This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 11, 2006 11:40 AM. The previous post in this blog was Emilie Boyles's "clean money" -- it's half gone. The next post in this blog is Amanda's "clean money". Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

E-mail, Feeds, 'n' Stuff

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The elephant in the room

Now that we've seen what's been happening with Portland's new taxpayer financing system for political campaigns, can you imagine what goes on in some places around the state with vote-by-mail? How many people sell their ballot and signature? How many people just turn it over to someone else and let them do the voting? How many people use duress to gain control of helpless people's votes?

No, wait, I forgot, this is Oregon. Human nature doesn't apply here. There's no fraud -- there's no sense in even looking into it. Everything's fine... vital linchpin... creative class... we love dreamers... shake up City Hall...

Comments (41)

Bill Bradbury will assure you ...

Everything will be fine.
Breathe deeply.
It'll NEVER happen.
Now go back to sleeeeeeep.

I do know of a family with a father and four voting age daughters. During the 2004 election, the daughters and the mother all gave their ballot to the father to fill out. In addition, a couple of neighbors also gave their ballot to the father to fill out for them. All in all, he ended up filling out 10 ballots.

Casting a ballot fraudelently is a class C felony. You can go into the federal penitentiary for that one. No comparison to what's happened here, in a new system with undefined penalties.

We check the signatures on the ballots. On every single ballot. So to do what Jack suggests, someone would have to fill out the ballot completely for you, then you'd have to wait while the ballot is sealed, then sign outside where, printed in big letters, is CLASS C FELONY.

Final point: you have to consider the alternatives. In most localities (precinct voting), you need not show an ID and your signature is not verified at all.

Oregon's system has flaws, but fraud is not one of them. It's less prone to fraud than what goes on almost everywhere else. I've looked--there is simply no evidence of any fraud or duress taking place. I'm happy to look more, but at present, no evidence.

I worked on the vote by mail campaign back in '98, and I don't even remember how these questions about potential abuse were addressed? This posting gives me a case of ---'hmmmmmmm'

I've looked

Really? And where would that be?

I'm sure people sign their envelope and then have someone else blacken the dots on the ballot all the time.

But Paul's point, Jack, is that unlike Portland's voter-owned-elections system, there are clear penalties for fraud in vote-by-mail. Another thing to consider is one person voting for his mom or whatever couldn't have that much of an affect--in order to pull something off (like one person directing a team of others to buy ballots, etc.), you'd have to have people organizing it, and I'd suspect that the penalties for directing a large scale fraud in the VBM system would have very severe penalities indeed. Racketeering, fraud, etc.

You can assign the death penalty to voter fraud, but if there's no enforcement -- if indeed the very nature of the system makes enforcement impossible -- there will be corruption. And no one's even asking how widespread it might be.

The question isn't whether there is fraud -- undoubtedly there is. The question is whether there is more fraud than under regular polling-place voting, and I haven't heard a convincing argument for that. It's much harder to orchestrate systemic fraud when everyone votes individually, by mail, than it is to make ballot boxes from certain precincts disappear, or restrict the number of polling places in precincts where you want to suppress the vote.

It's much harder to orchestrate systemic fraud when everyone votes individually, by mail, than it is to make ballot boxes from certain precincts disappear, or restrict the number of polling places in precincts where you want to suppress the vote.

Sorry, I'm not buying that one. At all.

Maybe it is more difficult to "organize systemic fraud" in the vote-by-mail system, but that does not mean fraud is less. I find it easy to believe that in households across the state individuals are pressured to vote a certain way, have their ballots taken by parents/spouses/children, etc. These individual acts are fraud, and aggregated together could pose a much greater "systemic" threat than ballot box misplacement.

Er, why's having someone fill out your ballot, then having you sign it, fraud?

You could bother to ask them how to vote on everything, then fill it out yourself, and then sign it. But as long as you're giving it to them, receiving it back with knowledge that it was the person you trusted to fill it out, then signing it -- saying, "these are my beliefs" -- why's it fraud? Fraud is pretending that something's true that's not true, right? It's true that you, as a registered voter, are choosing to cast your vote in the way the balalot was marked.

In fact, most elections people ask someone who takes the time to pay attention to who's running for Supreme Court or Soil and Water Conservation District, whether you have vote by mail or not.

Once again, you're just making things up "I heard this story of..." or "I bet there's a lot of fraud." Show us the evidence of fraud.

There -- a perfect example of the Oregon bureaucrat mentality.

From all I've heard, there is RAMPANT fraud with vote by mail, although I believe none of it is necessarily organized by the candidates. It's more a case of, through intimidation, ignorance or passivity, one person in a household taking control of multiple ballots. It's happening A LOT... and I do not believe the same thing would happen at a polling place... Even if the dominant old man tells you who to vote for, when you get into the booth, you can do what you wish... If you can't summon the time or effort to go to a polling place, you probably shouldn't vote, anyway

I recognize that my example above, while true, is purely anecdotal...


...it is unlikely the mother and the daughters would have driven to a polling place and voted. They didn't really care to vote. But when the ballots are mailed to them, they can just give them to their father, and he essentially gets to vote more than once.

Maybe in the end, vote by mail is still a better system. I just think it is ripe for fraud.

I, for one, (at though it matters) am a fan of vote-by-mail. Yes, people can fill out ballots for one another. Yes, illegal aliens can get drivers licenses and then voter registrations. Yes, there are challenges. However, you can't argue with the fact that - especially in a state with the initiative process - voter turnout and intelligent vote casting are both far higher than in polling-place states. You can sit down with a big cup of STFU (that poster is priceless) and your voter's pamphlet and read about each petition and understand each vote before you cast it. You can read each candidate's statement before casting that vote. And you have three whole weeks in which to complete this process.

I don't care aout the nostalgia of going to the firehouse with your neighbors and yadda yadda. We're too busy a society for that. That argument's a loser. The fraud angle's a problem, but it's no different than the groups in polling-place states that hand out "cheat sheets" for voters for when they go into the booth. That happened all the time in SC, where I done come from. A church would give it's parishoners (especially those who couldn't read) the "answers". Or a special interest group or whatever. Vote by mail at least gives the voters the chance to read what everyone's saying and who's supporting what (often a hint for me on ballot initiatives).

There will always be a small element of fraud. Enforce the law very publicly to dissuade the fence-sitting fraudsters to limit the effect and keep the great system Oregon has.

But what do I know? I'm just pimping for the Eastside Guy.

It would be extremely difficult to fraudulently collect and cast enough individual ballots to make a difference. Certainly that type of fraud is bad, and we should investigate it, but to condemn vote-by-mail you have to compare it to the alternative, and the alternative is worse.

Making a few ballot boxes disappear from liberal or conservative precincts -- and there are actual examples of this happening in American history -- can change a close election. But even if you don't buy that, it's pretty common for the ruling state political party to put fewer polling places in precincts with large majorities of the opposing party. When I lived and voted in Virginia, the voting lines in northern VA (where all the liberals go to escape the confederacy) were literally 45-60 minutes long, yet in Richmond there were no lines at all. That has a serious impact on voter turnout.

Vote-by-mail takes away these opportunities for fraud, which I think are worse than one person possibly bullying his family of four into turning over their ballots.

I think mail fraud is no worse than precinct fraud, and I think centralized (polling place) concentration of ballots offers greater upside to fraud.

I don't share your worries for mail ballot fraud, Jack. Real Oregonians, and other wild westerners, are too busy punching cows to drive 50 miles into town to vote. The precinct reminiscence is more strongly popular with natives of Eastern City machine politics. (And fraud worries more strongly ingrained in them, too. I voted in Chicago under (the real) Mayor Daley a couple times. I easily doubt my vote was counted.)

For me it is all in the category of cancels-itself-out. I swear there are idiots who go vote without knowing anything. They might as well flip a coin. And in effect, they do -- ignorance is a bipartisan suffering. As many vote stupidly left as vote stupidly right, so they cancel each other out. The winning margin is among those who have a mind a candidate could conceivably change.

I don't see that the fraud danger is increased.

On the up side, add the argument that vote by mail increases voter participation, up as much as 15 points, from 70% turnout to 85% turnout in some cases. Some surveys to investigate this found the new voters are social lepers who are embarrassed or incapacitated to go out in public. And they split their votes left and right in the same percentages as 'normal' people, so, no advantage in the increased turnout.

And secondly, having the ballots in the voters' hands two weeks before election day has done wonders to stop the last-minute media shock-news attack ads. I went to listen to Gordon Smith a few days before the election one time, and put my ballot envelope sticking out my shirt pocket where he could see it. Cooled his vitriol and speciousness jets. Finally, I get some respect. I: voter.

(Plus, those two weeks give opportunity to correct registration mistakes in time for the election, like if you didn't get your ballot in the mail when everyone else got theirs. Get down to the election office and suss up the problem.)

I do object to paying the postage stamp. The envelopes should be pre-paid return. But it hasn't cost me postage yet, I've always hand-delivered mine to the library drop boxes or the county election office itself, where a bunch of oldtime sentimentalists seem to congregate on election day and roast politicklets. I save the 39 cent stamp, it only costs me about 4 bucks in gas. I gotta start biking.

Final word on vote by mail -- two words: Paper trail.

Enforce the law very publicly to dissuade the fence-sitting fraudsters to limit the effect and keep the great system Oregon has.

Wake me when that starts.

It has always amazed me how accurate our lottery system is, yet we cannot make voting similarly secure? Well, (with tongue planted firmly in cheek) Why not delegate the security of our vote by mail process to the Lottery Commission. Better yet include a lottery number selection option on each ballot qualifying the ballot for a lottery drawing for say, a million bucks? You think ballot recipients would entrust their responsibility to another? But seriously........................


Y'know... I kinda agree with Tenskwat.

There will always be opportunities for fraud. However, with mail-in ballots, that fraud is far more intimate and close-to-home. With precinct fraud, it's more "systematic".

Yet, I suspect that with mail-in ballots, we get more ignorant voters voting. When they had to exert the energy and take the time to go vote, they often didn't if they were ignorant enough. Now we have far more ignorant voters actually voting than with precinct voting. Plus, that ignorance is magnified by the "intimate voter fraud".

I'm for returning the vote to to voter booths at the precinct level. I don't care if it does mean that fewer people vote, at least a larger proportion of them will be voting with some level of knowledge about what it is they do.

Personally, I feel the whole country should move to vote by mail. Given the choice between that and the cryptic and vulnerable Diebold machines, it's the former... hands down. Plus, when you take into account the number of voting site 'irregularities' that occured in 'key' districts in Florida, Ohio and elsewhere, it's even more startling.

Voter participation is simply higher with mail-in ballots. As our cities become more spread out and people commute farther, it's harder for folks to vote during the day near their place of employment... which is often out-of-district anyway. If you're in the middle to lower income brackets, you're likely to have a tougher time taking off work to go vote.

Fraud exists in every form of voting. If we want to ensure our democracy is healthy, participatory and fair, vote by mail is our best choice at this time. I also strongly support the idea of a 'Voters Holiday' to increase participation every November, especially at polling places.

Think about it.

voting fraud is a huge problem but why limit your ire to vote by mail? the precinct system is hardly a model of purity. even with paper ballots. and electronic touchscreen machines with no security are a far greater threat.

"...the cryptic and vulnerable Diebold machines..."

What about the "cryptic Bradbury machine?"

"Voter participation is simply higher with mail-in ballots. As our cities become more spread out and people commute farther, it's harder for folks to vote during the day near their place of employment... which is often out-of-district anyway. If you're in the middle to lower income brackets, you're likely to have a tougher time taking off work to go vote."

I doubt it's any "harder" to vote now than in the early 19th century - even with those damnably inconvenient polling places.

"Fraud exists in every form of voting. If we want to ensure our democracy is healthy, participatory and fair, vote by mail is our best choice at this time."

Missed the logical basis for this - unless it's:

"Personally, I feel the whole country should move to vote by mail."

I think a number of posters have missed the point on the vote fraud issue.

The real opportunity for fraud is in the counting house; i.e. the county clerk's office where the ballots are received. If you don't believe me, ask yourselves why the vote count is ALWAYS late in Multnomah County in close, important elections? When a vote needs only a few hundred votes to go the way the ruling party wants it to go, that's when the ballots start coming in late.

The local, in-home 'fraud' or 'coercion' that Republicans were always whinging about is minor compared to the big daddy cheating that goes on in the big cities of our country. How about San Francisco (ballot boxes found floating in the bay) and Seattle (Dem. Gov. candidate loses in two vote counts before finally pulling out a squeaker of a win - thanks to King County (Seattle) Election Department)?

I'm sure other posters here can cite cities in their own experience with similar late-results swinging elections to the way the big guys (unions, developers, politicians) want. When vote results come in WaaaaaY too late, suspect fraud!

Don Smith. Maybe you forgot, or not a long-time Oregonian; we had voter pamplets also before mail voting. You could study the issues and candiates before you voted just like now.

We still get voters pamplets in the mail before the election. When did that change?

Did you make any point at all?

Just wondering...

You know, in West Virginia, we still do it the old fashioned way - trading whiskey or fried chicken for votes. No joke.

Sigh. Jack, I am a social scientist. Where have I looked? At all the data available. My report is available at the secretary of state's website (but was not funded by them--it was funded by a group that was predisposed to find widespread fraud in Oregon).

Where else would I look? At anecdotal tales like those cited above, or silly "from what I have heard" statements?

I investigated the six, yes count them six cases of identified "fraud" in 2004 raised by the two political parties, both of which have volunteer election monitors and employ lawyers and activists dedicated to rooting out cases of electoral irregularities. Of those six cases in 2004, 4 were "junior" situations and 2 looked to be fraud.

If such RAMPANT intimidation and a LOT of ballots being cast by one person, don't you think we find at least ONE instance of this being reported? ONE?

mac - there are vote counting monitors in the County all night. The ballots are all counted electronically. There is virtually zero chance of a stolen election. MC is late because it is the largest county and has a large proportion of ballots that come in on election day.

Last point: there is on evidence that VBM increases turnout. I know we cite that urban legend constantly, but it's wrong. VBM increases turnout among regular voters in lower intensity elections (example: the upcoming primary), but it does not expand the electorate.

As I said, there are problems with VBM, but fraud is not one of them.

I am a social scientist.

Me too. However, I also understand human nature, which escapes some people.

The real opportunity for fraud is in the counting house; i.e. the county clerk's office where the ballots are received.

Amen to that...just look at the craziness up in King County last time around. We havent really had anything that bad in Oregon yet, but its certainly possible.

Tensk -

I don't buy the "too busy to drive 50 miles to vote" argument. First off, how many people actually live 50 miles from a town? Not many. It may seem like it, but it's really not many. Secondly, I grew up in a very rural setting, and from my experience, election day was looked upon as almost an honor to participate in. To be honest, a lot of folks looked forward to it because it was an opportunity to run into some far-flung folks that they hadn't seen for awhile. And if a person can't find a few hours once every couple of years to participate in our democratic process, then I don't have much use for them.

I don't understand how fraud is so easily accomplished at the polling place. Seems to me that controls could pretty easily be put into place to keep ballot boxes from ending up floating in the SF Bay or taking a header over Multnomah Falls.

I think the question of fraud at the counting house is a legitimate question in a machine jurisdiction. I recall the late Ace Hayes, editor and publisher of the Portland Free Press during the 1990s, saying that if you wanted to control a place-a state or local jurisdiction-you put your people in key positions all over the place. It looks like that is what has been happening with the Goldscmidt oriented leadership. So we have problems coming from the top. Yet we keep thinking we can get someone at the top to solve them.

People who think another layer of controls at the top will solve this kind of problem need another walk around the block imho. Regulators don't always do their jobs in the public interest; they can be captured by certain of the regulators. When Latifeh Kennedy went to the Oregon State Bar about some lawyers who used the court system to rip off a couple of million dollars worth of her land on SW Terwilliger and in Clackamas County- and personal property, the Oregon State Bar investigator told her to call John Grisham, writing a "he said, she said" CYA report, although the matter is very well documented. And the front man rip off artist is ascending in the AG's office.

You think you're gonna get a fraud investigation in this state?

Correction: ...they can be captured by certain of the regulated.

A paper record of voting is the number one safeguard, and the only virtue of vote-by-mail, which is otherwise a flop. Only increased voter turnout would justify it. And guess what? It hasn't happened.


No wonder.

One way to assure the integrity of the record might be to require the ballots to be marked in something other than erasable pencil.

OK, here's how to really make verification work:

(1) Every registered voter would be given a unique ballot identification number. VBM ballots have this number preprinted on each ballot. But ability to associate the ballot identification number with real names would be extremely guarded, perhaps needing a court order.
(2) The numbers themselves would have some built in safeguards, checksums, or the like, so it's not easy to manufacture new ones, and of course we would have to assure the total issuance of ballot numbers, matches registered voter totals. Retired numbers (moved, deceased, etc.) periodically become a public record, again without the name association.
(3) A private internet access password would be supplied with VBM materials, but would only appear on a carbon copy of the ballot, and not actually sent in with the ballot.
(4) Through the password and ballot identification number, anyone could verify their recorded vote, and would be offered a chance to answer and record a simple yes / no question like "I agree that all of the votes that have been recorded for this ballot number are correctly recorded". This answer is also public.
(5) Without a password, the ballot numbers, the record of the vote for that number, and the answer to the "I agree" question would be a public record and internet accessible. And this is the database that is actually counted for totals, and we would provide everyone some tools to do their own counting, statistics, etc. - all the stuff that computers are good at.
(6) Non-returned ballots, rejected ballots, retired ballots, etc. would be so-noted in this database. If rejected, the reason for rejection would be indicated.

Obviously, since not everyone is internet saavy, we would have to add some provisions to increase the participation in the verification part of this system:
(7) Designates for every major party that fields candidates, plus non-affiliated, would be allowed to supply a return envelope in the voter's pamphlet for sending in the vote record and password. The party takes care of the checking and the "I agree" part of it.

The hope is that the database would accumulate a significant "I agree" checkoff within a week or so of an election, prior to the SoS certifying the results, and that the number of ballots voted that have no response or "I disagree" below the margin of victory.

I think it would be most helpful if we could all, City Auditor included, admit that the human condition is, on occasion, animated by a certain, er, shabby resivouir of venality.

That's why we have laws. And, enforcement.

We don't shut down the banks, because there are bank robbers. We don't make woman wear burkas, because there are "evil doers".

We don't remove the stop signs, because people run them.

And, at least not yet, we donít support throwing out the baby with the bath-water. As a policy choice, anyway...

Yeah, '50 miles' is a bit of an exaggeration and not many people live there. And rural comity is more strongly civics minded, very true.

What are people's comments on this aspect: VBM lengthens the time available to vote.

For 50 miles or whatever reason or conflict, a lot of people cannot all get in to vote on one day, and especially because it's a weekday, a workday. In vote by mail there is two weeks to find time to sit down and do it.

Variations on this side of it have called for making Election Day a holiday off work, or for voting on the weekend, all weekend, etc.

Or does having vote by mail's two weeks only increase the opportunistic time for deviousness and fraud?

The whole country needs vote by mail, P.D.Q. for ending the corruption of the touch-TV voting.
But notice which group seems to sense a threat to them and are resisting, outright suppressing Oregon's success story, the most strenuously. The politicians, that's who. Ask your Rep. or Sen. if they ever spoke up for Oregon's own balloting best, back at their job in D.C. Okay, ask them if they ever spoke up for death with dignity. Likely they have.
But not have rep.re.sented for vote by mail.
Small evidence, there's more, but why oh why does the politician 'class' so despise VBM?


I understand human nature, also. And what my study of absentee balloting nationwide and VBM in Oregon indicates is that that vast, vast majority of citizens take the vote quite seriously and do not sell or broker their vote.

There is simply no evidence of widespread fraud or intimidation in Oregon or in other absentee ballot states. That's the evidence, much as your intuitions or beliefs about human nature might indicate the contrary.

Tensk-you are precisely right, but have the wrong solution. If we're worried about inconvenience, rather than individualizing the act of voting, we ought to be celebrating this special moment in civic participation by making election day a national holiday.

That addresses Jack's concerns about VBM fraud; it addresses other concerns about how VBM an absentee systems erode civic capacit; it addresses concerns about verified voter IDs.

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