Absentee/Early Voting Method: Raise Questions and Risks

Another example from Arizona raises questions about the potential risks to integrity inherent in mail-in voting, unlimited absentee voting, and early voting by means similar to absentee voting.  This is also similar to the method of voting for election day registration voting proposed in Connecticut this year.

From the YumaSun: 

State calls for San Luis vote probe <read>

Smith: Recorder should investigate vote <read>

The basic question:

The issue of possible voter fraud became public with the release Wednesday of a letter Bennett had sent to Smith dated May 4 asking the county attorney to investigate irregularities in the San Luis primary election on March 9. His concern rose from the rejection of nearly 10 percent of early ballots for that election because they had signatures that didn’t match those of the registered voters.

Bennett’s letter stated: “Based on the extraordinary rejection rates alone and irrespective of the anecdotal stories, I believe that reasonable cause exists that voter fraud occurred in San Luis in the March 2010 election. I ask that your office investigate these irregularities.”

On the surface this seems like a lot of votes to be rejected based on mismatched signatures, raising several questions:

  • Were election officials too cautious in rejecting ballots?
  • Do we expect too much of officials who are not trained in handwriting recognition?
  • Were there really that many wrong signatures/forgeries? Is there some kind of fraud occurring?
  • If there was no fraud, then we must assume that most of the rejected ballots represent voters who intended to vote and are now disenfranchised.

On the other hand do we usually have too few ballots rejected?  Can we really expect election officials to reliably perform handwriting analysis and comparison?

More critical information from the Secretary of State’s information:

Of the total 2,983 ballots cast in the San Luis election, 1,477 were by early ballots. And of those, 143 ballots were rejected because they had signatures that didn’t match the registered voters’, said Jim Drake, assistant secretary of state.

That’s an error rate of nearly 10 percent, he noted.

“The numbers were so extraordinary,” he told the Yuma Sun Wednesday. “Just looking at the raw numbers, something is amiss in the community. We based our request on just the numbers.”

In comparison, in the May 2008 election in El Mirage, there were 1,578 early ballots cast; only 18 were rejected because of bad signatures. This equates to a rejection rate of only 1.14 percent, Drake said.

In another comparison, in a March election in Maricopa County (excepting El Mirage and Guadalupe), 155,605 early ballots were returned, with only 46 rejected for bad signatures – a rejection rate of 0.03 percent.

“As you can see from these figures, something is terribly amiss in San Luis,” Secretary of State Ken Bennett wrote in a letter dated May 4 to Yuma County Attorney Jon Smith.

The 10% is extreme for the state.  It also represents almost 5% of the votes in the election.

This might have gone undetected, but for added scrutiny based on earlier charges of fraud:

The spotlight was placed on the election when Bennett, the state’s top election official, and two members of his staff observed the San Luis election.

The visit was prompted by a previously circulated letter signed by Guillermina Fuentes claiming she had observed early ballots being destroyed in the 2006 municipal election.

Fuentes was the coordinator for incumbent Mayor Juan Carlos Escamilla’s re-election bid in March, but in 2006 she was a backer of then-City Councilwoman Nieves Riedel, who lost that year’s mayoral race to Escamilla.

In the letter circulated earlier this year, Fuentes alleged that Riedel had opened early ballots that voters entrusted her to deliver to county officials who were conducting the 2006 election under contract with the city of San Luis. Any of the opened ballots that were for Riedel were delivered to the county, the letter alleged, but any for Escamilla were trashed.

The reasons we are conditionally opposed to no-excuse absentee balloting and mail-in balloting are the risks of fraud, loss of voter anonymity, and the level of possible disenfranchisement.  Another recent story of absentee ballot questions from Dallas.

Update 7/27/2010: Another Tale from CA: DA probes voter fraud allegations in Calif. city <read>

District attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison said her office was looking into claims that off-duty Bell police officers were recruited to distribute absentee ballots in last year’s election and tell people which candidates to vote for.

It was only one of several allegations the district attorney is looking into in the city where three top officials resigned last week after it was disclosed they were being paid salaries totaling about $1.6 million a year…

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that a retired Bell police sergeant had filed a lawsuit claiming off-duty city police officers were recruited to distribute absentee ballots in last year’s election and tell people which candidates to vote for.

One Bell resident, Hugo Herrera, told The Associated Press his mother was among those approached by an officer who asked if she would sign a paper showing her support for Hernandez.

When she got to her polling place and attempted to vote, Herrera said, she was told the paper she had signed was actually an absentee ballot. She asked that the ballot be disallowed and that she be allowed to vote for another candidate, adding she never really supported Hernandez but just wanted the officer to go away.

DA probes voter fraud allegations in Calif. city

Update 8/11/2010: Ballot blunder could keep votes from counting; envelope design to blame

Florida another story of voters potentially disenfranchised by voting absentee: <read>

LEE COUNTY, Fla. – A ballot blunder could keep your vote from counting in the upcoming primary election. A new envelope design is forcing the return of some absentee ballots back to Lee County voters. They should be going to election’s officials for processing.

The tiny bar code at the top of the ballot return envelopes is behind the mess. Mail sorting machines are reading the envelope’s return bar code, instead of it’s destination… potentially leaving some absentee ballots in limbo.

Phil Douglas didn’t think twice about sending off his absentee ballot in the mail last week.

“I signed the ballot on the back, I took it to the Estero post office and low and behold, on Monday I got it back!” Douglas said Wednesday.

Frustrated and confused, Douglas tried to send his vote again, taking his ballot to the Three Oaks Parkway post office… only to find it returned to his mailbox for the second time in a week.

“The first thing that came to mind was, hey, this can’t happen. But it did,” Douglas said.

It could be happening across Lee County. Over 40,000 absentee ballots were requested, and all sent out with the same faulty return envelope design. Lee County Elections officials are working with USPS on the problem. Still, the ballot blunder is a sorespot for many, who are trying to make their vote count in the upcoming election.


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