I’ve written an updated version of this list, here. The following is a composite of several summaries I’ve written on the various reasons that Vote-By Mail systems are problematic:
Absentee ballots are still counted by the same privately owned voting machines that have been in the news, including Diebold, ES&S, Sequoia and all the rest.
In many cases, like King County, WA, the Post Office no longer controls the incoming mail, instead a private company sorts incoming absentee ballots into precincts before giving them back to county for counting. This breaks down any chain of custody rules that may have been in place, and privatizes another link in the chain.
The cost of running an all mail voting system can actually be greater than a poll based voting system.
The Signature Verification Process is error prone and routinely disenfranchises thousands of voters when it is used. Ballots rejected for having invalid signatures are treated as “Guilty before proven innocent.”
Accidental double voting can and does happen.
Some studies show a short term spike, but long term decline in voter participation, in 100% absentee systems. Claims that Vote-By Mail will increase turnout have no real evidence supporting this assertion.
The Absentee System greatly alters the Precinct System.
Vote-By Mail systems eliminate “Election Day” and replace it with “Election Month,” thereby greatly increasing the costs campaigns must spend on GOTV (Get-Out the Vote) efforts.
Many, many people have gone to jail already for rigging elections using absentees, throughout the country and around the world. This is occurring in the here and now, not some distant past. These are not “isolated incidents.”
Vote-By Mail systems alter the time-table of the election cycle. The change to Vote-By Mail means many voters will vote before all the information has been presented by candidates, civic institutions are forced then to either adjust their calendars, or as is currently the case, they don’t change there forum dates, rather fewer voters have a chance to see candidates in person at these forums.
I’ll keep adding links as I have time. Below is an article I wrote that got me started down this path, opposing vote-by mail.
Statement Against Absentee Ballots and Diebold
TSX Touch Screen Voting Machines
by Gentry Lange
The proposal to move King County to a mixed system of vote by mail (VBM) and Diebold TSX Touch Screen Voting machines deserves rejection.
For hundreds of years citizens of the United States have voted in public, and the votes have been counted in public, by the public. The proposal before the King County Council will fundamentally alter that here in King County. We will be voting in private, and the votes will be counted by private hands using private software, with only the illusion that it remains a public process.
The voting machines in King County, with software already controlled by corporate hands, namely Diebold
Election Systems, still have a paper ballot associated with that system… useful in hand recounts. But moving to vote by mail undermines the security of the paper ballots, and removes any real ability to audit the system. Absentee ballots, rather than correcting the software ownership problem I highlighted in my campaign for King County Executive, simply make matters worse by undermining the security of the paper ballot. For the record, if you are trying to avoid the machines by using absentee ballots, absentee ballots are fed into Diebold counting machines anyway. This is exactly what the hand recount in 2004 should have called into question, something that seemed to slip unnoticed by the public and the media. Specifically the hand count overturned two machine counts.
Absentee ballots are far from a panacea to our voting problems. Absentee ballots undermine ballot secrecy, ballot security, and in off-year elections in large counties like King County, all absentee systems will actually increase the costs of running elections. The cost increase and security risks are ironic because the system is being sold as being a “cost saving” measure that will help to run more “error free” elections. There are others who are working to uncover all of these costs, however the list includes printing and increased litigation. Just Google “absentee ballots” and “problems” and you will get over half a million results, three hundred or more of which will be from recent news.
To illustrate some of the problems with absentee ballots here in Washington one need go no further back
in time than to the 2004 Governor’s race. Most glaringly, Andy Stephenson, well known voting activist and former candidate for Washington’s Secretary of State and Larry Phillips, King County Council Member, as well as many other legal voters, had their ballots legally disenfranchised through signature verification problems. These problems were well documented by the Seattle Times. Has this problem suddenly and magically been corrected, or will the numbers of disenfranchised voters simply grow larger as more signatures are kicked back with more people voting on this absentee ballot system? Someone should ask Larry Phillips, considering his was one of the votes kicked on signature during the governor’s race, yet amazingly he now supports the move to a forced absentee ballot system. New litigation is already in the courts regarding non-matching registration cards.
Rick Anderson, reported in April of last year in the Seattle Weekly, regarding the Governor’s race and subsequent recount:
“…95 likely valid votes will not be counted, because they were temporarily lost, and 99 invalid votes, illegally cast by convicted state felons, have been counted. That and a litany of other deficiencies in King County’s democratic process are the continuation of three years of elections-department breakdowns under the watch of Democratic King County Executive Ron Sims, and it’s far from over.”
Rick Anderson was right, it was far from over. It is still far from over. The reality is that the post office
routinely and regularly misplaces, misdirects, or just flat out loses mail. And even a 99% delivery rate would mean close elections could easily be won or lost based on ballots lost in the mail. I fear the USPS has a greater loss rate than this judging by the amount of mail that is delivered to my address for people that do not live with me. How much mail do YOU get that should not
have been delivered to your address?
Just imagine if the banking industry tried to get away with what is being proposed here in King County. Would anyone accept it? Would you trust the US post office with all your cash deposits? My guess is that most of you would not because it is a well known rule that you should not send cash through the United States mail. Well I, for one, think that you should be at least as concerned about the security of your voting system as you are about your banking system.
Rick Anderson continues in the same article to ask:
How can Logan claim he’s correcting a system that’s still breaking down? The other day, it was the discovery of 95 uncounted ballots in storage bins, which will not be counted unless a court rules otherwise, Logan tells me. The discovery also led to a concession that one ballot count, his office’s final Mail Ballot Report, was flat wrong. That exposed another flaw in the tabulation process:
Rather than tally absentee ballots when they arrive at the elections office, so the number can later be inventoried, the county based its bottom line on those eventually counted, in essence, the number of ballots it could find in the office.
The problem highlighted here is that the actual number of returned ballots can never be known. There is no
real feedback loop. When I go to a polling place I sign in, then I vote in private, in a booth or behind a curtain, and then I deposit my ballot in the ballot box. It is not just the secret ballot that is secret–the whole process is made secret when it is at a polling place and you vote privately. Voting at the kitchen table invalidates the protections that make a secret ballot secret.
At the end of the day the number of ballots should match the poll books, and therein lies a good feedback
loop for auditing the system. But when I vote by mail, none of this is necessarily true. If somewhere between my mailbox and the ballot box that ballot is lost, stolen, misplaced, or replaced by malicious intent, I will probably never know. So sure the county can base its bottom line number on the number of ballots
that eventually show up, but this is simply not a trustworthy number by which to judge the accuracy of the system.
Returning to the banking metaphor, I think we can all agree that sending cash through the mail is a very bad idea, but there is a deeper problem here, and that is this company called PSI, Group Inc. PSI is being handed the keys to the kingdom, because they get to “sort” all the incoming ballots.
When you hand over your absentee ballots to a private company for “sorting”, there is no longer any
way to actually audit the system. The banking metaphor makes it easy to understand why this should concern the average voter. Imagine if this was a banking system, and I am a bank teller. All day long I take deposits,
but instead of counting the till at the end of my shift I just dump all the money, deposit slips, and receipts into a bag and give it away to a private company that sorts all the days deposits into 10s 20s, 100s, and puts the receipts in order, and credit card slips in order, because for some reason they have “sorting” expertise. After they “sort” the money and receipts the company gives it back to me, the bank teller. Should I just trust that this private company didn’t pocket some of the money? What if there were no deposit slips, or receipts? Just cash. Because this is really quite similar to the system we now use for absentee ballots here in King County.
So to continue, as the bank teller, once I get the money back from this private sorting company, I then
run the deposits through a bill counter. The bill counter counts the money, and says there’s 10 thousand dollars. Then when “audited”, I run it back through the machines, and low and behold the machines worked perfectly, right?
However, the audit was a sham wasn’t it? Because before the first ballot was counted, the chain of custody
of the bag was broken, and so I don’t know if I gave that company 10k or 20k or 100k, do I? No, I don’t. I just have to trust this company, right?
Then a customer comes to me and says, “Your auditing procedure invites corruption, and your recount is a total smoke and mirrors show to convince me that the machines counting the money are working properly.” To which I reply, “But even when I hand count the money the machines are correct.”
See the logical problem here?
Voter suppression in this system becomes child’s play, and targeting return addresses and zip codes according
to voting patterns is truly a simple task. If a private company physically in control of millions of ballots, wanted to commit any nefarious deeds they would have all the opportunity to commit the act, in private, without any oversight, and the recount would not catch this.
With a combined system where the corporations get to control the counting machines and the physical ballots, you no longer can call the system a democracy. It more properly might be called, “Corptocracy“,
government by and for corporation. But certainly not Democracy, government by and for the people.
Absentee ballots are totally insecure, hand counts do not matter, and the machines themselves are tragically
easy to manipulate. Depositing your vote into the mail, without record, and multiple points of vulnerability that undermine both the secrecy of your vote and the security of your vote, is not a good system. To reiterate, we do not trust sending money through the mail. My question is, “Why do people seem to care so much less about the security of their vote?”
This is not just outsourcing the system to “experts”; rather, it is removing the system from public
Next, one might ask, if unscrupulous individuals had access to the system, what would they look like? Well they might look very much like Jeffrey Dean and John Elders, two felons with interesting connections to King County’s private voting service contractors. Jeff was hired to program a multi-million dollar voter registration database, and John Elder began work printing and sorting ballots. Here’s the most relevant info from the original story:
While in prison, Jeffrey Dean met and became friends with John Elder, who did five years for cocaine trafficking. At the time of this writing , Elder is still on Diebold’s payroll; in fact, he manages a division and oversees the printing of both ballots and punch cards for several states. Punch cards, remember, can also be rigged, by selectively die-cutting so that some chads dislodge more easily than others. Diebold’s printing division also bids on printing for Sequoia.
King County contracts the mailing of its absentee ballots out to Elder’s division, and Elder’s division subcontracts with a firm called PSI Group Inc. to sort the incoming absentee ballots – the most high-risk security point for absentee ballots. You see, we know how many absentee ballots we send out, but we have no idea how many are filled out and sent back in, especially if they pass through a middleman before being counted by elections officials. The elections division may tell you they count the ballots before outsourcing for precinct sorting, but in major metro areas, up to 60,000 ballots arrive in a single day and they are simply not staffed for this. It makes no sense to count ballots by precinct and then send them out for sorting.
Clearly, this kind of information should make anyone interested in finding out more. Like the fact Jeff Dean was in jail for 23 counts of embezzlement and was apparently good at installing backdoors into computer systems. It might make you question why this guy was then hired to program King County’s Voter Registration database when he was released from jail. Just maybe?
This story, originally broken at a press conference called by Andy Stephenson and Bev Harris at Seattle’s Labor Temple, has been repeated by many major news organizations, including The AP, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, the Seattle Times, The Seattle Weekly, and hundreds of other news organizations around the world… and somehow forgotten just 1.5 years later. It is well researched, and unchallenged in court as to my knowledge. In fact, what many in King County seem to be ignoring is that the county is not just moving to absentees. No, King County is also bringing in the Diebold TSX Touch Screen Voting machines which California’s Secretary of State was sued over, and just lost! So apparently these same machines, now unlawful in California, are just fine for King County.
But lest one might think that this is a partisan issue, and that somehow in speaking out against this Vote-By Mail proposal I am helping the Republican Party, if you look up what happened in Florida and Ohio in 2000 AND 2004, it is the Democrats crying foul over alleged hanky panky with absentee ballots. There are literally hundreds of news articles around the country which tell the story of the problems of absentee ballot systems.
For starters, I’d recommend Greg Palast’s article, “Madame Butterfly Flies Off with Ballots, Florida Fixed Again? Absentee Ballots Go Absent” on Florida 2004. This article details just some of the ways the absentee ballot system is useful for vote fraud. While in 2000, the BBC reported, “Authorities are investigating the apparent loss of 58,000 absentee forms in Broward County while officials have said replacements are being sent out.” Hmm…
And in Ohio 2004, still posted on the website Democrats.com:
A careful review of the absentee vote in one Ohio county revealed that many more absentee votes were cast than there were absentee voters identified:
“When there are more votes than voters, there is a big problem” stated Dr. Werner Lange, author of this study which would have been completed weeks earlier if Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, co-chair of the Ohio Bush-Cheney campaign, had not unlawfully ordered all 88 boards of elections to prevent public inspection of poll books until after certification of the vote.
The absentee vote inflation rate for these five communities averages 5.5 fraudulent voters per precinct. If this pattern of inflated absentee votes holds for all of Ohio’s 11,366 precincts, then there were some 62,513 absentee votes in Ohio up for grabs in the last election. Who grabbed them and how they did so should be the subject of an immediate congressional investigation.
So it seems that Democrats across the nation are concerned about absentee ballot problems, just not here in King County. In King County our elected leaders either are shockingly unaware of these problems, or quizzically, they are embracing this problematic system. Why is that?
And even more recently, the AP reported on absentee ballot stuffing allegations in Kentucky.
While closer to home, just last week in Snohomish County, absentee ballots were not even mailed out to 344 voters... a number that is ironically larger than the margin off victory in the last Washington State Governor’s race.
I could go on, but anyone can use Google and find more examples than I have time to present. If we are going to sacrifice the secret ballot on the altar of convenience, we should at least be provided with all the facts before making such a drastic change to King County’s Voting system. Where are these facts? The politicians pushing this proposal offer little that convinces me that this new system is a move in the right direction.
To me, the solution to the voting controversy is simple. We need to, as a country, go back to the system of precinct level hand counts on paper ballots. The precinct level hand counted system has always proven to be the least prone to fraud. This has been shown in scientific studies. And is easy for the layman to understand. There are several ways to make this system feasible in large jurisdictions, and many nations hand count entire elections efficiently and accurately. These include Germany, Switzerland and Canada.
For now, I am joining the call for a public vote on this drastic change. If the politicians and pundits are so sure that the majority of the people really want to sacrifice democracy for convenience, let’s debate the issue a few months longer, and then let the people decide.
After all, I liked voting absentee, that is until I learned a bit about it.
Absentee Ballot Problems In The News
A 20% error rate in King County’s Absentee system. No, it can’t be.
And interesting report from a poll worker, gives relevant testimony on absentee ballot problems from a poll-workers perspective.
King County’s absentee-ballot supervisor has testified that she collaborated with her boss when she filled out a report that falsely showed all ballots were accounted for in the November election.
Diebold TSX Problems In the News
The Harri Hursti Report
The May 11th, 2006, Security Report on TSX machines
John Giddeon’s recent Op-Ed
A whole lot of info, articles, and scholarly sources.
A legal history of absentee ballots.
Lots and lots of info, Vote Fraud And Election Issues Book Map.
Absentee voting fraud in England
Legal scholar takes on Absentee Ballots as fraught with risks.
A long paper on absentee ballot problems.
Here’s an older breakdown that I compiled, so I’m including it here until I have time to slim down and edit this whole page…1. Vote By Mail eliminates the Secret Ballot.2. Vote By Mail is typically counted by proprietary vote counting machines.3. Vote By Mail has major issues maintaining proper chain of custody over the ballots.4. Vote By Mail is highly vulnerable to vote fraud efforts, such as voting for another voter with or without their approval.5. Vote By Mail is highly vulnerable to electioneering efforts (centralized vote counts on proprietary computer software).6. Vote By Mail drastically increases the number of blank un-voted ballots that exist in the system, and available to those who might want to commit illegal acts.7. Vote By Mail is a highly privatized system of vote counting… from the printing, to the sorting, to the vote counting software, VBM is not a public system of voting.
8. Vote By Mail systems drasitcally alter the time tables of our electoral system nationally, and locally, making campaigning longer and more exspensive, and known winners far less certain on election day.
9. Vote By Mail systems in large counties drastically increase the costs of the printing, mailing, and sorting of ballots.
10. Vote By Mail systems enable vote buying schemes such as “Granny Farming”.
11. Vote By Mail systems undermine the civic institution of the Poll Place.
Ok, so there’s the initial list. There’s a longer discussion of each that follows…
1. Vote By Mail eliminates the Secret Ballot.
Voting at the kitchen table in front of your spouse is not voting in secret behind a privacy screen at a polling booth. The secret ballot is not created by a “privacy envelop”, rather the secret ballot relies on the the polling site, and the secrecy provided by a polling booth. Without this fundamental level of protection, the ballot becomes far more susceptible to influence.
Vote buying, vote collecting, and vote stuffing schemes become possible in vote by mail systems. The main reason is that a signed but unvoted ballot becomes valuable in a system that spends billions on elections every year.
2. Vote By Mail is typically counted by proprietary vote counting machines.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that you are somehow circumvented the Diebold, or ES & S machine just cause you are voting by mail. No in fact most vote by mail systems are counted by the very same computer systems that your vote would be counted upon were you to be voting at a polling site. And in the case of some counties that have been switched over to touch screens, there have been reports that the absentee ballots are typically hand entered into the touchscreen system anyway.
In 2006, Maryland made national headlines because the state has gone touch screen but absentees are paper ballots. The Republican Governor made a fuss about the touch screens that the Democratic Secretary of State, Linda Lamone, has been pushing. The rate of absentee ballot requests went through the roof in Maryland because people wanted a paper ballot.
However, if their paper ballot system is anything like King County, the paper ballots are eventually fed into the Accu Vote system made by Diebold, and then counted by the centralized, GEMS central tabulation software. “Hacking Democracy”, the recent HBO documentary, makes it clear that the problem is deeper than machine A verus machine B.
Feeding paper ballots into machines, and then never auditing the paper ballots is not acceptable. However, it is a common practice with absentee systems.
3. Vote By Mail has major issues maintaining proper chain of custody over the ballots.
You wouldn’t send $100 bill through the United States Postal Service would you? Why? Because the postal system is insecure. From the typically unlocked mailbox on your front porch, to the mail truck, to the post office, then to the sorting company, and then back to the county for a final tally, every time ballots are moved…. just like money…. the security of those ballots is compromised. Banks transport money under armed guard. The postal system is far from secure.
4. Vote By Mail is highly vulnerable to vote fraud efforts, such as voting for another voter with or without their approval.
Tracing signatures works under most vote by mail signature verification systems. So I imagine that as an apartment manager I have at least 6 signatures that I could copy off checks onto ballots if I was so inclined, that is as long as I intercepted the ballots before my renters got home.
But hey, a lot of my friends actually have offered just to give me their vote… So it’s not even necessary to steal ballots outta the mail to exert undo influence to get a few extra votes to cast in a vote by mail system. People will just sign away their right to vote of their own free will in vote by mail systems.
5. Vote By Mail is highly vulnerable to electioneering efforts (centralized vote counts on proprietary computer software).
Electioneering is the by E in Election Fraud. It’s the stuff that happens on the large scale, like Chicago’s infamous voting “machine” electioneering involves large numbers, and the coordinated effort to switch large numbers of votes. Electioneering has the power to change the outcome of elections, and has the power to do so, even in races that should not be close.
Vote Rigging, on the otherhand, is the type of actions where one person alters one or two votes. Maybe it’s a stolen ballot used by a thief, maybe it’s a ballot thrown out by an angry roomate, vote rigging is small scale stuff.
Usually this type of effort is not capable of changing the outcome of large elections. Only extremely close elections are likely to be affected by vote rigging.
Vote by mail, or absentee ballot systems, allow both types of fraud to flourish, making both the individual efforts at vote rigging, and the coordinated efforts at electioneering easier.
6. Vote By Mail drastically increases the number of blank un-voted ballots that exist in the system, and available to those who might want to commit illegal acts.
Think about it. The number of ballots available in absentee systems is far greater than the number of ballots in use in a typical poll place election. This is because in poll based voting systems the number of ballots printed is always less than 100%, because the number of ballots printed is based on the number of projected voters that are likely to turn out plus a buffer. So let’s say that the election is likely to turn out 50% of the registered voters, well then 50% of the ballots are needed, and the county then order 60% or 70% printing, so that there are enough ballots, without a lot of wasted ballots. In the poll based system, the extra ballots are also controlled and can then be audited and accounted for when the election is over.
However, when an election has a large number of vote by mail voters registered, then the number of ballots printed for those registered absentee goes right to 100%. But the rate of voting does not go to 100%. So with even a 70% projected turnout (or return), now there are an additional 30% of the ballots simply in the system that would not be returned under normal circumstances (i.e. 70% expected turnout). Now these extra ballots become a target for any number of schemes.
In addition, these extra ballots are not under lock at key at the poll site. No, these new and vastly more numerous ballots are now mixed in with junk mail and bills, in living rooms and on kitchen tables across the country. That’s a lot of insecure votes just floating around in an election, and it adds a huge new complexity to the system making it virtually impossible to track.
7. Vote By Mail is a highly privatized system of vote counting… from the printing, to the sorting, to the vote counting software, VBM is not a public system of voting.
This will be a long paragraph. I will add more info soon.
8. Vote By Mail systems drasitcally alter the time tables of our electoral system nationally, and locally, making campaigning longer and more exspensive, and known winners on election day far less certain on election day.
This has been written about at some length, so I will give a cliff note’s version. Vote-by mail systems have started to alter the campaign season because it voters are actually voting over the course of weeks, not on one single day. So both early voting and vote by mail systems have unintended and rather severe impacts on campaign strategy. With a single voting day, campaigns really focus all their efforts on one day, one voting drive, one message, and one crecendo. However, with several weeks of consecutive voting, campaigns shift tactics and go into overdrive for the several weeks leading up to election day which becomes the sort of “cut-off” day, rather than the election day.
Campaigns which are flush with money, say from corporate donors and the like, have the financial ability to maintain this extended crecendo, however regular citizen candidates typically do not. So in the long run, vote by mail systems make campaigns more costly and favor candidates with big war chests.
9. Vote By Mail systems in large counties drastically increase the costs of the printing, mailing, and sorting of ballots.
With the possibility of a forced vote by mail system becoming reality in King County, my home county, the number of ballots being printed goes directly to 100% of registered voters, regardless of the 40-70% expected turn-out in any given race.
Mail ballots cost more to print than regular ballots, because their are security envelopes, mailing envelopes, and sorting costs associated with mail ballots that are not regularly incurred by poll ballots. In addition mailing costs go to 100% of registered voters as well. Poll place paper ballot systems do not require multiple envelopes or shipping costs.
10. Vote By Mail systems enable vote buying schemes such as “Granny Farming”.
11. Vote By Mail systems undermine the civic institution of the Poll Place.
Hundreds of thousands of citizens all around the country run elections. Poll workers are a civic institution and a part of democracy. And the fact is their oversight of the system is what keeps the voting system in the hands of the people.
Vote by mail systems are all about getting rid of the polling place. Because getting rid of the polling place gets rid of the polling place volunteers and poll workers. Going to all absentee vote by mail systems will not get rid of electioneering efforts, it will just make the evidence of those efforts go away.
Some people call long-lines at polling places a type of voter-suppression…. well it is, but it’s also the evidence of that voter suppression. With forced vote by mail systems the effort will still be their, the evidence will simply go missing.