A record 77 percent of Americans could vote by mail in this year’s general election as they try to stay healthy during the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. As many as 80 million ballots could be mailed in this fall, twice as many as in the 2016 presidential election year.
The expected surge in mail-in voting is causing election oﬃcials to warn of major problems in getting ballots delivered by the U.S. Postal Service and counted by election officials. Democrats see this logistics problem being compounded by the Trump Administration’s unsubstantiated claims that mail-in voting will lead to massive voter fraud in the Nov. 3 election.
Democrats also claim his administration is undercutting the ability of the U.S. Postal Service to deliver the mail. If you’ve mailed letters or bills lately, you can’t help but notice a general slow-down in service. Last week the postal service sent letters to 44 states saying all their ballots might not be counted.
With the perceived undercutting of the U.S. Postal Service combined with the partisan divide on the reliability of mail-in and absentee balloting, we are setting America up for angry days of protests following the election as both sides challenge the integrity of the voting process. It will take a landslide, one way or the other, to dampen the anger of the losing side.
First let’s clarify the difference between mail-in and absentee balloting. In most cases, they are the same thing.
Absentee balloting dates back to the Civil War in the 1860s. Over the years, it was expanded from soldiers serving away from home to people with disabilities, the elderly, and students living out of their home state or county. Thirty-four states now don’t require an excuse for voting absentee, including Minnesota. To get an absentee ballot, a person simply must be a registered voter and request one.
Vote-by-mail balloting means that you have requested a ballot that you are going to mail in. You still have to be a registered voter to get a ballot.
Universal mail-in voting is the process that Trump claims is most open to wide-spread abuse. In states with universal mail-in voting, all registered voters are sent a ballot that can be returned by mail. They are not mass mailed to everyone. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nine states are now mailing a ballot to every registered voter well ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
States verify mail-in ballots the same way they do absentee ballots. Many use a bar code to assign a ballot to a specific voter. The voter must have a valid signature on ﬁle for the signature on the ballot to be compared with by election judges. With today’s computer technology, election judges can quickly find out if someone has cast a ballot in another precinct. Registered voter lists are regularly purged of those who have died.
All these forms of voter validation are used before a ballot is counted. Those who contemplate voter fraud should think twice. It is a federal felony punishable by five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
At an Aug. 3 White House news conference, Trump said that universal mail-in voting was going to be a “disaster” and “a great embarrassment to our country.” He has said the election would be “rigged” by expansion of mail-in voting. His words are taken to heart by his loyal supporters.
In addressing Democrats’ demands for additional funding for the postal service, Trump said last Thursday: “They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. If they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.” Later that day he suggested he was using the issue as a negotiating tactic with congressional Democrats as they work with Republicans on a second stimulus bill.
What research into voter fraud by numerous organizations has found is that it is almost non-existent. One study of voting precincts with large immigrant populations found just 30 potential cases of fraud out of 23.5 million votes cast.
Another worry voiced is foreign interference with false ballots. Considering the special paper, the security measures in place for recognizing voters and ballots assigned to them, any attempt to submit counterfeit ballots would be detected almost instantly.
The non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice has ranked the risk of ballot fraud at 0.00004% to 0.0009%, based on studies of past elections, according to the Associated Press. Still, Trump’s charges of the dangers of mail-in voter fraud have taken hold.
Republicans in growing numbers are rejecting their participation in absentee and mail-in balloting. Meanwhile, Democrats are more trusting of mail-in ballots and are requesting them in higher numbers.
Republican campaign strategists and candidates are becoming worried that many of their supporters will reject mail-in ballots leading some to eventually not vote. When election day comes, they might be too busy to vote, decide it’s not worth the eﬀ ort, be sick, or fear catching COVID-19, or the ﬂ u, at a crowded polling site.
Tom Ridge is the former Republican governor of key presidential battleground state Pennsylvania. He served as Republican President George W. Bush’s secretary of Homeland Security. Turning voters oﬀ to mail-in voting is “very perilous for the Republican Party” and puts it at “an incredible disadvantage,” he says.
Wisconsin is another swing state that Republicans will need to win this fall.
In an interview with CNN, Fond du Lac County Republican Party chairman Rohn Bishop said Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting has “our voters running away from it. That kind of terrifies me.”
Republican leaders aren’t just afraid of what the rejection of mail-in voting by their party might mean for the presidential election. They also fear it will mean losses down the ballot in state races.
America is going to be tested this November on not just the integrity of its election, but the integrity of its democracy.