Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In the mail

I got an “Application For Vote by Mail Ballot” in the mail today. If I sign it and mail it in, my County Clerk will mail me a Mail-In Ballot for the upcoming election - New Jersey is voting for Governor soon. The Application came from the New Jersey Democratic State Committee and to make absolutely certain I know who my benefactor is, the Application has a full page color ad attached. It features President Barack Obama urging me to:

Vote from home and keep the change going.

Support President Obama by voting for New Jersey Democrats this year and New Jersey Democrats in Congress next year.

To make sure there’s no confusion, the ad helpfully includes the names of the Democrats I’m supposed to vote for next year. I don’t know if it was delicacy or law that kept them from urging me directly to vote for Democrat Jon Corzine for Governor next month. I suspect the latter.

Even without Corzine’s name I don’t much like the ad and I wouldn’t like it any better if the Application and the ad had come from the Republicans instead. This is a bit too much like a notice on the door of my voting booth that reads: “This voting machine proudly sponsored by the Democratic Party which urges you to show your appreciation for our help by voting for our guys.”

The Application already has my name and address filled in; has checked off that I want a ballot for the General election; and has the following information in the Assistor section:

Arthur Warner
1409 Francis Drive
Wall, NJ 07719-4459

The Application also has Mr. Warner’s signature - it doesn’t look like it was actually signed by an actual pen. I weirds me out that the disembodied Mr. Warner is helping me fill this out without my even asking. I wonder if in his spare time he helps little old ladies cross streets they’d prefer not to. Mr. Warner did leave a few sections blank however. For example, he didn’t fill in the section that lets me have my Mail-In Ballot sent to an address other than the one where I’m registered to vote.

Now, I don’t object to people voting by mail. I’ve done it a time or two back when it was called an “Absentee Ballot” and I understand that if a voter is ill or doesn’t drive or has a long commute or has small children it can be very difficult - even impossible - to get to the polls. I also gather there are some people who want to vote by mail to avoid the new voting machines. I don’t blame them - I miss the old “pull the lever, hear the ka-chunk, and the curtain flies open” ones myself. In my heart of hearts I’d rather that people only vote by mail when they have a good reason - there is something to be said for giving weight to the preferences of citizens who make the effort to show up - but I know that can be a sticky wicket. You end up with arguments over how long your commute has to be in order to qualify and so on. So allowing everyone to vote by mail is something I can live with.

I can even live with allowing people to apply by mail for a Mail-In Ballot. I’d rather they have to go to their Town Hall at least once to prove it’s really them asking to vote by mail; getting them there seems like a good project for voting drive type organizations. Still I can understand that if you’re an invalid, for example, it’s no easier to get to Town Hall than it is to get to your polling place so I can - very reluctantly - live with applying by mail for a Mail-In Ballot without so much as a trip to Town Hall to ask for the Application.

However, letting people apply by mail to have their Mail-In Ballot mailed somewhere other than the address where they’re registered to vote seems like a perfect setup for fraud.* What keeps some unscrupulous someone from applying for a Mail-In Ballot for me and having it sent to him? Sure he’s taking a risk but given the low turnout in many elections and the fact that anyone who reads Frederick Forsyth knows about accommodation addresses, it’s not much of a risk. Even if I show up at the polls and raise Cain, it’s unlikely the unscrupulous someone will be tracked down.

The Application’s provision allowing a Mail-In Ballot to be mailed to a different address is particularly odd since the section about using an Authorized Messenger to deliver an Application and pick up a Mail-In Ballot is rather strict:

Any voter may apply for a Mail-In Ballot by Authorized Messenger. Messenger shall be a family member of a registered voter of this County. No Authorized Messenger can (1) be a Candidate in the election for which the voter is requesting a Mail-In Ballot or (2) serve as messenger for more then TEN qualified voters per election.

The form goes on to say:

Authorized Messenger must sign application and show photo ID in the presence of the County Clerk or County Clerk designee.

Above the signature line for the Authorized Messenger is this promise:

“I do hereby certify that I will deliver the Mail-In Ballot directly to the voter and no other person, under penalty of law.”

Clearly the powers that be are worried sick that some unscrupulous someone will waltz into the County Clerk’s office with eleven falsified Applications and gather up eleven Mail-In Ballots for his own nefarious purposes. Apparently, however, if some unscrupulous someone is clever enough to mail in a thousand falsified Applications and have those thousand Mail-In Ballots mailed to him rather than to the voters who should get them, the powers that be don’t much care. Maybe this is some kind of voting intelligence test: if the guy collecting Mail-In Ballots in other people’s names is smart enough to hide his identity by having the ballots mailed to him instead of being stupid enough to show up in person to collect them, he’s smart enough to vote as many times as he wants.

It should be an interesting election.


* I know there needs to be some provision for military personnel but surely that’s what notarized signatures are for.


Anonymous said...

My wife and sister in law received the same pamphlets. Is this illegal?

Elise said...

I don't think it's illegal. The link I give at the top of the post talks about the new Vote by Mail law and about a woman who was thrilled to find that someone had left stacks of the applications at her retirement complex. So it all seems legal.

I'd prefer that people who want to vote my mail had to at least call and request the applications themselves but apparently that's not how the law is written.

Figment and Reality said...

It seems that voting by mail and eventually voting electronically will happen everywhere. If you had to get your vote notarized or witnessed to send it in it would make some sense because then you have a means to track down fraudulent votes. For the nursing home crowd, there is almost always someone on staff that is a notary. Living in NC, our vote by mail system is similar. Our neighbor said he votes by mail for his wife all the time.

With respect to including political pamphlets, while it seems that it should be kept separated I am sure it is an oversight in the 50+ pages of the law. It is like campaigning within 100 feet of a polling place. I am sure the heretowith and forthwith kinds of words used in the law made it impossible to see the obvious mistake about how ballots are distributed.

I would much rather set the voting day to a Saturday or over a multiday time period to include weekends and fewer restricted mailed balloting. I never understood the principle of setting Tuesdays for a vote. I have voted early in the last few elections and loved walking in and out in < 30 minutes, even though I missed those last few make or break speeches to base my decision on who I trusted the most to run our republic.

Elise said...

I am sure it is an oversight in the 50+ pages of the law.

It's possible but in the article I quote both the Republicans and Democrats seem delighted about the law and a Republican consultant is quoted as saying:

"When we talk about our 72-hour get-out-the-vote window, it's now a 30-day window," said Kevin Roberts, communications director for the state Republican Party.

Using public records, party volunteers will call and go door-to-door to make sure voters who applied for mail-in ballots actually send them back, said Roberts...

So it sounds like both parties think this is a great chance to get more people on their side to vote. I have actually been hit with some of those calls from the Democratic Party over the last few days. I think the calls are even more questionable than the mailer because the way "Jackie" the computer voice puts things it sounds like I've made some horrible mistake by not mailing back my Application: "County records show you have not yet returned your Vote By Mail Application."

My husband has reminded me that I'm registered as a Democrat and pointed out that if I were registered as a Republican I'd probably be getting the same mailer and the same semi-threatening phone calls from the GOP.

I would have no problem moving voting day to a multiday period - Saturday would be problematic for religious reasons. Perhaps Sat, Sun, Mon, Tues - those of us who are traditionalists could still vote on Tuesday. I don't know, though, what we do about pollsters "calling" the election on Sunday based on exit interviews.

Anonymous said...

I live in Italy, although I have a home and residence in New Jersey. I also received the application for mail ballot signed by Arthur Warner.
I am not registered with any political party.
How can I check to find out if someone in my name voted?

Elise said...

Anonymous at 2:49pm - You can try contacting your County Clerk and see if he or she can tell you. I know they keep track of who shows up to vote. If you pursue this please let me know if there is a way for you to check.