Absentee voting impacts ‘integrity’ of elections
Absentee voters were in the majority for the first time in Jefferson County history in the general election earlier this month.
A total of 54 percent of county voters cast their ballots early — by mail or in person — during the month before the Nov. 6 election, surpassing the 47 percent who did so in 2008. Voter turnout fell by 122 votes to a total of 8,584.
In Iowa, early voting broke the state record, reaching 46 percent of total ballots cast.
In response to the growing popularity of absentee voting, Secretary of State Matt Schultz announced Monday the state should take further measures to regulate the practice. According to The Cedar Rapids Gazette, he suggested crafting legislation similar to that of Oregon and Washington, using signature-verification machines to match signatures on absentee ballot envelopes with the voter’s registration card.
Jefferson County Auditor Scott Reneker agreed voting by mail increased the risk of fraud.
“The integrity of the election is impacted adversely I think,” he said. “Right now, it’s a piece of cake to beat the system … we have no knowledge of who is handling the ballot.”
Reneker saw several glaring issues with mail-in ballots, but not with in-person early voting.
“In-person absentee voters who interact with election officials are different in my mind,” he said. “We need to pay additional attention to ballots cast by mail.”
It’s difficult for the auditor’s office to keep an accurate list of registered voters in the county, said Reneker.
“There are so many names on our list of registered voters of people no longer legitimately qualified to vote in the area,” he said.
Reneker said in some families for example, when a son or daughter goes away to college, parents could fill out the absentee form in their child’s stead.
“It would make sense to put something in place to ensure the legitimately qualified voter is the one who handles and votes on that ballot,” he said.
However, Reneker was unsure of the efficacy of the signature-checking system used in Oregon and Washington. He said people’s handwriting can change.
“I know my signature has evolved over the years,” he said.
Tightening voter ID laws has been part of Schultz’s platform since he ran for secretary of state in 2010. While Schultz, a Republican, has tried to pass legislation requiring voters provide photo ID at the polls, the law stalled in the Senate where Democrats hold the majority. He said he will try to pass similar legislation this year.
Voter ID laws continue to be a topic of controversy. While Georgia, Indiana, Kansas and Tennessee implemented voter ID laws this year according to the Associated Press, a federal court unanimously rejected such a law in Texas, saying it would impose “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor.”
Reneker said simply increasing in-person voting would alleviate his concern about voter fraud.
“I prefer the old fashioned vote-on-election-day method,” he said, “but a lot of the public and the different parties do like the convenience of receiving a ballot by mail, so that is the reality.”