23 August 2005

Vote-by-mail fraud risk in St. John's municipal contest

St. John's city council recently endorsed an all-mail ballot system for the upcoming municipal election.

The system is supposed to increase participation rates and is reputedly popular with voters. City officials claim that in a survey they conducted over 91% of respondents were satisfied with the process. A case study completed by Canada Post praises the system for increasing voter response at a lower cost than traditional elections.

Here's the quirky thing no one seems to have noticed.

In a conventional election, a voter must present himself or herself at a polling station, obtain a ballot and cast a vote in secret. Should someone attempt to vote in place of the registered voter, simply producing identification can demonstrate a fraud has occurred. That alone is sufficient to deter that type of criminal activity voting.

If a voter is likely to be absent on the usual polling day, there are several processes available, all of which preserve the integrity of the ballot's chain of custody and maintain its secrecy.

Some other jurisdictions across North America have moved to mail-in ballots or the so-called vote-by-mail system. Oregon ran the entire 2004 federal general election by vote-by-mail.

In that state, officials verified the votes cast by comparing a specimen signature of the registered voter to the signature included with the ballot envelope.

St. John's has no such system of specimen signatures. Nor do they have an alternative means of assuring that the vote received from a registered voter was actually cast by that person or a duly authorized proxy.

Therefore, there is no way of knowing that a ballot from any voter was actually cast by that voter.

The system assumes the ballot is valid and therefore the system is open to a variety of frauds.

The next council should review the entire process of municipal elections.