“ID won’t reduce fraud; absentee balloting reform can,” is the title of a new editorial on The Supreme Court Ruling regarding Indiana’s Voter ID case. A good argument, and an editorial slant I would have written about over the weekend had I not been painting the South Side of my house with the nice weather. The Seattle weather has been pretty rainy this spring…
One of the justices opined that the identification rule treats all voters equally, but that isn’t so. This fall, one group of voters will not have to show any identification in order to vote. They will vote by absentee ballot. Here in Volusia County, about 20 percent of the votes cast in the 2004 presidential election were absentee ballots, and more voters are likely to choose that option in 2008.
Their ballots will be authenticated by merely checking to see if the signature matches, just as it has been done in the past at the polls.
While there is no evidence that voter impersonation is rife at the polls, there is plenty of evidence that absentee ballots have been the venue of choice for illegally cast ballots.
Florida history is full of examples. In Volusia’s controversial 1996 sheriff’s race, hundreds of absentee ballots were counted even though they lacked legally required voter or witness signatures or addresses. In March 1998, the Miami mayor’s race from the previous fall was invalidated because hundreds of absentee ballots were found to have been cast by deceased or fictitious “voters.”
Regardless of whether you vote early, by mail, or at the polls, you will be using our new optical scan ballot. Like the old SAT tests we all used to take, it is a paper ballot; to vote you just fill in the oval to the left of the candidate or issue of your choice using a dark blue or black ink pen. The key to voting this ballot is to fill in the oval: check marks, Xs, or written comments can interfere with how the tabulator reads your ballot. If you make a mistake, just ask for a new ballot.
Every ballot issued in Ada County will have a line drawn through at least one candidate’s name. We printed our ballots in an effort to mail overseas military personnel 45 days preceding the election per federal voting guidelines. That 45-day guideline is also the last day candidates may withdraw. Ten candidates withdrew after our ballots were printed. It was less expensive to draw lines through the ballots than reprint, so remember the lines through the names are all right.
After watching, “Hacking Democracy” the HBO documentary on voting on computers in the 21st Century, you might not “trust” Optical Scan systems. I don’t either. But if used in combination with a pollsite, and on-site precinct level vote counting, then optical scan machines are just fine. In fact, if you look at Zimbabwe’s recent election, you see that a return to precinct level vote count reporting is the main factor in possibly voting out Mugabe the long running dictator of that country. Precinct level hand counts with machine audits. Now that could be a system. However, centralized, privatized vote-by mail systems counted by Diebold or Sequoia or any other proprietary voting system… that’s a system that smells bad.
Which brings me the question of another system that always kinda has a fishy odor, and that’s the Military’s vote. An absentee system that regularly disenfranchises the military. I’ve always fantasized that local precincts could be set up both at schools and for the military… sorta like satelitte voting centers. Well apparently it’s been done before.
Military personnel based outside the United States are still dependent on the mail to receive and cast their ballots. When an election official sends a ballot overseas, it can take three weeks (or more) to reach a soldier in Iraq or a sailor on a ship halfway around the world. Even if the soldier or sailor completes the ballot immediately, it may take another three weeks to get back. Many ballots simply do not get home in time.
A more comprehensive solution, though, could be crafted from the historical example of the first absentee ballots cast by American soldiers. The election of 1864 was held in the middle of a civil war when large numbers of voters were fighting in the field. Wisconsin decided to allow its soldiers to vote absentee, and other states quickly followed suit. Rather than a slow and cumbersome ballot-by-mail process, the states simply set up polling sites in the field encampments of their soldiers. This was easier to do in 1864 when soldiers in many military units came from only one state or community. But modern technology should be able to overcome any obstacles today.