The War on Neighborhood Voting Precincts

By removing voting from a local neighborhood precinct where voting can easily be observed by friends and neighbors, as well as poll watchers, vote centers open the door to vote fraud. They are also dependent on computer connected voting poll books, which could be hacked. Vote centers are now in use in 33-out-of-50 states and can be used to cover up the paper trail of neighborhood precinct results.

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By Jay O’ Callaghan l September 14, 2016

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Increasingly both major parties are moving to eliminate the local neighborhood voting precinct. The effort to replace this long standing American tradition with early absentee voting and large vote centers where anyone can vote is accelerating as California is considering joining other states like Colorado, Oregon and Washington in imposing a Democrat Party designed plan for vote centers and early voting by mail. This is despite the role of vote centers in causing long lines and confusion in Arizona’s 2016 Presidential Primary in Maricopa County (Phoenix).

Despite the problems with long lines and voter confusion experienced in counties that used vote centers in Galveston, Texas and Yuma, Arizona in 2012, vote centers were endorsed by President Obama’s Commission on Election Administration in January 2014. Ironically, the commission was formed to solve the problem of long lines at polling places in November 2012. It was chaired by Ben Ginsburg, a top attorney for Mitt Romney’s Presidential campaign and Robert Bauer from Obama’s reelection campaign. The commission said that “states should consider establishing voting centers in convenient locations “to achieve economies of scale in polling place management.”

Unfortunately, the recently filed Democratic Party law suit against Maricopa County elections officials and most critics of the Phoenix fiasco have totally ignored the problems with vote centers. The Democrats even endorsed them to be used in the November general election, which local elections officials still oppose. Instead, the Democrats claim that there were not sufficient vote centers in minority communities. But this is difficult to prove, since local elections officials have not produced a breakdown of results by precincts that would show how minority neighborhoods were impacted. They also want to open the door to absentee ballot fraud by eliminating a state law that prevents political operatives from collecting hundreds of absentee ballots to deliver to elections officials.

According to Rey Valenzuela of the Maricopa County elections office in an email to me, this key paper trail was eliminated because elections are “not held by precinct and instead are tabulated by Congressional District, as prescribed for in State Statute. Moreover, the locations used in the recent Presidential Preference Election (PPE) were setup as ‘Vote Centers,’ which means a voter could go to any of the 60 locations and no voter was specifically assigned to a given location, so tabulation at these sites was not by neighborhood of voters, since a voter could go to any site.”

This means that vote centers can be used to eliminate a key source of information to researchers and campaigns besides exit polls, which are often inaccurate. Ending election results by precinct would allow elections officials (who are often affiliated with political parties) to cover up evidence of voter fraud, which is often revealed by looking at results by individual neighborhood precincts.

Neighborhood precinct results were a valuable source of information for historian Robert Caro to prove in his 1990 book, Means of Ascent, that Lyndon Johnson had been elected by voter fraud to the U.S. Senate by 87 votes. By looking at last minute results from one precinct’s (Precinct 13 in Jim Wells county) overwhelming vote for Johnson, Caro proved that “county officials had cast the votes of absent voters and had changed the numbers on the tallies.” If he had not had precinct results, Caro would not have been able to interview the precinct’s election judge as well as find court records showing that “Johnson received the votes of the dead, the halt, the missing and those who were unaware that an election was going on.”

Vote centers are a major threat to full transparency in election results and neighborhood grassroots politics. Unfortunately many well meaning elections officials adopt it without being aware of the flaws in this panacea for voters who want more convenience in voting. In fact, many counties, especially large counties like Maricopa, have found that they produce long lines and voter confusion. By removing voting from a local neighborhood precinct where voting can easily be observed by friends and neighbors, as well as poll watchers, vote centers open the door to vote fraud. They are also dependent on computer connected voting poll books, which could be hacked.

Recently, grassroots political activists in both parties have opposed vote centers. The Texas Republican Party on May 13, 2016 in its platform opposed these “county-wide polling locations due to the heightened potential for fraud.” The Witchita County Texas Republican Party opposed a vote center proposal until the state legislature passes laws to safeguard vote centers from potential voter fraud. They also added in a statement that “we worry about the slow chipping away of our grass root/neighborhood voices in government through each of our local precincts…this is not a partisan issue, but we see underpinnings of a Progressive agenda.”

The St. Joseph County Democrats opposed a vote center proposal in December 2014, which was finally rejected by the St. Joseph County Election Board. Democrat Party Chairman Jason Critchlow said that “when reviewing the detailed facts, this would be changing a system that isn’t broken and has little cost savings to something the public doesn’t want.” He pointed out that “after ten years of experience, there is still no research or data that shows that vote centers lead to increased turnout” and “long lines are common with the vote center concept.”

Vote centers are now in use in 33-out-of-50 states because they help election officials save money and makes voting more convenient for voters who are away from their local polling place (of course they could vote absentee, if they did not wait until the last minute or even cast a provisional ballot). But as in this case, vote centers can be used to cover up the paper trail of neighborhood precinct results and are another way to eliminate grassroots party politics that depend on the neighborhood precinct as the way to influence voters easily.

Also, vote centers are dependent on a countywide Internet connection, so along with early voting and all-mail voting they are more open to hacking. They are a result of the so-called HAVA (Help America Vote Act) federal regulation which has greatly increased and complicated the cost of local elections.


Jay O’Callaghan has worked extensively with issues involving the U.S. Census Bureau, including serving as a professional staff member for the House Government Reform Census Subcommittee, as a senior legislative analyst for the Florida House of Representatives Redistricting Committee and for two U.S. House members. He is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.