[PLUG-TALK] Punch Ballots, Mail Ballots, and Fraud

Keith Lofstrom keithl at kl-ic.com
Fri Jul 31 14:53:39 PDT 2020

Years ago, I was active in the Libertarian Party of Oregon,
and friends with those who worked hard to get out the
third-party and disenfranchised vote.

The principal issue for most Libertarian Oregonians (not
me) was legalizing marijuana. That finally happened with
2014's Measure 91.  With that done, the LPO shrank, and
today mostly offers an alternative for free-market
Democrats and anti-war Republicans.

Anyway ... back in 1990, Norma Paulus was running for 
re-election as Oregon's Secretary of State.  She led the
large group of state workers who administered Oregon's
elections.  She was popular with her subordinates, and
in one (still unidentified) case a little /too/ popular.

Oregon's Ballot Measure 60 instituted statewide vote-by-mail
with ink-the-bubble ballots in 1998.  But the 1990 ballot
was still a punch-out card, which voters slid into a slot
in a mechanical template "machine" in the voting booth. 

Voters pushed a pin through a hole next to a printed template
listing the candidates, punching out a rectangle in the ballot
card, indicating their choice.  If you accidentally punched
holes for two candidates for the same race, your ballot was
"spoiled", and neither vote counted.  That's still how it is
in many US states today.

During the primaries, there would be one set of machines for
Democrats and another for Republicans.  As a Libertarian, I
was occasionally not allowed (by the ignorant poll workers)
to vote for nonpartisan candidates and measures scheduled
at the same time as the primary. 

That's important for what follows ... poll workers were gate
keepers for the election in every precinct, and served at
the pleasure of the Secretary of State.

After polls close, the precinct workers prepared the ballots 
for transport to the vote counting machines (ancient Hollerith
card sorters) in Salem.

In Hood River in 1990, one of those workers was pleased to
serve Secretary of State Norma Paulus.

Easy - just stick every card into a voting machine (you can
wedge in more than one at a time), and punch the Norma Paulus
hole.  If the original voter did not vote Secretary of State,
that's one more vote for Paulus.  If the original voter voted
for Paulus (as most did, she won the election), the ballot
wasn't changed. 

However, if the original voter voted for the Republican or
the Libertarian on the ballot, the ballot ended up double-
punched, and "spoiled". 

Libertarians and Republicans were angry, contemplating legal
action, but ... how do you remedy spoiled and anonymous
ballots?  Redo the election?

Every double-punched ballot could have been discarded,
though in this case only the double-punched votes for
Secretary of State were treated as spoiled, thank goodness.
Despite the perfidy of one of her anonymous partisans, 
Paulus chose the least-bad way to deal with the damage.

This and many other problems ... such as polls closing
before all the voters in line got a chance to vote, or poor
folks with two jobs and kids unable to get to the polls on
election day ... led to Oregon's /excellent/ vote-by-mail
system in 1998.  Now, voter fraud requires stealing the
physical ballot and forging a signature; this is very rare,
and easy to detect and correct.

Since all the optically scanned ballots (and signed mail-in
envelopes) are archived, recounts are easy but rare.  Ballot
tampering is time consuming and easy to detect forensically;
two chemically different inks on a tampered ballot?

With the old process, voters told the precinct workers
on primary election day which version of the ballot they
should get.  That means they could ask for their partisan
ballot, OR, they could ask for the ballot of the party
they oppose, then vote for the least-electable.  I could
have done that myself, years ago, when there was no
other ballot available for me as a heretic Libertarian.

Under any system, there will be errors and fraud.  With
vote-by-mail, and with the one-time effort of sending
back a first-time-registration postcard, errors can be
reduced to near-zero.  

My wife (of a different party) and I spend hours
researching our ballots together, and help each other 
accurately complete our often-differing ballots.  We make
sure both of our ballots reach Oregon Election Division
with time to spare.  We make much more informed choices,
and we share the glory if one of our differing candidates
we select wins the election.  Vote-by-mail favors couples
like us - no wonder weapon-toting angry loners hate it.


Election errors persist.  This year, some Oregon voters
(mostly motor-voter registrations) received non-partisan
primary ballots (like I do) when they expected partisan
ballots.  Many of the disappointed failed to officially
select a party and return a postcard early in 2020, 
before the primary election.  They still got to vote
(like I did) for the nonpartisan measures and candidates.

If they were registered Libertarians, they could vote
at the LPO nominating convention (which was online this
year).  In 1994, I helped stop Republican-sponsored voter
fraud at our LPO nominating convention ... another story,
but we were riled enough to help defeat that Republican
congressional candidate in the fall; we made our best
showing, and won more than the Democrat's margin.


Remember that "freedom isn't free." The "cost" is often
attributed only to those who fought and died in the US
military ... including Civil War confederates?

I would expand that cost to escaped slaves and their
helpers, suffragettes, martyred civil rights workers
in the 1960s, war resisters, and to those who may lose
their lives helping prove that Black Lives Matter ...

 ... or fighting to make ALL VOTES MATTER, if partisans in
D.C. attempt to delay the 2020 November elections or annul
vote-by-mail for states that choose that option.

Lastly, for you non-Oregonians still required to vote in
a crowd ... buy some effective masks.  Give masks to poor
folks who can't afford them.  Befriend two-job single
mothers so you can babysit their children while THEY vote. 

That's easy for an Oregonian to say, but your personal
lobbying efforts for vote-by-mail before the NEXT election
will make it easy for YOU to say as well.  The bureaucrats
and partisans will continue to run amok until we overwhelm
and outvote them.  Freedom is, at very least, inconvenient.


Keith Lofstrom          keithl at keithl.com

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