The Oregon Department of Justice is confirming today that it is investigating a case of ballot tampering by an elections official in Clackamas County, OR after it was discovered that she was allegedly filling in unvoted ballots for Republican candidates.
The underlying allegation is that the woman, whose name has not been released, filled in blanks on ballots turned into the county for the Nov. 6 general election.
Sources familiar with the incident say their understanding is that the woman filled in a straight Republican ticket on the ballots where preferences had been left blank by voters.
Elections law makes marking another person's ballot a class C felony.
The Oregonian reports, that the state Department of Justice spokesperson Jeff Manning says: "We can confirm we are currently investigating criminal felony violations of Oregon's elections laws, which allegedly took place in Clackamas County and allegedly involved a temporary county elections employee tampering with cast ballots."
Manning says it is currently unknown how many ballots may have been affected. "One of the primary goals of the investigation is to determine that," he said.
Oregon uses a state-wide Vote-by-Mail system which, as we hear every time we write about it, its voters seem to love a great deal. We don't, and, back in 2008, described just some of our reasons for that here: "Why 'Vote-by-Mail' Elections are a Terrible Idea for Democracy".
This case points to one of the reasons why we've long argued that voting by mail, either via Absentee ballot, or a full Vote-by-Mail system like Oregon's, is a bad idea. There are simply too many people in the chain of custody between your casting of the ballot (usually by dropping it into the ultimate "black box": a mail box) and the time that it is hopefully tabulated, usually on oft-failed, easily-manipulated, unoverseeable optical-scan computer systems which either count it accurately or inaccurately, there is no way to know.
When a hand-marked paper ballot is cast at the precinct --- at least where there are precinct-based optical-scanners or, better yet, public hand-counting --- the odds of someone being able to tamper with your ballot before it's actually tabulated, as has allegedly occurred in Clackamas County, OR, are greatly decreased.
UPDATE 11/29/12: The election official in question, Deanna Swenson, has now been indicted by a grand jury with six felony and two misdemeanor counts related to her alleged tampering with Vote-by-Mail ballots in Clackamas County. According to the Portland Tribune, "The first four charges are Class C felonies, punishable by up to five years imprisonment (as determined by applicable state felony sentencing guidelines,) and a $125,000 fine. The official misconduct charges are Class A misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $6,250 fine."
Oregon Public Broadcasting adds that "Investigators believe the ballots were marked in favor of Republican candidates."