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Demand for mail-in ballots in Texas is growing, as are the risks


The following ran in the July 8, 2012, edition of the Fort Worth Star Telegram. Political Scientist Cal Jillson provided expertise for this story.

July 12, 2012

By Anna M. Tinsley

The primary runoffs may not be until July 31, but the scramble for votes is already on as candidates battle more and more for the increasingly important early mail-in votes.

Thousands of Texans vote at home and mail the ballots. The process is intended for people who are over 65, disabled, out of town or in jail but not convicted of a felony.

But there's a catch.

"If there's voter fraud -- if there is -- that's where it is, with the mail-in ballots," Tarrant County Elections Administrator Steve Raborn said. "We have no way of knowing what happens in the voter's home or if someone is out there trying to coerce votes."

In recent years, mail-in ballots were most in demand during the historic 2008 presidential election, when more than 76,000 were requested from the state. More than 18,000 were sent for the 2010 midterm elections, in which Gov. Rick Perry ran for re-election, and this year, nearly 9,000 have been requested, state records show.

Concerns about these ballots are generally logged after election results are in....

"Absentee ballots are entirely legal and appropriate and have been for decades," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "In every election, they get particular scrutiny because they are not votes being cast under the watchful eye of precinct monitors.

"They are filled out at kitchen tables. And we can't see what's happening at those tables," he said. "But the vast majority of them are legal votes."...

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