A brush with voter fraud
By Tom Knighton
There’s been a lot of talk about voter fraud through the years. For very good reason, it’s something people take seriously and want to kill with fire. Well, a lot of us at least. However, people often have a misunderstanding about the forms that voter fraud takes. Having looked into events surrounding a local election here in Albany, Georgia, I have a unique perspective on how it actually happens.
My understanding started with a phone call. A woman, who I’ll call “Kelly” since she asked me to remain anonymous, had worked on a local campaign for a mayoral candidate I’d endorsed. That year, we had several new candidates and Kelly worked with one and was friends with another.
“I’ve got to tell you about what happened,” she said. This, however, requires a bit of time travel. (Hey, I’m a science fiction writer. I can do that, right?)
Kelly was in a downtown Albany restaurant when she was approached by a woman who wanted to talk about Kelly’s candidate and the campaign. The woman asked Kelly if they had “done their math” regarding how many votes they needed to win.
Unsure of what she meant, Kelly tried to answer.
This person told Kelly, and the candidate of another race, that for the right price, she could provide however many votes they wanted.
Now, I don’t think Kelly bought this, and neither did the candidate who is named Melissa.
Election night arrived, and I’d put the weekly issue of my newspaper to bed. I just had to get up at ridiculously early in the morning to get the physical papers from the printer, but that was nothing. It was election night!
I hit the first election night party, the one for Kelly’s candidate. It was early, and the mayoral elections would probably go to a run off anyways based on what I was seeing, so I only stayed a few minutes.
I then went around the corner to a watch party being held by a couple of candidates, including Melissa. The returns were coming in, and it looked like one of the candidates was about to lose to a veteran incumbent who not only held the seat, but has served as a mayor in another town several years before and was a well liked college professor.
Melissa’s race looked much different, however. She was winning.
As I left the party for the serenity of my bed, one of the local TV stations arrived to interview Melissa. After all, they were about to call the race of her. I had to agree, it looked like she had it easily.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I got up the next morning and saw that she’d lost.
A few days later came Kelly’s call. The woman Kelly spoke with told her that her method worked beautifully, and no one got caught because they used absentee ballots.
I started looking into the matter. Sure enough, in Melissa’s race, there was a massive number of absentee ballots coming from just one precinct.
Now, Melissa’s district was mostly working class folks, and this was in November. This wasn’t the time when people would go on vacation.
Every set of numbers I looked at failed to pass the sniff test. Melissa decided to hire an attorney and file a lawsuit regarding some irregularities during the election. During that process, she got records from the absentee ballots themselves, and based on what we both saw, we now understood how voter fraud happens and where reform efforts truly need to be directed.
The people selling the votes worked in a nursing home in that precinct. By Georgia law, an individual can have assistance in filling out their absentee ballot. However, the law also dictates that a given person can only help a few folks with their ballot. This, obviously, is done to prevent one person from having too much sway on the electoral process.
What was really happening, however, is that the “crew” involved would fill out the ballots for the residents of the nursing home. A handful would be signed by the individuals directly, but only as many as permitted by law. After that, they used other names.
So, how do I know there was something hinky going on?
Well, one of the first clues I noticed was the incredibly high rate of absentee ballots form that particular precinct. This wasn’t a presidential election year. These were all local elections. To be frank, most residents in nursing homes aren’t that concerned with local elections. For better or worse, they’re insulated from the effects of local government. This was shown with how few absentee ballots were filled out in other precincts with nursing homes.
Next, there was the fact that a large number these were single race voters, meaning they only voted in Melissa’s race. A single city commission race drew more attention than a mayoral race? If you buy that, you and I need to talk about some bridges I think you should own.
However, the most damning evidence came from Melissa. You see, she and her attorney were the ones with the ballot stubs. While they couldn’t see how anyone voted—nor should they have been—they could see who voted. Two piece emailed to me included the ballot of a woman, probably a resident of the nursing home. This woman, for whatever reason, required assistance filling out her ballot. In and of itself, nothing major.
What was significant, however, was that this woman was apparently able to help someone else fill out their ballot.
OK, let’s let that sink in for a moment.
Yes, she was unable to fill out her ballot without assistance, but was able to help someone else fill out their own.
Here’s where the problems come into play. For all the joking about the dead voting in places like Chicago, and I have little doubt that happens, those kinds of voter fraud are kind of tricky to pull off. They’re difficult and complicated, especially as ID technology becomes more advanced. In Georgia, our state issued ID cards contain codes that are scanned and make it harder to fake for voting purposes.
Absentee ballots, however, are a different matter. They’re designed for people who can’t physically be at the polling place. This is the only means for the vast majority of people serving in the military to vote. Also, there are voters in nursing homes who want to take part of the process, but are bedridden and unable to go themselves.
However, the standards for identification are significantly lower. This makes them an excellent tool for those who wish to influence elections for their own gain.
Further, groups can pull this off in almost any town. You don’t need the large numbers of people like Chicago or New York. No, you only need a few nursing homes or other places where registered voters reside but are unable to go and vote.
Much of the discussion on combating voter fraud focuses on ID requirements. Proponents of tougher ID requirements argue that requiring ID for all voters simply makes sense. Opponents argue that it will disenfranchise voters. Frankly, the opponents are full of it. We’ve been requiring ID in Georgia for years, and it’s worked out fine.
However, the flip side is that proponents are fighting on a front in a battle and have no clue that entire divisions are flanking them. The truth is, using absentee ballots simply makes the ID discussions pointless. Make it tougher to physically vote in a precinct all you want. There’s an easier way for them to do it already, and I suspect they’re already using it quite effectively.
So, that leaves us with how to fix this. After all, pointing out a problem only helps so much. Floating ideas on how to fix the problem is also important. Unfortunately, we find ourselves butting up against two problems. One is making sure that everyone entitled to vote has the opportunity to do so. The other is not preventing people who have difficulties from getting help.
However, I’m biased as hell. You see, I’ve watched my home town mimic Detroit in far too many ways to make me comfortable. My solution is to eliminate the “help” for people with absentee ballots and require an ID on file with a signature that can be compared to the ballot’s signature.
There is an alternative, however. Ballot helpers should be required to be registered (similar to voters), and must provide a state issued ID card to register. This eliminates the ability for the crew to just make up names for people to “help” with ballots.
Also, if you need help with your ballot, you do not get to help someone else. This may hamstring the ability of fraudsters from being able to recycle names such as we found with Melissa’s race.
Our electoral process is one of the greatest things about our nation. If we dislike our leadership, we can overturn it the next time around. It deserves respect, and the people who sell votes and use corrupt methods to get preferred people elected aren’t doing that. They’re playing with a system that made our nation the model for so many others throughout the world.
Like it or not, this is how a lot of fraud is happening, and it’s being ignored by those with the power to do something about it. That needs to change.