News & Politics

Problems With Absentee Ballots in Wisconsin Hint at Election Nightmare

Michael P. Farrell

It’s a given: The more human beings who are involved in any task, the more the certainty of disaster.

Voting is not a group activity. It should be a private act between yourself and your conscience. But forcing people to vote by mail unnecessarily involves postal workers, clerks, registrars, and election officials — any one of which can screw it up.

A study by the postal service inspector general found some shocking and worrying shortcomings that should give anyone who wants a fair election in November pause.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

The U.S. Postal Service has identified hundreds of absentee ballots for the April election that never made it to voters or couldn’t be counted because of postmark problems, a new report says.

The post office’s internal watchdog chalked the problems up to receiving outgoing absentee ballots at the last moment from election officials, inconsistent postmarking of ballots and one mail carrier’s inattention to getting absentee ballots to voters in Fox Point.

It’s not that there was widespread voter fraud. There wasn’t.  The problem is simply the “human factor” that rears its head in any large undertaking.

Appleton officials had given the absentee ballots to a third-party mail vendor on April 6, the day before the election, according to the report. The mail vendor provided them to the post office about 6 p.m. on election day.

That meant the absentee ballots couldn’t be delivered to voters until after election day — too late to be filled out, returned and counted. (Completed absentee ballots had to be postmarked by election day and received by clerks by April 13.)

The state Elections Commission has identified about 1,600 absentee ballots that didn’t get to voters from the Fox Valley, and the report did not say why it focused on a smaller number of ballots.

Laziness or incompetence? The result is the same. The residents of Fox Valley were disenfranchised.

A large number of voters who requested absentee ballots on March 22 and March 23 reported they never received their absentee ballots. The postal service couldn’t determine how the mailing of ballots on those days was handled because they were not sent in envelopes with intelligent barcodes that make tracking easier.

But officials now believe the problem with absentee ballots requested on those days stems from a computer glitch with the system that prepares and prints absentee ballot mailing labels. That system is run by the state, not the postal service.

Carrying out a plan for massive voter fraud is very difficult. But it’s easier when mail-in ballots are involved. It’s by no means a certainty, but why risk it at all if it’s unnecessary? With in-person voting, there are far fewer people involved with handling the ballot and machines do most of the work. It’s not perfect and, as we’ve seen, might be vulnerable to being hacked.

But any risk analysis would tell us that it’s a damn sight safer than putting our faith in the franchise in the hands of dozens of people, all of whom have to perform their jobs competently and efficiently for the entire process to work.

We may be asking too much.

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