- - Monday, September 26, 2016

It’s easy to feel lost in a nation of 320 million. But it’s the strength and glory of the American way that the least among us has a say, no smaller and no bigger than anyone else, with a vote on Election Day. The stakes for charting the future have rarely been higher, as the face-off between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Monday night demonstrated. Vote fraud dilutes the value of the ballots cast by the eligible, and that should disturb and anger us all. If elections aren’t fair, the democratic process is a sham.

Colorado has uncovered a “very serious” pattern of ballots filed by mail in the name of the dead. Mail-in balloting makes voting more convenient but early voting distorts the decision and risks making the result a fraud. Numbers of fraudulent votes cast are undetermined thus far, but officials in El Paso County, Colorado, acknowledge that an investigation by television reporters turned up legitimate examples of illegal activity.

“We do believe there were several instances of potential vote fraud that occurred,” says Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams. “It shows there is the potential for fraud.” County election officials say they removed the names of 448 dead people from voter rolls before the news report was aired, and found an additional 78 names while rechecking.

Illicit ballots — even if discovered at a tiny portion of the thousands of polling stations across the country — could add up to number large enough to alter an outcome. Researchers at Old Dominion University in Virginia, studying a sample portion of the 2010 voting in the midterm elections, estimated that 2.2 percent of ballots were cast by voters who are not citizens. With Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton running neck and neck nationwide, a single percentage point swing in key states could mean the difference between a President Clinton and a President Trump.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson vowed earlier this month to “leave no stone unturned” in protecting the security of the election process. We applaud his determination. The FBI says that hackers, likely from Russia, penetrated state election systems in Arizona and Illinois, but Mr. Johnson says his department has the resources to help election officials detect and halt cyber-attacks.

Threats to ballot integrity don’t all originate in faraway places, as Colorado’s graveyard electorate demonstrates, and the Homeland Security Department that promises to protect the process could have an unintended hand in subverting it. The department’s inspector general reported last week that 858 illegal immigrants should have been deported but were instead granted citizenship because officials failed to fingerprint them to detect their real identities. Only 2 of the 858 were prosecuted. “This situation created opportunities for individuals to gain the rights and privileges of U.S. citizenship through fraud,” says Inspector General John Roth.

One of the privileges of American citizenship is the right to vote. Whether illegal immigrants who were granted citizenship under false pretenses have yet cast ballots, or intend to in November, is not known, but guarantees of protecting ballot integrity by Jeh Johnson’s Homeland Security because someone “forgot” to check fingerprints are not altogether reassuring. It’s not unreasonable to wonder what other surprises lie ahead. Americans go to the polls in six weeks. A fair outcome should be underpinned by more than hope.

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