Clean-elections activist Marilyn Marks, of the Rocky Mountain Foundation, took me to vote-processing centers in Brighton (Adams County), Broomfield, and Boulder — all within an hour’s drive of Denver. This new system seems shot full of holes. Insecure ballots, inconsistent standards, and insufficient oversight should leave citizens afraid. Very afraid.
For starters, Colorado has been flooded with mail-in ballots, for those who requested them and those who did not. In the old system, government officials delivered ballots to well-supervised precincts and then collected them after polls closed. This year, ballots have been sprayed around the state via the U.S. Post Office.
Under a Colorado law enacted last year by Democrats, with zero GOP votes, “We moved 340,101 voters over from inactive to active,” says Andrew Cole of the secretary of state’s office. These voters were mailed ballots in mid-October. Some of them have not cast ballots since 2008. They include the disillusioned, the departed, and the deceased.
“My sister in Jefferson County received three ballots,” says GOP state senator Kevin Lundberg. “She is properly registered for one. The others are for two people who lived in her house eight to 10 years ago, were registered voters at that time, and since have moved out of Colorado.”
Ballots also went to the last known addresses of students at such schools as the University of Colorado at Boulder. Though they may have graduated six years ago and relocated to Woody Creek, Wichita, or Wall Street, ballots addressed to those alumni were sent to their old dormitories, sororities, and fraternity houses.
Far worse, some people receive ballots and discard them.
Last Friday, I inspected and photographed the six “garbage ballots” above. An election-integrity activist fished these out of a waste bin at a U.S. Post Office in Pueblo.
One wonders what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the GIs killed on Normandy Beach and the sands of Iwo Jima might have thought about dying so that Americans one day would dump their ballots in the trash.
Of course, acquiring multiple ballots raises the possibility of “One Man, One Vote — Again and Again.” This raises the next problem: Insufficient access to the process by citizens who try to combat such abuses.
Ballot watchers representing major and minor parties, as well as unaffiliated voters, are allowed to observe “all activities,” as the election rules state. This includes all ballot-receipt, confirmation, and tabulation procedures. If they see something, they should say something.
In reality, ballot watchers have protested an ongoing inability to oversee the handling of ballots. Some report trouble even gaining access to these facilities.
Before visiting the counting room as a media observer in Brighton, I waited and waited and waited with Marks and two Republicans named Gary Mikes and John Sampson. Rather than walking promptly into that area, we all cooled our jets while county clerk Karen Hall and her staffers did . . . who knows what?
“It was a total of 35 minutes from the time we entered until I was shown into the counting room,” says Sampson, one of two Republicans on Adams County’s seven-member Election Canvassing Board. While he waited, Sampson says, “the thoughts going through my mind were, in no particular order, What WAS going on behind closed doors? Were they THAT busy that they couldn’t send someone out to usher me in and administer the oath of office? After all, County Clerk Karen Long had hired a total of FIVE (5) Election Assistants/Consultants, paid for by the taxpayers of Adams County. Why one of them couldn’t come out sooner than the one who came out eventually is beyond me. It’s as if we were being ignored, put on the back burner, and being shown who was in charge.”
Adams County Republican-party chairman Gary Mikes was treated no better. He also waited half an hour before gaining entry to the counting room. “I could be missing something important that will make a difference in this election,” he recalls thinking. Was last Thursday atypical? Mikes called such delayed access “an everyday occurrence.”
Ballot watcher Mary Eberle wrote Colorado secretary of state Scott Gessler to complain about her experiences. She cited a “lack of respect for watcher rights and the general degradation of election integrity surrounding the reception and duplication of UOCAVA ballots in Boulder County.” UOCAVA is the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, which governs the ballots of American expatriates and service members abroad. Simply determining voters’ eligibility is impossible, Eberle says. She has been kept too far away from these overseas-ballot envelopes to compare the names of those submitting them against the names of voter rolls.
“I cannot challenge on the basis of an election worker reading off a name at a distance of 30 feet; he/she could say any name. I have to see the name.”
This situation became quite testy last Friday when Marilyn Marks tried to watch those opening ballot envelopes at the Boulder County clerk’s office. Marks asserted her right to supervise and challenge any and all ballot-processing procedures. Deputy clerk Molly Tayer wanted Marks to do so from behind a blue line on the floor. “We tried to create a nice environment,” from which “you can observe the process,” Tayer said.
“I don’t want to observe a process,” Marks bristled. “I want to be able to read each document.”
Tayer said that Marks could look simultaneously at a remote monitor to see the computerized documents that election workers were reviewing. While the workers appeared to read something substantial on their computer, the monitor Marks was supposed to follow instead featured a beautiful waterfall.
Boulder also allows each party one watcher on each of the two floors on which it processes ballots. There is no way that one person can keep a close look at ballot reception, envelope preparation, sorting, signature capture, and signature verification. These people are hard workers, but they are not bionic.
Michael Davis, Esq., a Boulder County Republican-party election watcher, says: “The North Koreans and Iranians should send watchers to Boulder County, to learn the tricks of the trade.”
Colorado’s chief anti-fraud technique is to compare ink signatures on ballot envelopes with digitized John Hancocks on official computers. Standards for such evaluations are all over the map. Some signatures are tested by machine. Some counties demand very similar signatures and program their machines accordingly. Others are more relaxed and let it rip.
Other signatures are reviewed by human eyeballs. In some counties, election workers have been instructed to detect forgeries. Most counties lack such rigor. One election judge in Broomfield told me, “We just use our best judgment.”
“In Douglas County, there is a 0.23 percent rejection rate of signatures that are discrepant,” Marilyn Marks says. “Denver, a contiguous county, has 10 times the rejection rate. Denver is done with human eyeballs. Judges have been trained to detect signature discrepancies by the DA’s office and other handwriting experts. In Douglas County, it’s all automated by a machine with the quality setting turned way down, so that virtually everything passes through.”
“It is just as important that your vote not be diluted by a fraudulent vote,” Marks adds. “Something is wrong when human eyeballs in Denver reject 2.3 percent, and in the next county over, it’s 0.23 percent.”
These divergent standards create a huge potential legal problem for candidates in jurisdictions that contain multiple counties (e.g. congressional districts) and for those who run statewide, such as governors or senators. This is called a lack of equal protection under the law. Colorado has created a playground for attorneys willing to litigate this matter on 14th Amendment grounds.
The signature-verification process itself is laughable, bordering on tragic.
Harvie Branscomb is a ballot watcher for the Green and Libertarian parties. He laments the disappearance of the old system of citizen-run elections in which “perhaps minutes per voter of person-to-person interaction are spent checking the voter rolls and voter address.” Thanks to centralization by county clerks, Branscomb continues, “This has been replaced with about two to four seconds of fleeting observation of machine-presented images by one or two election judges to decide if the envelope signature matches a reference signature previously captured by a statewide database. The difference between in-precinct voter eligibility check and signature check is staggering.”
Election watchers — who struggle to verify signatures on sometimes 12 to 15 monitors at once — often are powerless when they encounter signatures that look bogus.
“In most [counties] there are standing instructions never to communicate with judges who make the rapid fire decisions, period,” Branscomb complained after visiting ballot-processing facilities in Adams, Denver, Eagle, Fremont, Garfield, Jefferson, and Pueblo counties. “Watcher rules also prevent me from effectively collecting information about the differences and weaknesses of signature verification in general.”
One might dub this situation, “Don’t ask. Don’t tell.”
Regarding same-day registration, people can sign up to vote today. Election authorities will have little to no time to be 100 percent certain of their identities and eligibility. Scarier still, there are no provisional ballots that will be counted only after they have been ruled valid. So if it later transpires that voter X was unqualified to vote, his ballot already will be in the mix and counted. It cannot be withdrawn and its vote subtracted.
“Colorado has the most easy-to-manipulate elections in the country,” says Jon Caldara, president of the Denver-based Independence Institute, a free-market think tank. “Come for the skiing. And while you’re here, steal an election.”
— 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.