The Pine Cone's 1998 investigation of
        voter fraud

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Voter fraud: Simple as 1-2-3

By PAUL MILLER

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 by mail.

"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 fraud.

"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."