely been replaced with more reliable optical-scan or electronic voting machines. The residual vote rate, or number of uncounted ballots, has dropped from 2 percent in 2000 to 1 percent in 2006 and 2008, the report found. However, the reported stated, “absentee voting is more prone than in-person voting to residual vote rates.”

And the more error-prone voting method is becoming more popular. In 2000, 14 percent of voters voted by mail, and in 2008, 28 percent voted by mail. “The genie may be out of the bottle,” Stewart said. “We’ve settled for convenience at the cost of accuracy and making sure that every vote counts.”

The full report on the new study can be found at MIT News.