A small hole in ballot packages, is a huge gap in security

Last week Kevin Rennie blogged about a letter from the leader of the Municipal Clerks Association sent to the clerks. Information that should have come from the Secretary of the State warning about problems and misinformation about the mailing of ballot packages to voters. Information that should have gone to voters not just clerks: Merrill Failure: 20,000 Voters Will Not Receive Absentee Ballots. Town Clerks Will Try to Solve Primary Crisis. Unglued, Too. Ballots May Fall Out of Envelopes.<read> There is plenty of disappointment in the post and letter, yet I will concentrate on one item of advice to the clerks:

Additionally, I have been informed that the sides of some inner envelopes have not been properly glued shut by the manufacturer; as a result, the voter’s ballot could slip out of the inner envelope while the town clerk is processing the returns into CVRS. This issue is not related to the voter accidentally slicing open the envelope. It is due to poor quality control at the mail house. Please be on the lookout for envelopes that are not sealed on the side. Please tape the defective inner envelopes shut.

This may appear to be insignificant. Yet it is a big deal. There are reasons for an inner envelope, especially in this election.

Outer envelopes are usually opened on election day by election officials of both parties,  supervised by a Polling Place Moderator or a Central Count Absentee Ballot Moderator. In those usual cases everything is under  the observation of multiple officials and open to observation of voters in the polling place or at the central count location. Not this year! The outer envelope is opened by the clerk’s staff and separated from the inner envelope in advance of election day. The purpose is to reduce the work on Election Day.

There are serious unintended consequences:

  • There are no known, published official procedures for the opening of the envelopes by the clerks, no standards for the security of the ballots, and no formal requirements for public observation.
  • CT has very weak to non-existent standards for ballot security. There is no monitoring of such security. Other states have much stronger standards. E.g. in CO all the areas where ballots or election equipment is under video surveillance for weeks before and after an election. (Even so a clerk was caught on video messing with ballots between an election and a recount. An election where she was on the ballot. She won the recount after losing the initial count.) In NM ballots are kept in metal containers, with two padlocks, one key sent to the clerk and one to a judge by different polling place officials.
  • The clerks’ offices also have free access to blank ballots. There are no such ballots available at central count absentee locations.
  • So lets spell it out:
    • The clerks’ staff could examine ballots with open envelopes that were not properly glued and replace them with ballots with votes for a different candidate.
    • They could un-glue additional envelopes and mark them as if they were not originally sealed correctly.
    • The clerks staff, perhaps loan individuals, perhaps others in town hall could access inner envelopes any time after they are opened until they are turned over to the registrars on Election Day.

The vast majority of election officials, clerks, clerks’ staff, and town hall employees are of high integrity. Yet clerks and registrars, even in Connecticut, have committed crimes with absentee ballots and regular ballots. And they are all very trusting of their staffs and often apparently ignorant of the risks of poor ballot security. According to security experts, overconfidence in security is a primary sign of risk.

There are lots of holes in our ballot security. This is just one novel example spelled out for your consideration and concern.

Moreover, the result is deservedly less confidence in the integrity of our elections.


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