Can you fill out another voter's absentee ballot?

So, in this thread, I came upon an interesting practice, in which a person would take another’s absentee ballot, mark it, have it signed, and then mailed. This was done with the original voter’s consent.

Now, my first thought was that this must be against the law. Secrecy of the ballot, integrity of the vote and all that. I was, however, unable to find any law that actually contraindicated such actions. The best I could find were guidelines for assisting people with disabilities, which were more strict in what was allowed of the assistant than the process being described in the post. So, I still think that such action would be frowned upon by the law, but I don’t know this, whether due to my own lack of “legal-fu”, or because such a law does not exist.

There is also the question of ethics, so if there is not actually a law that covers this, and it delves into a question of whether or not it is “right” to engage in such practice, I suppose that GD or even IMHO may be a better location for the discussion.

I am in in a position where there are quite a number of people for whom I prepare sample ballots, and I assume that they take my recommendations into account when they go vote. If marking another’s ballot practice is legal and ethical, it could be quite interesting for me. I could probably have as many as 50+ ballots to fill out, I have done over 30 sample ballots for friends and acquaintances so far, and we still have a few weeks till the election, and I still have at least 3 shindigs to go to where I will meet people who want my opinion on how to vote. I never even considered asking them for their mail-in-ballots to fill out, but if it turns out to be legal, and there are no major ethical qualms, I may change my mind on that.

Before I tell you, I would need to know how you would vote for POTUS.

Actually, if I understand your question correctly, (the person actually–and knowingly-- signs the ballot, you’re just filling it in first), I don’t see any legal or ethical problem.

In my state, Arizona, it’s legal if you are assisting a disabled person. There is an affidavit on the ballot envelope where you must fill in your name and address and sign it. The voter must also sign the envelope. I don’t know if the law allows you to assist more than one voter. Your county’s office of voter records might be able to tell you.

To clarify, the Person In Question seems to be gathering absentee ballots from friends/acquaintances who trust his/her judgement and are not disabled. Implication is that these are people who wouldn’t vote (or wouldn’t fill a complete ballot). Fills 'em out, gives 'em back for the voters to sign.

Whatever the legality - and I imagine that’s a pretty local question - it seems to me that this is unethical (as I understand the practice) if you consider fighting ignorance an important ethical good. I’m much more comfortable if the process involves some level of explanation (or education). Even a simple “I followed the recommendations on the ____ Party voter guide” would be better than nothing.

(It may well be that the PIQ does this already, or that previous discussion with these … extremely absentee voters has done that work already. As I understood the practice as described in the original thread, I didn’t think it was very ethical, but different circumstances would make me change my mind.)

I have no idea about the legalities, but it gets very murky on the ethical side and feels like a bad idea.

I could see if someone had a family member that was disabled to the point of them not being able to fill out their ballot, and then asking for help. Even if they were not “up” on the issues of a particular item, or were not knowledgeable about a particular candidate and that family member offered guidance.

Beyond that, I agree that people voting just because someone they trust tells them how to vote seems to be outside the design of the process.

Taken to an extreme, what would stop a candidate from offering say $100 for people to give their ballot and let someone else fill it in? That would clearly be unethical and against what the process should be. But how would that be any different than the described action of just taking some number of ballots and filling them out for people.

If someone does not care enough about the election to understand the candidates, platforms, and issues, then they really should just stay home and not vote. Yes, they have the right, but I don’t think they should exercise that right.

You could argue it violates the letter of the law.

You could also argue it violates the spirit of the law.

And even if not those, you can also argue it looks improper. As someone once said, it isn’t just enough to avoid impropriety, it is important to avoid the appearance of such.

With three possible strikes against it, I sure wouldn’t do it. Certainly not for a large group of people. I MIGHT do for one seriously disabled friend or relative.

(Why do I think explanation/education is important? Basically, I think this action requires informed consent. The more informed the consent, the better. If the voter signing their name doesn’t at minimum know how they’re voting, let alone why? I don’t think they’re truly voting at all, and there’s something ethically fishy about the whole thing.
I just remembered that my grandmother [citizen] gave my dad [non-citizen] her absentee ballot to fill out once when I was a kid! I’d call them out on that, too.)

Federal law prohibits vote buying. Most/all states have similar laws for state elections.

I don’t see any connection between that and asking someone you trust how they’re going to vote, and voting the same way.

I would be comfortable, in cases of people completely capable of filling out their ballot on their own, with the “assister” merely giving the voter a list of preferences and leaving them alone from then on.

Secret ballots are are secret for a very good reason. A lot of people are hesitant to vote their choice if they know someone else will find out about it. Filling it out for them goes way beyond that.

Getting someone’s permission to see or fill out their ballot is also breaking the secret ballot concept. Again, many people are too easily swayed to give permission. Some might even be afraid*. Asking someone if they are freely giving up a right in this situation is pointless.

For people with disabilities, other steps would need to be taken. I would esp. hope that the person filling out the ballot is an outsider with no sway over the person.

  • I see all too often on this board people stating that “no one was afraid” of their action. Umm, people in fear usually don’t announce it nor admit it if asked. :dubious:

Asking how they are voting and then voting the same yes, but the statement then got to 50 people and just taking their absentee ballot and filling it out for them and getting them to sign it is vastly different.

And yes, there is a law against vote buying, but let’s say a civic leader indicates that the area would benefit dramatically if a certain person was elected or law was passed and that just to make it easy on them, they could just hand over their signed ballot and some volunteers would fill it out for them.

My point is, it gets murky and as stated, it is best to steer clear of any hint of impropriety.

In Oregon, it is illegal for a boss or union officer to assist you with your ballot. But otherwise it seems to be OK.

If it was me, I’d stick to preparing sample ballots and letting other people mark their choices. I feel like this is more empowering to them - they have your expertise to fall back on, but they’re the one making the final mark. It would be easy for them to mark something different without feeling like they’re challenging you or having to justify it to you.

Legally, though, you’d really have to check the fine print in your jurisdiction. I know that my voter’s pamphlet specifies the type of pen to use in marking answers, but doesn’t say anything about who marks the answers (we’re all mail-in here in WA). It’s only at the signature line where they specify you must make your own signature or disabled people can make any mark and have two witnesses sign to confirm the mark.

As I recall in New Jersey (where I used to live), it was fine for someone to assist in filling out an absentee ballot. The assisting person had to fill in their name and sign it as an assisting person. The absentee ballot holder also had to sign it. The assisting was due to a variety of reasons, such as non-English speaker, disabled in some way, or just illiterate.

The problem in my little town (Hoboken) was that certain parts of town were known to harvest absentee ballots for $40 or so. The $40 was “technically” for being a election day campaign worker, but those people were rarely seen on the streets on election day. Some people got extra money for harvesting the ballots, and they would assist on 20 or more ballots. There was one ward election where a guy won with 1200 total votes, with about 600 being absentee ballots. All but 10 of those absentee ballots were from “election day workers” for the candidate.

I think NJ changed the voting law to limit the number of ballots that an individual can assist with. Although the change may have been in how many ballots an individual could carry in. The way the system worked is the harvesters would collect the ballots and carry them to correct location to turn them in. The reason that they did not simply mail them, is using the federal mail would open them up to federal wire fraud (or some similar serious crime).

I will be filling in a bubble next to the candidate’s name that I prefer. :slight_smile:

That’s what I am trying to find out. I thought it violated the letter of the law, but I have not found that law.

Getting into ethical territory here, and once again, need to find that law first.

It is perfectly legal and acceptable to assist a disabled person with their ballot. Other than employers or union members, pretty much anyone can be chosen to assist.

I would not have thought I would feel comfortable with this practice, but if it is in fact legal, and there are already people doing this, then it only makes sense to join in myself. If I was actually pushing it, I could probably command a couple hundred votes, definitely dozens. Not doing this if it were to be an acceptable practice would actually be neglecting my civic duty at this point.

This I agree with completely. I have a large number of people who ask me to print and fill out a sample ballot for them. I always offer to and try to talk to them about their preferences, especially where it comes to taxes and levies, to see whether their concern is more about the amount the tax will cost them, versus what the tax will provide for the community. I have on many occasions advised different people who lived in the same district to vote differently on the same issue. Some people don’t want to talk about the issues and just want me to fill out a sample ballot that they can take with them, and I’ll accommodate that, though I will usually leave notes on the sample ballot summing up what I would have talked about for some of the issues. I consider this assistance to be my civic duty, a kind of community service, if you will.

My friends may just be humoring me, and throwing my sample ballot out the moment they are out of sight. They may be following my advice, except on one or two issues or candidates upon which they feel differently than I do. They may try just turning in the sample ballot when they show up at the polls. They may not even go vote. (Though that is something that I can know, and have looked up in the past on a couple of people and chided them for their lack of civic service, but I no longer bother, if they decided not to vote, that’s their decision too.)The point is, I don’t know. I don’t need to know. I don’t even want to know. And that’s important. It is THEIR decision. They can follow or ignore my advice freely, without me even knowing whether or not they followed my advice.

If I am filling out the actual ballot for them, then they may not like some of my choices, but be uncomfortable having an argument about how to fill out their own ballot, and that puts them into an interesting position. They may be embarrassed that they want to vote for a candidate that I have expressed dislike for. They may be embarrassed to vote against a school levy that I have endorsed. Point is, the filled out ballot may not reflect the choices that they actually would like to make, just the choices I would make.

Like I said though, if this is actually a legal practice, and people are doing it right now, then I am almost compelled to join in, otherwise, my own vote is compromised in value.

k9bfriender, you have no reason to be ashamed or embarrassed about your position. You can proudly call yourself a community organizer! You have the ability to get people to vote. That’s important. If you can influence their ballots, now you have the power. Once you have the power then you get the money. Do you know what you get next?

I clearly do not get out enough.

My own wife barely listens to me, much less dozens or more than 100 people.

I personally would steer clear of this. Partially because of the ethical ramifications, and partly because I would be too lazy to want to fill out dozens of ballots. :slight_smile:

A puppy?

You get to say hello to his leetle friend.

Or maybe Michelle Pfeiffer.

The bolded portion may be the legal catch.

Googling around, it appears that the signature is an affidavit – a sworn instrument. If the signature affidavit asserts that the signatory filled out the form himself/herself, that’s perjury. So while maybe the person doing the filling out won’t be in obvious legal trouble, the one doing the signing (having the ballot filled out) will.

All the discussion – in this thread and the original one – of assisting other people is interesting, but not relevant to the situation at hand.

The person in question collects absentee ballots from dozens of other people, fills them out however he wants, then gives them back to the original people, who simply sign them and mail them in.

Is it legal? Apparently, we don’t know yet, but it’s hard to find a law specifically forbidding the practice.

Is it unethical? Abso-fucking-lutely. If nothing else, it violates the “one person, one vote” rule.