Years ago, I ran into one of my University of Tampa advisees in the lobby of Plant Hall. She had been crying . . . and she was mad.
With a little encouragement, she agreed to come to my office, where I listened in pained silence while she related her story.
Seems she had just finished taking an exam the previous day. She and some of her classmates, who also had completed the exam, were comparing notes in the hallway well away from the classroom (standard practice now, and I think standard practice as long as universities have existed).
A classmate came up and asked how the exam was. My advisee said, “Didn’t you take it?” “No,” the other student replied, “I had a dentist appointment.” “Well,” my advisee resumed, returning to her post-mortem mode, “except for the question about _____, it wasn’t too bad.”
I no longer remember what that tough question was about. But I instantly saw that my advisee had committed a violation of the university’s academic integrity policy, precisely what her professor had accused her of a few minutes before I found her raging and weeping in the lobby. She had provided unauthorized assistance to a fellow student by warning her about the most difficult question on the exam that student would take later in the day.
It would take another 10 or 15 minutes before, her pain and rage subsiding, she was overwhelmed with the realization that she had, in fact, helped that student on the exam. She was guilty . . . not willfully, but negligently . . . and she had compounded her offense by denying it emphatically when questioned by the professor.
I think this may be how absentee voter fraud happens . . . at least at first. There’s someone, George or Harriet, who isn’t very keyed in to the whole election thing. There’s also an activist, who happens to be a neighbor or relative, who has been trying to persuade Harriet or George to vote, and to vote for a particular candidate. When the objection is raised that it is hard to get to the polls, the activist explains about absentee voting. Worn down or just trying to be nice, George or Harriet agrees to vote if the activist will “take care of things.”
And so the activist does. The activist gets the paperwork, helps make the call, or assists in navigating the website to request the absentee ballot. A few days later, the activist returns to see if the ballot has arrived. It has.
The activist starts by trying to walk through the ballot with George or Harriet, but it is clear that the whole thing is overwhelming.
“Look, would you like me to take care of this for you, too?”
“Would you, please? That would be wonderful.”
And an act of fraud is committed.
I’m not suggesting that absentee voter fraud is always this kind and helpful, this almost inadvertent, this . . . well, just across the line.
I’m suggesting that it is very likely to be persistent. It’s easy to do, and, if done on a small, interpersonal scale, unlikely to be detected or reported. Only massive efforts, like Jeffrey Garcia’s illegal solicitation of absentee ballots in South Florida, or clumsy and bullying methods, invite discovery.
I suspect it’s been going on for a long time, and will continue to, as long as our collective goal is to facilitate voting by absentee, rather than to restrict it.
Still more to come . . .