Bruce Bolinger: Voting practices — a closer look

Terry McLaughlin’s column of July 30 listed examples of various types of fraud involving mail ballots elections and described such elections as a dangerous precedent.

I was an observer at the first all-mail election in Oregon and was favorably impressed by how well it went. From my experience as Nevada County clerk-recorder, 1980-1998, there are plenty of tools to clean up the voter rolls, such as sending “return if undeliverable at address” mailings to newly registered voters; doing internal cross-checks of a county’s voter registrations against each other and against those of other counties (a service provided by California’s Secretary of State); cross-checking state voter files against each other (available from the Electronic Registration Information Center); using computer lists of post office change of address notices; checking newspaper obituaries and county and state health department death records; etc.

Voting fraud undermines the election process in which voters are supposed to be able to freely select their representatives to carry out the policies the voters want. But there are many other questionable practices that have the same effect and need to be reformed as well to ensure fair elections.

Gerrymandering. This is when a legislative party in power draws legislative and congressional boundaries to either pack the voters of the opposition party in the fewest possible districts or scatter them among as many districts as possible to minimize their influence. The reform adopted in California to use a non-partisan commission to adopt boundaries needs to be implemented in all states.

Partisan elections of election officials. Election officials in the U.S. should not be using their positions to pursue careers in partisan office. Voters of one party may not have confidence in the integrity of an election official of the other party. State election officials in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands, for example, are non-partisan. In California, elections at the county level are managed by non-partisan county clerks and registrars of voters.

Changing polling place locations and reducing the number of polling places. This is done in order to drive down voter turnout by forcing voters to travel unnecessary distances to unfamiliar locations and stand in absurdly long lines while potentially exposing them all the more to the coronavirus. It is not difficult to find sufficient polling places and place them at convenient locations. I followed a policy of keeping election precincts at about 500 voters each, which a four-member precinct election board could process with dispatch even in a heavy-turnout election. I even went from door-to-door in some neighborhoods to find homeowners willing to allow the use of their garages as polling places.

Failure of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute election fraud. When my office identified a case of double voting in the early 1980s I could not get the District Attorney, or the U.S. attorney in Sacramento (since it involved a federal election), or the Secretary of State to take action. But after our second attempt to interest the Secretary of State, a professional investigator from her office was finally assigned to the case, gathered evidence, presented it to the DA, and the perpetrator — someone who had known exactly what he was doing — was found guilty. But his only punishment was some community service hours.

Inadequate state-level regulation of election vendors. These companies provide ballot-counting and election administration systems to the state and local governments. Election officials need to be able to depend on the competence and honesty of these companies and, to that end, should be able to rely on help available at the state level to ensure that they are.

Use of overly stringent signature verification standards for the signatures on the return mail ballot envelopes. Some states do not take into account that signatures change over time and that the conditions under which the signatures are written will affect a signature. Add to that the failure to provide sufficient opportunity for voters to confirm and update their signatures.

Failure to provide sufficient properly-working voting devices and related equipment at polling places or voting centers. Voters should be able to vote without delay and be confident the equipment is working properly.

Undercutting the ability of the Post Office to do its job, including delivering election mail on time. Note the recent announcement by the Postmaster General that overtime will not be permitted no matter what its effect on prompt delivery.

Bruce Bolinger lives in Grass Valley.

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