Friday, September 24, 2004


Will absentee ballot fraud get same attention as voter registration fraud?

Everyone, with good reason, expects all the stops (legal, sorta-legal and not so sorta-legal) to be pulled out between now and Nov. 2.

My emperical experience is that there is surprisingly a lot more interest in reporters coverage of voter registration fraud, like this, than absentee ballot fraud. As a matter of fact, I haven't come across any serious discussion of absentee ballot fraud investigations in Ohio.

Is this a problem? I think so.
First, the registration fraud is relatively easy to detect. For example, when a stack of registration forms arrive with the same misspelling of a street name, alarm bells start going off. Also, a phony registration or one that was at least done with excessive help, doesn't necessarily yield a phony vote. Finally, both campaigns are committing serious resources to watch over the polls on election day.

But, as the New York Times pointed out several weeks ago, officials expect that as many as one quarter of all votes will be cast by absentee ballot this year. And the ease with which one could wrongly improperly influence an absentee vote virtually nullifies the rules that bar campaigners from being in normal voting locations.

Ohio makes it very easy to cast a fraudulant ballot.

Here, according to the NYT is the deal for Ohio:
Is excuse required to vote absentee? -- Yes [but little or no proof is required]
Is witness required? -- No [a witness is a protection, verifying that the person actually voted their own ballot]
Are political operatives -- partisans -- barred from distributing or collecting applications? -- May distribute only
Are political operatives barred from collecting ballots? -- Yes [but this is difficult to enforce - just gather and mail separately]
Date absentee voting begins -- Sept. 28
Special conditions, if any, for political operative to help voter -- Helper must be identified [again, difficult to enforce].

But will absentee ballot fraud be committed? Actually, there is history of it already. The NYT reports that,"In another case, a Republican election worker in Ohio was charged with switching the votes of nursing-home residents in the 2000 presidential race."

And a Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby recently reported how he manipulated the system in three states, including Ohio:

"It is illegal to register to vote simultaneously in different jurisdictions, but scofflaws have little to worry about. As the Daily News noted, "efforts to prevent people from registering and voting in more than one state rely mostly on the honor system." Those who break the law rarely face prosecution or serious punishment. It's easy -- and painless -- to cheat.

"I learned this firsthand in 1996, when I registered my wife's cat as a voter in Cook County, Ill., Norfolk County, Mass., and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and then requested absentee ballots from all three venues. My purpose wasn't to cast illegal multiple votes but to demonstrate how vulnerable to manipulation America's election system has become."

So, why has the reporting so far in Ohio just been on voter registration fraud. I suspect that it's equal parts of being suckers for Republican spin and laziness, or both. Republicans want everyones attention to be focused on voter registration where the Dems have been doing serious work in urban areas, students and other pockets of supporters. Likewise, its relatively easy for county election boards, the Sect. of State and reporters to identify registration problems.

So, Ohio journalists, how about not always reaching for the low-hanging fruit and take a serious look at absentee ballot issues.


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