During my reelection campaign for Congress in 2012, I traveled throughout my expansive district and knocked on many doors. Some people I met responded, “I’m sorry, I’m not a citizen so I don’t vote.” This was puzzling since I was knocking on their door precisely because their name was on a voter registration list provided to me by the state.
I also visited empty lots, addresses with multiple names, and mailboxes (not residences) matching the names on my voter rolls. How did those names get on the list?
I thought about those visits as I recently heard former Vice President Joe Biden endorse an all-mail voting process in November because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We should be looking to all-mail ballots across the board to begin with because it’s an easy way for people to vote,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd.
And now, Texas Democrats have sued to expand mail-in ballots for upcoming elections here.
Will those ineligible voters on my list get ballots? What about those empty lots? Those mail drops? This isn’t an academic question. The integrity of our elections is fundamental to our confidence in our system of government. Our vote is our guarantor of the rule of law, popular sovereignty, and individual freedom. It is our right as citizens to vote, and voting means our right will not be canceled by ineligible voters.
Mail-in ballots carry risks of fraud and abuse even more so in abnormal times. As with much else during the ongoing pandemic, we must ensure that the cure is not worse than the disease.
First, policymakers may underestimate the sheer logistics in converting elections to all ballot by mail. Texas alone has 16 million registered voters, and the election process is organized around the state’s 254 counties, all with separate processes, machines, and staffing. Upending the established election procedures in a rush to meet November election deadlines may not only prove harmful, but simply impossible.
While necessary for voters who truly can’t get to the polls, ballot-by-mail is rife with risk, and the ability to manage those risks decreases with broad expansion of the practice.
Unlike voting in person, ballot-by-mail has a broken chain of custody. In that process, ballots can be lost, stolen, or even forged. It takes the actual casting of ballots out of the controlled and regulated polling place and shifts it to unmonitored environments where intimidation, confusion, and simple fraud can take place.
It also subverts voter ID laws in the states that have them.
Proponents of all-mail in ballot elections point to the states of Washington, Colorado, and Oregon as examples of where it supposedly works. But the problems presented by such elections go far beyond ballot harvesting (an easily abused practice that is illegal in many places).
In some areas of Texas, for example, politiqueros are sought after by candidates hoping to benefit from their no-questions-asked ballot harvesting services. In 2004, for example, I worked in a state representative’s campaign. He lost the election by a mere 350 or so votes, despite polls showing otherwise. We later discovered that more than 2,500 mail-in ballots in that election were defective on their face. Most, if not all, of these votes were harvested from senior citizens homes and retirement communities.
Mail-in balloting is also a far less secure system for legitimate voters. As the Christian Science Monitor points out, some 33 million mail-in ballots were cast in the 2016 presidential election. Yet, about 400,000 of them didn’t count — they were thrown out, “having been disqualified for reasons ranging from invalid signatures to simply being late.” Clearly, it’s an imprecise system that can allow fraudulent ballots to count while tossing out legitimate ones.
Proponents also fall back on the claim that widespread voter fraud doesn’t exist. That depends on how you define “widespread.” The Heritage Foundation keeps a database of voter fraud cases: It includes 1,277 proven cases of election fraud, with cases in Washington, Colorado, and Oregon (states that have adopted all-mail in balloting). But every fraudulent vote cancels out a legitimate vote.
In these extraordinary times, shouldn’t we be using the successful example of the grocery chains? A trip to the grocery store demonstrates how voting in 2020 should be carried out: maintaining 6-foot distances, the use of glass or Plexiglas to protect poll workers, and the use of gloves and masks (for what they are worth) for keeping all of us healthy and safe.
The coronavirus pandemic is upending our lives. We can’t let it also undermine confidence in our elections. Smart solutions abound without the threat of voter fraud and abuse.