Reforming Elections for the Preservation of Liberty
President, Evergreen Freedom Foundation
Bob Williams, the president of the Evergreen
Freedom Foundation in Olympia, Washington, holds a degree from Pennsylvania State University . He worked as a General Accounting Office
auditor of the Pentagon and Post Office before moving to Washington state, where he served five terms in the state
legislature and earned the 1988 Republican nomination for governor.
The following is adapted from a speech delivered at a luncheon
co-sponsored by Hillsdale College and the Evergreen Freedom Foundation on June 22, 2005, at the Rainier Club in Seattle, Washington .
Joseph Stalin once said, “The people who cast the votes don’t
decide an election, the people who count the votes do.” In the
former Soviet Union , the dictator’s minions
counted the votes and the totals added up according to his wishes. One
expects such things in a communist country. But here in , where free and
fair elections are an indispensable cornerstone of our republic, sloppy
or politically-oriented vote counting is not acceptable. Our founders
established the principle of “ballots not bullets,” based on
the belief that political decisions should be freely made at the ballot
box by eligible voters whose votes would be properly counted. It is up to
us to preserve that principle today through election reform.
constitutional amendment, we have rightly expanded the franchise since
our nation’s founding. All citizens of voting age can cast a
ballot, if they have not lost their voting rights by committing a felony,
if they are mentally competent and if they still have a pulse. Yet in
many places around the country, felons, dead people and non-U.S.
residents vote. Sometimes people vote twice. The laws that protect the
integrity of our elections have been eroding for years, but it took a few
whisker-thin elections to bring attention to the problem. Now is the
opportunity to act.
How and why
has our election system become so compromised? Some claim incompetency or
human error is at the root of the problem. Others point to fraud. In fact
it is both—and neither is acceptable. Until this past year, I
myself had no idea how bad the problem had become. According to
University of Virginia Professor Larry Sabato, in his book Dirty Little
Secrets, ignorance is precisely how election systems are compromised:
“The fact that voter fraud is generally not recognized as a serious
problem by the press, public and law enforcement creates the perfect
environment for it to flourish.” And flourish it has. Following the
2004 election, serious questions of various sorts were raised in Ohio,
New Mexico, Wisconsin,
South Dakota , and
elsewhere concerning the integrity of vote counts in close races. Perhaps
the largest controversy has been in my own state of Washington
, with respect to its gubernatorial election.
The Washington Debacle
Street Journal columnist John Fund, author of Stealing Elections, writes
that the has a “haphazard, fraud-prone election system befitting an
emerging Third World country rather than the world’s leading
democracy.” I am forced to concur with his conclusion, based on
what we have seen here in Washington
Christine Gregoire is Washington
state’s current governor, having won by a mere 133 votes out of
more than 2.8 million cast. Or did she? When the election was first over
and the ballots were tallied, Gregoire’s challenger, Republican
Dino Rossi, won by 261 votes. A mandatory recount under state law reduced
Rossi’s margin of victory to just 42 votes, prompting a Democrat
demand for a hand recount of more than 2.8 million ballots. Hand recounts
are expensive and must be paid for by the challenging party. Presidential
candidate John Kerry joined groups like MoveOn.org to help raise money for
Gregoire and after the second recount, she was declared the winner by 129
votes. A judge later changed the total to 133.
wasn’t that simple. Immediately after the November election,
reports started coming in about problems at polling locations. Ours and
other organizations began independent investigations to determine if the
complaints were justified. We were shocked by what we found. Here are
just a few of the most egregious examples.
On at least 10 occasions after the election, King
County (which accounted for
one-third of the state’s votes last year) found unsecured ballots
and, in nine of those cases, election officials added them to the ballot
election officials admitted in sworn depositions that they deliberately
submitted misleading absentee ballot reconciliation reports—the
reports that reconcile the number of voters with the number of ballots
cast. With no system in place to track how many absentee ballots were
sent out and returned, King County ended up with 875 more absentee votes
counted than the number of people who voted by absentee ballot.
Also in King County
, at least 785 provisional ballots—ballots used by voters whose
identification or eligibility to vote is in question—were
improperly tabulated without verification of voter eligibility. Around
the state, an additional 1,033 provisional ballots were identified as
Evidence exists of voter registration drives in state mental
institutions, among Alzheimer’s patients in extended care
facilities, and with felons.
More than 1,400 felons whose voting rights had not been restored were
allowed to vote—including one felon who voted absentee from his
At least 55,175 ballots were “enhanced” in King
election workers decided for those voters how they meant to vote for
governor, even if, in some cases, the voter did not select a
gubernatorial candidate at all.
In five counties, the Secretary of State certified election results even
though there were 8,500 more votes cast than voters credited with voting.
evidence and more, not one law enforcement official in King
County has investigated the
problems inside the elections department—not the U.S. Attorney, not
the King County
sheriff, and not the King County
prosecutor. The prosecutor says he won’t do anything unless the King
County elections director,
who is the person at the center of this scandal, brings charges. The U.S.
Attorney General won’t investigate unless someone can bring him
proof of fraud. In his opinion, the items I just listed are insufficient.
Republican Party challenged the election in court, arguing that a new
election should be held. The judge in the case disagreed, citing Washington
’s stringent law regarding election contests. He concurred that at
least 1,678 illegal votes were cast, but said fraud was not proven in
those cases, since Republicans could not determine on whose behalf the
illegal votes were cast. We are left scratching our heads about how it could
legally be determined who people illegally voted for, since candidate
selections are supposed to be confidential. Besides, if a voter knowingly
cast an illegal ballot, and then testified about who he voted for, he
would be admitting to a felony.
did agree that witnesses for both the Democrats and Republicans had
testified to significant errors in the election, including sloppy and
misleading voting reports and ballots overlooked until months after the
election was over. But because fraud was not argued in this case, he
decided to throw out the illegal votes instead of ordering a new
decision, most elected officials were patting themselves on the back so
loudly that they missed the judge’s startling opening lines. He
noted that Washington
state’s election system itself had been compromised, and then
This court is not in a position to fix the deficiencies in the
election process that we heard about in this courtroom over the past nine
days. However, the voters of this state are in a position to demand of
their executive and legislative bodies that remedial measures be
instituted immediately. And, clearly, the evidence here suggests that the
problems require more than just constructing new buildings and hiring
The Problem of Unrestricted Absentee Voting
judge, by inference, made another observation that underscores something
that should be of concern for every state in the nation: the problem
posed by the increased use of absentee ballots. “Extraordinary
efforts are in place to make it easier to vote,” he said.
“But unfortunately I fear it will be much more difficult to account
for those votes in the future.”
The move to
permit unrestricted voting by absentee ballot is sweeping the nation.
This is a dangerous trend because it greatly expands the opportunity to
commit fraud. The National Commission on Election Reform, chaired by
former Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter, warned in 2001 that
voter fraud schemes from the past are even more likely now. According to
the commission’s report, “Opportunities to commit such frauds
are actually growing because of the trend toward more permissive absentee
voting.” And again: “Growing use of absentee voting has turned
this area of voting into the most likely opportunity for election fraud .
. . .”
report on voter fraud, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement agrees:
“The lack of in-person, at-the-polls accountability makes absentee
ballots the tool of choice for those inclined to commit voter
fraud.” Former Alabama Secretary of State Jim Bennett summarized
these concerns when he said, “We don’t use guns, tanks or
bullets to put political leaders into power. We simply allow absentee
ballot manipulators to undermine and possibly corrupt the system.”
arises because of a basic disagreement among state and federal
legislators and administrators over the definition of voter
disenfranchisement. One view holds that voters are disenfranchised when
the system is too demanding. Its proponents argue that voting should be
simple and easy for as many people as possible; that voters are on an
“honor” system; and that election officials must have broad
discretionary power, including the ability to “discern voter
intent.” The second view holds that legal voters are
disenfranchised when illegal votes are cast and counted. This side argues
that voters should have to prove they are eligible; that they should
properly fill out their ballots, thus avoiding the issue of
“discerning voter intent”; and that their votes should be
counted accurately. Unfortunately, the first group has been winning the
argument of late.
During the Clinton
administration, for instance, Congress passed the Motor Voter Act,
requiring employees at state driver’s licensing agencies to ask
applicants if they wanted to register to vote. These same employees were
forbidden, however, from asking applicants if they were citizens. This
makes sense only if the goal is to increase the number of potential
voters at the cost of ensuring that people who vote are eligible to do
years, traditional safeguards at the polls, like requirements to show
identification, have been eliminated. And with more people voting by
absentee ballot, previous safeguards are increasingly not applicable. It
should not be surprising, then, that corruption is on the rise. “We
the people” have allowed it, whether by silence, inattention or
misunderstanding. It is time now for us to demand that the problem be
ballot integrity issues faced by Washington
state and many other jurisdictions present significant challenges, but
solutions exist. They fall in three main categories:
criminal prosecution of voter fraud is necessary. More than 60 federal
investigations have been launched in 28 states and one territory since
2001. People have gone to jail already, and others will.
legislative reforms are needed.
Voter rolls must be cleaned up. To do this, all citizens on those rolls
should be required to show proof of citizenship and to register in their
legal names. This would allow for the removal of names of ineligible
felons, dead people and illegal aliens. Voter ID bills have passed
legislatures in five states. The legislation was signed by the governors
of Georgia and Indiana. Unbelievably, it was vetoed by governors in New
and Wisconsin (in the
latter it has been vetoed twice).
Photo identification and a signature should be required of voters prior
to casting a ballot, whether they are voting by absentee ballot or at the
polls. Even Mexico,
whose government spent $1 billion to clean up its voter rolls, requires
this. It is a travesty that our great democracy does not.
Laws should be tightened regarding the use of provisional ballots.
According to federal law, individuals cast provisional ballots if their
names are not on the register in their own precincts, or if their voting
eligibility is challenged by an election official. The ballot must be
verified by the elections department before it is counted. Missouri
has the best provisional ballot law on the books: A voter seeking to cast
a ballot outside his own precinct is required to show identification, and
the election judge will call headquarters to verify eligibility. If a
voter insists on casting a ballot at the wrong location, he is given a
special ballot allowing him to vote only in those races for which
everybody in his state is voting. Also, provisional ballots should be
designed to prevent illegal counting prior to verification. They can be a
different color, have a different bar code identifier, or be a different
Laws should be tightened regarding “ballot enhancement.” Under
what circumstances should anyone be allowed to determine a voter’s
intent if it is not made it clear on a ballot? Most of us fill out our
ballots entirely, but sometimes we purposely choose not to vote for
something or somebody. That is our right, but under the laws that allow
voter enhancement, election officials can look at our voting pattern and
decide to fill in that missing vote for us. This is not right. It’s
mostly illegal. And it certainly doesn’t represent our vote!
Widespread vote-by-mail should be rolled back. We have seen that it does
not increase voter participation, which was the sole purpose behind it.
Those of us who love its convenience have to face the fact that it has
eroded electoral integrity. Voting by absentee ballot should be the chosen
method only for those who truly cannot get to the polls on election day.
must insist that election officials do their jobs in a timely and
law-abiding manner. Strong legislative oversight is necessary to
implement the Help America Vote Act passed by Congress in 2002. Some
provisions of that law are likely not to work, and they will need to be
fixed. For the rest, stiff penalties must be in place for election
officials who disregard the law.
Military ballots must be sent out in a timely manner. In Washington
state, thousands of ballots were sent to overseas military too late to be
counted in the 2004 election. Our state’s late primary election
makes it difficult for county auditors to mail ballots in time to
overseas troops. But the Pentagon has recommended excellent solutions,
including the use of write-in ballots. Or, for the military, we may be
able to develop and implement a completely secure Internet balloting
numbers of Americans have given their lives to protect our precious
freedom to vote. Permitting rampant and unchecked election irregularities
makes a mockery of this sacrifice. As President Ronald Reagan once
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t
pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for,
protected, and handed on to them to do the same, or one day we will spend
our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children
what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
challenges we face in reforming our election system are daunting. But we
must meet them and conquer them. If we don’t, who will?
Copyright © 2005.: "Reprinted by
permission from IMPRIMIS, the national speech digest of Hilldale College, www.hillsdale.edu."