LAB election irregularities

13.  Allen Muchnick’s comments
on the Chicago ballot count

The board’s acceptance of incomplete ballots lacking membership numbers no longer ranks as their worst offense.  They have now selected partisan vote counters, shut out any pro-reform or trustworthy observers from the ballot qualification and counting processes, and failed to ensure that all ballots and envelopes are properly documented and preserved.

As one of the counters of the Joe Stafford vs Tom Helm ballots one year ago (and as an advocate of LAB reform), I note that several aspects of the ballot-qualification process are susceptible to error or manipulation and could well be decisive in a close or low-vote election.  Moreover, the qualification of ballots in Chicago by electoral partisans (LAB’s law firm) without the on-site aid of LAB staff, without adequate and agreed-to written procedures, and quite possibly without access to the full membership database makes the following errors and abuse more likely.

1) Failure to disqualify ballots from LAB-member clubs and advocacy organizations.  Under LAB’s bylaws, only current individual and family members are qualified to vote.  In the Stafford/Helm election, a ballot submitted by the Center for Appropriate Transportation (signed by Steve Schmitt) was disqualified because CAT is not an individual member of LAB.  All member clubs and advocacy organizations were mailed the Almanac with the ballot, but their representatives were not informed that they are ineligible to vote in that capacity.

2) Failure to disqualify ballots postmarked (or personally delivered) after April 15.  At least one such ballot was disqualified in the Stafford/Helm election.

3) Misqualification of "family" ballots for two votes.  Under the bylaws, all family memberships have two votes.  For the Stafford/Helm election, I believe all ballots submitted by current family memberships were counted twice, even if the name of only one person was on the ballot.  At least one ballot submitted by a couple, however, was ruled to represent only a single vote because the most recent membership renewal was at the single-member rate.  The LAB database may list two or more people for a membership if it was once a family membership and later renewed at the single rate.  (The election information and ballot in the 2003 Almanac provides not the slightest indication that family memberships get two votes, and a LAB database report sent to Chicago may lack adequate data to qualify or disqualify ballots for the double votes).

4) Failure to disqualify ballots submitted by all members whose dues had lapsed.

5) Failure to disqualify ballots from members living outside the contested regions (1 or 4).  Addresses on the ballots and envelopes should be compared to those in the database, and agreed-to procedures should be used to qualify ballots from members who have moved into or out of a region.

6) Treatment of envelopes opened prior to ballot counting.  Although the Almanac says to write "Attention Board Elections" on ballot envelopes, some voters didn’t do that, and staff has accidentally opened some of these (and possibly other) ballot envelopes.  Thus, LAB staff have had access to a sampling of the actual ballots and could also reliably estimate the total number of ballots submitted for each contested seat.  As a partial control for gross fraud, the opened envelopes and ballots might be checked for a) a March or April 2003 postmark, b) a commercially printed return address label for the sender, and c) a member number written consistently with the name and address.  Moreover, separate tallies should be kept for the ballots from opened and unopened envelopes to allow statistical tests for possible ballot fraud.

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