Post-election Deplorable hunt enabled by mail-in voting?

I finally dug my way through the two ballot questions (see Should I vote for ranked-choice voting?) and am ready to vote here in Maskachusetts. The instructions that came with my mail-in ballot:

Put your ballot into the yellow ballot envelope and seal the ballot envelope.

Sign the ballot envelope. Print your name and address below your signature.

The ballot envelope also has a personalized name/address sticker on it.

When a person votes in-person in Maskachusetts (generally for a candidate running unopposed or one whose odds of winning are 99.99%), he/she/ze/they fills out a ballot in a private booth and then puts the ballot into a scanner. There is no association between ballot and person.

With vote-by-mail, local officials, nearly all of whom are from one party(!), could assemble a list of citizens (and the undocumented?) who failed to vote correctly. After the election, God willing, this could be the basis for correcting the big error that my Dutch friend said the American elites made in 2016 regarding the Deplorables: “They forgot to take away their right to vote.”

I haven’t seen this discussed much, but as far as I can tell, vote-by-mail means the end of anonymous voting in Massachusetts (not sure how it is done in the rest of the country).

Separately, the towns here have spent what is probably $10,000+ each on voting drop boxes on concrete pads:

People who don’t trust the government-run post office to deliver a local letter within 2-3 weeks can use this box to vote for a bigger government that will take over additional day-to-day functions within society and the economy. People who agree with Joe Biden that climate change is an existential threat to humanity can, instead of walking to the end of their own driveway and putting the flag up on their own mailbox, drive a CO2-spewing vehicle to/from the ballot drop box. They will, of course, vote for bold government action to cut CO2 emissions!

19 thoughts on “Post-election Deplorable hunt enabled by mail-in voting?

  1. Full statewide lists of every registered voter are available from many sources.

    All the candidates for office in Massachusetts can get the lists of registered voters directly from the state government. In addition, every Town Clerk in Massachusetts has access to the list for their municipality. If you wanted to spend some money, a campaign can buy the lists from third parties, including highly enhanced lists containing all sorts of demographic data:

    T.V. Media Zone
    Voter phone numbers, including 15% cell
    MOSAIC consumer lifestyle seqmentation
    flags to identify households of multiple voters
    Marital status
    Income estimates
    Home value
    Hispanic surname tag
    Birth date
    Download and view your Quantum Voter List MS Excel® sample (some fields are temporarily redacted for privacy on the web)

    Now, this latter example costs some money. You can also buy the “unenhanced” lists which include plenty of information. In MA they’re between $2,000-$7,500 from this vendor:

    So it’s certainly possible to get the data.

    >With vote-by-mail, local officials, nearly all of whom are from one party(!), could assemble a list of citizens (and the undocumented?) who failed to vote correctly.

    You just have to trust that none of them want to do anything more than preserve the integrity of our democracy!

  2. Earlier this year, I know of a town that conducted a vote-by-mail election for a town office, not the general election but a town Board (actually a Retirement Board). They were electing their new Chairperson. It was the same thing: the ballots themselves were “anonymous” but they were enclosed in an envelope that the person sending the ballot back had to print their name on and sign it, so that the office Administrator could verify that the ballot being returned actually came from one of the people in the Retirement system and there were no duplicates. Basically, they verified the envelope, opened it up, and then put the ballot containing that voter’s choice into a pile and counted them up.

    You just have to trust them! Simple as that. You have to trust that as they are going down their list and verifying the voter that they don’t have a Trash Pile off to the side that some of the ballots accidentally go into!

    • I don’t know about Massachussets or vote for mail in particular, but the general principle of paper elections is that anybody who is running can observe, or send an observer at any time to -well- observe counting etc.

      For example some states allow curbside pickup of ballots, and one representative from each party (plus I suppose green and libertarians if any are around) has to be with the ballots at all time

  3. I should also note that none of the aforementioned has anything to do with the actual process of getting things mailed back and forth, which is its own sea of holes, and beyond the scope of this discussion. Local postmasters have a great deal of authority, and essentially they work on the Honor System.

    How many holes does it take to fill the Albert Hall?

    It’s also a little-appreciated fact that the Town Clerk position in any municipality in Massachusetts is in fact one of the most powerful and crucial positions in local government. They run the show, as it were, and they have access to all the data. It’s a surprisingly important position. They have their own statewide association and certification/training program.

  4. Maybe your in-person ballot is anonymous in MA but that may not apply to other places. I believe in NC the bar code can be tied back to the voter. It gets scanned in when they look you up in the database and hand you your ballot. So “they” can check that I voted correctly!

  5. We just had a provincial election in British Columbia. Here’s what Elections BC (a non-partisan agency which runs the election) has to say about counting mail-in ballots. In short, the outer envelope (which has your identifying information) is separated from the secrecy envelope (which hides your vote) before the count.

    The final count of ballots takes place separately for each absentee section. Any certification envelopes not accepted for final count are announced, set aside, and remain unopened. The District Electoral Officer, assisted by election officials working under their direction, then opens each accepted envelope and removes the secrecy envelope/sleeve in the case of vote-by-mail. The secrecy envelope is placed in a ballot box designated for the section being counted.

    A certification envelope must be resealed during final count if it clearly contains more than one election ballot. During this phase, if a certification envelope contains more than one secrecy envelope, the District Electoral Officer must open the secrecy envelopes contained within the certification envelope to verify whether they contain election ballots. The District Electoral Officer must take care to ensure that the secrecy of the vote is maintained during this process. If there is more than one election ballot in a certification envelope, these ballots must be resealed in their respective envelopes and must not be considered at final count. [s. 135]

    After all certification envelopes for a section have been opened and the secrecy envelopes placed in a ballot box, the District Electoral Officer or other election official opens each secrecy envelope and removes the ballot.

    To serve as a further check on the process, each candidate can appoint a representative to be present at the count.

    Who may be present at final count

    During final count, the District Electoral Officer and at least one other election official must be present. The District Electoral Officer may limit the number of candidate representatives (scrutineers) present during final count proceedings if the number of scrutineers would exceed the safe capacity of the counting location or contravene the guidance of the public health office. Under the Election Act, candidates are permitted to have one candidate representative present for each set of ballots that is being counted separately. If the number of candidate representatives entitled to be present during the final count must be reduced to comply with public health restrictions, the District Electoral Officer will select representatives by agreement or lot draw. Candidate representatives must be appointed in writing. [s. 130]

  6. > the towns here have spent what is probably $10,000+ each on voting drop boxes on concrete pads

    In New Jersey the boxes run about $6000 each. Note the website I am using as a source is run by the guy who masterminded the Bridgegate scandal that sunk Chris Christie’s presidential aspirations.

    > Sign the ballot envelope

    In New Jersey there are two envelopes. The outer envelope is barcoded so they can scan it in so you don’t vote twice. The inner envelope is signed, but the part you sign is detachable. Once the county election officials verify it is your signature, they detach that part. That way, when your ballot is actually opened, there is no way to associate ballot and person. I would be stunned if yours didn’t work the same way.

    > Town of Lincoln

    Named for Lincolnshire county, England, not Abraham.

    • > That way, when your ballot is actually opened, there is no way to associate ballot and person.

      But someone has to open it and read the signature, correct? So it’s what Philip said: the ballot is tied to the envelope and tied to the voter inextricably. You can throw the envelope away if you like, but it’s still there. You just proved him correct.

    • @Alex

      No. It is a three-step process:

      • The signature is verified by Person A
      • The flap with your signature is detached and separated from the envelope itself by Person A
      • Person B opens the envelope containing your ballot

      By the time Person B gets the envelope with the ballots, it will be bundled with others. When that bundle is opened, there is NO identifying information on any of the ballots or the envelopes.

    • I guess everything’s OK then! Obviously nobody can determine whether Person A and Person B can communicate with each other, so we’re safe. If you certify that’s the way it works, I’ll believe you.

      But the basic problem still remains: the “old way” of voting is less prone to error or malfeasance. When you have thousands of ballots to process manually, you’re talking about making sure that Person A and Person B never communicate with each other.

    • Moreover, you don’t address the central concern, which is that Person A might have a list of people they know should be discarded and just tossed into the Dustbin of History before they ever get to Person B. Since the lists are available, and Person A could very well have one of them, they could just decide – in a close race especially – to occasionally toss one of the whole enchiladas away!

    • Alex: In Canada, candidate representatives are present during the counting process, to provide a further check. I’m pretty sure you have them in the United States as well.

    • ScarletNumber: That’s an interesting system. Massachusetts does not have this paper technology. The person who takes the ballot out of the envelope (and who therefore can see for whom one voted) also will see the name/address of the voter (printed sticker on the back; handwritten name/address on the front). Not a problem, of course, so long as your choices conform to the majority!

    • @philg

      I’m amazed. Anyway, here is a handy video if anyone is curious. The part where it mentions not to detach the envelope is at 25 seconds.

    • Here’s the Massachusetts process for counting absentee ballots:

      (h) Remove Ballot and Place in Ballot Box. The warden shall remove each ballot from its envelope without unfolding or examining it. The warden shall present the ballot to the ballot box officer who shall wind it into the ballot box face-up with the name of the community, ward and precinct showing. The envelope shall be kept separate.

    • @Russil: Now that it’s down on electronic paper, it’s incontrovertible! By the way, I don’t have much fear that the ballots won’t be handled in the proper way. It does not matter for my vote in Massachusetts, because I am voting in person, the same way I have done for a long time now, on election day, wearing my mask.

  7. @Alex

    While I agree the old way is better, this way protects the privacy of the voter sufficiently. Under Philip’s way of thinking, one of would have wait for a particular envelope to come in the mail and it would have to receive some sort of distinguishing mark to set it apart from all of the other envelopes. Considering how unmotivated he thinks public employees are…

  8. As Toucan would say, “If you want your secret ballot, walk into the polls and mark your secret ballot!”

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