Conducting fair and free elections is the cornerstone of what makes this country great.
That’s why I support the recent unanimous decision by the Orange County Board of Supervisors to put the brakes on a proposal attempting to create vote centers in limited areas of the county. It was the right decision at the right time. Had the supervisors approved this plan, it would have increased the likelihood of voter fraud in upcoming elections — especially when you consider the wide array of relaxed voting standards recently enacted into law.
To recap, the board considered replacing the county’s 1,000 precinct voting locations with 150 vote centers to be open 10 days before the election. That means voters who wished to cast their ballots in person on Election Day would no longer be able to do so at a neighborhood polling place, but instead would have to travel to one of a limited number of vote centers.
This loss of polling places would be in addition to other recent changes to the voting landscape; changes including automatic voter registration, lower standards for counting ballots, counting of ballots that arrive after the close of the polls on Election Day, and allowing anonymous third parties to turn in ballots.
With all of these other changes underway, eliminating 1,000 polling places in favor of just 150 vote centers, and substantially increasing the number of vote by mail ballots in circulation that may or may not reach the intended voter is a certain recipe for increasing voter fraud in Orange County. In the future, close elections could be thrown into limbo for weeks or months as legal challenges would be a virtual guarantee.
Many of my colleagues and I have voiced our concern over the sheer number of voter law changes being enacted in Sacramento without any concern for their impact on electoral integrity. The potential for voter fraud and intimidation will only increase as our voting standards are relaxed.
There’s no doubt that a larger percentage of those who vote today are casting their ballots by mail. However, creating what would basically be a mail-only election would most certainly increase the chances for voter fraud, as has been pointed out by the bipartisan National Commission on Federal Election Reform established in the wake of the 2000 presidential election. They warn, “Growing use of absentee voting has turned this area of voting into the most likely opportunity for election fraud now encountered by law enforcement officials. … These opportunities for abuse should be contained, not enlarged.”
The Legislature already has authorized all-mail voting pilot projects in several counties, including San Diego and Sacramento. Those pilot projects were approved in order to allow the Legislature to study the results of those elections and any related issues that may arise. This is particularly important given the plethora of recent changes made to our election system. Before expanding vote by mail and implementing vote centers we should wait until these pilot programs are completed and evaluated.
The Board of Supervisors made it clear they would be willing to consider implementing vote centers in the future, once more is known about how these centers would impact voters, the integrity of our election system and any other potential legal issues which could arise with such a dramatic change.
Our entire system of government relies on fair and free elections. Dropping off ballots at vote centers instead of actually voting at polling places may indeed be the way of the future. However, ensuring we maintain fair and free elections is far more important than implementing a risky program too soon. Our Board of Supervisors should be applauded for taking this measured approach to protecting the integrity of every vote cast in Orange County.