The official explanation for California's suspicious recall election envelopes

In California, Jacqueline Timmer of  American Voters Alliance reports that, in at least three California counties, the return envelopes for the recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom have circular punch-holes in them that allow a person to see whether a voter voted to retain Newsom or not. 

In response, through a tweet,  and through a later comment to Fox News, the clerk of one the counties (Los Angeles) said that the punch-holes assisted "accessibility for low vision voters to locate where to sign the envelope[.]"  Apparently, the clerk was saying that such voters could feel on the envelope where to sign.  But if a voter needs punch-holes for that, how was he able to complete the ballot in the first place?

The clerk also said, however, that the punch-holes make it simpler for election workers to confirm that the ballot had been removed from the envelope, which seems reasonable. 

The problem here is that, in making this provision for administrative convenience/efficiency, there was — in the interest of protecting ballot secrecy — apparently no thought of making a corresponding adjustment to the ballots themselves.  For example, they could leave the exposed area of the ballot blank or, even better, fill that area in with red, or black, or some other color to contrast the return envelope — something would not only assure the secrecy of the ballot, but further enhance the visibility of any ballot that was erroneously not removed from the return envelope.

The clerk said the design was "a recommended accessibility practice by civic design consultants."  The clerk does not name any, but in a comment to Fox News,  he provided a link to the Center for Civic Design.  The clerk writes as if this private organization is some kind of authority, but it isn't.  The county selected the company and accepted its design.  The county is the authority. 

Furthermore, the implication of the comment is that this issue — the secrecy of the ballot — is a professional rather than political one, which is also not the case.

The clerk also stated that the punch-holed envelopes had been used "for years."  According to Timmer, a former clerk she spoke to, one active in elections for twenty years and who attended "tons of conferences," disagreed, saying such return envelopes were "absolutely unprecedented." 

The L.A. clerk also notes that voters can put the ballot into the return envelope in any way they wish to — suggesting that there would be a way to do so that would not reveal their vote.  It's not so clear, however, that with two punch-holes, two to three inches apart, centered in the envelope and going through it, this is in fact the case.  Even if it is, surely it would not occur to most voters to take such a precaution.

And if this is, in fact, a voter fraud scheme, the primary objective is not to reject lawful but "wrongthink" ballots — which would usually require the approval of more than one election official — but rather to ensure that fraudulent but "right-think" ballots are not rejected. 

According to an anonymous informant published by the NY Post, there is precedent for such a scheme.  In the informant's scheme, fraudsters (of which he was one) would intercept return envelopes and ballots, steam them open, replace the ballots, reseal the envelopes, and then fold a specific corner of the envelop to create a crease — the purpose being to indicate to corrupt election workers and officials that the signature and data on the return envelope should be accepted.

This may seem pretty labor-intensive for stealing votes, but, compared to the olden days, when vote fraud (in states not requiring photo IDs) mostly required in-person voter impersonation, it was a great step "forward."  In the present case, while there would be no replacement of a lawful voter's vote, the punch-holed envelopes could, if nothing else, facilitate fraudulent voting of the dead, of voters who have moved away, and of votes based on fraudulent registrations.

Is this really an intentional scheme, or is it simply a case of innocent error?  Even if it were intentional, how would we ever know?  All we do know is that, under mail-in voting, such a question may arise; under direct, in-person voting, it cannot. 

This post is adapted from High Noon: The 2020 Election, the Guarantee Clause, and the Burden of Proof, currently available (at a very reasonable price) for pre-order at  

Image: cagdesign via Pixabay, Pixabay License.

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