Why you should think twice about Voting By Mail or Absentee Ballot

It’s been awhile since I wrote a best of The No Vote By Mail Project article.  And with the election I’m getting more hits as it gets closer to November, and everyone is like, what’s this absentee ballot thingy?

So if you just ended up here randomly, looking for where you should drop off your absentee ballot, or if you should send it through the mail, you’ve found the right website… in a sense. Because what I want you to do is to take 2 or 10 minutes outta your day, and read a few reasons why absentee ballots are bad for Democracy.

Really, I’m dead serious.

You’ve heard about the Diebold Touchscreen machines, you’ve heard maybe about long lines in Ohio. And now, suddenly it seems everyone is jumping on the Vote-By Mail bandwagon. In fact, it’s true, because about 25 states are looking at Washington and Oregon as the MODELS to go to once the public has thoroughly rejected Touchscreens.

But here’s the catch. Diebold (Now something like Premier Election Systems?), ES&S, Sequoia, all these companies want to control the Vote-By Mail paper counting as well. Same with Optical Scan and all the rest.

The underlying problem with Vote-By Mail is the same as the problem with Touchscreens, or even County level central vote counting. It removes the public vote count from the public.

In the past, the public actually physically counted the vote, right where they voted, in the gym, or any precinct polling site. There were procedures to follow, and a glass ballot box in the middle of the room. There were counters and observers, all in the same room, and when they finally reached a decision the number was posted for all to see before the count was sent to the county or state for further tabulation.

With computers, or vote by mail counted by computers, or even with central counting itself, the voters no longer get to observe the entire process of voting, right there in their neighborhood. And once we the people give up the physical control of the ballot and the vote counting of those ballots, Democracy becomes merely a faith based endeavor.

That’s why I support Precinct Level Hand Counted, or Hand Audited Paper Ballots. It’s also why I oppose Voting By Mail, or relaxing the restrictions in place currently in many states curbing their use.

We the People of the United States must take back our Democracy. And the only way we do that is not only through voting, it is by volunteering to also count the vote. And taking back Democracy, physically, into our own hands, our neighbors’ hands, at the gym down the street. The path for the People is clear, we must revitalize the Precinct System, we must volunteer to count the vote, observe the count, AND register new voters. But registering new voters is only one step. Because what good is registering voters if we can’t be sure of how the vote is being counted. So wherever privately controlled computer systems or Vote-By Mail schemes take away our right to count the vote physically, at the gym, church, or hall down the street in our local precincts this must be challenged and righted.

Anyway, those are my quick thoughts on the subject… here’s my top articles on Why you should think twice about Voting By Mail or Absentee Ballot:

  1. My Vote Gets Rejected in the Mail, Part 1, 2, 3
  2. Voting By Mail takes a long, long, long time to count
  3. What is a Secret Ballot?
  4. What’s going on in the Swing State of Colorado?
  5. Voting System Recommendations
  6. What’s wrong with Voting By Mail or Absentee Ballot… The List
  7. Should the Dead be Voting?
  8. What to expect in the 2008 election.
  9. The Problem of the Vanishing Primary Candidate.
  10. 89 More Articles on Why Voting By Mail is a Very Bad Idea

Ok, so if you made it through all of that, please tell me in the comments why you still think voting-by mail is a good idea that we should implement nationally?

10 Responses

  1. I’m Bill Anderson and let me explain why I think vote by mail is a positive move towards a better election. The short answer: poll voting in King County was worse. The equipment and the processes were nowhere near as accurate as they appeared. There are many documented cases of equipment failure that have cast doubt on results that weren’t discovered until after the election.
    However, King County has done a very poor job of preparing for the conversion. There will be many, many problems with this election. An example: my daughter and my daughter in law both got 2 ballots. My daughter’s came to my address addressed to her maiden name. She lived with me for less than a year, 8 years ago. The other went to her current address with her married name. My daughter in law’s went to her parents address with her maiden name. She never lived with her parents at that address and she’s been married for 15 years. The real ballot went to her current address with her married name.
    I suspect this is the product of procedures that are being executed for the first time on a scale that is unprecedented in past King County elections. And the integrity of the voter registration database is (or should be) suspect. Garbage in garbage out.
    In the past, all the absentee ballots were sent to people who had opted-in to absentee ballots. Those people were pretty good about keeping their registration information in order. I think there will be many problems similar to the ones I’ve mentioned. That’s because in the current registration database there are at least 500,000 registered voters who have never received an absentee ballots, so there is no way of knowing whether it will show up or who will tamper with it.
    As you’ve mentioned, in the November election there were approximately 11,000 mail-in ballots that did not get cured and therefore could not be counted. That’s approximately 1.7% of the total mail-in ballots. Signature verification is required by state law and the elections office spends a great deal of effort to cure unmatched signatures. Unfortunately, that’s a fool’s errand. Not that the people are fools, but the errand is. In the banking industry, we concluded that signature verification performed by comparing it to a file copy of the signature and without the presence of a second piece of identification would not be practical, let alone reliable. So we added a second and sometimes third factor to the identification process. That’s why store clerks ask to see you driver’s license when you hand them a check and that’s why you have to enter a pin number when you use a debit card. That’s called two-factor identification. As long as we are stuck with mail in ballots, we need to fix this problem. We need to add a second factor to the process. The signature verification process could be improved significantly by pre-mailing a randomly chosen pin code to each voter a day prior to mailing the ballots. Then the voter is required to enter that pin on the security envelop of the mail-in ballot. Using multiple factor identification is an inexpensive way to add an extra level of certainty to the identification process. It’s by no means perfect, but it cuts down the number of false positives. There is much more that can be done to fix the election problems.
    Fixing the mail-in problem is temporary. We have got to go back and give voters the option of poll voting. But it can’t be done with the junk on the market today. The good news is that the market for managing large numbers of paper document is huge. There is ample equipment cheaply available to get this job done. An example is the central count equipment on loan to KCE from Premiere; there are 15 primary machines and 3 spares. They are rather medieval in appearance because they have no covers to hide the paper moving mechanisms. I concluded that this feature would ease the process of clearing the inevitable paper jam. These are clearly low duty cycle machines intended for infrequent use. They are not now certified by the EAC, so they will sit idle. If we were to choose to buy them, the total package price would be about $1.3 million. Contrast that to a pair of Banctec IntelliScan SDS machines. The IntelliScan SDS includes IntelliScan USC software which provides real-time identification and processing of documents by type. Votes, after all, are just documents. And when connected to an EMC Content Addressable storage device, the Intelliscan would provide a certifiable method of capturing and counting ballots. The approximate cost of the Banctec equipment is $500,000.
    There are answers out there, they just happen to be in a place elections officials aren’t looking and they can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

  2. Bill, are you in any way aware that what you are talking about totally eliminates the secret ballot?

    Obviously you have read some of this website…. but not enough. My recommendation to you would be to keep reading.

    My recommendation to others would be not to vote for Bill Anderson for King County Elections Director. While I think he is sincere, I also think he is dead wrong. But then again this is the No Vote By Mail Project.

  3. Gentry, are you aware that you are completely wrong? Please re-read the description and note that there is no way to relate the ballot to what was written on the security envelope.
    My recommendation to you is that you read what I write with a little less bias. You’d be amazed how often people read and hear what they want to read and hear. My recommendation to others is to take what you say with a grain of salt. While I think you are sincere, I think you’ve become unnecessarily cynical of ideas that don’t come from you.

  4. Bill,

    A secret ballot eliminates the possiblity of voter coercion or vote buying.

    When I have a ballot, outside of the restrictions of a polling booth, I can sell that ballot. Or I can buy the ballot from someone. How much would I need to pay someone to buy a ballot, who doesn’t usually vote?

    A Vote-By Mail ballot, by definition, is not a secret ballot because it enables exactly this type of vote fraud. Regardless of what silly PIN code idea you have, it doesn’t mean anything if you can force your wife to vote how you want her to.

    In fact, since I’m forced to vote-by mail, I have for the first time ever had my vote rejected…. I got a letter about it.

    In addition, I’ve had friends just offer to sign and give me their mail ballots because they don’t care about elections as much as I tend to. Something I also can’t do in a poll place… vote for others.

    Vote-By Mail is the absolute destruction of the secret ballot.


  5. I must say Gentry, you are focused. Myopic, but focused.
    I’m not a fan of vote by mail, but it’s a fact of life that it exists. You can’t make it go away by pointing out the evils and ranting about how awful the situation is.
    You have to suggest a better way and you have to have a plan to get there. I suggest we return to poll voting. Further, I suggest we get in front of the internet crowd and design a system that preserves our right to vote in secret. Also, we have to clean up the mail in vote as best we can until we have via the viable alternatives that I’ve suggested.
    Your Flat Earth Society view of this problem is severly restricting your ability to step away and take another look.

  6. Bill,

    I do in fact have a page up, right up top there on the left, with all my voting system recommendations.

    But, the purpose of this blog is to catalog the problems with Voting By Mail. It is a very, very myopic focus…. because no one else was doing it. My aim is to prevent other states from moving this direction.

    Your statement that we should return to poll place voting is the first thing you’ve stated that I agree with… but then you add the internet angle… which I totally disagree with.

    So yes, I’m myopic. No I’m not a flat earther, and here’s the list of my recommendations:


    I worked hard, really hard to prevent the state from switching to Touchscreens, destroying the polls and moving to Vote-By Mail. I don’t recall ever meeting you in the past 5 years. So as a newcomer to the situation, your contribution, good or bad, has yet to be seen or heard.

    I encourage you to hold to your convictions. I don’t mind people who are sincere, which I believe you are. I just think you are either ignoring a lot of problems with vote-by mail, or marketing yourself wrong.

  7. Let me put this as plainly as I can: the current processing methods and systems of elections managment MUST be discarded and replaced by well thought out NEW ideas. Poll voting as it exists today cannot be remodel, it must be discarded and a new one built. Vote by mail: ditto. Internet voting will happen, whether you like it or not. A large body of the population believes that they can pay their bills online, so why can’t they vote on-line? Are you ready to have a group of money grubbing vendors such as Premiere or ESS or Hart build the systems for internet voting?

  8. One last thought Gentry. I coughed up 1400 clams and stepped up to the plate. I have offered some out-of-the box thinking, but I’m willing to listen to other peoples views. I think that shows that I’m in the game and not on the sidelines shouting.
    I’d be curious as to your opinion of the other candidates and which one you think is offering superior ideas. If you don’t vote for someone, you’re part of the problem and not part of the solution.

  9. Bill, I don’t think you know anything about me. That said I’m not going to go into my political CV here.

    The reason you can pay your bills online is it’s not a secret bill, with secret numbers. There’s a lot of information written about the problems with secret ballots and internet voting. It’s not a new idea. Barbara Simmons is one computer scientist whose writings and works come to mind. In fact the Pentagon shut down the initial pilot internet voting problem because of the number of computer scientists coming outta the woodwork saying Internet Voting was a horrible idea.

    The poll system has a problem, it started with centralized instead of precinct counts. But throwing the whole system out? Where ya gonna get new poll workers? My feeling is that poll voting needs reform, not replacement. There’s a lot of good people that would do fine with the precinct system, if proper procedures were put back in place.

    Me… I have already endorsed Julie Anne Kempf. I vote in Kitsap, because I moved here 2 years ago after running against Ron Sims and David Irons.

  10. Your right, I don’t know you and you don’t know me, so I’d like to offer you some unsolicited advice: if you don’t know how something works from firsthand experience, don’t presume that you can describe why it works.
    The reason that online bill paying works is because the system that executes the transaction brings the online-payer to the paying system and not the other way around. In other words, the bank never relinquishes the chain of custody of the actual funds transfer.
    On-line and remote voting is not a new idea, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. All of the currently describe methods of doing it will never gain the trust of the general population and rightfully so.

    I’ve looked at the UOCAVA threat analysis of the 4 remote voting methods and I believe the entire bunch is fatally flawed. All four lose custody of the actual ballot at some point in the process. The ballot is out there in either the physical world or the web world. Once custody is lost, there is no fool proof way to protect it.
    Whereas, in the on-line bill paying (OLBP) world, the check (yes, some OLBP systems print checks) or the electronic funds transfer that originates from the OLBP, never leave the secure internal banking system. They are originated and processed in a closed and secure environment. The actual bill payment travels along the ACH network or the EFT network. I know how to apply that same methodology to the voting process. And it will be secret, guaranteed.

    As to the poll workers and the poll observer, they will still be needed because they are an integral part of my plan. And it won’t take long to teach them the new system, its magic is in its simplicity.

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