Voter fraud: Simple as 1-2-3
Published: April 10, 1998
ON MARCH 2, just before the deadline,
Sandra L. Klaus registered to vote by filling out a simple
form she picked up at the post office and mailing it to the
Monterey County registrar's office.
A few days later, she received her official voter
registration card in the mail and was offered the opportunity
to request an absentee ballot by signing her name on another
form and returning it to the registrar.
When that form arrived at the elections office, the registrar
mailed an absentee ballot to Ms. Klaus.
She was then all set to vote in next week's municipal
election — and in all the other elections that take place for
the rest of her life.
The trouble is, Sandra L. Klaus does not exist.
The Pine Cone created the fictitious Sandi Klaus to
illustrate a shocking truth: It's possible to register and
vote in California without ever showing your face or any
identification to anybody.
In theory, the law puts strict limits on who can vote.
You have to be 18 years old, a citizen without any felony
convictions, and you have to live in the jurisdiction where
you are registered.
But, in fact, you don't have to produce a single shred of
evidence that any of these things are true about yourself, or
even that you exist at all.
The Pine Cone has learned that the voters rolls in Carmel may
contain the names of dozens of people who are not legally
qualified to vote. It is also clear that the temptation is
there for anyone to attempt to sway a local, state or national
election by voting several times — an illegal act requiring
little courage since the voter can do all it anonymously and
"When you check out a movie, you have to show ID," Monterey
County registrar Tony Anchundo noted. But he ruefully
acknowledged that, "you don't have to show anything to
register or vote." His office is widely acknowledged as one of
the most conscientious and efficient in Monterey County.
Still, Anchundo said, "there's not much we can do."
The ACLU has long fought requirements that identification be
shown at polling places, arguing that since ID cards may cost
a few dollars, such a requirement amounts to a "poll tax."
But in a letter to the legislature this week, ACLU
legislative advocate Valerie Navarro said, "the crux of the
fraud problem is [that] unscrupulous paid bounty hunters are
registering dogs and dead people."
It wasn't always this way in California. Until 1976, a voter
could only register by personally appearing before a deputy
registrar and taking an oath — swearing that he or she was a
citizen and promising to uphold the Constitution.
No ID was required except for naturalized citizens. But the
necessity to appear in person made fraud a high-risk
proposition, especially since poll workers often knew their
neighbors and might regard an unfamiliar voter with suspicion,
according to Alfie Charles, spokesman for California Secretary
of State Bill Jones.
But then the legislature, proclaiming the need to encourage
more people to vote, opened what Anchundo calls, "the
Pandora's box of postcard registration."
Still, the great majority of voters still had to show up at
the polls in person — stating their name in front of officials
at the polling place and all the other voters present.
Absentee ballots were available only to those who could show
they wouldn't be able to vote in person.
Then, in 1978, all restrictions on absentee voting were
dropped, creating the opportunity for easy, vote-by-mail
"Our office favors 100 percent participation and zero percent
fraud," Charles told The Pine Cone. The Secretary of State's
website (www.ss.ca.gov) is full of proposed legislation to
help eliminate fraudulent voting.
And in an April 5 open letter to the voters of Orange County,
Jones wrote that, "Congress must help by passing common-sense
reform legislation that gives us the ability to verify that
anyone registered to vote meets the legal requirements — a
U.S. citizen, 18 years of age and not in prison or on parole
for a felony conviction. By doing so, we can ensure that only
those individuals eligible to vote in an election do so —
before the ballots are cast and the damage is done."
Several Monterey County elections have been won by only a
handful of votes and their outcomes may have been changed by
just a few illegal votes.
Fraud on the increase
In Miami last month, an appeals court threw out all 5,000
absentee ballots in that city's municipal election last
November because of absentee-vote fraud. The apparent winner
of the mayor's race, Xavier Suarez, was removed from office
and his opponent, Joe Carollo, was declared the winner.
According to Jones, in one Orange County election, 743
non-citizens illegally registered to vote.
Karen Sanita, founder of the Fair Elections Foundation,
estimated that the number of ineligible voters on the rolls in
California is 14 to 17 percent of the state's 14.7 million
voters. "California is one of five states with absolutely no
security or identification requirement."
If her numbers are correct, at least 12,600 ineligible voters
are registered in Monterey County.
Although Jones has lobbied for years for some sort of ID
requirement at the time of registration, he has been stymied
by the California legislature, where any ID requirement is
viewed as an obstacle to "full participation."
A box on the registration form, added in 1996, is designated
for the voter to write his drivers license of California State
ID Card number, but only if he feels like it. The instructions
say, "No person shall be denied the right to register because
of his or her failure to furnish ... identification."
The majority of voters who voluntarily include their ID
numbers will help minimize duplicate registration, once a
state-wide voter list comes online later this year.
But filing in the box is strictly optional. Sandi Klaus left
it blank and so do about 20 percent of the people registering
to vote in Monterey County. Elections officials say a very
high percentage of those people also vote absentee — raising
the very real possibility that elections are being won with
the ballots of anonymous, illegal voters.
Assemblyman Peter Frusetta and State Senator Bruce McPherson
have both carried bills that would require identification from
potential voters. But their bills, like quite a few others,
have failed to win approval at the state capitol.
"I personally would love to see us have some sort of
identification, some sort of proof, and it has to start at
ground zero when you register," Anchundo said.
Efforts in Washington to match Social Security numbers with
registered voters have also gone nowhere.
"I would love to see the constituents in the state and the country make our legislators take some responsibility when it comes to something as precious as our voting right," Anchundo said. "But until our legislators have the courage to change the law, we have to live with the law the way it is."