These are unprecedented times with COVID-19, but we owe it to Texas to ensure that the cure isn’t worse than the disease with calls to expand mail-in balloting. We must ensure the integrity of one of our most essential rights as citizens—voting in free and fair elections. Because of the risks, including inaccurate rolls, vulnerability to fraud, and the sheer logistical challenges, a rush to expanding vote by mail would harm the rights of all Texans.
Data from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission show that 28 million mail-in ballots remain unaccounted for from the period between 2012 and 2018, raising questions about election security. A 2012 Pew Charitable Trusts report, which found one in eight voter registrations was inaccurate, also raises concerns.
Inaccuracies in voter rolls open the door for vote harvesters and other election thieves intercepting or “assisting” a voter to complete a ballot in a way that may not reflect their wishes or indeed even without that voter’s knowledge. That “assistance” may also include coercion or intimidation due to a lack of supervision. Evidence from a recent case in Houston has shown places like senior citizens homes and college campuses or immigrant communities are especially vulnerable.
Without photo ID and or the other ballot security measures that in-person voting provides, the broken chain of custody creates a true problem, and has been documented by the Texas Attorney General’s office and the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Finally, the sheer logistics of expanding vote by mail could cause election meltdowns. An increase by even 20% of voting by mail would be nearly impossible to count in an accurate and timely manner by election day. The resulting lack of trust in the system would harm all voters. States with mail-in balloting such as Washington and Oregon admit it took years to scale their ability to process ballots in a timely manner. Trying to rush this while in a pandemic simply runs too much risk.
Thankfully, there are solutions. The first, already in existence, is early voting. This provision allows seven days in a primary runoff and 14 days in a general election for voters to cast a ballot, and provides an answer to many of the issues presented by the current pandemic. If coupled with personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves, frequent sanitizing, plexiglass shields and disposable items to touch surfaces, there is no reason we cannot return to normal, especially with voting.
Using Help American Vote Act (HAVA) funds, administrators could designate specific days during early voting for high-risk populations, just as is done at many retail establishments, facilitating their ability to exercise their civic duty in person.
The risk of voting is no greater than going to a grocery store or a retailer. Voters need not choose between their lives and their vote; they are safe, provided intelligent measures are taken.
We can keep vulnerable Texans safe while preserving our system of one vote, one Texan.