Tuesday, May 20, 2008

WHY OREGON'S VOTE BY MAIL SYSTEM STINKS

BRAD BLOG Some 33,500 registered voters in Oregon received two ballots in the mail for this year's primary election in the country's only 100% Vote-by-Mail state. Though Secretary of State Bill Bradbury says he's confident the problem will be handled, and that no voter will get to cast two ballots, that snafu is a small concern compared to the larger ones presented by VBM.

Many Oregonians will tell you they believe their system is wonderful, yet many of the Election Integrity advocates on the ground there, including many we've spoke with at the Oregon Voting Rights Coalition, warn that the success of the state's VBM program is largely based on good procedures put in place by Bradbury, and which they fear may disappear, as they are not statutory, when he is someday no longer the state's SoS.

In the meantime, one of the unintended consequences of the success that EI advocates have had in helping to expose the failures of electronic voting systems, is that absentee and/or VBM systems have been growing in popularity.

For the voters, they believe such systems offer a "paper trail" not available to voters using touch-screen systems at the polling place. Many are unaware that their mailed-in ballots will be scanned by the same error-prone, easily manipulated optical-scan machines which handle paper ballots for precinct-based voting. But even worse, ballots mailed in, if they arrive safely, and are counted at all, are usually counted "in the dark", versus ballots scanned either at the polls on Election Day, or at county headquarters after the close of polls when citizens are often there to watch.

It is also much harder to track such ballots. Unlike ballots cast at the polls, where sign-in rosters can be compared to the number of ballots counted, it's far more difficult to match up such numbers after ballots are dropped into the black hole that is the U.S. Postal System. . .

The truth is, VBM is, in many ways, far less transparent then voting at the polling place --- at least where paper ballots are available, as they still are in the majority of America's voting precincts --- and much more dangerous for a number of reasons beyond what we've already mentioned above.

We'll make it simple, by drawing from six easy bullet points written by Colorado's Election Integrity advocate Shiela Kuhns, the executive director of the Public Integrity Project:

- Ballots are mailed in secret and counted in secret on secret software. Ballots are counted at a central location that makes fraud on a large scale easier to accomplish and harder to detect. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse data shows that approximately a third of computer security breaches are done by insiders either intentionally or accidentally.

- Ballots in hundreds of thousands of locations with no security for two to three weeks. The chain of custody lacks security as the ballots are handled by many anonymous persons throughout the process. Any unmarked contest on a ballot can be marked by someone other than the voter when the ballots are opened for counting.

- Voting can be done as a group at churches or union halls with people looking over the voter's shoulder to make sure they vote "the right way".

- There is no way to be certain that the person who signed the envelope is the person to whom the ballot was sent. Ballots can be stolen from mail boxes while the voter is at work or away from home on an errand. Other tactics include vote harvesting by persons who show up at your door to "help" you vote. The elderly and those with disabilities are particularly vulnerable.

- Post office or contract mailing company illegally forwards ballots, more than one ballot sent to voters, postal workers putting ballots in the trash. (All of these thing have happened in Colorado, 1100 ballots illegally forwarded in Douglas County, 214 voters received two ballots in Boulder County, ballots found in dumpsters at post office in El Paso County.)

- When election judges check in your ballot, they can see how you voted when they match the inventory number on your ballot to the inventory number next to your name on the voter rolls

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