Mail-in voting gains popularity in California

Remember the old days when the only way to make a phone call in public was to cocoon yourself in a tiny glass case, shut the door, drop a few dimes and dial a number? What were those ancient relics of yesteryear called again? Ah, that’s right, phone booths. Try to find one of those on a street corner today, and you’ll probably be out of luck. It appears that the same fate might befall another similar space: The voting booth.

According to data from the California Association of Clerks and Elected Officials, at least 40 percent of California voters are choosing to cast their ballots by mail this year, and it could be the beginning of a slow death for the California voting booth. Some experts predict that as much as half the electorate will vote by mail this year.

Imagine it: The ballot arrives in your mailbox a month before election day, giving you weeks to read it, study it and make a well-thought out choice. You can discuss your choices with family members and friends, and mail it back at your convenience. With a voter-information guide that is 143-pages long, 12 state-wide propositions to vote on, numerous local measures, and state and national offices that are up for election, having time to mull over a ballot on the kitchen table doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

We are already seeing lines going back hundreds deep in early voting places around the country. This election is looking to be a crowded one, and early polls are already showing record participation and wait time. Californians have stood in enough lines at Disneyland, waiting for Space Mountain to undergo magical maintenance. They know better than risk a voting machine malfunction that could cost precious hours of the day.

So why not follow Oregon, and have all voting done by mail?

Of course, there’s always a catch. The LA Times reports:

“The increasing popularity of voting by mail in California and elsewhere has prompted some election experts to question whether convenience should trump concerns about ballot secrecy, fraud and the complications of processing mail-in ballots. The growing debate is leading some registrars and voting-rights advocates to call for a renewed discussion about how far the state should go to promote voting by mail.”

Does mail-in voting increase the chance of fraud?

Many states use a signature accountability system, similar to what is used to verify credit card charges, but it obviously isn’t difficult to forge a signature.

The Indiana Supreme Court recently found campaign members guilty of voter fraud in the 2003 Democratic primary for East Chicago, Indiana Mayor Ropert Pastrick. The charges were for misuse of absentee ballots. According to MSNBC.com, they:

* 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;

* paid voters in cash for casting absentee ballots;

* instructed people applying for absentee ballots to phone the Pastrick campaign when the applicant received his or her ballot so that Pastrick supporters could go to their home and “though not authorized by law to do so, ‘assist’ the voter in completing the ballot;”

* illegally kept a stockpile of unmarked absentee ballots and delivered ballots to voters;

* lied about whether the person applying for an absentee ballot would in fact be absent on the day of the primary. (Indiana law requires a voter to have a reasonable expectation of being absent from the state or to be ill or caring for an ill person in order to get an absentee ballot.)

All methods of voting, no matter how “fraud proof” they may seem, are susceptible to tampering. For every intelligent poll worker out there trying to keep these elections clean, there’s bound to be an army of equally intelligent folks looking for ways around the system.

As voters, it’s our responsibility to be alert and cast our votes with faith that our voice will be heard. So keep those pajamas on, grab a snack from the kitchen, put your feet up, and cast that ballot.