September 4, 2020

Mail-in Voting

Editor's Note: Happy Labor Day weekend! Assuming there isn’t a revolution in the next few days, we’ll be back in full swing Wednesday morning. Pro tip if you’re visiting family: mentioning The Flip Side is a great way to defuse tense political debates! ;)

On Wednesday, “U.S. President Donald Trump… urged residents in the critical political battleground of North Carolina to try to vote twice… ‘Let them send it in and let them go vote,’ Trump said… ‘And if the system is as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote’ in person.” Reuters

Also on Wednesday, Attorney General Bill Barr was interviewed by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, where they discussed mail-in voting and other topics. RealClearPolitics

See past issues

From the Left

The left is critical of Trump and Barr, and supports mail-in voting as a safe alternative to in-person voting.

“When Blitzer asked if Trump’s outrageous suggestion that North Carolina supporters vote twice—ostensibly to check whether voting by mail made it possible—was illegal, Barr repeatedly averred, insisting, ‘I don’t know what the law in the particular state says.’ I do, and I don’t have a law degree. In none of our 50 states, nor the District of Columbia, is it legal to vote or attempt to vote twice

“When Barr insisted that voting by mail and other reforms make voter fraud rampant, Blitzer asked how many instances of voter fraud he had prosecuted in his 10 years as attorney general; Barr had to admit, ‘I don’t know.’ He wouldn’t rule out sending federal agents to polling places in November ‘if there was a specific investigative danger.’ But even acting Homeland Security director Chad Wolf, no paragon of independence or integrity, said last month he has no authority to deploy federal law enforcement officers that way.”
Joan Walsh, The Nation

“[Trump] walked back part of his comments on Thursday and suggested that people should merely go to their polling places to inquire about the status of their absentee ballots. This is legal, but generally speaking, it's not a good idea… there are plenty of reliable options for voters to track the progress of their absentee ballots from home… In North Carolina, there are at least three more efficient ways to track a mail ballot… Many states use the BallotTrax app… All 88 counties in Ohio have tracking systems where voters can follow the status of their absentee applications and ballots.”
Marshall Cohen, CNN

North Carolina, like other states, has systems in place to prevent double voting… But these systems are designed under the sensible premise that few people are going to risk felonies and vote twice. It’s the same design for police departments, which would look very different if people were trying to rob every 7-Eleven every day…

“Lines are already going to be long in some places on Election Day. The pandemic means it is harder to find poll workers and so there will be polling place consolidations and fewer workers, all contributing to a longer queue. Trump’s suggestion for his supporters to go to a polling place to try to vote twice—and via a complex procedure of trying to get a poll worker to confirm that an absentee ballot has been tabulated, which in some cases it will not have been—will add to those long lines. The lines will be even longer if the voter insists on casting a provisional ballot… [This] will do real damage to an Election Day infrastructure that is already looking stretched to the limits.”
Richard L. Hasen, Slate

“Barr has claimed that foreign countries could mail in thousands of fake ballots. Blitzer asked Barr what he’s basing that on. ‘Logic,’ he explained. In fact, both U.S. intelligence and election-security officials have said they’ve detected no such foreign plot, and that it would be extraordinarily difficult to carry out. ‘The hyperlocal nature of ballots and elections is a natural barrier to fraudulent schemes, especially for national campaigns. Mail-in ballots are also scrutinized closely; they must be signed, and elections officials compare the signatures to those already in voters’ registration files,’ reported the New York Times last week, after speaking to federal election-security officials who have studied the problem closely.”
Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine

“Elections experts say cases of mail-in voting fraud, and electoral fraud in general, are exceedingly rare in the US. Past attempts to commit mail-in voting fraud have generally been small, local scams that, typically, failed because of a wide array of safeguards in place to prevent and catch such efforts… In a local race, a small number of fraudulent ballots can affect the outcome. [But] ‘It's not realistic to do that on a scale that would matter for a presidential election,’ [the attorney who represents an incumbent city council member and alleged fraud victim] said. ‘And, frankly, you're probably going to get caught,’ as was the case in Paterson [New Jersey].”
Bob Ortega and Scott Bronstein, CNN

“The Carter-Baker commission, which completed its work in 2005, did include in its report an assertion that ‘[a]bsentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.’… Notice the important difference between what the Carter-Baker team wrote and what Barr said. Barr claimed that mail-in voting was ‘fraught with risk.’ The commission said that it was ‘the largest source of fraud’ — but not that fraud is common, because it isn't…

“Before compiling its report, the group looked at existing mail-in voting systems and offered recommendations for change. This was 15 years ago, since which states have broadly expanded mail-in voting options. A Post analysis of 14.6 million ballots cast by mail in 2016 and 2018 found only 372 possible instances in which someone might have voted twice or where a ballot might have been submitted for a deceased person. If each of those votes was, in fact, fraudulent, it would mean that 0.003 percent of votes in those two years were suspect.”
Philip Bump, Washington Post

From the Right

The right is critical of mail-in voting, arguing that it creates risks of fraud, delays, and disenfranchisement.

The right is critical of mail-in voting, arguing that it creates risks of fraud, delays, and disenfranchisement.

“For the record, we’d discourage anyone from taking Mr. Trump’s advice… If mail voting is as secure as everyone seems to want desperately to believe, though, isn’t Mr. Trump correct to say that two-timers would be turned away? The system should be able to handle such a test as routine. Instead the President’s suggestion was treated like an attack on democracy…

“‘If you mail in a ballot a week before the election and it’s not showing up, or you’re not able to determine whether or not it’s been accepted, you can vote in person,’ Patrick Gannon, a spokesman for the North Carolina Board of Elections, said on a press call Thursday. ‘If your ballot subsequently arrives at the county board of elections, that vote will not be counted.’ Officials discourage this, and they might investigate it, but North Carolina’s fraud statute requires bad intent…

“At least one state explicitly allows in-person voting to override an absentee ballot, in case a swing voter doesn’t stay swung. ‘The Election Law recognizes that plans change,’ New York’s voting website says. ‘The Board of Elections is required to check the poll book before canvassing any absentee ballot.’”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

Regarding the interview, “Blitzer wants Barr to state that fraud isn’t a problem in mass mail-in voting, but Barr offers a very substantive rebuttal — including the results of a study co-authored by Jimmy Carter in 2009 warning of the potential for fraud with such systems. Barr gets heated when Blitzer keeps insisting that there’s no evidence of fraud even while Barr points out that they’ve prosecuted people over fraud in such systems…

“The main difference between [the] five states [with universal mail-in voting] and the other 45 is that those five states have already put those systems in place years ago. The same vulnerabilities to fraud and coercion exist, but at least those states have the infrastructure already in place to handle the process. What happens when states adopt them ad hoc just before an election? New York tried that with its primary (as did California), and the failure rates on ballots skyrocketed, disenfranchising tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of voters — in the primaries.”
Ed Morrissey, Hot Air

“Only about one-hundredth of 1 percent of in-person votes are rejected, whereas rejection rates of 1 percent are common with mail-in votes, and some states exceeded that during their primaries this year… [Moreover] studies show ‘that voters of color and young voters are more likely than others to have their ballots not count.’ In another universe, if Trump were urging Democrats to stay away from the polls and instead use a method more likely to get their votes discarded, it would be attacked as a dastardly voter-suppression scheme…

“In [New York’s] 12th Congressional District, it took weeks to declare a winner — and the number of rejected mail ballots was roughly three times Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s 3,700-vote margin of victory over challenger Suraj Patel… What happened in New York easily could preview the general election. NPR notes that more than 23,000 absentee ballots were rejected in Wisconsin’s primary this year, exceeding Trump’s margin in the state in 2016. Nearly 40,000 were rejected in Pennsylvania, where Trump won by 44,000 votes in 2016.”
Rich Lowry, New York Post

“The small number of states with extensive experience in doing mass mail-in voting have learned their lessons the hard way and worked things out. States like Washington work diligently to vigorously clean up their voter rolls while the states who are late to the game have a hot mess on their hands. But states like Washington also allow their Boards of Elections to begin validating and counting the ballots as much as 25 days before the election…

“[By contrast] there are eleven states where officials can’t even begin validating the ballots until the morning of election day. Those include Michigan and Pennsylvania… We may not only be waiting until the following week [after the election] to know who won, but the loser is likely to be very unhappy with the results if a lot of ballots are kicked out.”
Jazz Shaw, Hot Air

“Five battleground states already permit ballots to arrive after Election Day. In Iowa, ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 2 and received by noon on Nov. 9; in Ohio, postmarked by Nov. 2 and received by Nov. 13; in North Carolina, Nov. 3 and Nov. 6; In Minnesota and Nevada, Nov. 3 and Nov. 10. This could string things out if the race is close. The bigger issue is when states are allowed to start matching signatures on the ballots to those on voter rolls and verifying that each ballot is valid. This is time-consuming and difficult…

“Real problems will emerge here, especially when there’s a big increase in mail-in ballots over 2016… This election will feature days—possibly weeks—of indecision, which invites chaos, and chaos invites greater division. This will be the byproduct of moving the 2020 election from the booth to the mailbox. Our democracy doesn’t need yet another stress test, but we’re setting it up for one.”
Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal

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