The Death of the Polling Place

I took my girlfriend to vote today. The polling place was almost empty. Then I went to vote in another precinct. It too was almost empty. When I put my ballot into the machine, a Diebold Accuvote, the register counted only 118 votes by noon.

Of course many voters are choosing the convenience of voting by mail. It’s easier. It’s convenient. Who cares if it’s secure or accurate? Americans are more than willing to sacrifice Democracy on the altar of convenience. Heck, half the country doesn’t even vote anyway… so the death of the polling place and the end of the secret ballot is the all-too-predictable result. But it is sad to watch. The old folks that typically staff the polling sites are still there, the voters have simply disappeared. And soon the poll sites will disappear as well.

In King County, WA, the county executive Ron Sims has been pushing hard to move the entire region to Vote By Mail (VBM), or forced absentee voting. Our Secretary of State, Sam Reed, is also a staunch supporter of Vote By Mail systems. And the King County Council this spring voted 5 Democrats to 4 Republicans to close most of the polling places in the county. King County, one of very largest counties in the country, is a bell weather for what is to come. All around the country “no-excuse” absentee ballot use is on the rise, as those we elected to safeguard democracy are slowly and steadily dismanteling the traditional safeguards instead.

2006 is sure to be a watershed year for vote by mail problems around the country. Why just across the water from the City of Shoreline where I sit writing, the Eastside’s Congressional Race, Burner versus Reichert, is tied 49% to 49% going to the polls. So we may get a first hand example of just how long elections will drag out when absentee ballot use is high, and the race is too close to call. It wouldn’t be the first time King County’s Election Department  caught national attention. It probably will not be the last.

But the real scope of the problem forced vote by mail systems present didn’t quite strick me until today. I was standing around waiting for my girlfriend to finish voting when I saw King County’s official list of poll sites. The list is the size of a standard rock concert poster with a tiny type font listing a thousand or more poll sites. Browsing that list helped me understand the size and extent of the civic institution called the polling place. It’s a big part of our Democracy with tens of thousands of dedicated volunteers. But if the Ron Sims and Sam Reeds of the world have their way, next year those old people won’t have but one or two polling sites to staff, and in a few short years, the system by which we count votes in this country will have passed away.

Standing there today it was sad to watch, this death of the polling place. From touchscreen voting machines to vote by mail schemes, I can hear the death rattle in the lungs of Democracy. The fight now is is more like CPR, it’s too late for excercise and good diet.

Absentee Voting Problems – A College Student’s Perspective

The following is an article entitled, “Vote Or Die, Just Try It”, and is located, here online at the Harvard Independent. The following summation of one person’s absentee voting experience is telling:

The majority of young, voting adults are college students and often vote by absentee ballot. I, personally, developed a grudge against absentee voting that evolved to mammoth proportions these last few weeks as November 2nd drew closer and my absentee ballot slowly crept its way across America to finally reach me the Saturday before the elections.

However, this article is not a personal vendetta, for the ridiculous problems with absentee voting were felt nationwide. There were absentee ballots that did not fit in their envelopes, some that required special postage, and, my personal favorite, the registration form that persistently gets lost in the mail time and time again.

Because of the late date that I received the absentee ballot, I paid $14 to send my ballot overnight – a sort of throwback to the poll taxes of old. Already, I am becoming disillusioned about voting because, after all, how much does my one, measly vote really count anyway? Is going through all this trouble of constantly calling the voter registration office, resending my registration forms, and over-paying to get my ballot in on time, really worth it? Especially when the ballot says “Due Nov. 9,” seven days after the election, six days after the winner has given his acceptance speech.

Internet Voting No Better Than Absentee

http://www.notablesoftware.com/Press/JDunbar.html

From this earlier article on Internet Voting we find, Internet Voting Project Cost Pentagon $73,809 Per Vote.

Absentee Ballot Problems From Around The Web

The following is a collection of highlights from stories around the web regarding problems with absentee voting. Advocates of silly ideas like touch screen voting machines and forced-vote by mail schemes continue to say to the press that there’s no evidence of fraud. Well… the more I search the web the more reports I find. So the following type of “web collection” post will probably become a theme of this blog.

Absentee Ballot Fraud Worries Officials

From Political Wire.com

September 12, 2004

“As both major political parties intensify their efforts to promote absentee balloting as a way to lock up votes in the presidential race, election officials say they are struggling to cope with an array of coercive tactics and fraudulent vote-gathering involving absentee ballots that have undermined local races across the country,” the New York Times reports.

“Some of those officials say they are worried that the brashness of the schemes and the extent to which critical swing states have allowed party operatives to involve themselves in absentee voting — from handling ballot applications to helping voters fill out their ballots — could taint the general election in November.”

The AP notes early voting “is transforming the landscape for political campaigns.”

Here’s an insteresting conversation from the Democrats over at Daily Kos, with good run-down of a practice called “Granny Farming.” I have only highlighted the portion on this practice:

Granny Farming

“Here’s how it works.

1. Paid teams go to senior centers/homes and sign up people for absentees. Most have a list of those that they sign up in past elections.

2. Elections dept. posts list of absentee mailings each day.

3. Teams arrive at doorstep of home or center and grab the ballot and fill out for the Seniors. They rarely question who they voted for and do not review. Often the team just collects the ballot and fills out elsewhere.

They also get the list of those sent out and knock on the door saying they are with the Kerry campaign or the Castor campaign(who may have gotten them to fill out absentee application in the first place), grab the ballot and fill in Bush and Martinez.

This is common place and normal here. I am writing a book about my experiences running a county wide campaign here and the multitude of tactics like this that are used. This is tame compared to much of what they do.”

From The Atlanta Journal Constitution comes the following highlighted news story:

Absentee Fraud Most Common Complaint In Georgia

Bunnis Williams left nothing to chance.Determined to win a fifth term on Valdosta’s City Council in 2001, Williams falsified voters’ applications for absentee ballots. He filled out some ballots himself. Then, records show, he mailed them in — unwittingly including his fingerprints and sealing his fate as a convicted felon.

Williams pleaded guilty in 2003 in a case that epitomizes the most common form of election fraud in Georgia: the manipulation of absentee ballots.

The case underscores what’s missing in a new state law requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polls.

The law is designed to ensure voters are who they say they are. It does nothing, however, to address widespread irregularities in absentee voting, the subject of more allegations filed with the State Election Board than all other abuses combined. Since the beginning of 2004, 16 of 27 cases brought before the board involved absentee balloting.

If anything, critics say, the new measure may enable more fraud.

This comes from the, “I told you so” file:

Hawaii Reports of Union Review of Absentee

From the Hawaii Reporter
“There were complaints in 1998 and 2000 by union employees reported to the Hawaii Republican and Democratic Parties, Lagareta says, that union employees were being forced to vote by absentee ballot at work, submitting the ballot to a supervisor for review before being returned to the county clerk for tally.”
http://tinyurl.com/y6ngg2

Ok, so with just 20 minutes I came up with a New York Times article, a personal testimony about the practise of granny farming in Florida, hard statistics of absentee ballot fraud from Georgia, and an interesting report from Hawaii. Well it didn’t take too long to find reports of problems, contrary to the claims made by the Vote By Mail cheerleading crowd. Stay tuned for more…

Sam Reed Opposes Precinct Level Counts

From an old article I just tracked down:

Sam Reed, Washington’s secretary of state, told the state’s congressional delegation to oppose any election reform bill that would outlaw vote-by-mail, including legislation by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., that would require every vote to be tabulated at precincts so machines can identify ballot errors and give voters a chance to correct their ballots.

Reed said the delegation should fight any effort to outlaw centrally-counted voting, saying vote-by-mail is “tried-and-true” in the state and trusted by the voters.

http://tinyurl.com/y4drgj

Just wanted to post that in the blog to keep track of it for later. Imagine my suprise finding that Reed opposes precinct level counts. Being that precinct level hand-counts prevent the types of electioneering possible with both touch screens and vote by mail schemes.

Two New Reports Critical of Absentee Ballots

Two of the most well known names in voting activism, Greg Palast, and Blackbox Voting,  Bev Harris’s activist site, have issued reports highly critical of absentee votng.

Read them here and
here.

Blackbox is making the claim that vote by mail is still counted, in large part by the very same voting machines that they have built their own reputations attacking. Greg Palast mentions it as one example in many of the electioneering tactics employed to rig 2004, in an article published by Yes! Magazine.