Booze For Ballots

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AP
A man called the U.S. Embassy in Denmark on Tuesday to return two absentee election ballots he mistakenly got in the mail from Washington State. Since Vice President Al Gore won Washington by more than 100,000 votes, two somehow ending up in Denmark isn't a big deal. But in an Eye On America investigation, CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales reports that absentee ballots are lost or stolen all the time - and in Florida, that could change history.

With election protesters taking to the streets, the passion may be in Palm Beach, but this cliffhanger race between Gore and Bush could be decided by those who didn't even show up at the polls.

Nationwide, election officials have been buried under a landslide of absentee ballots.

Oregon voted exclusively by mail. Thirty percent of Californians voted absentee. Many states are giving citizens the chance to vote without going to the ballot box.

"I think it's just the fact that everyone is recognizing our lives are busy," said Los Angeles County Registrar Connie McCormack. She said states are looking for ways to "give people more convenience."

But some argue it also makes it easier to cheat.

"Most of the allegations of fraud in elections today center around absentee ballots," said Deborah Phillips of the Voting Integrity Project. "That does appear to be the method of choice for stealing an election."

For instance, a Miami mayor was ousted after evidence of massive absentee ballot fraud in the 1997 election.

In Alabama, eleven were indicted in June for allegedly buying absentee votes in the GOP primary. The price: $13 a head, or beer and whiskey.

Nursing homes are a prime target. Last year, a former Pennsylvania congressman pleaded guilty after he was caught "helping" nursing home residents fill out their ballots, but at least they were breathing.

And a newspaper headline in Atlanta last week read "Even Death Can't Stop Some Voters." A report found "the dead regularly vote in local, state and federal elections across Georgia."

In fact, the dead, non-citizens, and even pets have voted absentee across the country, but fraud is not the only problem.

"We had a problem in our March primary election with the Post Office, where they lost, we estimate, between three and six thousand ballots," said McCormack in Los Angeles. "It was a huge problem."

When uncovered, voter fraud stirs the strongest passions. And as the count continues in Florida, reports of phony absentees and ballot tampering are already being investigated.

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