Belmont Club

Going Postal

Texas Watchdog describes the case of a political activist who turned the task of ‘helping’ the poor, illiterate and homebound into a small moneymaking enterprise by making a few minor adjustments to ballots she was helping others fill.  A self-described politiquera recounted how she would fill out mail-in ballots for her favored candidate whatever the illiterate person she was ‘assisting’ wanted.  Filling out somebody’s ballot for them seems like an activity that is just asking for trouble. But efforts to make it a misdemeanor to help more than one person fill out the ballots failed to pass. Additional efforts along the same lines were met with a suit from the Texas Democratic Party alleging they attempted to roll back the Voting Rights Act, a Civil Rights era piece of legislation which prohibited imposing literacy tests on voters.

Echoing the language of the 15th Amendment, the Act prohibited states from imposing any “voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure … to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” … Specifically, Congress intended the Act to outlaw the practice of requiring otherwise qualified voters to pass literacy tests in order to register to vote, a principal means by which Southern states had prevented African-Americans from exercising the franchise.

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The Civil Rights Act was an attempt to redress an historical injustice. But best laid plans of mice and men go astray and there is no better way to defend a bad action than with a noble reason.  Enterprising political operatives have found ways to turn one remedy for disenfranchisement into a way to create another.  In Southeast Houston voters who turned up at Precinct 219 found they could not vote because someone had already used their names.  Further inquiry showed their ballots had been sent in through a scheme very similar to that described by the politiquera. They had been mailed in by someone else.

Precinct Judge Edna Russell told Local 2 Investigates that some senior citizen voters had to be turned away because absentee ballots had already been mailed in using their names.

“Somebody had already voted for me,” said Georgia Ireland.

She and the other victims reported that people were going door-to-door, offering help to seniors with filing voter registration forms. Some victims signed the paperwork, while others did not, but the scammers then used the information to mail absentee ballots in their names, meaning their votes were stolen from them.

Even primaries are thrown into turmoil by this kind of fraud. MSNBC reported on an Indiana court decision which found that campaign workers incumbent Mayor Robert Pastrick in the 2003 Democratic primary for mayor of East Chicago, Indiana “pressured and coaxed first-time voters or those who were ‘less informed or lacking in knowledge of the voting process, the infirm, the poor, and those with limited skills in the English language’ to vote by absentee ballot” in addition to paying them to vote the ‘right’ way. Pastrick won.  Even smaller contests are sometimes tainted. The Democratic Blog describes how one candidate for Justice of the Peace has accused the other of cheating in this manner during the March 10 2nd Democratic Primary.

JP Luis Sepulveda recently filed suit to force a recount of his Primary Election race. Sepulveda, a Democrat in Precinct 5, had the largest number of “ballot box” votes in March 2nd Primary, but lost the election to rival Carlos Medrano, who received more than twice as many ( 606 vs. 245) mail-in ballot votes. Sepulveda says in the lawsuit that all of the 606 mail-in ballots cast for Medrano during early voting were collected with the help of “vote harvesters,” people who assist the elderly and others who can’t make it to the polls. The lawsuit alleges that mail-in ballots were cast by people who are not U.S. citizens, weren’t registered or didn’t live in Dallas JP Precinct.

Once cheating starts it tends to escalate. This highlights one of the problems with cheating; it favors the cheater only when the others play by the rules. But it also creates an incentive for others to follow suit. Soon cheating escalates and unless stopped fraud becomes general. And as the counterfeiter benefits only when there is still real money to substitute for, once counterfeit printing becomes widespread it stops being a paying proposition. At the limit cheating stops when the system collapses because there is no point in cheating a system which everyone has stopped trusting.

Postal balloting has had some problems even in Britain. The recent UK election fiasco, culminating in the inability of many voters to cast their ballots was ascribed to mismanagement by an NGO appointed to supervise the process. The NGO, headed by a woman described as a “modern militant” was created by the Labor Party to help improve voter participation, just like the Civil Rights Act. Its head, Jenny Watson, knows just what’s wrong with the British electoral system.  There are too few women, minorities and disabled people in Parliament. At a speech Watson said, “the impending election has, as ever, focused attention on Westminster. And there’s been plenty of debate in recent months about whether Parliament is properly representative of the society its members are drawn from.  … there are still only 126 women MPs – less than twenty per cent. And only 15 members from black or minority ethnic communities were elected in 2005. A very small number describe themselves has having a disability … there are few openly gay MPs. There is only one out lesbian in the membership of the Commons and Lords combined.” Such are the defects of the voting system.The Telegraph described Miss Watson:

In the late Nineties Miss Watson was campaign manager at Charter 88 – the Left-wing pressure group that advocated constitutional and electoral reform. … Miss Watson has moved from quango to quango, fronting the Equal Opportunities Commission, where some nicknamed her “Modern Militant”. …

Miss Watson was appointed to her job in January last year by the Speakers’ Committee of senior MPs, and earns another £28,000 for sitting on the boards of the Audit Commission and another government quango. … Official election monitors from Kenya and Sierra Leone yesterday told how the British system as a “recipe for corruption”.

But critics were worried about a different kind of problem: “postal voting fraud”. The Telegraph wrote, “the Commission has repeatedly faced criticism over its record. It previously failed to crack down on postal voting fraud. It is also responsible for overseeing party finance but failed to notice that the Labour Party had funded its 2005 election campaign with secret loans.” Voting by mail has been on the increase in the UK. The Electoral Reform Society said that “at the 2005 general election, 12.1 per cent of the UK electorate voted by post, three times higher than in 2001.”

Recently a reporter for the Independent was beaten as he attempted to investigate allegations of voter fraud in Tower Hamlets.  Wikipedia says, “the borough has one of the highest ethnic minority populations in the capital, consisting mainly of Bangladeshis.” The current incumbent is George Galloway.  But what brought the reporter to the scene were reports that both Galloway’s party and the Conservatives were being defrauded by an unnamed other political party.  “What brought me to Bow yesterday were allegations of widespread postal voting fraud. Both the local Conservative and Respect parties in Tower Hamlets have been looking through the new electoral rolls for properties that have an alarmingly high number of adults registered to one address.”  But all he got for his inquiries was a knuckle sandwich.  Reporter Jerome Taylor was ambling through the area when he was approached by “Asian teenagers”, UK speak for people of subcontinental origin. Then the assault began.

“Can we see your note pad,” the boy asked.

I declined and then the first punch came – landing straight on my nose, sending blood and tears streaming down my face. Then another. Then another.

I tried to protect myself but a fresh crop of attackers – I guess between four and six – joined in. …

I don’t know how long it lasted – it was probably only a minute – but it was a long minute. I don’t remember them saying anything as they did it. The first noise I was aware of was the beeping of a car horn and a woman screaming.

The noise brought a man out of a nearby block of flats. With little regard for his own safety he waded in and defended me until my attackers ran away. …

The paramedics who treated me told me that they rarely went into the area without a police escort. “These kids are trapped in an endless cycle of poverty,” one of them said. “There’s a lot of drugs and gang-related violence but it is rare for a stranger like you to be attacked.”

The slight difference, of course, is that I’m not a stranger in the normal sense. Whoever these kids were it was evident that they were no strangers to the occasional journalist and photographer sniffing around.

Last night, I managed to speak to the man I wanted to interview about the alleged fraud, and whose house I was outside when I was attacked. He said: “I am not going to talk to you about this. Why have you been knocking on my door. You don’t disturb me. If you knock on my door again I will take you to court.”

And that may close the cycle. Everything is in the mail: the vote, the check and finally the subpoena.

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