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Election Integrity and the Power of Unions

During the 2004 Presidential election there were allegations of voter fraud; the 2000 Presidential election was alleged to have been “stolen” by the Republicans. If you go further back in history, you can point to evidence the Democratic machine in Chicago manipulated election results to throw the 1960 Presidential election victory to Kennedy. A close reading of American history would reveal election fraud as a challenge to our democracy from the very beginning, and in every decade since then. It’s no surprise that we’re discussing it again.

What is a surprise is the opportunities for voter fraud, in this age of biometric identification technology and total information awareness, are actually greater than ever. Using California as an example, here are some of the reasons why:

Voters are not required to present a verifiable photo identification when they vote, and if they wish, voters don’t even have to show up at the polling place, they can vote by mail. Voting by mail causes a variety of problems – first, it precludes anyone showing an identification, and second, it prolongs vote counts after the election as workers tabulate the ballots. And the greater the number of ballots requiring post-election, manual counting, the more opportunities there are for political operatives who have infiltrated our election workforce to manipulate results. And because voting by mail is done outside of the controlled environment of the voting booth at the polling place, there is even less guarantee that these ballots are not filled out by someone other than the person supposedly voting.

And as reported by the Election Integrity Project in 2013, “California Suspends A Critical Method To Prevent Voter Fraud,” buried in the 2013 budget bill was suspension of the requirement that signatures on provisional ballot envelopes be compared against the voters’ registration signatures to determine voter eligibility. Should anyone doubt that election integrity is a bipartisan problem in 2016, consider this article, and this one, among a host of such online reports that allege ballot fraud erased a Bernie Sanders June 2016 primary victory in California.

Six years ago, RedState.com published a report entitled “How Unions or Their Allies Could be Stealing November’s Election Right Now,” alleging massive, systemic, union-orchestrated fraud has been implemented across the U.S. Whether or not this is true, or true at the scale being alleged, should not deter any concerned citizen from considering these charges, because they expose serious weaknesses that challenge the integrity of our voting process. Here are some of the allegations:

The SEIU and others funded the “Secretary of State Project” in 2005, pouring money into races to elect “reform minded” Secretaries of State in battleground states. In nine states since then they have successfully elected their candidates. Since the Secretary of State oversees elections, who sits in that position can potentially have a corrupting influence on election outcomes when there are recounts – or when there is a high percentage of mailed absentee ballots. In California, the employees who count and verify ballots are members of the SEIU. Is this appropriate? Are these people disinterested parties to election outcomes?

The report went on to claim the SEIU has been attempting to manipulate the electoral system across the United States, engaging in actions ranging from submitting forged initiative signatures, to invalid voter registrations, to hacking into voter machines, to destroying evidence of hacked machines. The report discusses how fake IDs are being used to exploit lax voter registration procedures, that illegal immigrants are being signed up as “permanent absentee voters,” and that early voter “rallies” are being held where voters are instructed, as a group, how to mark their mail-in ballots.

Is all of this true? Are unions such as the SEIU the biggest players, engaging in electoral manipulation that eclipses any potential manipulation by the other side? One thing is certain, they certainly have the financial power to do this. Unions, who compel employees to join their ranks and pay them mandatory dues, exercise financial clout that can overwhelm most other special interests, particularly when most other special interests are either terrified of unions or working with them. It is naive to dismiss the idea that big labor, big business, and big government would not have a common interest in colluding to squelch competition by emerging entrepreneurs and disruptive technologies.

Whether or not unions fraudulently manipulate our election results, they certainly buy them. Any reforms to improve the integrity of our elections or impose yet another restriction on campaign finance must first address this fact – unions compel millions of American workers to become members, impose upon them mandatory dues, and use this illegitimately acquired wealth to exercise far too much influence on our democracy.

Final Results: 81% of Local Bonds Passed, 68% of Local Taxes Passed

It took over a month to count the provisional ballots, but the results are now in for every one of the 118 local bonds and 171 local tax increases that were voted on by Californians on November 4th. Prior to counting most of the provisional ballots, as reported on November 11th in our editorial “Californians Vote for More Taxes and More Borrowing,” here were the results so far:

November 11th provisional results:
“At last count, of the 118 local bonds, 72 were passed, 15 were defeated, and 31 remain too close to call. Of the 171 local tax proposals, 98 were passed, 45 were defeated, and 28 are still too close to call.”

And here is the impact, five weeks later, with all ballots counted, including provisional ballots:

December 15 final results:
Of the 118 local bonds, 96 were passed, and 22 were defeated. Of the 171 local tax proposals, 117 were passed, and 54 were defeated. Final results: 81% of local bond measures passed; 68% of local tax increases passed.

Put another way, of the 31 local bonds that were too close to call a month ago, 24 passed, and of the 28 local tax increases that were too close to call a month ago, 19 passed. Why is it that 77% of the “too close to call” local bond measures ended up passing, and 68% of the “too close to call” local tax increases ended up passing?

If you examine the bonds that barely passed by the amount to be borrowed, it gets even more interesting. The North Orange County Community College District asked voters to approve a staggering $574 million in borrowing, mostly to perform what, in the light of day, reads as an awful lot of deferred maintenance. It passed by 15 votes. That margin of victory equates to $38.2 million per vote. Who says your vote isn’t worth much?

Provisional ballots matter a lot, apparently, since in close races in California this past November their belated tallies resulted in bond measures passing three out of four times, and tax increases passing two out of three times. So what are “provisional ballots?”

According to California Elections Code 14310, 14311, “registered voters whose voter registration or Vote By Mail status cannot be determined may vote a provisional ballot on Election Day. Provisional voters are voters who typically move to a different residence address within the same county and fail to re-register to vote, or who go to a polling place they are not assigned to and attempt to vote. They may also be voters whose Vote By Mail status cannot be determined.  Provisional voters may vote at polling locations or the Elections Division if they fill out and sign a provisional ballot envelope.”

It would probably be interesting, and futile, to speculate as to the reasons so many people elect to vote with provisional ballots, but one thing appears certain – provisional ballot voters in California favor more taxes and more borrowing. But then again, based on the results prior to counting provisional ballots – ALL Californians still favor more taxes and more borrowing. 81% of the bonds passed, 68% of the taxes passed. So would it be futile to speculate as to whether or not provisional ballots and absentee ballots, along with lack of voter ID requirements at the polling place – and along with the fallibility of electronic voting machines – constitute multiple opportunities for massive voter fraud?

Rather than indulge in futility, one should consider the incentives that might drive corruption. Taxpayers in Orange County are now on the hook for over a half-billion in new borrowing, thanks to the votes of fifteen people. This same school district conned voters into approving $237 million in “capital appreciation bonds” in 2002 – bonds that don’t require annual payments sufficient to reduce the principal, kind of like negative amortization home loans – residents in the North Orange County Community College District now owe more on that bond today than it was worth back in 2002. Taxpayers lose. Who wins?

Whether or not voter fraud exists, and to what extent and in what manner, is a hotly debated topic. But, speaking hypothetically, when all it takes to lay onto taxpayers a half-billion dollars in new borrowing is to sit down in a cozy private setting, a few weeks before an election, and – this is all perfectly legal – “coach” fifteen voters into filling out their absentee ballot a certain way, perhaps it’s time to rethink all voting regulations. Equally significant, perhaps it is time to understand the motivations of public employee unions, whose success is directly tied to the level of taxation and the size of government – an inherent conflict of interests – and to curb their ability to involve themselves in political activity.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.