In the USA, 34 states as well as the District of Columbia open the polls for early voting, usually for about ten days before the official Election Day.
I voted earlier today and had some time afterward to look up some facts about elections and the occasional crime and misdeeds surrounding them.
Is individual voter fraud committed during modern day elections?
The League of Women Voters helps out at the polls in order to verify eligible voter ID, but in some areas where there are lots of voters and not enough help, errors are occasionally made, but this is not fraud. Every once in a while we hear a case about someone stuffing the ballot box or voting in place of a dead person, but that’s incredibly rare. Between 2002 and 2005 there were only 5 multiple voting cases prosecuted, and the DOJ convicted only 86 cases of ‘improper voting’ – nationwide. That’s way less than 1% of the total votes for that period of time, but election officials do make improvements as infractions occur.
There are serious penalties involved, because at both the federal and state level, there are big fines ($10,000 for each incident) and jail time (up to ten years in Texas). Great motivation for folks to stay honest when at the voting booth.
Can elections be ‘rigged’ by a candidate because of the way we vote?
Many parts of the country have voting machines that have curtains that close behind the voter as they enter – they are about the size of a department store dressing room and nobody can see what the voter has chosen.
The voter walks into the booth and pulls a three-foot lever to close the curtain. As the voter presses small levers next to the candidate names, votes are noted by the machine. When the curtain is opened by moving the big lever, all the votes are recorded. After the polling place closes, a polling official notes the count (the number of people who have used the machine, not the actual votes) that has been registered on the back of each machine. That final count is verified for each machine by officials from each party. But, machines break down, and the count comes under question as well as the individual votes, not because of fraud, but because of mechanical failure.
Other parts of the country use what can only be described as open-sided cardboard boxes that sit on desks. The voter stands in front of the box, records the votes on a paper ballot, and if he/she is tall enough, can see whatever the neighboring voter has chosen on his/her ballot. Not sure who to vote for? Check your neighbor’s answers. Those boxes are merely a nod to privacy during the voting process.
Paper ballots are still hand counted in many parts of the country, allowing for human error to come into play. Ballots stick together, counting doesn’t start until late into the evening, vision gets blurry when hundreds or even thousands of ballots need to be checked and rechecked at 3am.
In some states, completed ballots are handed directly to polling place officials; in others, a wooden box with a slot in the top is available. Sis voted in a room in Texas that had a big open bucket for the completed ballots because the wooden boxes were full. My North Carolina cousin used a paper ballot that had bar codes at the top. When he was done voting, he slid that paper into an electronic box that grabbed it like an ATM machine and recorded it. He assumes that someone emptied the box periodically, because he said it was only the size of his home printer. Where are those ballots kept during the many days of early voting? They are collected and locked up.
While there have been changes made to the ‘booth’ over the years, the scandal involving the style of ballot itself during a Presidential election, resulted in court cases that went on for months. Remember the ‘chad’ recount in Florida in 2000? Bush was elected, but Gore supporters declared foul.
Throughout most political campaigns during my voting life (more years than I’d like to admit) there has been mud slinging from all sides, some campaigns more vicious than others, some better funded than others, some making up ‘facts’ about the other side.
As we get closer to Election Day, some of the nasty rhetoric has been scaled back, but if you believed everything being said, the ballot would look like this:
Then there are the authentic candidate scandals that rock our sensibilities. Sexual indiscretions, illegal drugs, corruption – the stuff worthy of an expose – all brought to our attention so that we can ‘throw the bums out’ or ‘keep the bums out.’ In these days of instant media coverage it’s hard to imagine why/how a sitting government official or a potential candidate thinks they can get away with some of the stuff we hear about. The thing is, we have to sort through the junk in the ads and figure out what is true and what is merely a vicious smear campaign. Just because the info is on the internet or in a TV ad, doesn’t make it true. Fact checking with three or more non-affiliated sources might help.
A recent article in the Washington Post (October, 2016) points out some of the problems with current accusations about voter fraud and election rigging:
What does entertainment media have to say?
Hollywood does not always look upon Election Day with favor, perhaps because there are so many colorful candidates, hot button issues, and actual scandals that just beg for a great script. Here are five popular election themed movies:
The Candidate (1972) – candidate has no hope of winning, and he’s in the race so that he can speak up about the issues. But, his ideas resonate with the voters and he wins.
All the President’s Men (1976)- based on investigative journalism concerning the real-life Nixon/Watergate scandal that eventually caused the downfall of the administration. People went to jail as a result of the illegal activities uncovered.
Wag the Dog (1997)- dark comedy involving a Presidential sex scandal about to be exposed the day before election, and a fake war staged to distract the voters.
Swing Vote (2008)- ‘every vote counts’ taken to its extreme. Some say, conceptually based on the actual Humphrey/Nixon 1968 Presidential campaign, where the voting was so close that one more vote in each precinct nationwide might have changed the result.
Ides of March (2011)- a look at the inner workings of a state level campaign, and how staffers create the media image of a candidate, sometimes with terrible results. Integrity in politics is explored. http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/theidesofmarch/
If reading about elections interests you, any bookstore will have several non-fiction titles written by the campaigners themselves, most notably Presidential contenders and winners. At this time of year? They’re probably on display near the front of the store.
Whatever your party, whatever your ‘hot button’ issue, whomever your favorite candidate – get out there and vote. If you suspect irregularities at your polling place, report the problem to the entity in your state that oversees elections – either the Secretary of State or the State Board of Elections.
If you think that it’s time to ‘throw the bums out,’ then vote. It’s the only way to change the status quo. In my opinion, if you don’t vote, you don’t have a right to complain about the outcome. Thank goodness there are plenty of honest, good-hearted candidates that want to serve. They need your vote to make and/or support good programs for your community.
Then, after you vote, thank a veteran. They helped protect our right to continue to do so in this great, free country in which we live.
*Ballot design by Patti Phillips. No actual wombats were listed on Kerrian’s ballot today.
*Updated November, 2016
Worried about your personal safety on Halloween? Afraid to leave your house unguarded, because of potential break-ins while you’re at the party across town? Think crime spikes on Halloween?
Seriously? That may depend on where you live, what day of the week Halloween occurs and whether or not it’s cold that night. Apparently, criminals don’t like to go out on cold and rainy nights any more than we do.
A Columbus, Ohio, TV program – Crime Tracker10 – looked into safety on Halloween in 2013, wondering if there were more break-ins while people were out trick-or-treating. And they found nothing remarkable at all, just some underage drinking, and occasional theft. They had to look back at statistics from several years ago to find anything as serious as disorderly conduct on the books. They did find that the area police departments traditionally put on extra patrol officers that night. A visible cop presence may be enough to keep the unfriendlies at home for the night.
Boston area residents don’t seem to have the same experience. The numbers on this chart published by the Boston Globe shows violent crime rates in the city during a four-year period. “The evening violent crime count on October 31 is about 50 percent higher than on any other date during the year, and twice the daily average.” Pretty grim. I would stay home or drive my kids to a party, walk them to the door, and not do any neighborhood trick-or-treating.
A website devoted to information about forensics colleges found that certain areas of the country focus on prevention of specific Halloween crimes:
Halloween is celebrated all over the world, and in 2013, a reporter in the UK looked into Halloween crime in the USA. He found some pretty nasty cases, but I’ll only chat about two. You can read about the rest by clicking on the link.
1) A nine-year-old girl dressed in a black costume, complete with black hat and white tassel, was accidentally shot by a relative who thought she was a skunk. She was outside her house in Pennsylvania when he fired a shotgun, hitting her in the shoulder, arm, back and neck.
I don’t know about you, but all the nine-year-olds I ever met were at least four times the size of the biggest skunk I’ve ever seen. The report did not mention whether alcohol was involved.
2) When people in Delaware saw a body hanging from a tree in 2005, they assumed it was a Halloween decoration. Nope. By the time anyone realized that it was actually a dead woman, she had been there for three hours.
I doubt that I will be able to pass an outdoor Halloween display again, without checking to see that the scarecrows really are made of straw.
Stay safe everyone and have a Happy Halloween!
The painting is done in the office! Prepping really wasn’t as stressful as I thought it would be, mainly because I didn’t have to worry about splatters on the old rug. The result is pretty good if I do say so myself. Sheila just gave me a ‘thumbs up,’ so the job passed inspection.
The guys at the paint store really did a nice job of matching colors to the rug. They’ve been in business for a long time and we’re happy to go there rather than to a big box warehouse. It’s easy to give word-of-mouth referrals to such a reliable, helpful operation.
We had a local flooring company do the new rug. They pulled out the furniture, tore up the old rug, laid the new rug, and moved the furniture back in – all in about three hours. Great crew, well-organized, nice guys.
I hung around most of the time, ‘supervising,’ and told them about ‘Kerrian’s Notebook.’ At first, there were surprised looks when I described some of the pages, but after a while they relaxed and had a few laughs. I even got one of the guys to agree to be rolled up in the old rug so that I could take a picture before it was carted off. Honest – the young man is fine and was only inside the rug for five minutes.
Then, the very night that the rug was put in, a TV show aired that had a body in a rug as part of the storyline – “How to Get Away with Murder.” Great cast, fun basic concept so far. I can’t give anything important away, but the rug pops up more than once.
I started thinking about all the times that rugs have been used as a way to hide bodies in the movies and on TV. Kidnappers carry the victims out of their homes, murderers dispose of bodies, terrorists get rid of the targets… it seems to be an easy way to dispose of (or hide or move) the evidence without raising suspicion even in broad daylight. Or at least delay discovery of the crime.
And, the method is perfectly believable, as long as the deed is carried out correctly.
There are physical realities to be dealt with – rugs are heavy and bulky. There’s a reason that carpeting is sliced up into smaller pieces before the crew carries it out to the curb. It’s more manageable then.
After seeing the guys work with the old carpeting in my house, it makes sense that more than one person should carry the body-in-the-rug on TV or in the movies. One guy or gal at either end of the rug and probably one to support the middle. Bodies flop and bend, so somebody needs to hold up the sagging section if a lightweight area rug is being used. And, keep in mind that most adults weigh anywhere from 120 to 220 pounds. No way is anybody except a body builder going to toss a rug and a body over one shoulder. Too bulky. It’s possible for one person to drag a body-in-a-rug to move it within a house, but if any lifting has to be done, the weight will be a factor and that’s where at least a second person is needed.
Years ago, I watched an average sized woman in a made-for-TV movie, roll up her tall, dead husband in a rug, lift and carry that body all by herself out to a car and put it in the trunk. At no time did she have help. I wanted to throw popcorn at the screen.
The funnier episodes have arms slipping out of a less than well-tied edge, or feet sticking out an end as the partners-in-crime carry the bodies out to the waiting vans – in full view of the neighborhood. What? You think that everybody has a big enough piece of rug to hide a body in, right when they need it?
Would you wonder about the neighbors if you saw a rug being carried to the car? Would you start counting family members?
*I promise, no rugs have been used to hide any actual dead bodies during the writing of this post.
*Many thanks to Blake Lee for ‘posing’ inside the rug. He was a great sport!