If there is anything positive to say about the 2016 elections, it's that they have finally forced an end to the official denial of computerized election rigging. In the past month, the fact that our voting technology is a hacker's paradise has been validated by no less than all the major TV news networks: NBC, ABC, CBS, Reuters, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, USA Today,The Hill, The Guardian, Mother Jones, Politico, and a dozen other outlets.
Adapted from Why 'Vote-by-Mail' Elections are a Terrible Idea for Democracy by Brad Friedman
Lack of Transparency: Absence of evidence does not mean absence of fraud
As with any voting system that is not fully transparent, proving mail-in fraud can be difficult or impossible. Once we drop our ballot in the mail, we can't verify what becomes of it, and elections become a matter of faith. Additionally, should our ballots arrive in the central aggregating location untampered, they are likely to be counted by the same private, secretly programmed electronic systems that have been proven vulnerable to rigging, hacking, and undetectable error. Central counting makes fraud on a large scale easier to accomplish and harder to detect.
Lack of Security
Ballots are stored in hundreds of thousands of locations with no security for two to three weeks. The chain of custody lacks security as the ballots are handled by many anonymous persons throughout the process. Any unmarked contest on a ballot can be marked by someone other than the voter when the ballots are opened for counting.
Voting can be done as a group at churches or union halls with people looking over the voter's shoulder to make sure they vote "the right way."
There is no way to be certain that the person who signed the envelope is the person to whom the ballot was sent. Ballots can be stolen from mail boxes while the voter is at work or away from home on an errand. Other tactics include vote harvesting by persons who show up at your door to "help" you vote. The elderly and those with disabilities are particularly vulnerable.
Potential for Ballot Mishandling
Post office or contract mailing company illegally forwards ballots; more than one ballot sent to voters; postal workers put ballots in the trash. (All of these thing have happened in Colorado)
Lack of Secret Ballot
When election judges check in your ballot, they can see how you voted when they match the inventory number on your ballot to the inventory number next to your name on the voter rolls. The Colorado Constitution guarantees your right to a secret ballot. [ed note: as do most other state Constitutions and elections code.]
Additional Resources: "Why Mail Ballots Are a Bad Idea" by Charles E. Corry, Ph.D
by Sen. Doug Whitsett
Oregon and its people have long prided themselves on their Pioneer Spirit, a willingness to embrace new ideas long before other states decide to do so. And while I applaud that in part, it has also prompted a series of potentially problematic policies that continue to harm the state. Examples include our unique land-use system, which has stunted economic growth throughout rural Oregon for decades. Another example is our unique vote-by-mail system.
Vote-by-mail began with the overwhelming passage of Measure 60 in the 1998 general election. The measure passed with around 69 percent of the vote, and made Oregon the first state in the nation to do its elections exclusively by mail. Prior to that, the concept had been introduced incrementally.
Our history of vote-by-mail began as far back as 1981, when the Legislature approved it under certain conditions for local elections. The practice became widespread among the counties over the following six years.
In 1992, a task force on local government services determined that the state could save money by doing all of its elections in such a manner. Three years later, Oregon was the first state in the union to do a federal primary exclusively by mail.
Early supporters of the concept included groups like the League of Women Voters, the League of Conservation Voters and the Oregon Education Association.
The 2000 election saw Oregon become the first state to do a presidential election by mail. But despite this, it took over a decade for any other state to follow suit.
Washington’s Legislature passed a law in 2011 requiring all of its counties to do vote-by-mail. Local governments had the option of conducting their elections by mail since 1987, and the practice had been allowed for statewide elections since 1993. Colorado became the third state to adopt vote-by-mail in 2013.
All of this begs the question of why this practice hasn’t caught on in more states.
This document produced by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) asks that question, and identifies several issues surrounding vote-by-mail, as well as approaches other states have taken on this matter.
It states that legislators throughout the country introduced 42 bills in 2013-14 related to vote-by-mail. In that period of time, lawmakers in Alaska rejected a proposal to establish vote-by-mail for general elections, and their counterparts in Georgia failed to pass a resolution to study all-mail elections. The document also cites research that determined that “vote by mail in Oregon only affected turnout during special elections.”
Issues identified in the NCSL document include that of “leakage,” which is defined as the circumstances under which ballots are requested and not received, transmitted but not returned for counting or returned for counting but rejected. A lack of chain of custody procedures remains a specific security concern for researchers from the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project.
One of the best sources for information on problems related to vote-by-mail comes from our own Secretary of State’s office. It maintains this log of prosecuted election law complaint cases related to voting.
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From the No Vote by Mail Project
“Election rules should seek to minimize the number of provisional ballots cast."
— Thad E. Hall and Tova Andrea Wang
"The more provisional ballots that are cast by voters, the longer it will take to authenticate the provisional ballots, integrate these ballots with the ballots tabulated on election day, and achieve an accurate vote count," write Hall and Wang in "International Principles of Election Integrity."
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — On the morning of the primary here in August, the local elections board met to decide which absentee ballots to count. It was not an easy job.
The board tossed out some ballots because they arrived without the signature required on the outside of the return envelope. It rejected one that said “see inside” where the signature should have been. And it debated what to do with ballots in which the signature on the envelope did not quite match the one in the county’s files.
“This ‘r’ is not like that ‘r,’ ” Judge Augustus D. Aikens Jr. said, suggesting that a ballot should be rejected.
Ion Sancho, the elections supervisor here, disagreed. “This ‘k’ is like that ‘k,’ ” he replied, and he persuaded his colleagues to count the vote.
Scenes like this will play out in many elections next month, because Florida and other states are swiftly moving from voting at a polling place toward voting by mail. In the last general election in Florida, in 2010, 23 percent of voters cast absentee ballots, up from 15 percent in the midterm election four years before. Nationwide, the use of absentee ballots and other forms of voting by mail has more than tripled since 1980 and now accounts for almost 20 percent of all votes.
Yet votes cast by mail are less likely to be counted, more likely to be compromised and more likely to be contested than those cast in a voting booth, statistics show. Election officials reject almost 2 percent of ballots cast by mail, double the rate for in-person voting.
“The more people you force to vote by mail,” Mr. Sancho said, “the more invalid ballots you will generate.”
Election experts say the challenges created by mailed ballots could well affect outcomes this fall and beyond. If the contests next month are close enough to be within what election lawyers call the margin of litigation, the grounds on which they will be fought will not be hanging chads but ballots cast away from the voting booth.
In 2008, 18 percent of the votes in the nine states likely to decide this year’s presidential election were cast by mail. That number will almost certainly rise this year, and voters in two-thirds of the states have already begun casting absentee ballots. In four Western states, voting by mail is the exclusive or dominant way to cast a ballot.
The trend will probably result in more uncounted votes, and it increases the potential for fraud. While fraud in voting by mail is far less common than innocent errors, it is vastly more prevalent than the in-person voting fraud that has attracted far more attention, election administrators say.
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