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King County considers risky mail-only ballot scheme


  by Victor Joecks
  Evergreen Freedom Foundation


Posted May 29, 2006

On Monday, May 15, 2006 King County Council moved one-step closer to voting on mail-only elections. The Council voted to pass an “Action Plan” for King County Elections, which sets a June 12th deadline for a council decision on the switch over.


Many citizens have expressed concerns with mail-only balloting and the “King County Elections Moving to Vote by Mail” report has added to their concerns. Authored in January by Elections Director Dean Logan, it reveals that vote-by-mail will increase election costs and that the equipment necessary to process the huge number of ballots in King County is not available.


Despite many assurances from King County Executive Ron Sims, Secretary of State Sam Reed, and King County Councilman Bob Ferguson that mail-only voting would save tax dollars, Logan’s report reveals “vote-by-mail will not immediately reduce costs” and the “cost” of all-mail voting “is marginally greater than the savings generated by eliminating poll voting.”


More alarmingly, the report reveals that the high-speed counting machines King County needs to become the largest all-mail voting jurisdiction in the United States are not yet available. Logan’s report lists the viability of obtaining the needed machines in 2007 as medium. There is an “elevated risk” that the machines would not be available when King County needs them for the 2007 elections.


Perhaps the 2004 election fiasco was only a preview of King County’s proposed attempt to distribute and count ballots with inadequate technology in 2007. In 2004, with only 63 percent of voters using mail ballots, King County Elections had major problems counting and reconciling those ballots. Long after both recounts, King County Election workers discovered 96 uncounted absentee ballots, counted 875 more absentee ballots than recorded absentee voters, and filed a false mail ballot reconciliation report to cover up the discrepancy. King County has not proven it can handle its current mail ballot obligations in a major (even-year) election. Many shudder to think about the results of King County handling almost twice as many mail ballots, depending on machines that are not available yet.


King County’s logistical problems would only compound the inherent insecurity of mail-only balloting. Mail ballots are the tool of choice for those interested in rigging elections. In poll voting, the only time a ballot is out of the control of election officials is when a voter takes his ballot to a secret voting booth and votes. In an all-mail system, election officials have no control over ballots from when ballots are mailed, to when a ballot is delivered back to election officials. This process can take weeks, which provides many opportunities for voter intimidation and fraud.


Family, friends, employers, union officials, and others can intimidate an individual into revealing their ballot or changing their votes in ways that are not possible in the secrecy of a voting booth. The elderly are especially vulnerable to someone “helping” them fill out a voter registration form and then “helping” them fill-in their ballot.


More opportunities for fraud exist once a ballot, in its distinctive envelope, is mailed. Ballots can be destroyed, stolen, altered, or “lost.”


In a recent all-mail election in Great Britain, six men exploited the universal weaknesses of mail-only balloting to steal an election. The men obtained ballots by intimidating mail carriers and infiltrating the post office; they then modified and returned them with “corrected” votes. Police found three of the conspirators changing hundreds of ballots in a warehouse. The presiding judge wrote that the election “would disgrace a banana republic.” Fortunately, the judge voided the fraudulent elections.


Al Capone would have loved a vote-by-mail system like this. No need to bribe elected officials: just steal and alter mail ballots to “elect” those you want.


The nation’s top election experts know how insecure mail ballots are. Reports from the 2001 National Commission on Federal Election Reform, the 2005 Commission on Federal Election Reform, an expert panel assembled by the Century Foundation, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement all conclude that mail ballots present the best opportunity for fraud.


King County Elections is now notorious for its Keystone Cops-like handling of mail ballots. Fortunately, a final decision on mail-only balloting in King County has not been made. Concerned citizens of King County still have time to express their thoughts on all-mail balloting’s cost, equipment (or lack there of), and security. If, however, the County continues with this ill-advised and premature move to mail-only ballots, it may very well go down as King County’s biggest blunder of all.


Victor Joecks is Policy Analyst with the Voter Integrity Project of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a public policy research organization based in Olympia. More information can be found at www.effwa.org/vip .



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