The ability to vote from home is pretty handy. Instead of waiting in line at the local elementary school on a rainy evening, munching on a stale complimentary oatmeal cookie that one of the poll workers picked up from Safeway, you get to fill out your ballot from the comfort of your kitchen.
This will be the first presidential election in Washington state conducted entirely by mail. Other than a few die-hards who insist on voting at one of the handful of polling locations left (in King County they're called Accessible Voting Centers), the average voter in Washington state seems more than happy to vote from home. The trend has been going on here for two decades, with pecuniary county auditors ignoring arguments about ballot security, fraud, and abuse--including domestic abuse.
The colloquial kitchen table analogy has the informed family sitting down over coffee, thoughtfully perusing their voter's guide while relaxingly filling in bubbles beside their favorite candidate. What's happening more and more, however, is that one person (usually the most politically active family member) ends up filling out multiple household ballots, signing them, and mailing them in.
Only the most rabid John Fund-amentalist will make a voter fraud issue out of this sort of scenario. But what happens when everyone at the kitchen table doesn't have a free choice?
In abusive relationships, the victim often doesn't even get to choose what to wear, what to eat, or who they socialize with. In the worst cases, the abuser controls every moment of the victim's life. Picture your stereotypical wife-beater. He's been slapping around his live-in girlfriend off-and-on for a decade. Last week the cops were called to his place because she forgot to buy food for his piranha (growing up in White Center during the 1980s, this incident actually occurred in this writer's neighborhood). So when a ballot arrives in the mail from the county election office, who really gets to fill it out?
Finding accurate statistics for domestic violence is notoriously difficult, given the personal nature of the crime, and only really occurs when law enforcement is involved.
In 2009, there were 9,675 cases reported in King County, with 48,186 statewide.
The King County Sheriff's Office did a keyword search through it's crime data base and did not find any instances of domestic violence involving arguments over politics, ballots or voting. So the problem - fortunately - either doesn't exist or else no one is looking to document it.
Merril Cousin, Executive Director with the King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence hasn't come across a case involving voting and domestic abuse. "It certainly seems conceivable that this is possible," Cousin allows. "I've never heard of something like this. But it doesn't mean that it hasn't happened."
She agreed, however, that there's greater potential for intimidation when voting at home. An abusive husband, for instance, can look over his wife's shoulder to make sure she fills the ballot out "right," whereas at a polling place she has the luxury of voting for whomever she wants in secret.
"What we know about domestic violence is that there's an ongoing pattern of abuse," Cousin explains. "Partners use coercion, whether it's explicit or implicit."