Most “voter fraud” is not fraud:
A Hamilton County Board of Elections hearing on Friday into possible vote fraud last November produced no Perry Mason moments but plenty of evidence of voter confusion – not over for whom to vote, but how to vote.
In the first of two hearings intended to give subpoenaed individuals who voted twice a final chance to explain their actions and avoid possible prosecution, the explanations ranged from poll workers’ advice to worries over inadequate postage on absentee ballots to whether the ballots had even been mailed at all.
At least in the handful of cases reviewed in full Friday, no sinister motives or actions emerged. The board plans to hold another hearing next week, then decide which of the roughly 20 cases still being investigated – from among about four times that number initially examined – should be forwarded to county prosecutors.
The case of Veronica Stearns, a 51-year-old Springfield Township voter, was typical of those heard Friday. Stearns acknowledged having cast an absentee ballot and then also voting a second time at her polling place on Election Day.
Stearns said she became concerned when a postal worker told her mother that absentee ballot envelopes without two stamps – hers had only one – would not be delivered. (In fact, the post office’s policy is to deliver such ballot envelopes, with boards of elections picking up the additional postage cost, said board member Caleb Faux.)
“The post office told my mom my vote wouldn’t be counted,” she said.
When she went to her polling place on Election Day, Stearns said, workers who she told that she already had voted absentee allowed her to cast a provisional ballot – the proper procedure.
Provisional ballots are cast when there is a question over a voter’s eligibility, often after a move, a name change or in cases when it is unclear whether a requested absentee ballot has actually been cast. After officials sort out the matter, they decide which, if any, of a voter’s ballots to count. In instances in which both an absentee and Election Day ballot have been cast, the vote counted usually is the first one cast – the absentee.
Another voter, Rick William Manoff of Green Township, offered a variation on the same theme. In his case, Manoff was not worried whether he had put enough postage on his absentee ballot – he was worried whether it had been mailed at all.
Manoff said that, after beginning to fill out his absentee ballot, he left it on a table along with a stack of bills.
“I don’t recall sending it in,” he said. But his absentee ballot did reach the elections board, and Manoff theorizes that a cousin or others with a key to his home may have mailed it. When he went to the polls on Election Day, he, too, was allowed to vote provisionally – a ballot later discarded in favor of his absentee ballot.
And one case – in which a woman initially was thought to have tried to vote illegally at the polls under the name of someone who already had voted absentee – was cleared up when officials learned that the episode involved two women with the same name, Carolyn Johnson.
I was pleased that the Board of Elections pursued these allegations of voter fraud because if we don’t pursue the allegations they just fester for years and we end up with vague accusations and conspiracy theories. I wish this hearing process in Ohio had been handled in a less accusatory manner, with the benefit of the doubt given to the voter and a focus not on uncovering evidence towards prosecution but instead improving voting systems. I’d like to discard this idea promoted by conservative politicians and media celebrities that voters are entering polling places just bound and determined to commit a felony. Instead, I’d like to go back to the idea that voting should be designed and administered for voters. Voters are not the enemy here. They’re the whole point of this exercise.
There’s a Pew Center project where they’re working with MIT to rank states on voting process, based on how well each state system serves voters:
The other thing that ties a lot of the good-performing states together is the presence of election-day registration. If you’re in a state that has election-day registration, it suggests a willingness of state and local government to be cooperative and to view elections as a cooperative effort on the part of election officials and citizens. States that resist it are likely to view what happens on Election Day not as good-willed citizens trying to have their voice heard in government, but rather a problem of the wrong people trying to vote. It’s an attitude about elections.
It’s an attitude about elections, all right. Cooperative, not adversarial.
It’s an attitude about elections, alright: trying to make sure “the wrong people” don’t have a chance to vote.
This would all be easily solved if we all just voted Republican like our 1% betters expect us to.
There are so many places for uncertainity for the voter to creep in–the whole process is designed to make you nervous that your vote hasn’t been counted or will somehow be assigned to the wrong person. And the clerks are generally in the business of reassuring you–in the cases cited the clerks did the right thing and had the person vote a proisional ballot. That’s because you don’t want Clerks telling someone they can’t vote–its not the clerk’s place to determine eligibility, to substitute their belief for actual law, or to adjudicate complicated questions like “what did the post office do with the mailed/unmailed ballot.” To think that these poor people were hauled up before an inquisition and asked to demonstrate their bona fides again in an adversarial setting is just heart breaking.
Well almost all of the leadership of one of our two major political parties, a non-trivial fraction of our population, and (at bare minimum) at least one of our major television networds have decided that the wrong sort of voters very much are the enemy and should be treated accordingly. Which is why the vague accusations and conspiracy theories will continue to fester regardless. Evidence? We don’t need no stinkin’ evidence! This is a matter of faith, not science.
The bumper sticker on this ought to be:
Voters: Innocent Until Proven Guilty.
This is the way the systems should work. For example, one change that I would make in this regard is to change the burden on provision ballots; the presumption should be that they are counted unless someone provides evidence why they should not be.
I’m not understanding this…if it was the proper procedure, then why the hell is she being looked at for possible criminal charges? How can it be deemed “proper” if it’s illegal?
If this isn’t the very purpose of a provisional ballot, then just what the hell is?
c u n d gulag
The politicians are running to get or keep their office for years, while the voters in too many states have one day to vote.
And in too many places, registering and voting is still handled as if it’s the 19th Century.
We are a stupid nation.
Here in Washington, where we’re all vote by mail, you can go to the county’s website and see not only when your ballot has been received but even when it has been counted. And yes, they have to keep counting ballots for a few days, sometimes even a week after election day. Since there’s nothing on a November ballot that takes effect before Jan. 1 it doesn’t really matter though.
Dadgummed Post Office! Why we oughta…not let them deliver mail on Saturdays – THAT’LL show ’em!
No, you’re right. That is the proper procedure.
They were looking for “intent” to defraud.
I agree, it’s ridiculous. They set up the provisional balloting process as a fail-safe (supposedly) and when someone uses it for exactly that purpose, they haul them in for questioning. Voters should get off the defensive and start asking them, “hey, why is this process so fraught with anxiety and full of mystery?” VOTERS should hold hearings.
Your state does very well on the voting system comparison, which I’m sure doesn’t surprise you. The “good government” upper midwest wins again! Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan are the top-tier on clean, well-run elections.
I was surprised California and New York ranked as poorly as they did. I think non-swing states can have a lot of undiscovered voting problems, because the systems are never tested in close national elections.
The Ancient Randonneur
Interesting that the party of no more restrictions on 2nd Amendment Rights ever is the same party that will go to great lengths to ensure the “integrity” of the ballot. If only we could get a a well regulated militia of Black Panthers to show up in Tallahassee and Harrisburg. Any bets on how that would influence the debate? Let’s ask Ronald Reagan?
I can’t find it at the moment, but the ACLU had a great write up about how felon disenfranchisement was used as a tool to keep people of color from voting. From what I recall after Resconstruction many states, mostly Southern, disenfranchised felons then lowered the bar for what was considered a felony. In other words it got to the point where someone convicted of stealing a chicken, upon conviction, would be disenfrachised for life. Who steals chickens? Poor people. Who are disproportionately represented in that class of people? Surveys says …
But, hey, BALLOT INTERGRITY!
So keep guns sacred by giving them to everyone! Keep the vote sacred by restricitng access! Maybe the new GOP motto should be: Guns don’t kill people. Voter fraud kills people! Is that the Wingnut Wurlitzer I hear tuning up?
@Kay: Precisely. One of Cincinnati’s local propatainment outlets hyped a special investigation into “voter fraud”. While the report mentioned that about 119 voters had been questioned, and 100 of those voters had been “investigated” and “cleared”. But while the report did outline the facts of the investigation, a news promo featured an ominous voice over touting the station’s investigating “voter fraud” and featuring a clip of an African American woman saying, “I voted twice”. She was one of the voters who was confused about the status of her absentee ballot. That promo was misleading and disgusting. When I saw the report I recalled Kay’s post awhile back about how the mass mailing of absentee ballots would cause confusion and, of course, she was right. But that aspect of the story was not mentioned.
@Kay: Wisconsin still puts the burden on the voter with provisional ballots. I say that, if a registered voter’s eligibility to vote is challenged on, say, residency, the voter should be able to cast a provisional ballot and that the ballot should be counted unless the challenger establishes that the voter was not eligible. As things stand now, an election observer could challenge people for no reason, forcing onto provisionals that will not be counted unless they, the voters, bring in proof of eligibility by the end of the week. Why put the burden on the voter? If the observer knows something, let the observer prove it.
@The Ancient Randonneur:
The idea is to encourage us to solve our problem in the streets with guns instead of on the floor of Congress with votes.
Repub voters love the idea because they finally get to shoot us undeserving evil people. Repub elites love the idea because as long as we’re all out there shooting each other, we’re not bothering them with legislation.
@Kay: agreed with you and Face. All examples in that article show that the voting system, whatever you think of its efficacy, functioned exactly as designed. Moreover, in all cases where the second ballot was provisional, there was no need to discuss anything further with the voter. The thesis of that article should have been asking who authorized these ridiculous hearings and why they were wasting taxpayer time and money.
Only works if the tiger doesn’t hire half the wolves to kill the other half, though.
Yer not from around here, are you?
@Ben W: Looking into how and why double voting occurred is worthwhile. It is not something that should happen, so election officials should determine what caused it. If it was due to an inefficiency in the system, it should be fixed. If it was due to an intentional fraudulent act, it should be prosecuted. I tend to think that the vast majority of cases where it happens are due to either inadvertence or inefficiency, not criminal intent. As a result, the investigations should be structured accordingly.
Have the hamster just had heart attacks? The blog appears to be broken.
@Omnes Omnibus: You wish Cole could afford a hamster.
@Omnes Omnibus: http://i.imgur.com/k5sVYyb.gif
I agree. It is doubtful, though, that anyone trying to vote twice fraudulently would go to their polling place & make an announcement that forces them into a provisional ballot (“I’m not sure if I mailed in my absentee ballot”, etc.) It just makes no sense.
It is disgusting. It’s so blatant, too. I love that they chose the “I voted twice” clip. I mean, come on. We ALL know what that was about.
They do the same thing for outdated voter lists. The big blaring headline is always “dead people voted!” when the accurate story would be “people who are dead remain on registration rolls”. They don’t use that because it’s incredibly boring. The headline there would be “state records agency does not update records monthly”. There’s a big difference between voting and being registered.. They also don’t mention that states cull the lists at periodic intervals, and states CAN”T remove a voter without proof he or she is dead, unless they drop off due to inactivity.
This is why we have horrible elections, and why no one trusts the system.
As a longtime California resident, I’m not. This annoying libertarian streak in our state extends to county governments, which are allowed to make their own decisions about how to conduct the vote. And, surprise surprise, things tend to get screwed up.
We have the Inkavote (Scantron) system here in Los Angeles County, which I like very much, but other counties got to choose different systems, so there’s no single statewide voting standard.
@cckids: I don’t disagree at all. Double voting does come to light in other ways though. Most of the time it is due to some noncriminal error on pert of either the voter or election officials.
@BGinCHI: Cole had a hamster but Tunch eated it.
Preprint a tracking number on absantee ballots. Once the BoE gets it they scan a bar code that uploads to a website so voters can track of the ballot is received.
It’d cost a bit more but the tech has been in use for decades.
@schrodinger’s cat: In any case, things are moving better now. ::fingers crossed::
That’s what I mean. It doesn’t matter if it’s an annoying libertarian streak or a firm (but baseless) conviction by conservatives that certain people commit voter fraud. At the end of the day, voting is a records process. I think if one starts with that, starts at the voter who has to use this process, rather than with broad ideological beliefs, “local control” or “states rights”, we’ll get closer to better systems.
This sounds exactly right to me.
But how do we get there? How do we take the politics out of the process when vested instrests in skewing the voting process are so strong. Are the existing legal mechanisms strong enough, or are we stuck with trying to shame the shameless?
Some days it seems to me as if we need a Constitutional Amendment protecting voting rights similar to the protections provided by the 6th Amend, so that all voters, regardless of where they live in the country, have the right to a speedy, impartial and reliable counting of their vote. But it would have been so much easier to have that be part of the original Bill of Rights rather than trying to get it now, when the partisan political implications of simple fairness are all too obvious to everyone.
What do we do when close to half of the participants in our small-d democratic system have a vested interest in sabotaging democracy?
Waukesha County and their idiotic/malicious county clerk disqualifies Wisconsin from that list.
I don’t know, but can you imagine if conservatives were making this argument for any other records process? “We need to make it as difficult as possible to record a deed so people can show us they’re COMMITTED to owning property, deserving of property ownership!”
They would get laughed out of the room.
I think we should hit them on incompetence. The voting rules they favor don’t work. Provisional ballots were (partly) a response to conservative incompetence in administering elections. They were designed to protect rights that were wrongly denied. If they don’t like provisional ballots, maybe they should stop screwing with elections.
You know that, and I know that, but how do you convince the county Board of Elections official out in Kern County that she should use the same voting system that the decadent coastal elites use in Los Angeles County? There’s a really huge urban/rural divide in California that no one likes to talk about. These are the same people who decided that if they were going to have to marry gay couples at the county clerk’s office, they were just going to stop doing weddings altogther.
When I moved back to CA I had a very hard time registering because I didn’t have a residential address. I had to be very forceful about have the right to vote by mail and having that ballot mailed to an address of my choosing. Someone less able to turn on(and off) a demanding personality would have been turned away, as they tried to do with me.
Just had an argument with one of my brother’s wingnut friends who insisted that Obama stole the election via voter fraud and that Americans really really hate Obama. When I pointed out that Gallup had recently done a poll showing O with a 53% favorability rating, he said that Gallup was being manipulated by the left and it was all a big lie. All it proved was that I was an idiot for being fooled. You just can’t get through to these folks. “Facts” make them double down on the crazy.
I love your idea of a voters-hold-hearings process in which voters interrogate the politicians. Its true that, propagandistically, the right wing opposes “certain kinds”of voters but the reality is that lots of the roadblocks they through up in front of the wrong kinds of voters catch their own voters in the same dragnet. During the 2004 election cycle their stupid insistence on birth certificates and driver’s lisences disenfranchised a bunch of elderly nuns. Its true that the nuns were probably going to vote for Kerry, but its not the case that all eldelry people with paperwork problems were voting democratic. Far from it.
And people in many neighborhoods get caught up in the long lines problem–it isn’t just black people or poor people (besides which many upper class people have the fantasy that there should be no wait line at all and are equally peeved by lines).
I think that along with the pushback from the Obama administration we should look for something like the winter soldiers push for hearings from ordinary citizens who find it onerous, complicated, mysterious that a frequent process (voting) is turned into an extra-ordinaryily complicated series of hurdles.
I love the system outlined upthread, in Washington (?) where everyone votes by mail and you can check that your ballot has been received and opened. The entire thing should be so public and clear.
As I’ve said before I’ve worked the election as a clerk, inspector, etc… and its hellishly difficult for us–there is no reason it should be so complicated and so full of complexities. It should absolutely be straightforward and mechanized so that the voter knows EXACTLY what they have to do and EXACTLY when and how their ballot is cast and counted. For people whose right to vote is obscure or not clearly understood at ballotting time there should be 1) very few people in that situation and 2) very clear guidelines about how/when/who casts those provisional ballots which can’t be used to attack the voter post facto.
Unfortunately our friends in banking and real estate pretty much did that with the MERS system for recording mortgages, which was one of the subsidiary scandals/disasters that was part of the larger story of the inflationary bubble and subsequent catastrophic collapse of the housing and credit markets a few years ago.
But in more general terms I understand what you are saying. Make it a purely mechanical issue, like balancing a checkbook. If you can’t do that right, we shouldn’t trust you to run a lemonade stand, much less a Republic. So do it right or go home.
Facts, we don’t need no stinking facts!
Facts, the truth, science, all of these end up showing that modern conservatism is bullshit. That’s why they deny, slander, obfuscate, lie and just plain bullshit about them. Ever listen to Buckley? Purely intellectual sounding bullshit. It is all IGMFY or the five yr old’s “If I can’t have it neither can you”.
@Kay: I guess they’re pandering to their white audiences in Boehnerburbia.
@Kay: For an extreme example of a non-swing state, Massachusetts seems to be ranked as middling.
My impression is that their system needs work. The optical-scan ballots are fine, but there’s no same-day registration, no early voting or no-excuse absentee voting; and there’s this “inactive voter” roll that you can fall onto just for not responding to a yearly questionnaire (even if you voted in every single election), which requires that you present ID or vote by provisional ballot if you’re on it. In the 2012 primaries, some Tea Party groups around Worcester even caused some trouble by trying to aggressively challenge voters about inactive status.
@Thor Heyerdahl: No votes were miscounted or hidden in Waukesha County. Kathy Nickolaus was not competent at doing timely reporting, but, since Wisconsin elections are actually conducted and administered at the municipal level, her actions had no effect whatsoever on the conduct or validity of the the election. Here is a link to the results of the independent investigation as well as the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board’s investigation report.
I just feel as if voters could turn it around, on an individual basis. These people didn’t do anything wrong. They should have arrived at that hearing not as “defendants” in this fake-grand jury proceeding or show cause hearing, whatever the hell this was, but as people who had to go to elaborate lengths to vote. They’re the aggrieved. Why are they apologizing to the Board of Elections? Turn the tables on the Bd of Elections members. Ask them why they can’t figure out how to run an election properly. Really, it’s hardly the job of the person who just votes 4 times a year to fix the provisional balloting mess. Board of election member in Ohio is actually sort of a plum part-time job, because health insurance comes with the job. Why are they taking voters to task?
Another Halocene Human
@Kay: New York? Oh hoho, not surprised at all. A lot of corruption in the state legislature as I’ve been following the tortuous path to legalizing SSM in the state. (NYS should have been in the vanguard, but wasn’t.) Politicians “owned” by big money bosses. Sham-wow-flim-flam artists representing populous urban districts. And more than a decade of budget chicanery which has led to great suffering. Nope, doesn’t surprise me at all.
Now CA, I am surprised. They recently reformed their districting and elections process so I’m surprised they are doing badly on other measures. They do have some local level elections that have been rejiggered by libertarian idiots resulting in weird elections results, but a plebiscite voted that shit in; I would assume a plebiscite could vote it out, too.
Another Halocene Human
@The Ancient Randonneur: I can’t find it at the moment, but the ACLU had a great write up about how felon disenfranchisement was used as a tool to keep people of color from voting. From what I recall after Resconstruction many states, mostly Southern, disenfranchised felons then lowered the bar for what was considered a felony. In other words it got to the point where someone convicted of stealing a chicken, upon conviction, would be disenfrachised for life. Who steals chickens? Poor people. Who are disproportionately represented in that class of people? Surveys says …
BINGO. But it really got bad after the Civil Rights Act was passed, since terrorism had curtailed voting during Jim Crow.
@MikeJ: true. but the netwoirks aabvsolutely must know the winner before the late news cast or we are doomed. Most of theis whole fucking mess now in our electroral system is to placate the fucking media . Our elections are now geared into
being the first to announce the winner, not in getting the results right
a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q)
@Kathleen: It is disgusting (and unsubtle). But we have a GOP party chair in this county who is determined to make sure only the right kind of people vote, and has no qualms about intimidating the disfavored (D) population from the polls. It’s particularly disheartening to me, as i can remember when local GOP chairs were not insane and hostile to actual democracy.
The one who is now a federal judge is actually quite reasonable, as is his successor (mostly, though he has a zipper problem that famously imploded right before an election). Disclosure: I know both men professionally and personally, and the current chair only professionally. No comparison whatsoever; it’s as if they were different species.
Thanks to the FABULOUS Mark Ritchie.
Herm. I don’t want it to be adversarial, but “cooperation” kind of bothers me.
The voters have the power; they are granting it to the people who hold office. That’s the founding principal of our nation. So I don’t think it should be cooperation, which to me suggests action between equals. I’d rather see the attitude be one of “proper servitude”.
thanks for continuing to tell the truth about this, Kay.
Surely that will happen anyway. The mere fact that these people were brought in for questioning is going to be taken as evidence that they did something wrong: “where there’s smoke there’s fire,” etc.