California man charged with mail-in voting fraud in three elections

Charges come as controversy surrounding mail-in voting increases

A California man has been charged with mail-in voting fraud, accused of casting votes for his dead mother in three different elections.

Between October 2012 and November 2014, Caesar Peter Abutin voted as his 67-year-old mother, who died in July 2006, while also voting in his own name, the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office announced Tuesday.

According to the criminal complaint, he was charged last month with one felony count of fraud in connection with votes cast, and one felony count of fraudulent voting, relevant when someone applies for “a vote by mail ballot by fraudulently signing the name of … a person who is not qualified to vote.”

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He pleaded not guilty Tuesday and faces up to three years in prison.

Mail-in voting has turned into a hot-button issue ahead of the 2020 presidential election, with President Trump routinely railing against it. He tweeted last month that universal mail-in voting would result in “the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history.”

“You can’t have millions and millions of ballots sent all over the place, sent to people that are dead, sent to dogs, cats, sent to everyone,” Trump said Tuesday. “This is a serious situation, this isn’t games, and you have to get it right.”

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Meanwhile, Democrats are accusing President Trump of sabotaging the Postal Service to deny voters their rights.

“The President has explicitly stated his intention to manipulate the Postal Service to deny eligible voters access to the ballot in pursuit of his own re-election,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and other Democratic leaders said in a statement Sunday. “Alarmingly, the Postmaster General – a Trump mega-donor – has acted as an accomplice in the President’s campaign to cheat in the election, as he launches sweeping new operational changes that degrade delivery standards and delay the mail.”

Studies on voter fraud have not found widespread problems with mail-in voting. News21, a national reporting initiative at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, found that between 2000 and 2012, there were 491 cases nationwide of absentee ballot fraud, a form of mail-in voting.

Law professor Richard L. Hasen noted in the Washington Post that those 491 cases occurred at a time when billions of votes were cast.

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However, there are some recent instances of fraud involving mail-in voting that may give advocates of universal mail-in voting pause. New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal last month charged four men with criminal conduct involving mail-in ballots related to a May 12 special election in Paterson. Additionally, the Paterson Press reported that about a fifth of the mail-in ballots used in that election were rejected because of signature irregularities, improperly filled out forms and other problems.

Mail-in voting will be much more prevalent in the upcoming election due to the coronavirus pandemic. A New York Times analysis predicted that 80 million mail-in ballots are likely to be used this year, which is more than double the amount used in the last presidential election.