Mismailed, Misdelivered, Miscounted
A recent municipal election in Patterson New Jersey is an example of the fraud that can occur with mail-in balloting. Four citizens were charged with election fraud, including a city councilman and a councilman-elect. Some voters reported not receiving their ballots, yet had discovered that their vote had been cast. As President Trump famously tweeted, “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most inaccurate and fraudulent election in history.”
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission substantiates the president’s concerns, reporting that 2.7 million mail-in ballots were misdelivered and 1.3 million were rejected in the last four federal elections. Additionally, mail-in votes have to be counted manually, a long and tedious process. Experience in various US states suggest that the error margin in counting and recording paper ballots, in various elections was between 1% and 20%.
The Heritage Foundation seconded President Trump’s warning, saying “Voters should not be forced to deal with the problems that massive voting by mail would create… Mail-in ballots are the ballots most vulnerable to being altered, stolen, or forged.” In addition to being lost or arriving late, mail-in ballots can be rejected for a variety of reasons, including mismatched signatures, missing signatures, or otherwise not meeting the requirements for valid mail-in ballots. For these and other reasons, the New York, June 2020 primary had roughly a 20% rejection rate of mail-in ballots.
NPR found that at least 65,000 absentee or mail-in ballots were not counted in the primary elections held so far this year. “Hundreds of thousands of ballots go uncounted each year because people make mistakes, such as forgetting to sign the form or sending it in too late.” In most states, NPR estimates the number is around 1% of mail-in ballots that are not counted. As US elections are typically won by small margins of 2%-3%, a 1% error margin could be significant. Some states saw higher mail-in ballot rejection percentages. In Virginia, it was over 5%, while Arkansas and Oklahoma were both over 3%. In a New Jersey Mayoral race, 9% of ballots were rejected. Errors of that magnitude can certainly alter the outcome of the election.
According to Mandi Merritt, national press secretary for the Republican National Committee, “Allowing massive amounts of ballots to arrive or the counting to continue well after Election Day really allows room for fraud.” To help prevent voting irregularities, Republicans have been calling for the ballots to be received on or before Election Day. Democrats, however, have filed suits in at least 10 states to challenge that rule.
The timing of the votes is crucial. More than 73,000 out of 33 million mail-in ballots in 2016 were not counted because they arrived too late. In Virginia’s June primary 5% of the ballots were dismissed because they missed the deadline. The same was true for 1% of ballots in Pennsylvania and Nevada. In the April primary in Wisconsin, 2,659 ballots arrived past the deadline and were not counted. In Philadelphia’s June primary, 15,000 votes arrived late. In Ohio, voters can request a mail-in ballot on a Saturday for the Tuesday election. It is nearly impossible for the Post Office to deliver those late ballots in time. The rules need to be amended so as to reflect the reality of how long it takes the Post Office to sort and deliver the mail.
CBS This Morning did an experiment with 100 mock mail-in ballots, which they sent to people, asking them to send them back to a PO box that represented the election post. Ninety-seven of them came back on time and were properly sorted and delivered by the US Post Office. This suggests a 3% error margin. In addition to possible mistakes at the Post Office, missing and mismatched signatures also results in ballots being rejected. In New York, in 2018, the League of Women Voters filed suit because 34,000 absentee ballots, 14% were rejected.
Democrats are suing in Florida because 18,504 mail-in ballots were rejected. On the one hand, we want every vote to be counted and every American to have a voice, but there are rules. And these rules are in place to mitigate voter fraud. Therefore, suing to have votes counted which were rejected-for-cause underscores the problems with mail-in voting. If we have no rules, all votes can be counted, but the election would be fraught with irregularities. If we have strict rules, the votes of many Americans will not be counted. This is one of the many reasons why the US has historically used in-person electronic voting.
Safe In-Person Voting
“Despite the coronavirus pandemic, experience shows that we can vote safely in-person as long as election officials implement the safety protocols.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released such guidelines for safe in-person voting on June 22. In-person elections during the pandemic have already been carried out by twelve democratic countries around the world, from rich countries, like France and Israel, to developing countries like Burundi. There is no reason to believe that the US could not also have in-person voting.
The mail-in ballots from the New York primary took a month to count. With in-person, electronic voting, election workers or volunteers operate the polling places for a few days. Are election workers available to spend an entire month counting votes? How many workers would it take to count the votes? And, will they count accurately for a month? A CalTech/MIT study says that manual counting has an error margin of between 1% and 20%. And this is on a small number of ballots. What the Democrats are pushing for is widespread mail-in balloting that would likely lead to a higher margin of error.
Roughly 138 million people voted in the 2016 presidential election. If they were all to use mail-in balloting, this would result in 276 million pieces of mail, 138 million ballots sent out to voters and then 138 million ballots returned to the polling places. This means that the US Post Office would have to deliver 276 million pieces of mail, accurately and on time.
Once the ballots are received at the polling place, do they have the space to accommodate all of them, to store them, organize them, count them, and to protect voter data? One of the objections to mail-in voting is that the voter’s name and address appear on the envelope and the name and signature appear on the ballot. This is considerably less anonymous than walking into the booth and pulling a lever. The ballots could be sitting in these polling places for months, handled by some large number of workers with no guarantee of data protection.
According to US law, the votes must be counted and a winner declared by Jan. 20, 2021, the day that the president-elect is sworn in. Given the expectation of delays in counting, followed by litigation, The Heritage Foundation estimates that it is very unlikely that the results could be completed by the deadline. In that case, US law says that if no winner has been declared by Jan 20, the Speaker of the House will act as president until a winner is declared. Could this be the reason that Democrats are pushing for mail-in ballots?
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