The recount in Wisconsin financed by two losing candidates, Jill Stein and Hillary Clinton, was a total farce, but hopefully it will not also become a tragedy. That could happen if the partisan motivation behind that episode gives election integrity concerns and complaints a bad name.
Vote fraud and systemic vulnerabilities are real, and thoughtful leaders of all political persuasions recognize that. Election integrity is too important to be minimized and sidetracked as a partisan issue.
Whether or not President-Elect Trump’s claim that millions of illegal ballots were cast in November can be verified, there are numerous election security and election integrity issues across the fifty states which cumulatively could produce that many ballots cast by ineligible voters.
I have seen some of those weaknesses and vulnerabilities up close and personal. In Colorado on November 8, I lost my own race for re-election to the Colorado State Senate by 1,478 votes out of 81,774 ballots cast, or less than 2%. Our Republican judges and poll watchers observed numerous irregularities, and we can prove some fraudulent votes were cast. I did not demand a recount because the errors and fraud do not appear to be on a large enough scale to affect the outcome. Nonetheless, those weaknesses leave me with less than 100% confidence in the accuracy and integrity of the final count.
Since many races are decided by less than one half of 1% of the votes cast, fraudulent voting need not add tens of thousands of votes to change an election outcome. This past November, in one Colorado State Board of Education race, the winning margin was only 1,260 votes out of 358,184 ballots cast—a margin of only .36%. A Democrat victory in that one race will shift control of the State Board of Education from a 4-3 Republican majority to a 4-3 Democrat majority. The 2013 Virginia Attorney General race was decided by 165 votes out of 2.2 million votes cast.
In my Colorado State Senate race, several Republican ballots were rejected because of a signature matching issue. 270 of those ballots went onto what is called the “cure list” within two days of Election Day, and as we tried to cure those ballots by verifying their authenticity, over and over I heard from residents at the addresses the ballots were mailed to, “No one by that name lives here” or “I’ve never heard of that person,” and “That person moved away years ago.”
Within the roughly 30-day election cycle that begins when ballots are mailed to over 3 million registered Colorado voters, someone had taken the ballot mailed to that address, filled it out and voted it. Thankfully, we do have signature verification in Colorado, and the election judges caught some of the likely fraudulent ballots.
But of the 270 Republicans on that cure list, 25 (nearly 10%) were likely fraudulently voted ballots. And that’s just the 270 that the election judges caught in the two to four seconds allowed to examine each signature and compare it to the one in the official database.
If there were 270 Republican ballots with questionable signatures, and Republicans are only 34% of registered voters, that means there were probably over 800 ballots with questionable signatures in that one legislative district alone. The Colorado Voter Group, a watchdog organization promoting election security, believes our signature verification system is inadequate and wide open to abuse.
Before 2014, signature verification on mailed ballots was just one small component of our security safeguards. But that changed in 2013. In the 2013 session of the state legislature, Democrats rammed through a package of “election modernization” bills on straight party-line votes, a package including same day voter registration and all mail balloting.
Now, 90% of Coloradans vote by mail and only 10% vote in person at a polling center on Election Day. That means signature verification is now the primary means of assuring election integrity, yet the signature verification process and security standards – such as chain of possession rules for handling ballots– have not been improved significantly.
An infatuation with new technologies can blind election officials to the vulnerabilities that can accompany those new technologies. Lowering costs and improving the speed of vote tallies and reports are all well and good, but not at the expense of election integrity and public confidence.
Colorado is proud of having one of the highest voter turnout rates in the nation and a reputation for adopting new technologies. Yet, election vulnerabilities are real, they are systemic, they exist statewide, and they need to be addressed in a rigorous, bipartisan manner.