As both major political parties intensify their efforts to promote absentee balloting as a way to lock up votes in the presidential race, election officials say they are struggling to cope with coercive tactics and fraudulent vote-gathering involving absentee ballots that have undermined local races across the country.
Some of those officials say they are worried that the brashness of the schemes and the extent to which critical swing states have allowed party operatives to involve themselves in absentee voting - from handling ballot applications to helping voters fill out their ballots - could taint the general election in November.
In the four years since the last presidential election, prosecutors have brought criminal cases in at least 15 states for fraud in absentee voting. One case resulted in the conviction of a voting-rights activist this year for forging absentee ballots in a Wisconsin county race. In another case, a Republican election worker in Ohio was charged with switching the votes of nursing-home residents in the 2000 presidential race. And last year in Michigan, three city council members pleaded guilty in a vote-tampering case that included forged signatures and ballots altered by white-out.