The right to vote in a free and open election is considered a sacred privilege in democratic countries. In order to certify the results and reduce the chance of election fraud, trained poll workers must verify that a registered voter appeared in person at a designated voting area and filled out an official ballot. But what happens when a registered voter cannot physically appear at his or her designated polling place? One solution is a legal proxy known as the absentee ballot.
An absentee ballot generally contains the same information as a regular ballot, from candidates' names to descriptions of the issues. The only difference is that absentee ballots are mailed directly to voters who request them before the actual voting day. Every country and state has different qualifications for receiving an absentee ballot, but there are some general similarities. Voters must be officially registered before they can request an absentee ballot. This means an unregistered American voter cannot request his or her first ballot while working overseas.
One common reason for requesting an absentee ballot is physical infirmity or age. Senior citizens over the age of 60 generally qualify for an absentee ballot because reaching the official voting location would be too stressful. Hospital patients who are restricted to their beds at voting time can also request an absentee ballot. Others eligible for an absentee ballot include incarcerated prisoners, students attending out-of-state colleges, active military personnel, private citizens working overseas and poll workers called to work at other voting areas. Even astronauts in space are eligible for an absentee ballot in Texas.
During the majority of elections and special voting days, the effects of absentee balloting are negligible. The final outcome of an election is rarely in doubt before the absentee ballot count is added. However, in rare cases, such as the 2000 United States presidential election, the final outcome of a close race can come down to absentee ballot results. Absentee voters from the state of Florida did have some last-minute influence on the 2000 presidential race, with a number of military personnel voting primarily for Republican candidate George W. Bush and private citizens living overseas voting primarily for Democratic candidate Al Gore. These numbers tightened an already tight race, although the election results were eventually decided by the Supreme Court.