One day, someone will ask you how California came to adopt a voter ID law.
It may seem unlikely, even impossible, possibly hallucinatory, but you can bet your crystal ball that sometime in the not-too-distant future, Californians will be asked to produce a photo ID in order to vote.
Here’s how it’s going to happen. In Los Angeles County, where about 25 percent of the state’s registered voters reside, election officials are getting ready to implement Senate Bill 450, the California Voter’s Choice Act. The new system’s vulnerability to fraud is so wide open that it’s just a matter of time before the legitimacy of an election is called into question and reform changes everything again.
SB450, signed into law in 2016, allows the state’s 58 counties to implement changes to voting including mailing a ballot to every registered voter and replacing local polling places with vote centers. Electronic poll books that are connected to the statewide voter database will replace the familiar paper rosters on the tables where voters check in. Election Day itself will be replaced by 11 days of voting.
L.A. County is preparing to implement the new system for the 2020 election.
“The County is identifying and assessing thousands of potential vote center sites to ensure that vote centers and Vote by Mail drop box locations are distributed across the county in a manner that provides greater access and convenience to all voters,” reads the website of the Registrar of Voters at LAVote.net.
They could have written “all lawful voters,” but election officials typically contend that illegal voting is a non-existent problem that has simply not happened.
There’s a first time for everything. Vote centers are wide open to voter impersonation.
Over a period of 11 days, anyone can go to a vote center anywhere in the county, give the poll worker the name and address of any registered voter, sign the electronic poll book with that person’s name and vote.
There is nothing to stop it. There is no way to catch it. There will never be any way to prove it.
The signatures in the poll books are not checked against the signatures on file in the voter registration records. The only way anyone will know this has happened is if the real voter shows up at the polls later and is told, “Sorry, you’ve already voted.”
Then the real voter will be handed a provisional ballot. This is where the whole thing falls apart.
The fake voter’s ballot already went into the ballot box and is now indistinguishable from every other ballot. The fake voter’s ballot can’t be retrieved. It will be counted.
Provisional ballots are examined weeks later to verify that the voter is registered, that the signature matches the signature on file and that the voter hasn’t already voted. But that’s the problem — the “voter” has already voted. Then what?
The person who cast the fake ballot is long gone. The ballot has been counted. The county workers can only choose between counting the provisional ballot or not counting it. There will either be two ballots from this registered voter or there will be a fraudulent one.
Of course, someone running a sophisticated election-tampering operation can reduce the chances that the real voter will show up. The county sells the voter file and the voter history data for election-related or research purposes. A simple database program can create a list of registered voters who don’t vote very often, or ever, or haven’t since their death. A small group of activists could vote for 11 days in 800 vote centers and never be detected.
Imagine how easy it will be for scammers to get candidates elected in close races and to rack up the votes to pass bonds and tax increases.
So easy that too many scammers might get into the act, raising the risk that the scam will be exposed. That could lead to calls for an audit of the election. Then we’ll find out whether there were more ballots counted than there were voters who cast ballots, and whether people who didn’t vote are recorded as having voted.
Even some elected officials may become concerned if the audit looks bad enough that people think they weren’t legitimately elected.
There will be only one way to solve the problem: a voter ID law.
And that’s exactly how it will happen.
Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. [email protected]. Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.
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