Catherine Englebrecht of True the Vote, rightly points out that there are those in our country who hope to cast doubt on the election process in order to sow the seeds of distrust. That distrust, she argues, could lead to apathy, and more frighteningly a suspension of elections by our government.
Englebrecht says that the real threat to our Republic is voter fraud. For her efforts to expose voter fraud, she has been targeted by the IRS and lionized by grassroots organizations across the country.
Last year, residents of the small border community of Nogales, told election integrity proponents that some of them had received up to five ballots for the same election.
During the August 2014 Primary Election cycle, A. J. LaFaro, former Chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Committee, while working with the Maricopa County Elections Staff observing early ballot processing, witnessed a member of Citizens for a Better Arizona (CBA) start “stuffing the ballot box” with hundreds of ballots as he “watched in amazement.”
Whether it be election integrity, or voter integrity , there are citizens in communities across Arizona and the country, like Englebrecht and LaFaro, who are working to ensure that our system of elections becomes one in which we all have confidence.
In Pima County, residents have worked to bring transparency to the election process, which has been in doubt since the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority bond measure election. Their concern is twofold; voter integrity and election integrity. They, like anyone who dares challenge the status quo, have been accused of being tinfoil hat wearers.
Failures abound, confidence waivers
The truth be told, too many concerns about the mail-in ballot process, and its failure to live up to its promoters’ promise of increased voter participation suggest that it is causing far more problems than providing more opportunities to participate in the democratic process. The concerns range from allowing ghosts to vote, to peeking at results.
Traditionally, mail-in ballots in Pima County are processed days before election day according to attorney Bill Risner. In 2014, he wrote about the Sunnyside Unified Scool District Recall and noted that while the ballots were counted in just over one hour,” the County “wanted to count the ballots 5 days before election day.”
Risner alleged at the time, that Pima County insiders could learn the results “days before the election who was winning and by how much. In a close election that would be very valuable information. The losing side could be alerted that they needed to hustle in more votes through one means or another.” he questioned “whether the Pima County Election Division could be trusted to not learn what their computer knew or to not tell anyone if they “accidentally” learned the results.”
“The evidence it complete that they cannot be trusted,” wrote Risner. “We know because several election division employees testified under oath and in open court in Pima County that the election division has routinely been learning and printing the results days or weeks before elections.”
Risner noted that the “practice was so common that Pima County ordered a rubber stamp for the printed results so they could be labeled “unofficial returns.” Early peeking and telling was routine at the Pima County election division.”
Almost one year ago, the ADI reported on one case in particular that showed what can go wrong with the system. In March, 2014, a source informed Maricopa County “elections officials that a married couple from Arizona had moved to another state, but the wife’s name remained on the list to receive a ballots. A whole four years later, the man’s name was marked as deactivated, but the woman’s name remained and someone had voted twice in her name. Despite ailing health, the victim was eager to cooperate with authorities. Nothing was done to see who actually cast the vote, but finally her name was removed from the voter registration list.”
In the case of one Arizona registered voter, her ballots were sent to an address different from where she and her husband were residing. According to the source, the woman has since passed away, yet someone at the registered address has used her ballots to vote in the last 4 elections. Her name has finally been removed from the voter registration list.
Just this week, one Pima County resident asked the Arizona Attorney General regarding the unsealing of a tabulation machine by a member of the Pima County Elections Department after the logic an accuracy had been performed. The breach of protocol, while more likely a result of incompetence rather than corruption, raised concerns about “tampering with the vote counting machine to the attention of local media, officials and other concerned citizens,” according to the letter the the Attorney General. “Once he was made aware of the video evidence, Elections Director Brad Nelson admitted that there had been a breach in protocol. Consequently, another logic and accuracy test, with all witnesses present, had to be performed. When that was completed and all the parties were satisfied that the machine was once more set to zero, another seal was placed on it and the actual tabulation of early ballots was begun,” reads the letter.
“Besides three Tucson City Council elections, and a few other propositions, the current election includes seven bond issues that the County Manager, Chuck Huckleberry, and 4 of the 5 County Supervisors have all come out in favor of and have actively campaigned for passage of these bond issues,” continued the letter. “The elections are being run and handled by the County under the direct accountability of Mr. Huckleberry, which adds to the skepticism many of us have about the actions taken by this employee of the County and the possibility and/or probability of tampering with election results.”
Skepticism is not worth the promise
“Drawing on data from a large sample of California counties in two general elections, we find that voting by mail does not deliver on the promise of greater participation in general elections. In fact, voters who are assigned to vote by mail turn out at lower rates than those who are sent to a polling place. Analysis of a sample of local special elections, by contrast, indicates that voting by mail can increase turnout in these otherwise low-participation contests,” reads the 2007 article, Does Voting by Mail Increase Participation? Using Matching to Analyze a Natural Experiment, by Thad Kousser and Megan Mullin.
Although advocates claimed later that vote by mail increases participation, there is little evidence that the 2007 findings do not hold true. According to a pro-vote by mail article in the Huffington Post, “In the case of the four states with the highest voter turnout: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Washington, “same-day registration, a century of tradition in civic engagement, along with a hotly contested U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin, explain high turnout in the top two states. As for Oregon and Washington, they are the only 100 percent vote-by-mail states.”
Despite an increase in vote by mail participants, the 2014 Gubernatorial Election was historically at 36.42% down from 55.65% in 2010. Granted the choices offered to Arizona voters, Doug Ducey and Fred DuVal, were less than compelling, but making it easier to cast a ballot didn’t seem to make a dent in voters’ apathy.
On Friday, residents watching the Pima County Elections Department’s live stream, could see officials donning a tin foil hat presumably part of a Halloween costume, and not an attempt to mock concerned residents. The stunt did little to shore up confidence in the Department or the integrity of Pima County staff or elections officials.
Confidence in the system is vital. Whether confidence is whittled away by arrogant “public servants,” or ballot stuffers, or ballot tabulating machines that can be compromised, it matters little. What matters is that confidence be restored. One elections integrity advocate quotes President Reagan frequently, we must “trust by verify.” We would add that we also eliminate what we can that weakens our confidence and our system. Mail-in ballots do just that. We must elect or appoint elections officials we trust.
Until we make a real commitment to both election and voter integrity, turn out will remain low and the failing status quo in places like Pima County, which is home to the fifth poorest metropolitan area in the country, will remain intact.