Whenever President Donald Trump warns about the risk of fraud posed by voting by mail, Democrat leaders and the media are quick to respond that he makes such warnings without evidence and that fraud associated with voting by mail is rare. I guess that would depend a lot on how one defines “rare”. And even if actual fraud is a rarity, there are a number of other things that can go wrong in dealing with voting by mail, primarily because of the large number of people ultimately involved in handling mailed ballots.
What’s the worst election outcome imaginable? It probably isn’t a decisive defeat of your preferred candidate. At least that would settle the matter or at least that used to be the case. It’s a contested outcome which neither candidate accepts, both refusing to concede defeat. This could plunge our deeply-divided nation into a constitutional crisis, possibly resulting in chaos and disorder that could make the recent racial justice unrest seem mild by comparison.
Such a scenario is more likely with increased voting by mail, which is not the same as absentee voting. The latter usually requires an application stating the reason why the applicant can’t vote in person and creates a paper trail. Claims that there is no evidence to support the risk are simply not true. In a recent address to the Coronado Roundtable, Ruth Weiss, vice-president of the Election Integrity Project of California said that their election observers, acting as whistleblowers operating under penalty of perjury, have reported numerous cases of voting irregularities with mail-in ballots. California’s voter rolls are not well-maintained, she said, and may contain numerous duplications and include persons who have moved or are deceased. Then there is the matter of harvesting ballots, when almost anyone, including non-citizens, can be used to collect ballots and submit them later. They may even offer to help voters in completing their ballot. Ms. Weiss cited senior living facilities as particularly vulnerable to such practices. There may be no formal chain of custody when ballots are collected in this manner. There is also no way of knowing how many eligible voters did not receive ballots, how many received multiple ballots and how many were sent to people who have moved or are deceased.
Errors can occur in the counting process and in attempting to resolve them. Such errors are more common in voting by mail than in person, Weiss said. Also, there may be no postmark date, especially if bulk mail with prepaid postage is used. In short, there is no positive assurance that a mailed vote will arrive in time or be counted at all. Although I consider the U. S. Postal Service to be fairly reliable, nearly everyone I know has had experience with lost, delayed or damaged mail. The new postmaster general, moreover, has announced new cost-cutting measures including the elimination of overtime for postal employees designed to address longstanding financial problems which could delay mail delivery.
New York City’s recent election in June provides an example of the problems involved in mail-in voting. Six weeks after the election, two closely-watched congressional elections remained unresolved with major delays experienced in counting 400,000 mailed-in ballots. Many may have been wrongfully rejected because of no postmark and thousands more disqualified for minor errors. Imagine problems like this occurring on a national scale in November with widespread voting by mail. Voting procedures vary widely from state to state. Some states will send ballots to every registered voter. But it takes time and effort to update voter rolls and errors will surely occur. On a national level, large-scale early voting by mail could be a disaster if election and postal authorities are not fully prepared to deal with the challenges.
This year, early voting by mail will begin even before the first scheduled debate in September, lessening the importance of the debates. Also, much can happen between the time a voter casts a vote by mail and the election date which could cause the voter to change his or her choice had he or she not already voted.
Protecting voters and poll workers from COVID-19 is certainly a priority and the likelihood that there may be a shortage of election workers because of the pandemic argues for increased voting by mail. But election integrity is important also and to dismiss the increased risk to election integrity posed by it is irresponsible. The last thing our divided nation needs is a contested election result in November.
Dr. Kelly is a freelance writer and retired Navy Captain who commanded three San Diego-based ships and a personnel research and development center and taught ship handling, seamanship and navigation at Naval Base San Diego. He earned his doctorate in education at USD, taught graduate students and was a senior vice-president and director of training and development at Great American Bank. He has written over 1500 newspaper and journal articles and has been a regular contributor to the Eagle&Journal since 2001.