By: Staff Writer
A quick glance at the calendar shows another Election Day fast approaching. Television commercials, radio advertisements, and yard signs provide constant reminders of a day that will come and go for many Americans–except maybe the candidates who might win just enough of the scant few votes cast to claim their seats on local councils and boards, on state legislatures, and even in Congress. Despite the apathy of the typical citizen when it comes to non-Presidential elections, one group stands out as at least slightly more proactive and civic-minded than average. This group consists of absentee voters–some of whom voted this year as early as the 15th of September. While many people are aware of this practice that allows citizens to vote without having to visit a polling place on the day of the election, most people know little about all the different absentee-like options available in the 50 states.
Indiana provides two versions of absentee voting to citizens–the traditional “no-excuse” mail-in absentee ballot and the newer, seemingly oxymoronic, “in-person” absentee method. Importantly, Indiana’s photo ID laws do not apply to absentee-by-mail voters. With two different methods available, it seems many citizens would take advantage of the convenience and ease of the process. But who votes absentee anyway? Luckily, I happen to know of at least one group of about 60 people in a small northern Indiana town who would not miss this opportunity to cast a ballot. These citizens are residents of one of the 511 nursing homes in the state of Indiana–a state with 4.4 million registered voters as of 2012. And while 60 out of 4.4 million may seem insignificant, it is helpful to remember that, especially in smaller races, the difference between winning and losing may depend on a number not far off from 60 votes. This fact combined with Gallup estimates showing older voters accounted for 36% of the electorate in 2012 (the largest generational group) provides sufficient incentive for local politicians to make at least one campaign stop at the nearest nursing facility. It turns out that is exactly what Indiana District 22 GOP candidate Curt Nisly did.
Fortunately for this post, my 101-year-old grandmother was among the group of future absentee voters Nisly, a Tea Party member, intended to woo that day. When I asked her if she remembered anything specific about his visit, she indicated that he shook hands and spoke with each of the forty or so residents gathered in the main social hall for at least long enough to thank them for letting him visit and to encourage them to vote, even if not for him. According to the Activities Director (and corroborated by Grandma), nursing home staff delivered absentee ballots only a few days later–a practice specifically permitted by the Indiana Code for those confined to a healthcare facility on the day of the election. As discussed above, as an absentee-by-mail voter and state nursing home resident, Grandma did not have to show any photo identification, which is fortunate since she has not had a qualifying photo ID since she let her driver’s license expire seven years ago and would likely have difficulty acquiring one given her reduced mobility.
Though it is doubtful the absentee ballots mattered much since Nisly handily defeated the Republican incumbent in that primary election, the more interesting question is whether these same absentee voters, including Grandma, will have any effect on Nisly’s race against Dave Kolbe (D), which already appears embroiled in controversy over the extent of Nisly’s access to voter data during his company’s work on the county elections website. If we assume that controversies like these can enhance competition and create the conditions for a close race, the logical extension of that argument is that every vote will count. While our democratic principles love that idea, I think Grandma likes it even more, but maybe that is just a force of habit. After all, she has been casting ballots since 1936, meaning she’s voted in 20 presidential elections and countless congressional, state, and local races. Curt Nisly, or any candidate for that matter, should feel honored to get Grandma’s vote and any other absentee votes he might be able to swing his way.