Editor Note: Who verifies signatures on absentee ballots in Suburban Cook County under the stewardship of elected County Clerk David Orr? The truth is not pretty! Are you ready to read just how bad it is...?
Defend the Vote election observers spotted numerous and serious security flaws pertaining to absentee balloting in Suburban Cook County and in Chicago. These flaws leave the door wide open to voter fraud and must be remedied immediately. This article addresses one such flaw.
Who verifies signatures on absentee ballots in Suburban Cook County?
Illinois Law establishes that election jurisdictions can use an “election judge or official” to conduct the signature checks. In searching the definition of an “official” in the election code, there is none. The closest definition found:
10. "Local election official" means the clerk or secretary of a unit of local government or school district, as the case may be, the treasurer of a township board of school trustees, and the regional superintendent of schools with respect to the various school officer elections and school referenda for which the regional superintendent is assigned election duties by The School Code, as now or hereafter amended. (10 ILCS 5/1-3) (from Ch. 46, par. 1-3)
Does an official include temporary workers brought in from a staffing agency who have not been trained on signature analysis?
In Suburban Cook County, signatures are compared by inexperienced and untrained staff who are hired from temporary agencies. Our investigators documented numerous instances where new temporary workers were assigned to signature verification roles without training or consistent supervision. Additionally, many of these workers openly identified themselves as unemployed union workers.
As absentee ballots are mailed into and received by Suburban Cook County in its downtown Chicago election offices, un-trained (and often immature) temporary workers are tasked with verifying the signatures on the ballots with those in the voter’s record to determine if the signatures properly match.
The supervision of this staff was insufficient. Our investigation documented multiple instances where there was no employee of Cook County or ANY supervisor in the same room as these temporary workers. Further, even while in the room, supervisors did not position themselves to float between the untrained temporary workers to verify their work. With regularity, they would pop in, eye ball the room, and leave.
Defend the Vote observer "J.P." was stationed in the signature verification area in the weeks leading up to the November 6th, 2012 election and witnessed multiple problems caused by Orr's decision to utilize temporary employees from third party staffing agencies instead of election judges for the signature verification process. "J.P." reports that:
I saw most of the temp workers having no idea what they were doing, with a few of them having very bad attitudes and treating the process like a big joke. One of the temp workers in particular, named Serge*, was a very young guy who didn't like that Defend the Vote was observing the process so he seemed to deliberately try to sneak through bad ballots just to see if he could do that. When I'd walk by his station and look at what he was doing, I'd notice Serge about to approve a ballot whose signature looked nothing like the one on file.
The way the ballots are checked is that the paper absentee ballot is placed in front of the temp worker while the signature on file is displayed on a computer screen; each temp worker brings up the record for the voter by typing in the information provided on the absentee ballot that the temp took off the top of the pile of ballots he or she had to process. Clearly, none of the temps are professional handwriting analysts and it's not my expectation as a citizen that experts like that be hired to conduct this screening process...but I was shocked at the flippant attitude of the temps when it came to pushing through ballots that were definitely not signed by the same person. Serge, in particular, would laugh as he'd do so...like he thought it was all a big game. He was incredibly unprofessional and I repeatedly informed the County supervisors of his bad attitude and antics but nothing was ever done about him and he continued coming back every day to work in the office.
One particular incident that people should know about was a ballot that had a signature that looked nothing remotely like a signature on file; it was so obvious that two different people signed it that a small child could have spotted the difference. Serge was about to pass it through the system as an approved ballot when I stopped him and brought over a supervisor to tell Serge not to allow that ballot to go through. The supervisor agreed with me that the signatures did not match and told Serge to place that ballot in the "rejected" pile, so that it could then be examined by better trained County employees to determine if it was really mailed-in by the right person. I saw Serge wait until the supervisor left the area -- and for Serge to believe I was no longer watching him -- and then with a smirk and a laugh to the other temp working beside him I saw Serge take that questioned ballot from the "reject" pile and shuffle it into the stack of "approved" ballots.
I called the supervisor back over and told her what Serge had done and the supervisor, to her credit, went through the approved stack and found the ballot in question again and placed it back into the "reject" pile once more. Serge was not disciplined for doing this and was in fact brought back to work the next day, and the day after that, even though he consistently behaved this way and played endless games with these ballots. I believe Serge most likely found that questioned ballot and placed it back into the "approved" stack again the first chance he was alone because he later made a weird remark in my direction and laughed some more with his fellow temp, having a lark because he'd "won" by pushing that questioned ballot through over my objections.
This was classic behavior on the part of the temp workers employed by County to approve these signatures, since most of them were in their early 20s and seemed too immature to handle the serious and detail-oriented work of verifying signatures. The County supervisors clearly were aware of this problem with the temps but chose not to ever properly address it. It seemed to me as if the County workers almost WANTED the temps to just push through every ballot no matter how discrepant the signatures were, because they could still go on record saying that they paid x-number of temps y-number of hours to "verify the signatures"...even if everyone involved knew that no verifying was actually happening because the people chosen to do this job were too young, too immature, and too poorly trained to do the job properly.
While observing the absentee balloting process, Defend the Vote investigators discovered that mismatched signatures are routinely approved with an explanation that the "writing looks different because the person probably had a stroke recently". While that might be true for a small percentage of these wildly different signatures, there is no medical evidence to suggest strokes are widespread enough in the state of Illinois to explain away so many mismatches.
One explanation for the obvious discrepancies between the signatures on file and those on the absentee ballots is that someone other than the voter on record is casting those ballots illegally in the voter's name.
Can we prove a pattern in Suburban Cook County of verifying absentee ballots without proper signature verification? We believe we have ,and are investigating instances of suspected fraud by checking voter records.
Why use temporary staff with union affiliations instead of election judges? There is no advantage to using temporary workers to verify signatures. First of all, temporary workers are not vested in the task, they are not held accountable for errors, they are not adequately trained or experienced in signature verification, and importantly, may or may not be an American citizenmaking decisions about thousands of American citizen’s right to vote. (related: Early Voting Polling Places in Chicago are Being Run by Non-Citizens).
There is a reason to use election judges. To be an election judge, you must be a registered voter in the county, you should be approved by the political party you represent, and election judges must be specifically trained in how to administer elections. They are Officers of the Court and have a legal responsibility to obey the laws relating to the vote. They are legally accountable, supervised or not!
The Cook County Clerk's Office, however, chooses to hire unskilled and untrained temporary workers and then to float stroke-epidemic theories to safeguard the absentee vote under David Orr’s ‘watchful” eye. Why?
Defend the Vote observers chided County workers for grossly abandoning established and required protocols during the absentee ballot verification process...and ultimately County supervisors confirmed that in many instances proper procedures were not being followed.
However, the County did not reprocess the ballots that slipped through by way of temporary workers such as Serge who sent questionable ballots through holes in the security system. In fact, they allowed this same employee further unsupervised access to the absentee ballots.
This is a major security breach documenting attempts to commit fraud, poor budgeting, time management, and personnel decisions by Cook County Clerk David Orr. Serge’s actions constitute an attempt to pass a vote through the system and David Orr did not discipline or remove the worker. He allowed him to continue working without supervision.
Why does the elected Cook County Clerk, David Orr (D) intentionally allow questionable ballots to flow through the system without proper security measures? Tomorrow we will look at who counts the absentee vote.
*Serge is a fictional name for the temporary worker