Terry McLaughlin: Why be concerned about all-mail voting?
Any registered voter may legally request an absentee ballot, but the push to force an all-mail national election on our citizens by mailing a ballot to every name on the current voter rolls is fraught with problems.
A 2012 PEW study concluded that roughly “24 million voter registrations in the United States are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate.” The situation had not improved four years later, when the Election Assistance Commission determined that San Diego County still had 138% of its over-18 population on the voter rolls. State-by-state results of the Election Integrity Project yielded 462 counties where the registration rate exceeded 100%.
Mail-in ballots are also susceptible to theft or alteration, and can lead to intimidation or improper pressuring of voters in their homes. Not to mention the vulnerabilities of being lost or misdirected by the postal system. Vote-harvesting, which is legal in California, allows candidates, campaign workers, party activists, and political consultants who have a stake in the outcome of an election to pick up absentee ballots from voters, dramatically increasing the likelihood of fraud.
This is not just speculation. A 1998 report on persistent fraud in state elections issued by the Department of Law Enforcement called absentee ballots the “tools of choice” of “those who are engaging in election fraud.”
The Heritage Foundation Election Fraud Database has documented a sampling of just under 1,300 cases of absentee ballot fraud from almost every state in the Union — real cases which have resulted in civil or criminal penalties. Here are just a few examples:
Melvin Lightning of Alabama, pleaded guilty to forging absentee ballot request forms in the name of other voters. He took these ballots to the voters, obtaining their signatures on the envelopes without telling them they were signing an actual ballot. He then completed and cast the ballots.
Larry Gray, a former sanitation director in Arkansas, pleaded guilty to illegally casting absentee ballots after successfully submitting at least 98 ballots in other people’s names in a 2002 primary. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said others were running similar schemes in Arkansas.
After a lengthy FBI investigation of the 2007 and 2009 elections, Angel Perales, the former head of code enforcement in the town of Cudahy, California, admitted to tampering with mail-in ballots in city elections by opening them and then resealing and submitting votes for incumbent candidates while discarding votes for challengers.
Lydia Martinez, a Connecticut city councilwoman, admitted to targeting residents of an assisted living home and illegally “helping” them to fill out absentee ballots, as well as encouraging those not eligible to vote absentee to do so.
Deisy Cabrera pleaded guilty to charges of being an absentee ballot “broker.” She kept a notebook with the names and addresses of over 500 voters, mostly elderly Hispanics in Hialeah, Florida, reportedly including information as to whether the voter was illiterate, blind, deaf, or suffered from Alzheimer’s.
Carleton Vines, a candidate for Georgia state court judge in 2006, and his co-conspirators, illegally assisted voters in filling out their absentee ballots, in many cases transporting those ballots to Vine’s law office before mailing. Vines was fined $15,000.
Anish Eapen, a city streets and sanitation superintendent in Illinois, pleaded guilty to approaching residents of his ward, showing his town badge, and offering to help them cast absentee ballots, many of which he filled out himself. He was sentenced to 364 days in the Cook County Jail.
Ruth Robinson, the former mayor of Martin, Kentucky, was sentenced to 90 month’s imprisonment in 2014. She and her co-conspirators — her husband and son — threatened and intimated residents during the 2012 election in which Robinson was seeking re-election. They targeted residents living in public housing or in properties that Robinson owned, threatening them with eviction if they did not sign absentee ballots filled out by the Robinsons. Robinson also targeted disabled residents and offered to buy the votes of others.
Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor, Michigan, was found guilty of possessing other individuals’ absentee ballots and buying votes in a 2005 runoff election. He paid $5 to each person at a local soup kitchen who would fill out an absentee ballot. He was convicted again in 2014 for ballot petition fraud and sentenced to 2 1/2 to 10 years in prison. That conviction was overturned by the Michigan Supreme Court in 2018.
Ronald Harris of New Jersey pleaded guilty to an absentee ballot fraud conspiracy, in which he and thirteen others shredded ballots which cast votes for the opposition during the 2009 Atlantic City Democratic primary. He was sentenced to 181 days in prison.
Hector Ramirez, a 2014 State Assembly Candidate for the 86th Assembly District of New York, pleaded guilty to deceiving voters into giving their absentee ballots to his campaign, which then inserted his name on at least thirty-five of the absentee ballots.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections decertified the outcome of the 2018 race in the 9th Congressional District and ordered a new election after finding evidence of absentee ballot fraud. And just this past month the New Jersey Attorney General filed charges against Paterson City Councilman Michael Jackson, Councilman-elect Alex Mendez, and two other men for criminal conduct involving mail-in ballots during the May 12 municipal election. One individual has already confessed to having stolen ballots, both completed and uncompleted, out of mailboxes on behalf of and at the direction of the Mendez campaign. Almost 20% of the total ballots cast in this election have already been disqualified, and cases are still pending.
Absentee ballots are essential for those who are unable to appear at their polling places due to health concerns, physical disability, military service abroad, and other legitimate reasons, but mailing an absentee ballot to every registered voter — dead or alive, those registered in more than one state or county, those registered at vacant lots — is a dangerous precedent that should concern all Americans regardless of party affiliation.
Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at email@example.com.
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