Voter manipulation in Palm Beach shows how easy mail-in balloting can be abused

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Palm Beach County Commissioner Mack Bernard

The ease with which two Democrat politicians in Palm Beach County, Florida, may have managed to manipulate and ‘encourage’ voters to support them in 2017 thanks to “gaping holes” in the state’s mail-in balloting lend credence to President Donald Trump’s growing concerns about implementing a similar system nationwide.

In recent weeks, congressional Democrats have been pushing a national vote-by-mail scheme as part of any new coronavirus relief bill, arguing that because of the pandemic it’s ‘too unsafe’ to require Americans to vote in person.

But Republicans and the president counter that the Democrats’ real motivation behind the push is to usher in a mail-in ballot system that can be systematically exploited in ways that allow their party to win key races and wrestle back complete control of Congress and the White House.

What happened in Palm Beach County, though, is a strong argument not only against mail-in balloting but requiring all voters to cast ballots in person and with proof of identification.

As exclusively reported by the Palm Beach Post in March and July 2017, following an investigation by the paper:

A Palm Beach County commissioner and a state House member clinched their seats last year by stepping into voters’ homes and helping them fill out their mail-in ballots, a Palm Beach Post investigation has found.

Commissioner Mack Bernard and Rep. Al Jacquet, both Democrats running in the August primary, took advantage of gaping holes in Florida’s vote-by-mail laws to pressure and cajole voters in their living rooms.

According to the paper’s investigation, one case involved a blind voter who said Bernard filled out and then signed his ballot. And while the vote counted, Post reporters found that the signature on the ballot did not match one on file with election officials.

State law requires that voters sign their own ballots.

In many other instances, voters said the candidates watched over their shoulders and instructed them who to vote for. Other voters said they got ballots in the mail but were uncertain as to why. Another woman claimed she felt pressured by a “persistent candidate to talked his way into her home and dug out her ballot from a stack of discarded mail,” the Post noted.

The paper said it wasn’t clear whether the tactics used by Bernard and Jacquet are legally permissible. But the Post’s probe found many other problems and issues as well, including:

— It seems likely that ballots were requested without the knowledge of voters. Paul Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher identified at least 300 ballot request forms that were possibly fraudulent, but she said she didn’t have any choice but to send ballots to voters.

— Barnard and Jacquet utilized daily updates sent by the elections office saying when ballots had been sent to voters. That allowed them to direct their campaign workers to those homes when ballots were hitting mailboxes. This, despite the fact that a Miami-Dade grand jury found in 2012 that campaigns ought not to be given that information because of the potential for fraud.

— After mail-in ballots were signed and sealed, voters told the Post they gave them to candidates or their campaign workers to take to the elections office (think California-style “ballot harvesting”), which disrupted the chain of custody.

It should be noted, according to the Post, that campaigns have sought out absentee voters and collected their ballots “for years,” but election lawyers, prosecutors, campaign strategists, and even a former Florida Supreme Court chief justice have all “roundly condemned” the practice of helping voters fill out ballots.

“That’s just a stupid thing for a candidate to do,” Gerald Kogan, who served on the Sunshine States’s high court for more than a decade. “Why on Earth would a candidate have to go into somebody’s house and watch them fill out a ballot?”

In both cases involving Bernard and Jacquet, in-person vote counts went to their opponents but mail-in balloting heavily favored them:

Bernard’s chief county commission opponent, incumbent Priscilla Taylor, had 768 more votes among people who went to the polls, but Bernard’s 1,287 absentee-vote edge put him over the top.

Jacquet, who, like Powell, once worked as a legislative aide for Bernard, lost at the polls to opponent Edwin Ferguson by 132 votes, but topped Ferguson in mail-in ballots by 1,167.

The two candidates, “working together,” both received almost half of their votes from mail-in ballots.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress continue to push for a nationwide system of mail-in ballots, claiming that there is ‘little evidence’ of vote fraud — which is patently untrue, as one instance after another has been uncovered in recent years as balloting-by-mail spread to more states.

In an early April op-ed for Fox News, Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel argued that Democrats’ politicization of the coronavirus pandemic to push for a nationwide mail-in ballot scheme would “throw election integrity to the wayside” by  “fundamentally changing how Americans vote.”

“The overhaul would vastly expand opportunities for fraud and weaken confidence in our elections, but all Washington Democrats see is a potential benefit for their party,” she wrote.


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Jon Dougherty


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