The autumn skies are bright blue this afternoon in the Mile High City. The vistas of the nearby Rockies are as sublime as the mild breezes that amble down the street. And yet Marilyn Marks could not be more worried. She fears that Republican representative Cory Gardner could lose a U.S. Senate seat in the mail — literally.
Mail-in ballots once were reserved, on request, for those absent on Election Day — because of vacations, business, study, or military service — or too infirm to reach the polls.
Colorado has jumbo-sized this concept.
“I’m going to people’s houses where they’re getting seven ballots to a household,” Republican state senator Ted Harvey told the Washington Times. “Their children when they were 18 registered to vote there. They’re now 30 years old and living somewhere else, but now that their inactive voting status is now active, the clerk and recorders are required to send them ballots. . . . If Mom and Dad wanted to, they could vote them.”
“We have a lot of the adult-children-not-living-at-home problem here,” Marks says. “I frequently have run into parents who vote the ballots and forge the signatures of their kids and think it is okay ‘because the government sends us the ballots.’” For her relentless efforts to cleanse Colorado’s elections of often-Democrat-inspired mischief, the Denver Post calls the former trucking-company executive “the Queen of Pain.”
In another potential headache, “harvesters” will collect ballots door-to-door. Citizens legally may gather up to ten ballots and mail them or deposit them in unsupervised, official drop boxes. This is admirable for, say, a granddaughter helping her elderly relatives. However, nothing prevents a political activist from gathering ten ballots on Monday, ten on Tuesday, and ten more on Wednesday.
“If it’s over ten, that’s a violation,” Colorado secretary of state Scott Gessler told KUSA-TV. “How you catch that? We don’t have those systems in place right now.”
Even worse, if harvested ballots favoring the “wrong” candidate vanish — well, stuff happens.
“The proliferation of ‘ballot harvesting’ ranges from perfectly legal campaigning to pressure tactics to undue influence to intimidation to forgery of ballots and everything in between,” Marks says.
During last summer’s local election on natural-gas fracking, Loveland residents complained that vote harvesters impersonated government workers. “The city does NOT employ anyone to collect ballots cast in Loveland municipal elections,” officials reassured voters in a June 16 statement.
Also, apathetic voters sometimes dump mail-in ballots in wastebaskets near P.O. boxes and in apartment lobbies. Marks says that she previously photographed mail-in ballots in the garbage. However, “I don’t even bother to take them anymore, it is so commonplace.”
A “lower class” building at “Sixth and Belmar Circle” in “ghetto Aurora” is promising, Topping says. “North Aurora is a lot of people who — I hate to, like, put in clichés — but people don’t care.”
Meredith Hicks is a director for Work for Progress, a nonprofit laboring to reelect Senator Mark Udall (D., Colo.). Hicks urges O’Keefe to harness these abandoned ballots. “That’s not even, like, lying and stealing,” she says. “If someone throws out a ballot, like, if you want to fill it out, you should do it.”
Also, voters claiming to be confined can request emergency ballots as late as 5:00 p.m. on Election Day, sight unseen, and receive and return them via e-mail before polls close two hours later. There is no mechanism to confirm the legitimacy of such e-mail addresses, especially on such short notice.
Election officials hope to combat fraud by comparing computerized signature records with those on ballot envelopes. This hardly comforts Adams County Libertarian and Green Party watcher Harvie Branscomb.
“In this county, about 70 percent of the ballot envelopes are reviewed by election judges, and the remainder are approved automatically by computer and unseen by humans,” Branscomb tells me. “I am seeing some apparently non-matching signatures on return-mail ballot envelopes that are being approved for counting.”
Colorado voters should husband their ballots, keep them from strangers, and shred them if they prefer not to vote. They also should drop them off as late as possible. Even imagining perfect honesty, leaving marked ballots sitting around between mid-October, when officials sent them to voters, and Election Day could leave some lost, slipped twixt the cracks, or gone with the wind.
As demonstrated by Senate Democrat Al Franken’s 312-vote 2008 victory in Minnesota and former Republican president George W. Bush’s 537-vote 2000 win in Florida, a rounding error’s worth of disputed ballots can make a loser a victor — and vice versa.
A smattering of innocently misplaced, carefully fictionalized, or maliciously destroyed mail-in ballots could determine whether Cory Gardner reaches the Senate or Mark Udall (who voted 99 percent with Obama) remains. That outcome, in turn, could decide whether Harry Reid plays second fiddle with or returns as conductor of America’s favorite 100-member symphony.
And that’s why Marilyn Marks worries.
— Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University.