As mail ballots, machines mar voting in some states, others seek to tighten election security

California cannot account for 10 million ballots, while Alaska seeks to strengthen chain of custody for absentee ballots.

Updated: January 18, 2023 - 11:13pm

A New Jersey county realized an election was incorrectly called after a voting machine error, California rejected more than 200,000 mail ballots in 2022, and Arizona's largest county is investigating an array of Election Day issues.

Is it any wonder that other states are seeking to tighten their election laws to avoid similar issues?

California election officials rejected 226,250 mail ballots during the 2022 primary and general elections, the first election cycle when the state did mass mail balloting, according to a report by the Public Interest Legal Foundation, an election integrity law firm. While Californians can choose to vote in person, all active registered voters will automatically receive mail ballots for elections.

More than 22 million ballots were mailed out in California during the 2022 general election. "After accounting for polling place votes and rejected ballots," however, "there were more than 10 million ballots left outstanding, meaning election officials do not know happened to them," PILF found.

Arizona's largest county, meanwhile, is investigating Election Day errors that critics allege resulted in the mass disenfranchisement of disproportionately Republican voters.

Maricopa County, where at least 70 vote centers experienced ballot printer issues on Election Day resulting in vote tabulation machine errors, announced earlier this month that former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor will conduct an investigation into the machine malfunctions.

In New Jersey, a vote tabulation system error resulted in the double counting of votes in six voting districts across four municipalities, resulting in the wrong candidate being declared the winner in a local school board election, the New Jersey Globe reported.

In the school board race in Monmouth County's Ocean Township, Steve Clayton was originally declared the winner by 20 votes, with 3,523 votes to opponent Jeffrey Weinstein's 3,503. But after an audit by the county's voting machine vendor Election Systems and Software (ES&S) found that some votes were double counted, Weinstein emerged as the leader by one vote.

ES&S said in a statement to the Washington Examiner: "At Monmouth County's request, ES&S recently reviewed the county's election data, which revealed that a technician inadvertently loaded votes twice in error. Typically our software blocks this from happening. Unfortunately, a human error in a July software reinstallment missed the step that would have flagged the mistake. This anomaly is isolated to Monmouth County. The integrity of elections are ultimately protected by a series of checks and balances, and we're grateful for an audit that revealed this human error."

The company said the error occurred "when the USB flash media were loaded twice into the results reporting module," the Globe reported.

The state attorney general's office has advised the county Board of Election to recount and rectify the results of the general election, and the board is expected to request a judge to order a recount, according to the Globe.

As some states struggle with mail ballot and voting machine issues, other states seek to secure their elections with state legislators introducing new election integrity legislation.

In Idaho, the state House of Representatives is sending a bill to the floor that would require election audits to count ballots by hand rather than rely on tabulation machines, the Idaho Capital Sun reported. The bill would enshrine in law current audit hand count practices that the previous Idaho secretary of state had instituted via directives.

Election reforms introduced in the Alaska state Legislature include eliminating ranked-choice voting, increasing security of absentee ballots, and ensuring that approved, open-software voting machines are used in the state, The Center Square reported.

Since Alaska used ranked-choice voting for the first time in the state's elections last year, eight bills have been introduced in the Legislature to change the intricate voting system. Three of the measures call for complete elimination of ranked choice and a return to the prior voting system.

With ranked-choice voting, if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, then an instant runoff system is triggered.

When voters cast their ballots, they rank each candidate in order of first choice to last. In the event that the 50% plus-one vote threshold isn't reached by a candidate, then the candidate with the least amount of first-choice votes is eliminated and that candidate's voters' second-choice votes are reallocated among the remaining candidates and tallied, which continues until a candidate receives the majority of the vote.

A bill introduced in the Alaska Senate would create a public ballot-tracking system, a hotline for voting issues, more chain of custody procedures to document all absentee ballots, and ballot curing.

Other proposed state Senate bills include a provision making it a state crime to tamper with ballots to change election results and a requirement that only voting machines with open-source software approved by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission be used in the state.

In the Texas Legislature, five pre-filed bills change the penalty for illegally voting from a class A misdemeanor to a second-degree felony, with a prison sentence of up to two years, The Guardian reported.

Other pre-filed bills in Texas would create an election police force similar to Florida's for prosecuting election and voting crimes.

Phill Kline, director of the Amistad Project, told Just the News on Wednesday that there are four false narratives that have prevented good election policy:

  • There's no fraud in American elections.
  • Policies regarding the administration of elections are transparent.
  • Voters and ballots are generally treated the same within a state.
  • It's difficult to vote in the U.S.

Election fraud has recurred throughout U.S. history, he said, and voting in the U.S. isn't difficult. The U.S. has "some of the least transparent elections in world," he said, as systems have changed over the past 20 years from the simple management of elections that everyone could understand to "expert, machine-based election systems that aren't transparent."

The former Kansas attorney general said the injection of large sums of private money into election administration has resulted in "disparate treatment" of voters as ballots are cast weeks before Election Day during early voting unsupervised by election officials via methods such as drop boxes.

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