Mail ballots a bad idea
October 11, 2002
Voters in the Roaring Fork Valley will have an opportunity to vote in November on a statewide initiative to have mail ballot elections (Amendment 27).
Proponents of this initiative argue that mail ballots will increase voter participation by making elections more convenient. There is evidence from other states that more people participate in elections when ballots are cast by mail. On superficial analysis, one might conclude that mail balloting would be good for Colorado.
Like most issues we address, the adage “The devil is in the details” is relevant to this proposition.
I have business experience developing computer systems that detect credit card fraud. Based on my experience, I believe the proposal for mail balloting provides opportunities for massive voting fraud. This would be a serious threat to the integrity of our democratic system.
The plan, as I understand it, is to mail ballots to everyone on the voter registration list. There are at least three major negatives associated with this proposal.
The first is that almost one-third of the names on the list represent individuals who no longer live at the recorded address. (Almost 20 percent of Americans move each year.) This means that one-third of the ballots will not reach the intended voter.
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Whoever removes mail from these mailboxes will have an opportunity to improperly cast the ballot meant for another voter. The ballot requires a signature, but this can be forged and signature recognition is far from an established science.
It is difficult to believe that our local county clerks have the technical expertise to verify every single ballot signature in the brief number of days before election results have to be reported. Even if many bad signatures are detected, there is no way to identify the individual who cast the illegal ballot.
For this reason, there is no real penalty for those individuals who attempt to cheat. I would expect that the county clerks will end up processing a massive number of illegal ballots and I doubt that all of the bad ballots will be discarded, and I am afraid that some perfectly legitimate ballots will be disqualified. Both of these errors are a serious corruption of the democratic process.
The second negative aspect of mailing ballots to everyone on the registration list is that many people who have little interest in politics and who seldom vote will routinely receive ballots. These individuals may be happy to let someone fill out the ballot for them and then sign the ballot in return for a monetary payment (like $20).
Given the amount of money that is currently expended to win votes, a payment of $20 for a guaranteed vote would be a very attractive option for many politicians. Buying votes has always been a problem, but mail balloting makes it much easier than traditional voting procedures.
There would be no way for a county clerk to determine if a mail ballot had been purchased. The mail ballot initiative is a wonderful way to insure that we have “the best government that money can buy.”
A third serious problem with the mail ballot procedure is that households that have multiple voters may be unduly influenced by a single dominant personality.
Imagine a household with a dominant male, a passive wife, a mother-in-law and a voting-age daughter. The head of the household collects all four ballots from the mailbox, fills all four ballots out and then requires his wife, mother-in-law and daughter to sign the ballot envelopes. This seems like a plausible scenario to me.
The voting booth protects individuals from this type of bullying. Mail ballots make it easy for dominant personalities to influence the voting process. Block voting by household is not what we should encourage in a fair democratic system.
I hope that all valley residents will consider these observations when they cast their ballots in November.
Peter W. Frey