You can have an honest election, or you can have a mail in/absentee
ballot election, but you can't have both at the same time.
By November 2006 the Help
America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) (aka Leave No Voting Company Behind)*
tidal wave had washed almost completely across America, destroying
election integrity and trust in its wake, and brought to us by the
same "leaders" who brought us war in Iraq; a war on drugs; the
wholesale destruction of children, families, and marriage; torture;
gulags; reinstituted indentured servitude and debtors prisons; and
incurred a national debt of nearly $9 trillion dollars that is
increasing by $1.7 billion a day.
One need not read far into the tabulation of problems by
VotersUnite, or by
the Equal Justice Foundation,
to realize electronic voting has been a massive failure. The
innumerable problems, in many cases initiated by requirements of
HAVA, has led to
distrust of voting machines in polling places. Nowhere is this more
apparent than in
election in Riverside County, California, one of the first counties
to switch to electronic voting.
In many cases, dysfunctional voting machines and incompetent or
dishonest election officials have led to outrageous waits for voters
at polling places, e.g., in several Colorado counties in November
2006 the last voters were not able to cast a ballot until 1:30 AM the
next morning at
voting centers. In
some cases, notably Ohio, election officials apparently deliberately
put too few electronic voting machines in minority or Democratic
neighborhoods, forcing many potential voters to turn away rather than
wait in line for many hours to vote. And, if citizens are able to
vote at a precinct, the innumerable problems with electronic voting
and on many other web
sites leaves voters justifiably uncertain if their vote was counted
and, if counted, counted correctly?
In order to avoid the lines at polling places, and with
well-founded mistrust in
touchscreen (DRE) voting
machines, an ever-increasing number of voters have taken to using
absentee ballots in the correct belief that a hand-marked paper
ballot is more durable and accurate than an ephemeral entry on a
But absentee mail ballots are still counted by electronic voting
machines, only now it is done in the proverbial "back room" largely
out of public view, which suits embattled election officials and
voting machine manufacturers just fine.
While election officials are being pummeled by public distrust
of electronic voting, they are, as in the past, going in the wrong
direction. Despite an unbroken record over the past decade of making
elections worse, the apparent stampede of these simpletons is to
propose all-mail ballot elections, as has been done in Oregon. The
Oregon experiment is reviewed, and not favorably, by
Prof. Melody Rose and
Thomas Hargrove. But far be
it from our apparently retarded election officials to be deterred by
failures elsewhere. Besides, the increased use of absentee ballots
makes it appear to them that it is "the will of the people" to have
mail ballot elections.
Unfortunately the proposed cure, mail balloting, is worse than
the disease of electronic voting.
And we certainly wouldn't want to return to the old-fashioned
method of hand marking and hand counting paper ballots at our local
precinct that worked so well for so many years. That would make the
waste of public money and distrust in electronic voting machines too
What are the
problems with mail ballots?
Links provide additional details about the problems tabulated
In early 2006 I was asked by a local election official to
tabulate the problems I'd seen with mail ballot elections and
absentee balloting. Obviously, conscientious election officials do
their best to minimize these problems. However, the "less
conscientious" do their best to simply hide "mistakes" and all too
often we've encountered, and document in the chapter
Lies, Damn Lies, And Mail
In Elections, incompetent or corrupt election officials who ignore or
are ignorant of the problems listed here.
It is also impossible for election officials to defend against
and prevent all the problems listed in a given election using mail
ballots. Thus, while the limited use of absentee ballots may be
necessary, their usage should be strictly controlled and the closest
possible scrutiny applied to all ballots sent and received by mail.
As noted, all-mail
ballot elections have been widely touted, but have not been as
successful as politicians and election officials would like us to
believe. In no case should all-mail elections be used, especially in
special district elections involving developers, or other elections
where large dollar or tax issues are at stake.
registration problems with mail ballots
Falsified voter registrations are common.
Poll books and voter registration rolls are corrupt with no
independent check possible.
disenfranchisement with mail ballots
Voter disenfranchisement of about one-third of registered voters
occurs as ballots are only mailed to active voters.
Voters may be disenfranchised by selectively purging voter
registration roles or intercepting mail ballots.
Eligible voters are disenfranchised when someone else returns their
mail ballot without their knowledge or consent.
Even with requested absentee ballots about 10% may be returned by the
Post Office as undeliverable to that address.
It is known that mailed ballots are frequently lost because many are
repeatedly "found" after the election is over.
Wrong writing instruments are often used by voters at home to mark ballots.
For additional information on this problem see the report by
Douglas Jones (PDF) on tests conducted in Maricopa County (Phoenix),
Arizona. An example of this problem in an election is described for
the November 2003 election in
Garfield County, Colorado.
Contradictory instructions may be given to voters on how to mark ballots.
stuffing is facilitated
Repeat voting is easily accomplished.
People receive ballots for others, e.g., parents whose children have
left home, apartment dwellers, fraternities, sororities, nursing
homes, etc., and may fill out and submit those ballots.
Voter signature and birthday often appears on outside of envelope
compromising voter's privacy and security.
Ineligible ballots from voters who have moved or are otherwise
ineligible, e.g., in prison, are counted.
Total loss of ballot inventory and control is inherent.
Thousands of ballots are sent to questionable and temporary addresses
(fraternities, sororities, nursing homes, apartment houses, brothels,
motels, bars, empty homes, etc.).
No independent check is possible on whether a voter received the
proper ballot style, or whether the ballot they receive has all
applicable issues and candidates included (or excluded).
Vote buying and selling
Voter intimidation by employers, unions, political parties,
neighbors, special interests, relatives, and others is enabled and
Electioneering - Prohibited in polling place but go get 'em with mail ballot.
Vote buying and selling is enabled.
Ballots can be and are collected from voters by special assistants
who may or may not deliver the ballots for counting, or who may help
the voter fill out their ballots.
manipulating the vote count
Back room counting of ballots occurs without citizen oversight and
often by relatives or cronies of the county clerk.
Eligible votes may not be counted.
Scanning errors when counting ballots are often ignored.
Ballots are often redone by election officials in order to be machine readable.
Mail ballots are often scanned multiple times.
Voter has no idea whether their ballot was received and counted as marked.
Loss of secret ballot.
Problems using optical
scanners to count mail ballots
In addition to the issues outlined above, counting mail ballots
with electronic voting machines using optical scan methods leads to
another set of problems. The more common ones known are listed below.
Note that there is a considerable difference in the requirements
for a machine to scan a few hundred ballots, with just one or two
ballot styles, in a precinct compared with the necessity of
accurately and reliably scanning hundreds of thousands of ballots,
with tens or hundreds of ballot styles, in mail in elections. An
optical scanner that performs flawlessly in a precinct is much more
likely to fail, or produce incorrect results when used to count
ballots in the more demanding production environment of a mail
However, as the ballots are counted in the "back room" at the
county or city clerk's office, a concerted effort is often made to
cover up problems and only the most obvious and egregious errors
Known and common problems:
Marking devices, i.e., pencil or pen, wrong ink color, mark
intensity, etc., on paper ballots not recognized and votes are not
counted by scanner. For an excellent review of such problems see the
regarding the optical mark-sense tabulators in Maricopa County,
Arizona by Prof. Douglas Jones.
Scanner sensitivity not properly calibrated or tested prior to election.
Scanner heads become dirty or scratched and introduce reading errors.
For example, voters at home may use correction fluid on their ballot
that may wipe off on the read head of the scanner, or food gets
spilled on the ballot that transfers to the scanner. This is a
particular problem with mail elections where tens or hundreds of
thousands of ballots may be scanned with a single machine.
Defects in scanner cause apparent overvoting and votes are not counted.
Double-sided ballots not sufficiently opaque and marks on opposite
side bleed through particularly if wrong marking instrument, e.g. a
Sharpie, is used.
Overvoting rejection may be turned off (also used to discriminate
against minority voters).
Candidates and issues omitted when ballot is scanned.
Ballots with straight-party votes may not be counted correctly.
Ballots don't fit scanner, or cannot be, or are not read by scanner.
Ballots jam often due to high humidity.
Computer identifies voter thus preventing secret ballot (Hart
Uncertified, untested, or wrong software, firmware, and hardware installed.
Computers not programmed correctly and may be reprogrammed during election.
Ballots have toner or ink transferred while folded and sacked for
mailing and scanner reads smudge as vote or overvote.
Fold in absentee or mail ballots read as vote or overvote.
Note: This tabulation is not exhaustive and many more scams are
possible, and commonly used with mail ballots. That is why they are
currently the method of choice for election fraud.
Since 2002 another requirement has been added to the voting
process by the Help America Vote Act. That federal law requires that
provision be made for handicapped voters to be able to vote
As the deadline has passed for implementing those measures one
is left wondering how the requirement that individual handicapped
voters be able to vote unassisted are met in a mail-in election?
Or are handicapped voters simply to be left to fend for
themselves in mail ballot elections?
Cost, voter turnout,
Three specious reasons commonly given to justify mail/absentee
(1) Lower cost,
(2) Increased voter turnout, and
(3) Voter convenience.
The most common reason given to justify the necessity for an
all-mail ballot election is lower cost. Aside from the point that the
primary requirement for election officials is to provide an open,
honest, and secure election, there is little evidence that an
all-mail ballot election costs anymore than a well-run election done
in polling places.
However, the typical cost comparison between a polling place
election and a mail ballot election ignores the facts that a polling
place election today is burdened with the HAVA mandates that every
polling place have at least one expensive electronic voting machine
that allows handicapped voters to cast a ballot unassisted, as well
as provisional balloting that commonly requires at least one extra
election judge in each polling place. These federal mandates are the
reason a polling place election now appears to cost more.
Table 1 shows a
comparison of costs typically incurred in polling place and all-mail
Most election districts now also have early voting in
polling-place elections, an additional expense. Further, most
election districts also allow "no excuse" absentee balloting as well
and roughly a third of voters now use that method even when polling
places are available.
If the extremely expensive, and demonstrably unreliable and
untrustworthy electronic voting machines were eliminated, and
hand-counted paper ballots used, then the cost differences would
disappear. Even with all the current impedimenta the cost difference
is only about 20-25% more for a polling place + absentee + early
voting + provisional ballot election, depending on whose numbers are
There appears to be little reason for early voting when voters
can vote absentee, and that expense could easily be eliminated
without significant inconvenience to voters and at considerable
savings for the cost of an election.
I would also advocate returning to a requirement that a voter
appear in person to obtain an absentee ballot. The current "no
excuse" method of writing or calling to get a ballot is alarmingly
insecure, particularly coupled with mail-in voter registration, as it
currently is. Having the voter appear in person is infinitely more
secure and saves the costs of mailing as well.
The other chestnut that is inevitably trotted out to justify,
and ignore the obvious dangers of mail ballot elections, is the claim
that they increase voter turnout. I have looked at that claim using
statistics from 1992 through 2006 provided by the El Paso County,
Colorado, county clerk.
Voter turnout is clearly unrelated to whether the election is an
all-mail ballot one or not.
The results from 21 elections are summarized in
Table 2. There are 4
presidential races, 3 off-year congressional races, 5 coordinated
county elections, 7 primary races, and 2 municipal elections included
in the summary. Colorado law currently prohibits mail ballot
elections in federal races so the three mail ballot elections
included in Table 2
involve county and municipal elections only. But there are enough of
each type of election to draw some preliminary conclusions.
Summarizing by type of election and in order of voter turnout:
Presidential elections - These elections are usually of most interest
to voters and the turnout, ranging from a low of 59% to a high of 81%
in the four presidential races in
Table 2 reflects that
interest. Voter turnout in presidential elections is always higher
than in any other type of election and these are always polling place
elections under current Colorado law. Percent of voters who used
absentee ballots ranges from a low of 9% before "no excuse" absentee
voting began circa 1993, to 25% in the 2004 election and 35% in the
2000 election after "no excuse" absentee balloting was introduced.
Congressional elections - Off-year congressional elections combined
with state legislator races are also of great interest to voters. In
the three races in
Table 2 voter turnout
ranges from a low of 46% to a high of 51%. Again, these are polling
place elections under Colorado law. When "no excuse" absentee voting
was initially permitted only 14% of voters used that method. As "no
excuse" absentee voting was implemented, and distrust of electronic
voting machines grew, 30-31% of voters now use an absentee ballot.
Coordinated elections - These involve election of county officials
and often tax or local issues. Five coordinated elections are
included in Table 2
including one all-mail election in 2001. Voter turnout in coordinated
elections ranges from a low of 19% to a high of 36%. The all-mail
ballot election, with a turnout of 31%, falls in the middle of this
range. The use of absentee ballots in these elections is consistently
rather low, ranging from 8-12% when "no excuse" absentee voting first
began, increasing to only 14-21% after it became common.
Municipal and special district elections - It is in these types of
elections that use of all-mail balloting is most dangerous. The
numbers of eligible voters is smaller, special interests are likely
involved, e.g. developers, and the outcomes can usually be more
readily changed by differences of a few hundred votes. Two of these
elections, both mail ballot elections, are listed in
Table 2. Numerous
problems with the April 2003 Colorado Springs mail-ballot election
elsewhere. Turnout was a modest 37% for that election, which had a
large number of candidates for city offices and a tax issue on the
ballot. The December 2006 school district election had only a 20%
Primary elections - These occur in August and voter apathy is
apparent in the five primary elections in
Table 2, which seldom
have any real contests in heavily-conservative El Paso County.
Turnout ranges from a pathetic 7% to 21%. Even a hotly contested
Republican primary in 2006 for a congressional seat only provoked a
turnout of barely 17%. When voters do participate in primary
elections they now tend to vote more often by absentee ballot than in
other types of elections. After "no excuse" absentee voting was
introduced 22% of votes were mail ballots in the 2000 primary,
increasing to 40% in 2006. It is also worth noting that
electioneering was quite successfully used to influence those who
voted absentee in the August 2006 primary election.
Clearly, voter turnout is influenced more strongly by the type
of election, with presidential and congressional elections always
drawing the largest turnouts, than by whether voting is based on
polling place elections or mail ballot elections are used. Allowing
"no excuse" absentee voting after 1993 has clearly increased the use
of that method, with concomitant increases in the ease of casting
fraudulent ballots and the virtual certainty that is now being done
in many elections.
One can't logically ascribe any voter's desire to avoid standing
in line for hours at a polling place and, thus, choosing to use an
absentee ballot as a matter of "convenience." Instead, the increased
use of absentee ballots appears to be the direct result of
malfeasance by election officials and voting machine manufacturers
whose expensive, unreliable, and untrustworthy voting machines have
made polling place voting more difficult and time consuming, and
deservedly increased public distrust and ire over election misconduct
by orders of magnitude.
"Convenience" is a justification only the morally bankrupt would use
for promoting the use of mail ballots.
It seems obvious that, at best, misguided efforts to increase
voter turnout by making it more "convenient" to cast a ballot by mail
have radically increased the probability and ease of election fraud.
That contravenes the entire basis for an election and undermines the
foundations of our democracy.
With the legions of scandals surrounding electronic voting
machines, which are also used in a "backroom" to count mail ballots,
public trust in fair and honest elections is plummeting. All-mail
ballot elections have the appearance of simply one more effort by
election officials to hide their mistakes and the problems with
electronic voting machines, further increasing public distrust.
Charles E. Corry, Ph.D., F.G.S.A.
* Footnote: It is worth remarking that HAVA was sponsored by
Congressman Bob Ney (R - Ohio),
who later pled guilty to felony charges of conspiracy and making
false statements in connection with the Jack Abramoff
influence-peddling scandal. Also, Diebold is headquartered in Ohio
and then-CEO Wally
O'Dell was an infamous supporter of Republican candidates.
The Equal Justice Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation
supported by members and contributions.
Charles E. Corry, Ph.D., F.G.S.A.
Equal Justice Foundation http://www.ejfi.org/
455 Bear Creek Road
Colorado Springs, Colorado 80906-5820
Personal home page: http://corry.ws
Curriculum vitae: http://www.marquiswhoswho.net/charleselmocorry/Default.aspx
The good men may do separately is small compared with what they may