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Looking for Fraud in All the Wrong Places

There’s much more opportunity for voter fraud with absentee ballots than at the polls.

There are four seasons in the coal region, according to the terrific web site CoalRegion.com: Almost winter, winter, still winter and construction.

That observation came to mind during this past election season, which seemed to have the longevity of a coal region winter. At the risk of prolonging a season that many want to forget, I’d like to revisit one issue that is sure to come up again in future elections: Voter ID.

There were complaints at some polls in Lehigh and Northampton counties that voters were being asked for identification even though a Commonwealth Court judge issued an injunction Oct. 2 that said photo identification wasn’t required this election (except for first-time voters.)

The judge’s ruling, however, allowed the state to mandate that poll workers ask all voters for photo identification in what they termed a “soft roll out” of the law.  But the ruling also said people could vote without ID. Some voters at certain precincts felt poll workers did not emphasize quickly enough that the ID wasn’t necessary this time.

President Barack Obama’s margin of victory in the presidential race was large enough in Pennsylvania to make those disputes seem more like glitches than crises. But in a tight race things could get dicey. 

All this when the last I checked there were zero cases of in-person voting fraud on record in Pennsylvania. Which makes sense because trying to rig an election that way is much too labor-intensive and risky.

Think about it. You have to find a person who is a registered voter but whom you know won’t be voting at the polls or by absentee ballot. You have to locate the voter’s polling place and send  someone of the right sex to vote in the registered voter’s place. And that fraudulent voter has to be able to reproduce the signature of the person he or she is impersonating reasonably well. That’s a lot of work and risk for one vote.

But absentee voting is a different story. A comprehensive analysis of voter fraud cases since 2000 by News21, an investigative reporting project, found that while in-person voter fraud was virtually non-existent, there were 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud and 400 cases of voter registration fraud nationwide. “A required photo ID at the polls would not have prevented these cases,” the report said.  

Using absentee ballots makes it easier to buy and sell votes and to tamper with the process in other ways, according to a fascinating story in the Oct. 7 New York Times. 

“Election administrators have a shorthand name for a central weakness of voting by mail,” the story says. “They call it granny farming.”

People with political campaigns can go into nursing homes and senior centers and exert “subtle pressure” while “helping” elderly voters with their absentee ballots, the story said. The secrecy of those paper ballots can be compromised.

The Times story quotes Judge Richard A. Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit as saying, “Absentee voting is to voting in person as a take-home exam is to a proctored one.”

Part of Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID law requires those voting by absentee ballot to provide a driver's license number, last four digits of their Social Security number or a copy of an acceptable ID. 

Those who are really concerned about voter fraud and are not just out to suppress the vote should consider applying that part of the law while scrapping the unnecessary photo ID at the polls. 

Carol November 16, 2012 at 01:16 PM
Over 50 polling places in Philadelphia registered zero votes for Romney. That sounds a bit suspicious to me.
Carl Stevenson November 16, 2012 at 01:22 PM
IDs were being issued for free to non-drivers. The ONLY reason to oppose for ID is to promote and facilitate voting fraud. Illegals, felons, dead people and other ineligibles should NOT be able to vote. Obama won where there were no voter ID requirements. Even in Philly, 100% of the votes going to Obama in 59 districts, with ZERO votes for Romney is beyond belief. Voting machines are just computers. They can be hacked, or just programmed by someone with access, to throw the election.
Carl Stevenson November 16, 2012 at 01:31 PM
The voting machines are horrendously vulnerable to manipulation. We should go back to paper ballots with a publicly observable chain of custody and public counting. I'd rather wait a few days for results and have an honest election than to have pre-ordained, crooked results before midnight on Election Day. Also, stop all early voting. It presents more opportunities for fraud, voting in multiple locations, etc. Up the penalties for voter fraud to a minimum of 20 years in prison, lifetime loss of voting rights, ban on holding public office, etc. and enforce it vigorously, with emphasis on corrupt voting officials and organizations like Acorn that exist to promote other fraud.
Margie Peterson November 16, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Carol, I agree that 59 voting divisions with not one vote for Romney needs to be checked out. The Philadelphia Inquirer is the source of that information and I'd encourage everyone to read their whole story in this link. http://mobile.philly.com/news/?wss=/philly/news/politics/&id=178742021&viewAll=y But requiring voters at the polls to have a photo ID would not have prevented election workers from changing ballots or tampering with the vote count, if indeed that happened. I am against mandating the photo ID because it is an unnecessary level of bureaucracy to solve a type of fraud that no one can produce evidence of in Pennsylvania. The League of Women Voters has documented examples of legitimate registered voters in Wisconsin and Ohio who were not able to vote because of problems with ID that were not their fault. See here: http://www.lwv.org/content/testimony-elisabeth-macnamara-lwvus-president-us-senate-committee-judiciary I will bet you everything I own that there will be similar problems for voters if the new law is enforced here. It is a crime to take away someone's right to vote in order to enforce a law that won't prevent any of the kinds of voter fraud people are talking about here.
Amend November 16, 2012 at 02:44 PM
@Carl- the free IDs were only offered up a few weeks prior to the election and only as a reaction to the fact that voters would have incurred a fee otherwise. I haven't yet heard that those IDs are still being offered since this legislation was put on hold. And it's still incumbent on those seeking to enact this legislation to prove the need. How would presenting an ID keep dead people, felons and illegal immigrants from voting? That sounds more like a registration issue. Republicans use this notion as a talking point, yet offer no real proof that it exists. As for the machines not working, again showing an ID won't correct that. Personally, it sounds more like sour grapes. The demographics of the country are shifting, and that's all there is to it. The republicans would be better served reassessing their message instead of trying to blame their losses on the assumption that voter fraud tipped the election against them.

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