Kadner: A voter’s name for every secret ballot
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org October 30, 2012 5:24PM
Allison Tugend, a clerk at the Tinley Park Village Hall helps a voter cast her absentee ballot in their offices in Tinley Park, IL on Tuesday October 30, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 1, 2012 4:43PM
Make sure your name is on the envelope containing your secret ballot, please. It’s the law.
Maria Hardt, of Homer Glen, is confounded by the procedure.
“I voted early this year at the Homer Township office,” Maria emailed.
“The thing that bothered me about voting early is the fact that we have to put our name on an envelope and, after we vote, put the ballot into that envelope and seal it.
“The person working at the voting desk then initials it and gives it back to us to put into the ballot box.
“What is so secret about voting if we put our name on the envelope that holds the ballot?”
I am familiar with early voting in suburban Cook County, which is done by electronic touch screen. Those ballots are stored electronically and not counted until Election Day.
So I was surprised to learn the system of early voting described by Maria is apparently widespread in Illinois and perfectly legal.
“The process you describe is the proper way to do it,” said Jane Gasperin, director of election information for the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots, the local election official for Homer Township and the rest of the county, also confirmed the process described by Maria.
In Will County, voters fill in circles on paper ballots for the candidates of their choice.
Why are early voters there forced to place their names on envelopes containing their ballots?
The short answer is that legally all early voting ballots are treated as absentee ballots, election law attorney Burton Odelson said.
In the old days, you could only file absentee ballots (theoretically) if you had a good reason, like you were going to be traveling out of the country on Election Day or were going to be out of state on business.
But when early voting came along, the need to vote absentee was diminished because you could vote in your hometown for weeks before Election Day.
Apparently, when the early voting process was created, the rules governing absentee ballots were applied.
In fact, on the websites for the state election board and Will County clerk, you will come across the designation “absentee/early voting” as if they are one and the same.
When I asked election officials why they required the voter’s name on the envelope containing an early voting ballot, the explanations I received were basically to verify that the person whose name is on the envelope is indeed the same one who filled out that ballot.
But to obtain the ballot in the first place voters must show a valid government ID and their signature is verified against an electronic voter registration list containing their signature.
On behalf of Maria, I posed the question about the early voting process violating a voter’s right to a secret ballot.
Couldn’t someone open up the envelope, read Maria’s ballot and see whom she voted for?
“No one would do that,” Gasperin replied with real outrage in her voice.
This is Illinois. One of the most corrupt states in the country. And Gasperin seems shocked how a voter could ponder the possibility that some political hack would check out a voter’s ballot.
What happens to the ballots once they’re placed in the locked ballot box?
“They’re transported to a central location for storage and then opened on Election Night with election judges from both parties present,” the Will County clerk told me. “The ballots are taken out of the envelopes and the ballots are placed in one pile and the envelopes in another and no one ever looks at how people voted.
“They’re too busy separating the ballots, which will then be fed (into a machine) and counted.”
So if no one looks at the ballots and the envelopes are eventually tossed aside, what’s the purpose of the name on the envelope?
“To verify that the person was the one who voted,” I was told.
But the verification is done at the polling place at the time the voter casts the ballot.
There is no verification when the envelope is opened.
I contacted David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, who said he had no problem with the procedure.
“It’s really used to guarantee a chain of custody,” he said. “It’s not something we’ve ever considered a problem.”
So I asked Odelson, who has been involved in “hanging-chad” arguments from Illinois to Florida (Gore vs. Bush), if he had ever heard of anyone who actually used that particular argument in an early voting dispute.
“Chain of custody is a key argument in election law, but I never heard of anyone going to a ballot box to check if the person who signed an envelope was the person who cast the ballot,” he said.
If someone arrives at a polling place on Election Day and there’s an indication he had voted early, the election judge would normally have that person sign an affidavit that he is the person he says he is, after showing identification, and the ballot would be placed in a pouch to be challenged later if necessary.
But since all ballots are counted on Election Day (absentee and early voting) no one has apparently ever run into a vote-counting location and shouted, “Don’t separate that envelope from the early voting ballot.”
In checking government websites on early voting, I couldn’t find one that explained to people their ballots would be placed in an envelope containing their name.
That seems like really important information to me.
Officials at the Tinley Park Village Hall, which serves as an early voting location for Will County, said they had not had a single complaint about the process.
“Several of my neighbors complained about it (in Homer Township),” Maria said. “I wasn’t the only one.”
I think a seal placed on the envelope would serve the same purpose as a name. But I’m no election lawyer.
I’m just someone who believes, like Maria, in the sanctity of the secret ballot.
Of course, if you’re worried about that sort of thing, you could always just wait until Nov. 6 to vote.