Alternative voting methods – a dummy’s guide

By Tom Beasley

President Obama has become the first sitting President to cast his vote early, but what are these alternative voting methods and how do they affect the voting system?

On October 25th, Barack Obama returned to his hometown of Chicago in order to cast his vote via early ballot. This is the first time a presidential nominee has cast their vote in this way and shows high profile support for voting methods that go beyond marking a bit of paper on Election Day.

A variety of methods, from punch-cards to paper ballots read by optical scanners to ATM-style touch screen voting machines, will be used by Americans to cast their votes in person this year at polling stations. Some of these include:

Early Voting

For those unable to get to a polling station on Election Day, it is possible for them to walk into a polling station any time from around a month prior – depending on their state’s rules – and cast their vote in person via an early ballot. In 32 states and the District of Columbia, Americans can vote early without providing an excuse as to why they would prefer not to vote on Election Day.

Absentee Ballots

American citizens who reside outside of the US or are unable to get to a polling station can request a ballot paper to be handed in by mail. This is referred to as an “absentee ballot” and is allowed in 28 states. Oregon and Washington residents all vote by mail and, in the former, the phrase “absentee ballots” refers to other voting methods.

Some overseas votes are not received until after Election Day and it is partly for this reason that the Electoral College system does not kick into action until early December, before the votes then are certified by Congress in January.

Electronic Voting Methods

Of the 50 American states, 31 currently allow service members and others living abroad to vote via fax, email or a secure voting website. In the wake of a successful iPad-based trial during a special election late last year, Oregon is one of 11 states that currently, or will soon, allow residents to register for an online vote as long as they have a valid state driver’s licence or ID card.

With Barack Obama casting his vote early, and polling experts predicting that 35% of the electorate are doing the same, it’s possible that these early votes could have a major bearing on the final result.