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Does absentee voting hurt the election?

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 (UPI) -- With early and absentee voting playing a major part in the 2004 U.S. presidential election there's a debate on whether it's good or bad for the election.

At a forum Tuesday at the conservative Washington think tank American Enterprise Institute, Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for Study of the American Electorate, said he believes absentee voting hinders voter turnout and devalues the electoral process.

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The tradition of going to the polls on Election Day may be at risk and voters may be subjected to coercion, he said.

Pressures one may find easy to resist behind a curtain may be difficult to ignore in front of family, friends or co-workers, when filling out an absentee ballot, Gans said.

"We're undermining the secret ballot," Gans said. "We're undermining the communal act of voting and it's not worth it."

But New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, a Democrat, disagreed.

She said polling officials haven't provided Native Americans or the 42 percent of the Hispanic community in New Mexico with polling places in rural areas. It is impossible for those living as far as 80 to 100 miles away, to exercise their right without absentee voting.

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"We're going into a new era," Vigil-Giron said. "We're not going to go backwards anymore. I don't see us going back to the old way."

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