Vote by mail confusion addressed

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Edgar County clerk and Recorder August Griffin wants to clear up some confusion about how people can vote by mail.

He said several political groups throughout the state are actively mailing ballot request forms to residents and asking recipients to complete the forms to vote by mail.

“Those mailings include a return envelope to my office. However, I did not mail them out,” said Griffin.

One organization sending out the forms is JB for Governor, although Griffin said other groups doing the same are Get Out the Vote and the League of Women Voters.

“It might all be legitimate, but there are people out there thinking its connected to my office, and it’s not,” Griffin said.

He added some residents are calling the clerk’s office confused about what they are supposed to do after receiving a formal looking document.

Griffin has a process of checks and balances to assure ballots arriving in the mail are legitimate.

A resident wanting to vote by mail must first contact the county clerk’s office in writing or by phone requesting a ballot to vote early. After getting such a request, the staff first mails out an application to receive a ballot and an official return envelope.

When the application form comes back the information is checked against voter registration data and if it is in compliance, the actual ballot goes out in a specially marked envelope, with two return envelopes. All documents generated by the process are kept on file. When the voted ballot is returned all of the documentation is attached to the return envelope creating the checklist confirming it was done properly.

“There is a ballot envelope that is sealed and they have to put some information on it. That goes into the other envelope with the office address on it,” said Griffin.

His goal is to create a paper trail confirming the ballot was properly requested and handled.

To keep the records as pristine as possible, Griffin has instructed his staff not to send out vote by mail ballots when request forms created by the political groups arrive. Instead, the voter mailing the form gets the official application from Griffin’s office to request an early ballot. This begins the paper trail Griffin wants to assure the request is legitimate and from a person qualified to vote in Edgar County.

“While I am in favor of more voter registration and I fully support vote by mail, I only act upon those when they contact me first,” said Griffin. “I am most concerned about vote by mail fraud from some organization, posing as a voter, requesting a ballot on behalf of a voter and that ballot being sent to an address other than what we have on file.”

He noted sending an application to request a ballot to the voter at the address on file is a way of being certain the person actually wants the document.

Griffin explained the organizations mailing documents have obtained names and addresses through the state board of elections to create mass mailings.

Griffin again noted the forms mailed by the political groups are probably a legitimate effort to get more people to vote, but he has to make sure there is a process in place to guard against fraud.

“There is a potential for fraud, and I want to make sure it doesn’t occur,” he said. “We are doing everything we know to do to prevent that.”

This is not the first time the unofficial ballot requests have been received.

“We saw a couple in the March primary,” said Griffin.

So far the clerk’s office has received 110 requests for mailed ballots and is processing them. The last day Griffin can accept forms and get a ballot into the mail is Nov. 1. Requests arriving after that for the Nov. 6 election will not be honored.

Griffin said approximately 58 people had completed early in person voting at the courthouse as of Tuesday, Oct. 2.

Another type of fraud connected to the election is operating in the Ford County area. It has nothing to do with trying to elect any candidate but is a new effort at identity theft.

Griffin said the Ford County Clerk has issued a warning about a telephone scam calling people and offering to register them to vote over the phone. Doing so requires providing the caller a Social Security number, drivers license number or other sensitive identification information.

So far, Griffin is unaware of such calls being made locally.

“Residents of Edgar County need to be aware not to give this kind of information out over the phone,” said Griffin. “My office is not making calls to register by phone. People cannot register to vote over the phone.”