Solutions for Fighting Voting Fraud

Election oversight is critical bulwark protecting the republic from election crimes

Publicly elected officers wield power over decision making. The temptation to cheat, lie, and steal to get into public office is too great for some. Strong election oversight is a requirement for a society governed by the rule of law. 

We have many historical accounts in the early years of our county of many different forms of election crimes. Specifically, there are numerous historical accounts of ballot harvesting with absentee ballots. An infamous example is the Lyndon B. Johnson 1948 US Senate primary election. Over a few days post-election day, many recounts, and new precinct returns found, LBJ had won his primary election. It was challenged that various county elections officials had cast the votes of absent voters. The primary win was upheld by the courts, but the research of historians and the New York Times, shows that “Lyndon B. Johnson … stole his first election.” 

As vote by mail ballots generally do not have a secure chain of custody before becoming a recorded cast vote, this type of voting activity lends itself to shenanigans. The most recent example is from a May 12, 2020, local election in Paterson, New Jersey. Four people have been charged with voter fraud. It appears the scheme involved intercepting absentee vote by mail ballots and casting the votes instead of the legal voter. 19% of the total votes cast or 3,190 votes were disqualified. Additional irregularities in the same jurisdiction included piles of ballots left in apartment building lobbies, hundreds of ballots found bundled together in mail boxes, and thousands of vote by mail envelopes without the voter’s signature.

While in many cases the numbers of votes involved in fraud appears to be small, the risk to our system of governance is large. In the case of Paterson, N.J. the city municipal budget exceeds $300 million which in the hands of corrupt elected officials would cause harm to their citizens. We need our local elections across the United States to be trusted and completely above reproach. 

So what can Iocal election officials do to fight against voting fraud?

Lincoln Policy has developed a working paper, co-authored by Lincoln policy analyst Alexiaa Jordan and chief technologist Sean Roberts, which provides a technical and policy analysis of absentee voting and vote by mail. Its purpose is to inform the current national debate with an accurate understanding of how absentee balloting works and a fair examination of the benefits and risks of voting by mail. We have summarized six solutions for the 2020 election cycle from our working paper below:

Expand Voting by Mail but Address Integrity Concerns

National and state policymakers should protect the integrity of the democratic process by expanding access to voting by mail while establishing protections to address administrative problems and enhancing laws to prevent ballot harvesting and fraud.

We recommend that the Board of Elections or Secretary of State in the 13 states without  language about ballot- returning methods adopt language that would reduce the legal opportunity for ballot harvesting. That language should provide voters with the option to return their ballots themselves, allow for.US Postal Service Office or private mail couriers to pick up and deliver the ballots, restrict the number of designated people allowed to return one’s ballot, and make clear the penalties for anyone who fraudulently collects and returns ballots from another person.

These measures should be tailored by the states to ensure accessibility and can be implemented before the November 2020 elections. As states consider this option, their choices should be widely communicated early and often to ensure that voter suppression does not happen. 

Implement Ballot Tracking Measures

State and local governments should improve voter confidence in absentee balloting by providing voters a way to track their absentee ballot and a receipt to prove that the absentee ballot was received and counted.

In addition to tracking the absentee ballot, states could consider implementing technology that would allow voters to know their vote has been counted. Designing ballots in a manner that provides voters with an electronic receipt (such as a “QR code”) may be an option. This process, combined with other checks -and -balances, such as the creation of a state election integrity ombudsman who would work alongside the post-election audit team, could establish a proper system. A few states provide an online tool for voters to verify that their vote was recorded. Using a QR code would be broadly useful for states that are concerned the privacy of the voter’s selections could be compromised.

Keep In-Person Voting Open

State and local governments should maintain and improve in-person voting options and ensure that all voters, particularly individuals with disabilities, can vote independently and privately while addressing the practical challenges of in-person voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An improvement to existing in person voting practices would be to use geo-fencing to let voters use a mobile poll registration application to check -in automatically when they arrive at a voting center. This automatic activity will alert the poll registration system to the increased voting demand and likely resulting wait times. The same monitoring data can be shared with a variety of services supporting wait- time web sites and mobile mapping applications like Waze, Google Maps, and Apple Maps. Either the mapping or the mobile poll registration application would then be able to direct the voter to a less congested voting center. 

Additionally, providing the voter with a mobile sample ballot application would allow his or her selections to be documented before arriving at the polls. Using a QR code to encode the data, the voter could then use a scanner in the voting booth to load the selections into the ballot. The voter then would only need to review their ballot and accept it to cast the vote.

Use Available Funding and Report to Congress on Any Remaining Gaps


States and local governments should use previously authorized and appropriated federal funding (and other available federal resources) to administer and secure the 2020 election. National policymakers should ease burdens on state and local governments and improve oversight and transparency to clarify what additional resources are needed to modernize and secure U.S. election systems moving forward.

For example, the current system of reporting on the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars through a single, annual report is unacceptable when customizable web forms are easily available. A simple, digital reporting system would make the reporting process easier for all parties involved. 

In addition to available HAVA funding, state and local governments should use other available resources to secure and administer the election. State and local governments could use some of the billions in unspent homeland security grants awarded by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency since 2015. Cybersecurity is listed as one of FEMA’s “core capabilities” for homeland security, and FEMA’s grant manual allows cybersecurity needs as a reason to spend these grant dollars. 

Maintain Trustworthy Voter Rolls


States that implement user-friendly registration systems can yield cleaner voter rolls. Cleaner voting rolls mean ballots get mailed to the correct voters. Critics of expanded absentee voting are worried about outdated voter rolls because states that expand their absentee voting run the risk of mailing ballots to citizens who have died, moved, or otherwise become ineligible to vote. An increase in blank ballots in circulation opens the door for nefarious behavior by political operatives. 

The work that the Election Registration Information Center (ERIC) does in 31 states to share voter rolls across states and other sources of voter data should be spread to the rest of the country. 

Use Inclusive Voter Identification Measures


With in-person voting, most polling places ask for ID before voters can cast their votes. As expanded absentee access takes hold, not requiring ID can increase the potential for voter fraud.

While there are debates on ensuring inclusive rules, in general, identity verification measures are widely supported on a bipartisan basis. As an example, improving voter identification measures includes modernizing signature verifications. As a biometric indicator, signature verification is a popular way for states to confirm voter identity. However, the burden is on the majority of the election officials to manually match signatures by eyesight. Some states, such as Oregon, have invested in technology to better match signatures to address impersonation concerns. States have previously reported moving slowly on investing in signature technology but should reconsider given the new availability of election security funds.

These six solutions will reduce voting fraud by making it more difficult, but not impossible to commit violations. Election officials should take these as the basics to reduce fraud. There are significant security measures that should be taken as well. We will go into detail in future articles and papers about various physical and digital security measures.

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Dan Lips
Director of Cyber and National Security
Grace Meyer
Head of Development
Garret Johnson Lincoln Executive Director
Garrett Johnson
Co-Founder and Executive Director
Zach Graves
Head of Policy
Sean Roberts
Chief Technologist
Alexiaa Jordan
Policy Analyst
J. Scott McKaig
CFO and General Counsel
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