Vote-By Mail and Electronic Poll Books

I receive emails regularly from the Equal Justice Foundation, from Dr. Charles E. Corry.  He’s done quite a lot of work opposing Vote-By Mail and electronic voting problems in Colorado, and recently sent me this editorial called, “Detecting election fraud made virtually impossible.” Having checked EJF’s website I couldn’t readily find it posted anywhere, so I am going to reprint it here, because, well, it’s about the best summary editorial of voting integrity problems I’ve read recently:

The story by Myung Oak Kim on Voter-database doubts in yesterday’s Rocky Mountain News raises serious questions about the potential for election fraud. From the article it appears that election officials intend to use Colorado’s SCORE II statewide voter registration database as an electronic poll book during precinct elections in the future. Certainly electronic poll books are already in use, and required for vote center and mail ballot elections. However, such usage is fraught with peril, and the current system cannot even keep such simple fields as a voter’s party affiliation straight. Since the system has been developed in secret, and public review will no doubt be extremely limited in the future, there is absolutely no way to know whether the names in the database are corporeal, the addresses exist and are residential, how many are in a secret file for alleged victims of domestic violence, what other chicanery exists or, more likely, gross incompetence is hidden behind “security by obscurity.”

     Before going further, I would like to recommend the book Deliver The Vote, A History Of Election Fraud, An American Political Tradition – 1742-2004 by Tracy Campbell.  Anyone familiar with election fraud, and as Tracy Campbell abundantly documents, realizes that a basic and essential tool for detecting election fraud is a printed poll book containing signatures of those who appeared at the precinct and voted in the election. But election officials are rapidly eliminating that fundamental protection with no debate or review.
      While the use of “repeaters,”  “drifters,” and “illegals,” together with vote buying and selling are nothing new to American elections, requiring a voter to appear in person at their precinct and physically sign a printed poll book in which they were listed, and that was available for future inspection, at least made the logistics of election fraud complicated and heightened the possibility of exposure and prosecution. But with electronic poll books there is little likelihood that public inspection can be easily accomplished or that the records will be preserved intact and complete. Also, signature capture and comparison is becoming all-electronic with little or no testing, and certainly no standards, for the required equipment and methods. The problems are particularly acute with mail ballots and exacerbated by mail-in voter registration where the “citizen” never personally appears before an election official, then may request a ballot by mail without any justification, or may be sent a ballot without even requesting one.
    Thus we now have a system where we don’t have access to any real documentation, there is no requirement that “voters” establish their physical existence, and only ephemeral electronic records exist for the election that we can’t see.
    One of the perennial problems with election fraud is that there are more ballots cast than voters who signed the poll book. Ofttimes there are even more ballots cast than there are registered voters in a precinct, which has happened on numerous occasions with electronic voting machines. But with vote centers it hasn’t proven possible to break the voters and ballots down by precinct. With electronic poll books, mail ballots, early voting, and precinct voting combined it is impossible to control the number of ballots cast in a precinct in an election. While anyone with evil intent will insure that the total number of ballots cast is somewhat less than the number of registered voters in the precinct, with only easily-manipulated electronic records the problems of proving election fraud are greatly increased. The issue is also made worse by the tendency for county clerks to determine voter turnout by dividing the number of ballots returned by the number of ballots they send out in mail ballot elections. That is done to make it appear turnout was larger than in traditional elections, but such smoke-and-mirror techniques only serve to hide underlying problems which is, of course, desirable for election officials.
    I always quake in fear when attorneys set out in haste to dictate solutions to technical problems. That is particularly true when they legislate on such fundamental issues as elections. I’m quite certain that I don’t know all the problems that will result from this mad dash to computerized voting, yet legislators are hastily passing laws to dictate the unknown and, inevitably, the election disasters of tomorrow.
     Given hundreds of years of election fraud experience, our forefathers had figured out that, except in very limited circumstances, requiring voters to physically appear at their local precinct on Election Day and sign a printed poll book that identified them as registered voters in that precinct was the safest, but not perfect, way to insure only eligible citizen’s were allowed to vote.
    After establishing their identity and valid registration, voters were then given a ballot that they hand marked in the privacy of a voting booth.  Before the voter left their polling place the ballot was dropped into a ballot box after any identifying tags were removed. That ensured a secret ballot cast free from any intimidation, coercion, or electioneering. Vote buying and selling were also minimized by this method.
      When the polls closed the ballots were hand counted at the precinct in full view of poll watchers and the public, and the totals posted at the precinct before the sealed ballot boxes and totals were taken to the clerk’s office. The county clerk then totaled the results from all precincts in the county and gave out a public notice that could easily be verified by totaling up the posted precinct results.
     The discerning reader will note that none of these protections exist today in many elections. Perhaps we should heed the lessons learned by our forefathers and return to the methods they developed for secure and honest elections. That isn’t to say better means and methods for voting can’t or won’t be developed in the future, or that computers don’t have a place in elections. But it is safe to state that present hastily and ill-informed election legislation has and is making elections less trustworthy  and secure.
Chuck Corry
Charles E. Corry, Ph.D., F.G.S.A.
President

Equal Justice Foundation http://www.ejfi.org/
455 Bear Creek Road
Colorado Springs, Colorado 80906-5820
Personal home page: http://corry.ws

New Editorial on VBM in Florida

Just another editorial questioning the rush to Vote-By Mail… this time from Florida.

Colorado Governor Delays Switch to Vote By Mail, Supports Polls with Paper Ballots

Showing unusually clear thinking, Gov. Bill Ritter Jr, has made what appears to be a good decision:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/24/us/politics/24ballot.html?ref=us 

DENVER — Coloradans will not be required to vote by mail in November, Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. said Wednesday in announcing a one-year emergency repair plan for the state’s voting system. 

Mr. Ritter, a Democrat, said a bill with bipartisan sponsors would be introduced in the next few days in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly that would allow voters to cast paper ballots at regular polling places.

The mechanics of Colorado’s election were thrown into disarray last month when the secretary of state, Mike Coffman, a Republican, decertified many of the electronic machines used to vote or to count votes because of problems with accuracy or security.

A majority of the state’s county clerks — the field marshals of the voting system — supported a statewide all-mail-in election as the best stop-gap option, which would have made Colorado the second state in the nation, after Oregon, to use all-mail voting. And some leaders in the legislature had seemed inclined to go along with the idea as well.

But Mr. Ritter, speaking at a news conference at the Capitol, said the problems and risks of introducing a mandatory all-mail system by November were too daunting. And some county clerks, he added, also opposed the idea.

“Paper ballots are a tried-and-true method that has worked for decades,” Mr. Ritter said. As for an all-mail system, he added, “we’d be building an airplane in the air.”

More Vote By Mail Problems in California

More problems arise in California:

http://www.my58.com/news/15142222/detail.html

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Some vote-by-mail voters may not get their votes counted in Sacramento County, officials said.

Elections officials said in some cases, voters who are registered to one party are writing in a candidate from another party. Officials said they began noticing the problem on Friday after elections workers began opening up ballots from vote-by-mail voters — which used to be known as absentee voters.It’s a problem that officials said they have seen in previous presidential primaries, but it seems to be a more widespread problem in this election — perhaps because of increased interest.

Of course, it could also be that with Optical Scan ballots, when voted at poll sites, the optical scan reader has a chance to spit the ballot back to the voter for error correction, but a mail ballot never gives this second chance to the voter.

Oklahoma State Auditor and wife charged with Mail Fraud

INDICTED!!! 

One of the many reasons that voting by mail seems so ridiculous to me, is the numerous cases of mail fraud around the country. The mail system in the United States is well known as a target for fraud of all types, from stolen credit cards, to stolen checks, to stolen identities.

But when it comes to voting, the election officials, and the elected officials  supporting them in this race to Vote-By Mail, seem to be offended that members of the public, like myself, don’t trust politicians or the USPS. Hmm, I wonder why….

http://www.mwcsun.com/statenews/cnhinsall_story_018181233.html

The indictments through the Muskogee-based United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma include one act of conspiracy to commit honest services mail fraud, six counts of honest services mail fraud and two counts of travel act violations to promote state bribery.

“Political offices should not be for sale,” said U.S. Attorney Sheldon J. Sperling in a statement. “Elected office is a position of public trust. That trust is violated when elected officials take things of value and show favoritism to the contributor in exchange.”

Then again, maybe it’s clear to anyone who can read why I might not want to vote by mail?

Bradblog covers Vote-By Mail problems in California

http://www.bradblog.com/?p=5588

Nothing says secret ballot like, um, the lack of a secret ballot. There’s a cute little video that shows just what a great job Riverside County, California is doing at, well, screwing their own voters.

California’s televised primary debates miss many voters

Many of California’s voters will have already mailed in their votes when the televised presidential primary debates air this year. From local candidate forums, to FOX, ABC, NBC, the Vote-By Mail trend is forcing candidates, campaigns and networks to start the campaign season earlier.

GOTV (Get out the Vote) efforts in the United States Democratic Presidential primary in California started a month earlier in this year.  And only the candidates with a big enough war chest could sustain month long GOTV efforts in California in 2008. What this means to the common person is longer election cycles, longer sustained phone calls, mailers, and TV News coverage in that state. Higher spending on radio and television ads, and overall more political advertising. What it means to the candidates is only monied campaigns had a chance in California.

Even TV coverage means less. Unless the networks move their debates a month earlier to accomodate the earlier voting cycle in predominantly Vote-By Mail States, moving to Vote-By Mail will cause earlier local candidate forums well as the current precinct system has kept a regular debate schedule for years.

In a way, Vote-By Mail could threaten the very nature of the party system by eliminating precincts, and then the precinct system. How do you then maintain the Precinct Captain System?