Tags: Record | Absentee | Turnout | Fuels | Fears | Fraud

Record Absentee Turnout Fuels Fears of Fraud

Thursday, 02 November 2000 12:00 AM

A number of states have dropped restrictions requiring a voter to swear that he will be out of town to cast an absentee ballot. Oregon has switched to a total vote-by-mail system.

As a result, election officials across the nation are predicting a record number of absentee ballots will be cast this election.

In Colorado, the secretary of state's office predicts that 25 percent of the state's 3 million registered voters will vote via absentee ballots.

Hundreds of thousands of voters are expected to mail in their ballots or vote in government buildings in California.

In Nevada, 97,000 people have voted already in Clark County, about 22 percent of registered voters.

In Oregon, where nearly 70 percent of the populace voted to abolish polling places in 1998, one in five voters have already turned in ballots.

With huge numbers of voters mailing in ballots or voting absentee, voter fraud becomes a serious issue, one that could invalidate a state's returns in a close election, says political scientist Bertil Hanson of Oklahoma University.

"Clearly, if this experiment in off-site and early voting shows a tendency to produce voting fraud in a close election, the results in a number of states could be put in doubt," said Hanson. "That's a constitutional crisis unlike any other."

But voting officials in several states that have opened up absentee and early voting say they plan to increase monitoring to ensure fraud doesn't happen.

A spokesman for California Secretary of State Bill Jones said that checks were in place, including surprise inspections of early voting booths and "increased monitoring of phony ballots."

Still, said the spokesman, "a determined person could probably vote fraudulently in a California election. But it would be hard."

According to Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury's office, Oregon ballots include a "secrecy envelope" that must be signed by the voter. Ballots will be held in the local district until several days before the election, at which time the signature on the outer envelope is verified using an electronic signature process on computers, or by comparing each signature by hand to the most current registration on file.

If a signature cannot be verified, the ballot is set aside for further investigation and the voter is contacted.

The ballots then are sorted by precinct and the count begins five days before the election. All ballots must be received by electoral officials no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Spokesman Paddy McGuire said that voting by mail "increases turnout and allows people to make a more thoughtful decision ... We believe we have taken every precaution against voter fraud. Vote by mail is no more susceptible to fraud than the old system."

However, political scientist Susan Moore of Hofstra University rejects that claim.

"With a mail-in system, every stage in the process is open to fraud, from older people being pressured by kids or caretakers to postal workers dumping ballots in the trash."

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A number of states have dropped restrictions requiring a voter to swear that he will be out of town to cast an absentee ballot. Oregon has switched to a total vote-by-mail system. As a result, election officials across the nation are predicting a record number of absentee...
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2000-00-02
Thursday, 02 November 2000 12:00 AM
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