There’s been lots of talk about voter fraud this election season. Already machines have purportedly preselected candidates and in other places, documents demonstrate non-citizens are registered to vote. Anyone who says voter fraud doesn’t exist has no credibility. I’ve covered elections for over 10 years. I’ve seen it over and over again with my own eyes. I’ve proved it in federal court. It is significantly more common than Sasquatch.
But what does voter fraud look like? What can citizens be on the lookout for when they participate in their election? Let me share some examples:
Commands to vote
I’ve seen election judges telling voters for whom to vote. In Philadelphia, I have repeatedly seen the people who sign you in and check off your name give instructions to voters for whom to vote. It isn’t supposed to work that way, and if you see it, get the name of the election official and report it to their boss. Better yet, try to get the name of the voter.
Mass illegal assistance
One of the most outrageous behaviors is campaigns of illegal assistance. I’ve seen lone soldiers of a political machine march dozens of voters into the booth and vote for them. In some instances the voter provided little or no input. Remember that disabled citizens have a right under federal law to have anyone assist them, as long as it is not an employer or union representative. Illiteracy and inability to speak English well also trigger this right. So just because someone is in the booth with a voter doesn’t mean something illegal is happening. But if you see van loads of voters being “voted” without expressing their own input, get the tag number of the van and remember what illegal assistant looked like.
I’ve watched people in states without voter ID seek to vote who were clearly not the people they said they were. During one election, I saw a young man give a name. It caused the women working the polls who knew him to laugh at him and tell him to stop fooling them. He insisted, even under watchful eyes, that he was this person everyone knew him not to be. Everyone was laughing, but the poll workers relented and reluctantly gave him a ballot, somewhat perturbed that he pushed the issue. For a brief moment, he was someone else. And since voter ID was not the law in this state, he voted a regular ballot.
Absentee ballot signature mismatches
In some states, there must be signature verification on the absentee ballots. Signatures of the voter must match with supposedly identical signatures. Some states even have a review process open to the public that allows scrutiny of the matching process. Pay attention. Hang out after the polls close and watch. Mississippi, for example, has a rigorous process where every absentee ballot must be reviewed and they are subject to challenge for defects. Even defects as small as a signature not being across a flap properly are potentially fatal defects.
Cash for votes
The last few years have seen numerous indictments for people being paid to vote. In one southwestern Virginia county, it wasn’t even cash. Instead, votes were being bought for pork rinds. Whatever the payout, it is illegal to pay someone something to vote. If you see wads of bills around the election site, it is usually a problem. I once watched a woman keep the wad of cash in her bra. She pulled it out over and over throughout the day.
It most states, there are laws against just hanging out at the polls. Know your state law. In Texas, for example, nobody is allowed inside the polls or within a certain distance of the entrance if they are not voting. Video of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee potentially violating this law was shown on the internet in the last few days. Loiterers can be a sign of a bigger problem. If nothing else, election officials who fail to enforce rules against polling place loitering can hardly be counted on to enforce other important integrity safeguards. And loitering rules are an integrity safeguard.
Intimidation of poll watchers
Poll watchers serve an important role in our elections. They are eyes and ears that make sure illegal behavior is recorded. Naturally, the deployment of dozens of highly trained poll workers in Houston at every early voting site in Houston unsettled some. Law abiding citizens with pen and pad can do more to stop election fraud than anything else. It is no wonder incident after incident of intimidation was directed to the poll watchers. Poll watchers prevent voter fraud. No quarter should be given to those intimidating poll watchers. Get names, tag numbers, physical descriptions of the intimidators, and, if state law allows, video evidence.
Poll workers voting for voters
There are few things as nasty as election officials cranking their wishes into a machine instead of the voters. Remember, however, that voters can have anyone assist them, even going so far as to push the screen or buttons – even an election official. This is a right under Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act. Yet some states prohibit election officials from casting a ballot or pushing the screen for voters. This is an unresolved conflict in the law in some places. Either way, be aware when election officials are pushing ballots.
I am entirely unconvinced that the software on machines sometimes has candidate choices pre-marked. I believe this is an urban myth spawned by unfamiliarity with the machine inputs. Even Sasquatch may be more common. But I reserve the right to be wrong. Obviously if you encounter this, move slowly, don’t touch buttons, call for help, and then call Pajamas Media.
One of the worst ways to run an election is with paper ballots. We want to minimize the human inputs in our elections. Electronics are the way to go. When paper ballots are counted by humans, humans get to decide so many things — like which box is that “X” really in. Or, that isn’t an “X,” that’s a stray mark, so the “X” is really meant for this candidate. Get my point? Dishonest clerks can find lots of discretion in paper ballots. Lord over them while the count goes on, if the law allows.
Politicking inside the room
Another terrible behavior is when people are chatting, talking, or carrying on and telling others how to vote. A modern version of this is cell phones in the booth. In most states, one may not make calls on the phone while voting. Typically, down ballot contests see people break the law and chat — “Who should I vote for city council?” Sometimes they even call a friend. This is not allowed in most places and observers should alert election officials while it is happening.
Would you like to vote a straight party ticket?
Many places in America still see large amounts of straight party ticket voting. In places where this fading behavior is more common, election officials tend to improperly ask the question of voters getting assistance from the election official. In fact, I have never once heard the Republican version of this illegal behavior. “Would you like to vote a straight Republican Party ticket” are words I have never heard an election official improperly ask a voter. In fact, “Would you like to vote a straight Democratic Party ticket” is something being uttered all over Houston in early Texas voting right now. If you hear it happen, write down who said it, write down what you heard right after you heard it, and call election officials at the headquarters — then reach out to Pajamas Media.
That should get everyone started. This year has seen an amazing amount of citizen interest in standing watch against voter fraud. Even if you don’t see it, remember, those who stand watch also serve. Go volunteer with your local political party. Ask a candidate if you can serve as a poll watcher. Make Election Day the active, participatory, national event it was meant to be.
A final note. Too often political parties cobble together a poll watching operation at the last second. And the training is weak, with folks being thrust into the field with no wisdom or experience. This is changing. Groups are establishing systemic training well before the election. The old way of a political party doing things is fading. A New Model Army of poll watchers is taking the field this election, totally separate from political parties, with an eye toward deploying thousands of highly trained watchers in 2012. Next Tuesday is just the beginning.