General Question

crazyguy's avatar

Are mail-in ballots easier to manipulate than in-person ballots?

Asked by crazyguy (1889points) 1 month ago

I have asked this question many times as part of other threads. I have never received a yes or no answer to the question. That is why I am asking the question on its own thread.

A voter voting in person can be identified by his/her appearance, government=issued identification and signature. If needed, the person can also be fingerprinted. I am aware that not all these checks are made. However, they can be made.

On the other hand, the only check available on a mail-in ballot is a signature match.

Mind you, the question is theoretical only. I am not alleging that the 2020 election, which saw a huge proportion of mail-in ballots, was fraudulent in any way.

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49 Answers

kritiper's avatar

No. Indicated votes are made in black ink and cannot be changed. The signature is on the envelope that contains the ballot, not the ballot itself.

Hamb's avatar

No. You’ve caught on to this, and included it in your question….

@crazyguy: “I am aware that not all these checks are made. However, they can be made.”

You’re comparing a theoretical in-person scenario that doesn’t exist with a mail-in system.

If you can cook up an in-person verification that works to your standards, you surely can do the same with mail-in ballots, right?

crazyguy's avatar

@kritiper The ballot itself cannot be changed. However, the identity of the person actually making the black marks is a mystery, isn’t it, except for the signature match?

@Hamb Since the described checks can be made on somebody voting in-person, the risks of being caught are much larger and therefore act as a deterrent. For fraud with mail-in ballots the risks of the perpetrator being caught are slim to none.

Hamb's avatar

@crazyguy: “Since the described checks can be made on somebody voting in-person, the risks of being caught are much larger and therefore act as a deterrent.”

I’ve been voting for 30 years in-person. The process is as follows…
– Walk up to a table.
– Tell the person your street name.
– Tell the person your last name, then first name.
– They hand you a ballot, you fill it out, and then you walk over and put into a machine.

This is not just a random “let’s see what will happen this year” situation. This is how it is done. There is zero risk of getting caught, and therefore there is zero deterrent.

If I were to decide to engage in voter fraud via mail-in ballots, I’d at the very least have to steal someone’s mail, which seems risky.

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crazyguy's avatar

@jca2 The question is similar but even you must admit it is different. The question you linked talks about audits while this one talks just about the theoretical aspects.

crazyguy's avatar

@Call_Me_Jay Since the question is theoretical or hypothetical what exactly does evidence or lack thereof have to do with it?

@Hamb Fair enough. Your answer is that if you were to commit election fraud, you would do it in-person?

Hamb's avatar

@crazyguy: “Fair enough. Your answer is that if you were to commit election fraud, you would do it in-person?”

Since this is entirely theoretical, tt’s clear to me that it’s significantly easier to engage in some kind of voter fraud in-person. So, yes – if I were to have to commit voter fraud, I’d do it the easy way, which is in-person.

Zaku's avatar

Seems to me I’ve tried to answer this question by you in the past with “no” before, no?

You don’t seem to pay much attention to ideas that don’t go along with the false narrative the Republicans have been trying to push for years.

You don’t seem to engage the answers I write in very much detail, instead trying to deflect by telling me that I and/or my sources are being political or non-objective.

For example, here again you continue to falsely assert that: “A voter voting in person can be identified by his/her appearance, government=issued identification and signature.” when I already replied to an earlier question of yours that both methods use signatures and that US in-person voting does not use ID’s and appearance doesn’t enter into it unless the person were trying to impersonate someone the staffer can recognize or who isn’t the right sex or something.

And fingerprints? I wish you were joking!

And no, as discussed before, signatures aren’t the only way mail-in ballots are checked. Each ballot has a unique ID code and is mailed to a registered voter. As discussed and not adequately addressed by you in a previous question, that means you’d need to tamper with the mail or the collected ballots (bot serious crimes) and you still wouldn’t be able to affect the vote because you need to violate the security envelope to see which vote you’re messing up, and people can check to see if their vote went through or not. You’ve never presented any scheme that would target one side and work to any significant degree without being discovered.

SQUEEKY2's avatar

A lot of states have been doing mail in voting for years, with no problem, now with a raging pandemic it makes more sense than ever to vote by mail.
But no peoples safety mean very little to Trump and his loyal chimps.
From what I understand about your mail in ballots they are only sent to registered voters , and they when counted use signatures to verify them.
The only fraud I can possibly see is a ballot gets sent to a registered voter who has recently died and some one tries to use it, but those numbers would be so small it wouldn’t make a difference one way or another.
And people trying to use a dead persons ballot is that one vote really worth the chance of being arrested for fraud?

crazyguy's avatar

@SQUEEKY2 You are correct that mail-in ballots are sent only to registered voters. And signatures are verified to ensure that the person voting is the registered voter.

I have three problems with the process:

1. Ballots are mailed to all registered voters at the address on file. No attempt is made to ensure that the voter is still at that address or not.
2. Some states, including California, allow paid ‘ballot harvesters’ to collect and turn in ballots.
3. Signature verification process is a mystery. In Georgia from what I am reading, there is no way to put the signed envelope back with the ballot it contained.

I would think we want to ensure maximum integrity of the vote. An error of even a percent is too much, because it can be the sign of larger problems. I am pretty anal about things balancing out exactly. Because I have, at least on one occasion, uncovered a significant error in accounting because of a trivial error in final figures.

SQUEEKY2's avatar

And you still could give a shit about peoples safety,how very Trump of you.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Here is an example of attempted tampering in a 2018 local election – and the resulting charges.
North Carolina GOP Operative Faces New Felony Charges That Allege Ballot Fraud

“Leslie McCrae Dowless was charged Tuesday with two counts of felony obstruction of justice, perjury, solicitation to commit perjury, conspiracy to obstruct justice and illegal possession of absentee ballots, according to a statement by Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman.”

crazyguy's avatar

@LuckyGuy Thanks for the link. However, please note that my question is theoretical; it does not require any actual cases of fraud or attempted fraud.

crazyguy's avatar

@SQUEEKY2 I am not against mail-in voting. However, we have to make certain that any attempted fraud will be caught.

SQUEEKY2's avatar

@crazyguy I totally agree with you on that.

kritiper's avatar

@crazyguy Once the ballot is separated from the envelope, and the signature, there is no way to trace the ballot back to the voter.

janbb's avatar

What’s the point of a theoretical question when we have actual evidence as verified by a Republican government official – Krebs, and many others at the state level, that this election was safe, fair and accurate?

Demosthenes's avatar

Since my answer was removed, I will try again:

I don’t know whether they actually are easier to manipulate or whether they are manipulated at a higher rate in practice. It would seem that they would be easier to manipulate in theory.

Let’s hope this too is not removed.

Hamb's avatar

This extreme need to protect the sanctity and accuracy of the vote by suddenly being intensely concerned about the concept of mail-in voting seems odd. Someone more cynical than myself might think that it was the result of a specific Republican effort to call into question the legitimacy of the current election.

But it’s also a bit more telling than that. If one were actually concerned about people being able to vote and have their voice heard, it would seem reasonable to expect that equal (or more) effort would be spent attacking the disenfranchisement of people due to felony status, redistricting, the inability of immigrants to vote due to citizenship status, restrictive voter registration laws, the absence of a federal standard that defines election rules, and the existence of the electoral college. And those are just a couple of issues that seem far larger than non-existent mail-in ballot fraud. This isn’t even touching the larger issue of whether voting itself is a distraction, when the real actions taken by a government reflect the interests of the class that provides large sums of money that win campaigns.

I’m not claiming that your motivation is definitely suspect. Rather, it appears as such.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@crazyguy The ballots cannot be changed. The scanners are quite sophisticated with more protection features than I will detail.
You cannot erase. You cannot add a mark without calling attention to the ballot. You cannot print your own ballots.
If someone protesting the count wants to pay for a DNA analysis on the residue absorbed into the paper they can probably do it.

North Korea has counterfeited US money so I suppose you can ask them to make counterfeit ballots. But even with that there is only one vote per registered individual.

crazyguy's avatar

@Demosthenes It definitely appears to me that mail-in ballots offer an easier, less risky way for manipulation than in-person ballots. This is all in theory. It is hard to find evidence because the signature envelopes and the ballots are tightly guarded.

crazyguy's avatar

@kritiper In theory, the signatures on envelopes could be compared to the voter rolls just to determine a range of uncertainty. It would be hard to pin down any perpetrator but, at least, one would have an estimate of the extent of the problem, if any.

@janbb Let me repeat one more time that nobody can know whether there is fraud or not without personally scanning the ballots. I do not know if Krebs personally has access to the ballots or not, do you?

@Hamb Thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt. You are saying that if I were actually concerned about people being able to vote, I would support:

1. Felons voting: No way, NEVER.
2. Modifying Redistricting. Yes. I think the way we do it now sticks.
3. Non-citizens voting. No siree, they can wait.
4. Restrictive voter registration laws: I do not know what you have in mind here.
5. Federal standard for election rules: Maybe, if the States accept it.
6. Abolition of Electoral college: No way, NEVER.

So, I guess you would have to conclude that I don’t really care about disenfranchised voters.

Perhaps. BUT I do care about legal and illegal votes.

crazyguy's avatar

@LuckyGuy I did not specify how fraud can or cannot occur. I am just asking whether, in theory, mail-in ballots are more prone to fraud than in-person ballots. It seems like a simple yes-or-no question.

Darth_Algar's avatar


Why should a felon who has done his/her time not be able to vote? What sound reasoning is there for disenfranchising that person?

Hamb's avatar

@crazyguy: “So, I guess you would have to conclude that I don’t really care about disenfranchised voters.

Perhaps. BUT I do care about legal and illegal votes.”

So why should anyone care about your niche concern about mail-in voting? Your motivation is to decrease democracy while feigning concern about process. It’s like complaining that bills are typed in Arial vs Times New Roman.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I don’t know why they would be.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@crazyguy It is not a simple yes or no question – and answer. If someone answers “no” then a nefarious person can restate the answer as saying “in person” is more prone to manipulation. If someone answers “Yes” then the same person can say “I knew it – mail in are more prone to manipulation.
I can just give you the facts. Neither are more prone to manipulation.

Tell me, Have you stopped beating your wife yet?

crazyguy's avatar

@LuckyGuy Just for you, let me rephrase the question: is it easier to get caught if you try to vote using somebody else’s identity in person versus doing it by mail?

crazyguy's avatar

@Dutchess_III For the simple reason that in-person exposes the fraudster to immediate arrest while mail ballot fraud is very hard to prove.

@Hamb So you are all about increasing turnout, legal or not?

Dutchess_III's avatar

But how would the wrong people get ahold of the custom ballots you have to order, which you can’t order unless you’re registered to vote, AND they are mailed to a specific address that the registered voter lives at. So run it down for me. How would the fraud occur Crazyguy? Running after the mail truck, rifling through the mailboxes as you go? Breaking in to people’s houses to steal their ballots? How would that go down?

crazyguy's avatar

@Dutchess_III All the things that you suggest would land the perpetrator in hot water. No, there is a much easier way. Your buddies in the office of the Secretary of State let you know where a large number of ballots are being mailed. You are registered with the State as a paid ballot harvester. On or a few days after the ballots are delivered, you put on a suit and tie and start canvassing the neighborhood for any ballots you can pick up legally. How? Why, the voters gives them to you. You may have to pay a few dollars for each one. For a few extra dollars you can get the voter to sign the envelope for you. But, no matter: if you just write the voter’s name in recursive chances are the ballot will count!

Darth_Algar's avatar

Since we’re making up bizarre, unrealistic hypotheticals to manipulate the question to produce just the answer we want – hypothetically couldn’t shape-shifting aliens impersonate legitimate voters and commit voter fraud in-person?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Good God I have never heard of a more insane conspiracy theory @crazyguy! Good job.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@crazyguy Remember, one of the strengths of the system is that there are different ballots for each legislative district. Local candidates are listed on the ballot. The level of detail can almost be reduced t neighborhood. If a mole got in an somehow modified the ballots (which they can’t do) any significant discrepancy it would be noticed and flagged.

Dutchess_III's avatar

They are not blank, generic ballots. You know that @Crazyguy, right?

jca2's avatar

The assumption with @crazyguy‘s bizarre theory is that there are people knocking on doors in neighborhoods, asking for ballots, and nobody is calling the cops and reporting it. Better yet, nobody is putting it on FB groups that some weird guy came knocking on my door today asking for my ballot. These FB neighborhood groups are today’s version of the nosey old lady who knows everything in the neighborhood that’s going on.

crazyguy's avatar

Thanks, all, for your answers. I think you guys are correv=ct in the sense that massive fraud is hard to envision. That being the case, why don’t election boards and/or the courts take up a fraud case and fully investigate the matter?

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Darth_Algar's avatar

@crazyguy “That being the case, why don’t election boards and/or the courts take up a fraud case and fully investigate the matter?”

Because courts don’t act just because someone says so. You need to have evidence to show the court. Notice that all Trump’s lawsuits on this have been tossed out? Notice why they’ve all been tossed out? Because his team has offered the courts no evidence whatsoever, despite claiming to have tons of it. You can’t just stand in front of the judge and say “I have evidence, but I can’t show it to you. Just take my word for it”. That doesn’t fly in any court in the land.

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