EDITOR’S NOTE: Both Neil Abercrombie and outgoing Chief Election Officer Kevin Cronin are raising the idea of an all-Mail-in special election for CD1. So Hawai`i Free Press is re-posting this article, originally posted July 29, 2009.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009: Hawaii Democratic Chair Brian Schatz is the latest politician peddling Oregon’s Vote By Mail system as a cure-all for voter apathy in Hawaii. But a report commissioned by President Jimmy Carter’s Commission on Federal Election Reform presents a sharp warning to those considering adopting Oregon’s system in Hawaii. In addition to casting doubt on claims of increased voter participation, the commission’s warning against VBM also illustrates reasons why a Larry Mehau associate such as Schatz, might support VBM--which is essentially a 100% absentee ballot system.
The report can be accessed online. Here are some key excerpts:
(Unlike Hawaii,) Oregon has historically had a clean, open, and permeable election system, with no history of machine politics or election fraud. … (W)hile voting by mail has worked well in Oregon, it may not work as well in regions, states, or localities with a more contentious political culture....
Critics of VBM and no-excuse absentee balloting raise a number of security issues. First, ballots sent through the mail might be obtained and filled out by someone other than the legal voter. Second, without the necessity of appearing in person, it is easier to falsely register and vote. Third, without the privacy of the ballot booth, a vote could be coerced or unduly influenced.
These concerns have been heightened by a number of disputed elections and documented cases of absentee ballot fraud. The November 2004 Washington gubernatorial election was the closest governor’s race in this nation’s history and was only resolved in the courts on June 6, 2005. Those contesting the results pointed to absentee ballots as a source of some of the problems. In January 2005, King County election officials announced plans to pursue the prosecution of three people suspected of casting absentee ballots for their dead relatives.
And on May 13, 2005, King County’s absentee ballot supervisor testified that, due to ongoing computer problems, absentee ballots were misplaced and not tabulated during the November ballot count.
Absentee ballots played a key role in the 1998 Miami mayoral election fraud case. The courts overturned the original election results and installed Joe Carollo as mayor after throwing out all 4,740 absentee ballots that had been cast in the previous November’s election. During the investigation, police discovered more than 100 absentee ballots in the home of local political boss Alberto Rossi. Other recent allegations of election fraud involving absentee ballots have occurred in Denver, Colorado; Benton Harbor, Michigan; Albany, New York; and Tallahatchie County, Mississippi.
...The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has even referred to absentee ballots as “the tool of choice for those inclined to commit voter fraud.”
The official guide to (Oregon’s Vote By Mail system) VBM, published by the Secretary of State’s office, claims that it “raises voter participation, decreases costs and increases the overall integrity of the election process. It is a system that the vast majority of Oregonians love.”...
(But) the evidence on turnout is mixed. Liberalized absentee balloting leads to a small but measurable growth in turnout, although one study finds an effect only in primary elections. …However, the turnout increases result from the retention of existing voters and not from the recruitment of new voters into the system, and the increase is noticeable only in low profile contests....
One of the primary VBM security measures in Oregon is the signature verification process. Election workers compare the signature on every return identification envelope with the signature scanned from the voter’s registration card. While the state does not consider these election workers to be handwriting experts, these workers are required to complete a signature identification course....
According to the Oregon’s Secretary of State’s office, in the November 2004 election 1,057 ballots were not counted because the signature could not be verified. This compares to 606 in November 2003 and 602 in November 2002....
Where there does seem to be more of a risk for election fraud is with the return of legitimate ballots. “By mail” is a misnomer…. (Ballots are often) left at unofficial drop sites or picked up at people’s door by volunteers, most often sponsored by political groups or by elected officials who see this as a valued form of constituent service. …These practices are a cause of concern. Election officials admit that they have no way of knowing whether they received every single ballot that was handed over to someone other than an authorized election official.... While the state legislature is moving to ban unofficial drop sites, Oregon legislators are unwilling to curtail their ability to have campaign volunteers pick up ballots....
…Ballots are never sent to a forwarding address. Multnomah County, the home of Portland and the most populous and urban county in Oregon, reports that 4%-6% of the ballots it sends out each election are return to them as “undeliverables.” (This means that many voters never receive their ballot.)
If the address on the ballot is not up to date, the post office must return the ballot to the county election office. While the ballots are never forwarded, the information from the forwarding address is used to update the voters’ registration. (This means that an unknown person or a voter who has not acted to update his or her registration will receive the ballot in the next election.) If there is a forwarding address from inside the county…a ballot will be sent to this location the next election.
(John) Kauffman (Director of Elections for Multnomah County, Oregon) argued that before VBM the voters’ roll was often artificially inflated, with it taking two, three or four years for election officials to discover that a voter had moved out of the county.
(ED NOTE: This assertion casts further doubt on claims that Vote By Mail increases voter participation, since an inflated voter roll obviously produces deflated voter turnout figures.)
Still, changes in USPS procedures or erosion in the quality of their staffing could impact the integrity of the ballot under Oregon’s VBM system....
VBM also requires cooperation with universities, private mail services and group homes. County officials contact persons at these locations to help them keep tabs on the voters at those addresses and to make sure that ballots delivered to students who have moved are returned to the county as undeliverable.
(ED NOTE: Group homes present truly extraordinary opportunities for absentee ballot fraud. With dozens of patients whose faculties may be failing, it can be very easy for a corrupt worker or owner to fraudulently submit ballots by mail. The fraudster would of course become the Election Commission contact person in order to facilitate their continuing fraud. Likewise in group living arrangements for students, a fraudster could easily take advantage of the students’ high rate of turnover to submit numerous fraudulent ballots.)
The Commission expressed concern, however, over the potential for fraud and coercion under systems which lack the “fundamental privacy of the voting booth.” In many respects, these conclusions remain valid, at least when examined in the context of Oregon’s all-mail balloting system.
LINK: "Ballot Integrity and Voting By Mail: The Oregon Experience"
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