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Unsolicited absentee forms can be alarming

October 25, 2016 GMT

Ruth Tipton says she and her husband always vote, and they do so by trudging down to the polling place on Election Day and voting in person.

None of this advance voting or absentee ballots for them.

That’s why she was irritated when she got two of what she thought were absentee ballots in the mail, and then got another two. What would happen, she asked, if someone got their hands on them and sent them in. She might be turned away when she went to vote on Nov. 8.

Then she realized the forms she got were actually applications for absentee ballots. That’s a lot different than an actual ballot, and at least one was mailed by Gregg for Indiana, Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg’s campaign. But again, what if a stranger got their hands on one, put her name on it and had a real ballot mailed to them?

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“Anyone could write my name on this,” she said. “I don’t like it at all.”

And they want your Social Security number. “I don’t like that at all,” though that is optional.

It turns out this practice is relatively widespread, and it’s leaving a lot of people wondering what’s going on.

“We get a lot of calls,” said Beth Dlug of the Allen County Election Board. “People are confused.”

And some, like Tipton, are irritated.

It’s actually just a get-out-the-vote exercise, Dlug said. Individual candidates do it. State political committees do it. Everybody does it.

Getting the names of registered voters is no problem. Those lists are public information. Anybody can get a list of registered voters, their ages, addresses and party affiliations.

Politicians live and die by that information, using it to decide where to campaign by focusing on areas where members of their party are concentrated, or locating people such as the elderly, who might skip voting if the weather is bad. Send them some political literature and include an application for an absentee ballot. Certainly, some people will bite.

And they do, Dlug said. People complete the applications and send them in, and the election board processes them, making sure the applicant is registered, that their signature matches and so on. And an absentee ballot goes out in the mail.

Where people really get confused, Dlug said, is when they’ve already sent in an absentee ballot and then they get an application for an absentee ballot in the mail.

“But I’ve already voted,” they say. “What happened to the ballot I mailed in?”

Absentee ballots used to be relatively uncommon. They were designed for people who were expected to be out of town on business or vacation on Election Day, women who were expecting babies around Election Day, people who had surgery scheduled for that day.

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You don’t need a real reason to vote absentee these days. So why not send an application to everyone – along with your pitch for office.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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