Vote by mail and the problems it creates

By Dave Lister,

A few months back I decided to purge our company’s files. We had every document going back to 1985, and I decided to consign 15 years’ worth to the shredder. As I went through the old files it struck me that the cursive perfection of my signature had degenerated over the years to a shaky, arthritic scrawl. That led me to wonder about the signature on my mail-in ballot. My signature of today couldn’t really resemble my original registration. So which signature was the elections office using, I wondered, to authorize my ballot?

Election Day used to be special. I organized my day around going to the polls. Strolling up to the church, school or library, many of them decked out in red, white and blue bunting, I felt a visceral pride of participation in our democratic process. In the privacy of the voting booth, I made my choices. My ballot was secret. It was sacrosanct. It was between me and the Almighty. Declaring aloud that “David Lister has voted,” the elections worker would slip my anonymous ballot into the padlocked box. I left feeling good about exercising my right as a citizen.

Now that Election Day has turned into “counting day,” voting is about as exciting as paying the monthly bills. Your ballot shows up days in advance and sits on the kitchen table. At some point, you realize you’d better fill it out and put a stamp on it or you’ll have to use the drive-by drop-off box. Should you hold onto it for a time, waiting for some candidate to commit an unforgivable gaffe, or should you get it out of the way so you won’t forget? No pride of participation. No special day. You fill it out, mail it in and wait for counting day.

I suppose you could dismiss such concerns as the musings of an aging man yearning for the good old days. But I’m truly troubled by our vote-by-mail elections.

A recent legislative action allows ballots to be opened seven days before Election Day. The reasoning, I guess, is that the final count can be available sooner. But I don’t like the idea of the temptation created by opened ballots lying around. And for some reason, ballots seem to propagate under vote-by-mail. Uncounted ballots reported by some counties continued to increase over the days following the election. The reason, we’re told, is that ballots improperly dropped in the wrong precincts have to slowly make their way home, but those late-arriving ballots seem to keep deciding close elections. The padlocked box in the polling place was already home.

With vote-by-mail, how secret is our secret ballot? I was aghast as I listened to the Mark and Dave Show on 1190 KEX radio the afternoon of the election as callers admitted they had signed their envelope and given their ballot to someone else to mail or drop off. Such apathetic people probably wouldn’t have gone to the polls in days past. Should someone else get to cast the votes that likely would never have been cast before? Without the secrecy of the voting booth, how often are people coerced or browbeaten into voting someone else’s way?

What about our registration process? If you register online, you merely assert your citizenship. You don’t have to prove it. False swearing is a felony, but is that really an effective deterrent? If I were intent on fraud, I could probably register my dog, my cat and my parakeet and get away with it.

I know we’ll probably never go back to the polls. But is what we have vote-by-mail or vote-by-mail fraud?