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'VOTE BY MAIL' A FORMULA FOR FRAUD

 

 

By Bill Sizemore

April 8, 2003

NewsWithViews.com

Quick and easy works for a lot of things. Voting is not one of them.

Making it convenient for citizens to cast their ballots is a good thing, generally, but not if the convenience undermines the integrity of the entire election process.

I live in Oregon, the state that pioneered vote-by-mail. Here, we donít go to the polls on election day. Instead, the elections division mails our ballots directly to our homes two to three weeks before the election. We mark or punch our ballots at our leisure sitting at the kitchen table and then simply drop them in the mail.

No braving the elements on election day. No fear of an ice storm suppressing voter turn-out. No more waiting in line at the polls or being forced to hurry our decisions because of the long lines behind us. Thatís why most Oregonians love vote by mail. Itís quick and easy, the ultimate in voting convenience. But, at what price?

Truth is, vote by mail is a formula for election fraud. The flaw is obvious: From beginning to end, no real human ever has to see the voterís face. No real person determines that you are who you say you are, or that the person you say you are even exists.

Unscrupulous people can easily mark someone elseís ballot and not get caught. Have any fictitious names you want to vote under? Itís easy. Whoís going to know?Some voter's ballots are mailed to a P.O. Box. The person picking up his mail throws the ballot in the trash if he or she doesn't want to vote on a particular issue. Anyone can retrieve those ballots out of the trash.

In Oregon, anyone who wants to, can have three or four additional ballots mailed to their home. Why vote just once when you can vote early and often? And what about your dog? Shouldnít he have a say regarding who will represent him in the next legislature? You registered him with the county, why not with the elections division?

Under the old system it was hard to sneak an extra ballot past those ever-attentive little old ladies down at the voting precinct. Unless you were a master of disguises, more likely than not, those gals would recognize you from your earlier trip that same day.

Not so with vote-by-mail. No one has to see your mug in person. Not ever. If youíre a cheat, hereís all you have to do to vote three or four times in the next election: Next time you stop by the local post office or the Department of Motor Vehicles, pick up a handful of voter registration cards. Theyíre free and thereís no limit on how many you can take. Using your own address, fill in the names of relatives in other states, or easier yet, just make up any names you like. Names that have a minority ring to them are best. With the governmentís commitment to political correctness, minority names are less likely to be challenged.

You donít need to show identification of any kind. You donít have to demonstrate residency. After all, that would discriminate against the homeless. You donít have to demonstrate citizenship, either. That would be an attack on minorities and immigrants. All you need is a name, address or a P.O. Box to which the elections division can mail all those official ballots.

When I said you could vote three or four extra times, that was because the folks at the elections division might get suspicious, if you have ten or twenty ballots sent to your little, two bedroom house. If, however, you are the manager of a large apartment complex, the skyís the limit. You might be able to decide a local election single-handedly. Heck, 500 votes or so in Florida decided the presidency of the United States. Think big!

Of course, Iím not recommending that you actually do this. That would be dishonest, and certainly, there are penalties if you get caught. The chances of getting caught, however, are minimal.

In fact, the only real safeguard in the system is that each ballot has to be signed. All that means, though, is if youíre going to sign lots of different ballots personally, you need to sign each one differently and keep a sample of each signature so you can sign the same in future elections. You can even trace the signatures, so they look identical. (Note: To open a bank account you need two sets of I.D.'s to prove your identity. To cash a check, some banks require thumb prints. Not so with voting.)

There was a case in Oregon recently where a woman traced a dozen or so signatures on a petition. Each signature was examined by a clerk at the elections division and compared to the original signature on the personís voterís voter registration card. Every signature was certified as genuine. They werenít. They were all fraudulent. The woman had traced them from another document, and they only looked genuine. The elections division missed every one of them.

Not too long ago, some renters moved out of a house I own and left the state. Sure enough, a few weeks before the next election, a half dozen official ballots showed up in the mailbox. I could have traced my ex-renters signatures off the rental agreement and onto their ballots and mailed them to the elections division marked any way I chose. Except for God and me, who would have known?

It would have been easy, and the chances that I would have been caught, close to zero. Why? Because thereís simply no way the local elections office can carefully check the signatures on hundreds of thousands of ballots in a short period of time. If the signatures were traced, they probably wouldnít catch the forgeries anyway, even if they looked carefully at each one.

Thatís the problem. Vote by mail is a system designed for honest people. It is predicated on the notion that people are basically good and wonít cheat. Here in Oregon, we hold our elections as if we donít have dishonest people. Voter fraud happens in Chicago, we say, not here.

Pretty foolish, huh? A pretty naÔve way to decide who will be the next president, governor, or mayor and decide the laws the rest of us must live under. Iím sure the founding fathers, with their more realistic view of fallen human nature, would have scoffed at such a system. They designed our entire government to provide checks and balances on man's basic tendency towards corruption.

So, how much voter fraud goes on with Oregonís vote by mail system? Truth is, God only knows. Literally. But it could be a lot. One thingís for sure, before other states follow suit, they need to look more carefully at the many vulnerabilities inherent in the system.

A study by a local college professor concluded that about 30,000 people signed other peoplesí ballots in a recent Oregon election. Of course, that didnít include the ones who wouldnít admit that they had broken the law. In 2000, Bush and Gore were separated by only about 6,000 votes here in Oregon. 30,000 is a lot of fraudulent votes, and could have decided the election.

The actual number could be much higher. If itís not, give it time. As more people discover how easy it is to cheat and how unlikely it is that they will be caught, the fraud will increase and close elections will be decided by the cheats, not the real voters. That may have happened already.

The flaws in the vote by mail system work in reverse, too. The votes of real registered voters are discarded at will by county elections personnel. If a clerk is of the opinion that the signature on the vote by mail ballot doesnít match the signature on the voterís registration card, he nullifies the entire ballot.

Bear in mind that the elections clerks are novices at handwriting analysis and the signatures on the voter registration cards are often decades old and a person's handwriting changes over time. Nonetheless, if the clerk says the signatures donít match, the entire ballot is nullified. Your vote didn't count. How often does this happen? God only knows.

Can you imagine the potential for corruption if just one staff person at the elections office chooses to decide the election single-handedly? (Granted, Oregon law requires clerks to attempt to contact voters, if possible, before nullifying their ballots because of non-matching signatures, but they must do so by 8:00 p.m. on election night. With huge numbers of ballots coming in on the last day of the election, there is simply no time for clerks to check the signatures and contact the voters in question. Decisions are final at 8:01 p.m.)

Recently, the taxpayer organization I run did an extensive sampling of nullified signatures on a statewide petition and found that almost all of the signatures the county elections staff had discarded for not matching were indeed valid. For more details, see my NewsWithViews column, ďWhen Your Signature Doesnít Count.Ē

When we challenged the nullification of perfectly valid signatures as a violation of the votersí constitutional rights and delivered to the court sworn affidavits from the actual voters, the judge replied that state statutes give election clerks the discretion to decide whether signatures match and that their discretion is not reviewable. To have a clerkís opinion overrule the sworn affidavit of the actual signer is an awful lot of power to give to a bureaucrat.

There are a lot of other vulnerabilities inherent in the vote by mail system, such as union voting parties with pressure to vote a certain way. Strangers from special interest groups picking up ballots and dropping them off for you. Or not. A dishonest postal worker ďlosingĒ a sack of mail from a voting precinct of a decidedly different persuasion. The possibilities for corruption are as endless as the imagination and creativity of the dishonest.

In the 2000 election, a fellow with a big, wooden box and a sign saying, ďDrop Ballots Here,Ē stood on the sidewalk outside an auditorium where 12,000 voters were gathered to hear presidential candidate George W. Bush give a campaign speech. Attendees had been asked to bring their ballots to the rally and drop them off. Many did.

Problem was, no one knows who the guy on the sidewalk was. The real ballot drop-off box was a block ahead at the main entry. The guy with the big, wooden box made a hasty exit when a passerby asked him for identification. Along with him went a bunch of official ballots that trusting voters had deposited in his box.

No one knows if those ballots were dropped off at the elections office or the nearest dumpster. All those carefully considered decisions may have become mere trash.

There are a lot of good things one can say about vote by mail. Apparently, a solid majority of Oregon voters like it. Voting by mail is easier and more convenient than braving the November elements and waiting in line down at the precinct for your turn to vote. But if all this convenience puts the actual results of the election at risk, is that not too high a price to pay?

After all, if we do not insure that elections are decided by real live, eligible voters, why bother to hold them?

We lost something rather sacred when we stopped meeting with our neighbors down at the local precinct and waiting our turn in line to cast our ballots to determine together who our leaders would be and which ballot measures would pass or fail. We lost part of our sense of community.

Here in Oregon, voting booths have become a thing of the past. Now we vote at the kitchen table, put a stamp on the envelope, and drop our ballot in the mail at our convenience. Then we sit back and trust that everyone else is as honest as we are.

Sad to say, people of Oregon gave up their time-proven voting system for a piece of convenience. Are the voters in other states willing to follow suit?

© 2003 Bill Sizemore - All Rights Reserved

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Bill Sizemore is a registered Independent who works as executive director of the Oregon Taxpayers Union, a statewide taxpayer organization. Bill was the Republican candidate for governor in 1998. He and his wife Cindy have four children, ages eight to thirteen, and live on 36 acres in Beavercreek, just southeast of Oregon City, Oregon.

Bill Sizemore is considered one of the foremost experts on the initiative process in the nation, having placed dozens of measures on the statewide ballot. Bill was raised in the logging communities of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state, and moved to Portland in 1972. He is a graduate of Portland Bible College, where he taught for two years. On the side, he does a daily, one-hour political news commentary show on KKGT Great Talk 1150 AM, a Portland radio station and a contributing writer for www.NewsWithViews.com.  E-Mail: bill@otu.org


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"Truth is, vote by mail is a formula for election fraud. The flaw is obvious: From beginning to end, no real human ever has to see the voterís face. No real person determines that you are who you say you are, or that the person you say you are even exists."