One of the great things about the American electoral system is that every legally cast vote is counted.
It doesn’t matter how much money you have, or where you come from — as long as you’re eligible to participate in the election, your vote means just as much as the next persons.
So, what then does it mean when a candidate who was unsuccessful in their pursuit for office tries to make a case that the entire system is rigged and the result is illegitimate?
That’s what happened this past week when former 10th Congressional District hopeful Ted Howze, who failed to successfully challenge Jeff Denham in the primary for the Republican nomination, penned an accusatory letter that was distributed to local media outlets claiming that widespread and rampant voter fraud was the reason that Josh Harder emerged victorious in one of the most closely-watched races in the country.
There’s a fine line between giving such claims credit by discussing them and simply dismissing them outright, but I think that since an actual candidate for the office in question is now claiming that the person who ultimately secured it did so only through illegal activity, it deserves to be mentioned.
Howze’s detailed accusations are short on actual evidence, but claim that the high voter turnout is indicative of low-propensity and even no-propensity voters turnout in droves, and that such an occurrence is statistically unlikely if not impossible. Which, on its face, isn’t quite so terrible.
But he goes on to speculate that those voters were likely impersonated by people coming into the district from the Bay Area — they always come in from somewhere else in these theories, for some reason — in order to swing the election into Harder’s favor.
Let us discuss this, shall we?
It’s important to note that Denham was actually leading the night of the election when only precinct-cast ballots and early vote-by-mail ballots had been counted — both of which tend to lean more conservatively. It’s conventional wisdom that ballots that are mailed in closer to the deadline happen to be more Democratic, which explains why Harder surged ahead when the ballots that were postmarked on election day finally arrived.
So then, if there was an abundance of ringers getting bussed in from the Bay Area to vote for Harder, wouldn’t they have had to do so at the precincts themselves — thus giving him the lead early on?
And when we get to the point that we’re discussing vote-by-mail ballots, the likelihood of widespread voter fraud becomes even less likely.
I spoke with Melinda Dubroff, the San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters, on Thursday afternoon about some of these claims and asked her to clarify the process for some of these things so that I could understand for myself how they work.
According to Dubroff, every single vote-by-mail ballot that is submitted to the county registrar has the signature of the voter in question checked against their registration signature no less than three times.
First, it’s low-level staff that inspects every envelope. Then it’s senior staff who inspect every envelope. And then it is Dubroff herself that inspects everything that has been challenged.
And based on California law, those that have a signature that does not match what is on record then get a letter mailed to the address on their registration informing them of the irregularity, and presenting them with the opportunity to “cure” the matter.
According to Dubroff, there was a larger number of challenged ballots in the general election than there were in the primary, but the number was statistically in line with the increase in voter turnout. In short, there wasn’t an abundance of challenged ballots, and there was no cause for concern.
Furthermore, Dubroff said there were a number of campaigns that worked directly with the registrar’s office to try and ensure that those who needed to “cure” their ballot because of signature irregularity were able to do so in time for the ballot to be counted. There would be no way for those campaigns to intercept the mail that would be sent to the registered voters informing them of the issue, so the involvement of the campaigns just further shows that there was nothing untoward actually happening.
It seems reckless that a candidate for office would make such a bold claim about the integrity of the electoral system without any evidence backing their claims short of statistical numbers that can be massaged to back up their claim. Howze doesn’t have the name of voters who claimed they didn’t vote but had a ballot cast in their name. He didn’t have the name of people who were caught trying to impersonate other voters at polling places. And even if there were outlier cases where that happened, it surely wouldn’t be enough to invalidate every ballot that was cast in the race.
But that’s how it works, isn’t it? Let the creeping doubt set in to make it all seem illegitimate, and you can then cast a blanket of doubt over everything the elected official does from that point forward.
And it couldn’t just be that voters in California’s 10th Congressional District were ready for a change, and that the changing demographics of this part of California finally shone through at the polling place. That would be too logical, right?
Perhaps, in this case, if the “Get Out The Vote” effort was stronger by the party that lost control the seat, this wouldn’t even be a discussion. So maybe Howze — who surely appears to be positioning himself to challenge Harder in 2020 already, even before the election is certified — can start there rather than threatening to request that the Trump Administration’s Justice Department investigate “widespread voter fraud” while pushing for voter ID laws in California.
With nearly 70 percent of all ballots in San Joaquin County this election cycle as vote-by-mail —and the trend of that number increasing every election — surely making the shrinking number of people who show up at the polls produce government ID is the way to solve the problem, right?
This column is the opinion of Jason Campbell and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.