August 17, 2010
Exposed Signatures On Mailed Ballots

I just voted in Washington state's primary and, as usual, the King County elections office found a way to annoy me.

King County's mail-in ballot envelopes no longer have flaps that cover voters' signatures, but officials say that won't compromise voters' privacy.

Next Tuesday's primary is the first countywide vote-by-mail election in which voters are putting their ballots in return envelopes with their names, addresses and signatures visible on the outside.

Which exposes the signatures to identity thieves.  And just to make it even easier for identity thieves, there is an optional line where you can enter your phone number.

Many of the places people put outgoing mail are not secure, but that fact does not seem to have reached our elections office.  (As most of you have already figured out, you should not put most mail in such places, however convenient they may be.)

What makes this especially infuriating is that King County, like most other places that use mailed ballots, uses a two-envelope system; the ballot is placed inside a security envelope, which is then placed inside a mailing envelope.  The name, address, and signature should be on the security envelope, not the mailing envelope.  (This might have required a small change in the state's election laws, but they could have done that when they dropped the requirement for a privacy flap.)

Cross posted at Jim Miller on Politics.

Posted by Jim Miller at August 17, 2010 11:48 AM | Email This
Comments
1. Wow, Jim. I was thinking the same thing when I turned mine in yesterday. Am I surprised at government's imcompetence when it comes to mail ballots and the logical design flaws therein? No.

Posted by: Rick D. on August 17, 2010 12:40 PM
2. Makes it easier to match which envelopes to the Republican party donor list so they also know which envelopes to accidently lose before taking out the ballot envelope.

Posted by: Doug on August 17, 2010 12:55 PM
3. I am annoyed that there are only three places in the county I can drop the ballot off two without requiring a stamp. I never have stamps because the only thing I use the postal service for at this point is my ballot a couple times a year.

Posted by: Lysander on August 17, 2010 12:58 PM
4. Paranoia never sleeps...

If the signature was on the security envelope, you'd be complaining that the person opening it would be able to see how you voted.

Posted by: scottd on August 17, 2010 01:01 PM
5. Hyperbole Much? Get a grip.

Posted by: RobertSeattle on August 17, 2010 03:07 PM
6. I ALWAYS drop off my ballot, never mail.

Posted by: Vince on August 17, 2010 03:39 PM
7. Scott (@4)....so you don't care if your signature is open to others to see?

As an aside....the gov has told us how stupid we are with signing for home loans (maybe they only meant by economic class or color or religion or what ever is the "victim of the day")that they have to step in to take care of us and pass sweeping legislation that they never read...but with this, they repeal part that actually protects they folks that they say are to stupid. Funny.


I bet some are even dumb enough to put their phone number. I wonder why and would like to know what party they vote for. Intereting data for sure.

Anyways. Scott and others...Do you think identity fraud could be perpetrated with this info? Again, doesn't the government worry about identity fraud?

So....I can see why some would be worried about having their signatures open for people to see. I thought it was strange too....but that's my only choice to vote....I know I could find the drop off...where ever it is...since they don't publicize it very well.

So in the end, I want to thank the Dems for legislating that I must provid personal info that is open to public view. You guys are sooooo thinking of my liberty.

Posted by: Dengle on August 17, 2010 03:40 PM
8. Paranoia never sleeps...~scottd

...nor does government incompetence.

Posted by: Rick D. on August 17, 2010 03:53 PM
9. #2: I honestly was hesitant to mail my ballot in early, because with the kind of shenanigans known to go on in KCE, I wondered that if they got it early that would give them time to see how I voted and "lose" the ballot or worse, make a copy of it and change it.

Posted by: Michele on August 17, 2010 05:34 PM
10. dengle: My signature adorns scores of documents that are seen by countless unknown and uncontrolled eyes every day. Many are public documents (including voter registration records) that can be viewed and copied by anyone who asks. Why should I be especially worried about my signature on a voting envelope?

Like Robert says, get a grip.

Rick: I'm sure you'd be one of the first to yammer about government waste. So, how much should the county spend on useless measures just to soothe the nerves of paranoid wingnuts?

If it really bothers you, drop your ballot directly into a post office mailbox. Or stick it inside another envelope and mail it to the elections processing center.

Posted by: scottd on August 17, 2010 06:02 PM
11. Well, to be honest scottd, if I felt that I was part of the ruling party and knew that my name was out there proudly supporting their party, I wouldn't be afraid at all that my ballot wouldn't be counted. It appears, this is not a secret ballot. Sure the ballot is in an envelope that is likely sealed and not opened by the person removing the ballot envelope from the outer envelope. However, if that outer envelope has an identifying mark on it that can be used to cull votes, I'd think that is wrong.

On a similary note, I was able to successfully change our absentee ballots a few years ago. There were holes punched in both the security envelope and the outer envelope and when the ballot was placed in there (four posible ways to be placed in there) then through the hole you could determine if the voter voted for the Republican in the congressional race. Granted there was only a 1 in 4 chance that the voter put the envelope in that way, still, it was wrong.

Posted by: Doug on August 17, 2010 06:53 PM
12. Doug: At least you're not paranoid!

Posted by: scottd on August 17, 2010 07:13 PM
13. So, how much should the county spend on useless measures just to soothe the nerves of paranoid wingnuts?

No matter how you spin it, scottd, even a rigid ideologue like yourself would have to admit that being asked to provide your signature and phone # (should you be stupid enough to include it on there) on the outer part of the envelope is an adventure is retardacy. If you bothered to take a common sense approach to this issue and less of a knee jerk defensive position in excusing away this idiocy, you'd be more likely to agree that in this day and age of identity theft, the imbeciles in charge of elections have once again risen to their own level of incompetence. Then again, you're a democrat, so you've been groomed to accept that particular leadership in this state.

Posted by: Rick D. on August 17, 2010 08:30 PM
14. The point is that disrespecting our privacy even once may have caused some one grief. I suspect there are thise who tossed the ballot when they saw this.
I would rather show up at a polling place and show a DLto vote. It's a privacy thing you know.

Posted by: carter on August 17, 2010 08:33 PM
15. Rick: You still haven't explained how this identity theft scheme would work. What exactly can someone do with a picture of my signature? If it's so valuable, there are many places they could get it -- why is this particular envelope such a problem? Couldn't a master identify thief just grab some other document from my mailbox, open it up, and get my signature if he really wanted it? What's the cost/benefit analysis justifying the cost of adding the flap and extra cost in processing the envelopes?

I mentioned some ways you could protect yourself if you're really so worried. Why not avail yourself of them instead of demanding that the government spend extra money to soothe your fragile nerves? (I thought self-sufficiency was the conservative way.) I personally don't think it's much of a risk.

It must be debilitating to live your life in such a state of fear.

PS: I don't think "retardacy" is a word.

Posted by: scottd on August 17, 2010 08:56 PM
16. Scott...you are correct....someone can take your signature and info in many places...like at a restaurant, where I'm placing my trust in the person not to steal from me. It does happen and I'm aware of that risk. However, I'm doing that on my own. The Gov doesn't make me do it.

As for my vote and that documentation...that is very sensitive and that can be used without me ever knowing about it. I trust more waiters than ballot counters or a mailman. Maybe it's the fact that one isn't a union person. Not to say all union are bad, but I don't trust the leadership and the "followers" that live by that religion.

Posted by: Dengle on August 17, 2010 09:25 PM
17. dengle: So you trust random waiters but you worry that mailmen may be engaged in a conspiracy to steal your signature. What would the mailman do with it? And if your paranoia extends to postal workers, it doesn't sound like a security flap is going to reassure you. As you noted, election workers could be in on the identity theft after the flap is opened. Then again, they already have access to your signature from your registration records. And so does everyone else -- all it takes is a public records request. What exactly is so valuable about your signature?

Anyway, if it really bothers you, put your signature envelope into another envelope and mail it in. I think that's a waste of time, but if it helps you sleep better, go ahead...

Posted by: scottd on August 17, 2010 09:53 PM
18. I mentioned some ways you could protect yourself if you're really so worried.

Don't worry about me protecting myself, I do that just fine. I worry about the mental state of the retarded democrat(s) at the elections commission that thought putting your signature and phone number on the outside of a voter's ballot was a good idea.

I personally don't think it's much of a risk.

Well, thinking never was a strong suit of yours, scottd.

It must be debilitating to live your life in such a state of fear.

I wouldn't know anthing about that, I'm not a democrat. For someone like yourself that propulgates the Anthropogenic global warming myth though, that statement is rich with irony.

Posted by: Rick D. on August 17, 2010 10:20 PM
19. What's the cost/benefit analysis justifying the cost of adding the flap and extra cost in processing the envelopes?

Good question. I notice you didn't take on Stephan's follow up post to Jim's that addressed that very issue and the cost of the mail-in ballot. Any chance you'll have the juevo's to do your cost/benefit analysis on that thread, scottd?

Sam Reed predicts that only 38% of the state's voters will vote this primary, meaning that the remaining 62% of 3.59 million registered voters will toss their ballots into the recycling. 2.2 million packets of wasted paper, ink, glue and outbound postage must cost a horrendous amount of money, with or without the extra flap.
Posted by: Rick D. on August 17, 2010 11:01 PM
20. Jim: The name, address, and signature should be on the security envelope, not the mailing envelope

Jim, that defeats the purpose of HAVING a security envelope, which is to dissociate the ballot from the envelope (and thus the voter's identity) before the ballot is ever seen or handled.

Though you're right about the rest, and Snohomish County has the same problem.


scottd: Why should I be especially worried about my signature on a voting envelope?

Because your signature can be stolen and then used for identity theft, as Jim said.


What exactly can someone do with a picture of my signature?

Um. Copy it and use it?


What exactly is so valuable about your signature?

Since you obviously know nothing about identity theft, perhaps you should learn about it first, THEN come back and have this discussion.


Posted by: pudge on August 17, 2010 11:53 PM
21. What is so valuable about your signature?

Well, it was useful to be able to prove fraud to the isssuer of one of my credit cards.

About 15 years ago, an individual (speculation, a clerk at a store in the SuperMall) twice used a credit card number (provided in the course of my purchase) for an in-person transaction at other stores in the Mall. I'm methodical about taking and, after no longer needing, destroying credit card recipts
First off, she mispelled my first name in the signature that she used, Second, she used a style of handwriting that - I was able to document for the bank's satisfaction - didn't match other samples of my written signature: format: use of first, last and middle name and even the lettering style.

Now, a reasonable question might be "what if she had been bright enough to have bothered to study my actual signature on the merchant's copy of the receipt?" I probably would have had a more difficult time proving my claim of fraud - and having a considerable amount of money owed removed from my c/c balance..

Someone could argue that my signature is, by itself, valueless. But, since it is used to help prove my identity, verify that I (not another) accepted a contactual obligation to repay the credit card company for credit extended on a purchase, sign legal documents? I'd say it is also invaluable.

Posted by: FT on August 18, 2010 03:42 AM
22. Um. Copy it and use it?

Um ... how?

Since you obviously know nothing about identity theft, perhaps you should learn about it first, THEN come back and have this discussion.

You haven't displayed any knowledge on the subject so far. But you can start the discussion now by telling us what could be done with a signature alone and why having it visible on an envelope puts you more at risk than all the other ways your signature is distributed every day. Then explain how covering the signature with a flap of paper reduces that risk.

Posted by: scottd on August 18, 2010 03:53 AM
23. FT: Thanks for taking the time to address the question that everyone else has ducked.

As you've pointed out, your signature was not valuable to the fraudster, because she did not need it to commit the fraud.

Now, a reasonable question might be "what if she had been bright enough to have bothered to study my actual signature on the merchant's copy of the receipt?"

That wouldn't have been bright at all. Why would the fraudster take the time to obtain, study, and practice your signature? That's a lot of extra effort and it doesn't add any value to the fraudster. What was valuable (15 years ago) was your name and credit card number. Even that combination is less valuable today because most transactions require a Card Security Code as well, and that doesn't appear on the receipt or merchant slip.

Credit card and check fraud are serious problems. I've dealt with it myself. But lifting signatures plays little if any role in this. That's a good thing because signature samples are freely available from a number of sources.

BTW: Keeping and destroying the receipt doesn't help much if you're concerned about your signature. It's on the merchant copy and all it takes is a cellphone camera to get a copy. Fortunately, an image of your signature isn't valuable.

Posted by: scottd on August 18, 2010 04:29 AM
24. scottd: you can start the discussion now by telling us what could be done with a signature alone

Since, despite your lie to the contrary, no one ever said a signature alone can do anything -- and indeed, it is not your signature alone on the envelope anyway -- no, I will do no such thing.


having it visible on an envelope puts you more at risk than all the other ways your signature is distributed every day

Yes, you clearly show your obtuseness to us here. If I set my wallet down on a park bench and turn my back to it for 15 minutes every day, well, why not do it twice a day? How could that put me MORE at risk?

Obviously, the answer is that it puts me at more risk because it is happening more often. Seriously, how can you not get this? Are you really that daft?


an image of your signature isn't valuable

Except, of course, it is. Banks and lawyers and ELECTION OFFICIALS use it to verify your identity. Please do not deny well-understood facts; unless, of course, you prefer to look like an idiot.

Posted by: pudge on August 18, 2010 08:26 AM
25. Blather on, pudge. You still haven't presented a single credible scenario that starts with someone lifting a signature from a mail ballot and ends with identity theft. Nor have you shown how covering that signature with a paper flap cures the problem. If you can't do that, we really have nothing to talk about.

Posted by: scottd on August 18, 2010 08:42 AM
26. I'm annoyed too. But I'm not worried about identity theft, except as it relates to voter fraud. How does a signature really "prove" ID anyway? Furthermore, does KCE really check each and every signature? What's to stop people from forging signatures and voting all the extra ballots they receive in the mail, like for other family members, mis-addressed or mis-delivered, etc.? All this signature hoopla is just an expensive ploy to scam us into believing our election process is "secure".
With our precinct polling stations gone, voter identities are defined as scribbles on paper. With actual individuals removed from the election process, how can we ever take it back?

Posted by: Mom on August 18, 2010 09:04 AM
27. We have a good discussion about this topic going on at the following link:
http://www.surveymagnet.com/2010/08/has-your-identity-ever-been-stolen/
Come join the discussion.

Posted by: SM on August 20, 2010 07:20 AM
28. What a great resource!

Posted by: cna training on August 21, 2010 09:07 AM
29. We have an interesting discussion on our site about this topic at the following link:

http://www.surveymagnet.com/2010/08/has-your-identity-ever-been-stolen/

Come join the discussion

Posted by: sm on August 23, 2010 02:44 PM
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