The biggest question regarding the presidential election is not who will win, but will Americans ever really know who won? Individual states are poised to mail out millions of ballots as the November contest draws nigh. This drip, drip, drip of opportunities to vote – which is expected to start in earnest – signifies a looming storm of epic proportions, and it is getting too late to merely secure the edges of the tarpaulin from the coming tempest. This morning on Fox, President Trump referred to the mail-in ballot and said, “That’s a rigged election waiting to happen.” Is this an exaggeration, or is our country truly facing an electoral crisis?
There are a few reasons to fret about a presidential election determined by mail. First is the ability of the postal service to handle the volume. Next is the voter rolls, which determine who receives a ballot, and finally, the sheer unprecedented nature of conducting an election in a manner that has not been done before and appears to have no unified process.
The Election Goes Postal
An analysis conducted by The New York Times published on August 11 reveals 76% of Americans will be able to vote by mail in 2020. The newspaper’s research shows that 38 million voters in eight states, including the District of Columbia, will get a ballot in their mailbox. Another 58% of U.S. citizens – approximately 120 million people in 34 states – can vote by absentee ballot. Only 24% of those voting absentee will need an excuse to cast their ballot by mail. The Gray Lady calls this a “rapid and seismic shift.”
Even left-leaning NPR thinks this is no tempest in a teapot. “Signed, Sealed, Undelivered: Thousands of Mail-In Ballots Rejected for Tardiness” headlined one of their recent articles. Authors Pam Fessler and Elena Moore point out that mail-in voting “is fraught with potential problems” because “hundreds of thousands of ballots go uncounted each year.” There are several reasons for this, including voter mistakes that include untimely mail drops. “An NPR analysis has found that in the primary elections held so far this year, at least 65,000 absentee or mail-in ballots have been rejected because they arrived past the deadline, often through no fault of the voter,” they wrote.
Included in the article is a table that shows the high ballot rejection rates that have occurred in the presidential primaries. Virginia tallies a refusal rate of 5.6%, Arkansas and Oklahoma are at 3%, Rhode Island has 2.6%, and New Hampshire and Minnesota did not count 2% of their mail-in ballots.
The Naked and the Dead
This swing in the way Americans exercise their franchise is ostensibly due to the Coronavirus. It is administratively accomplished by state and local officials who have the power to make such decisions. In general, these are the folks in charge of the voter rolls. That should scare the hell out of the American voter. Suffice it to say that mail-in voting is only as good as the voting rolls, and therein lies the rub.
“This is an American problem.”
Dogs, dead people, and multiple ballots going out to single individuals are common in the current mail-in ballot climate. This is because many states have not taken the time to cull their voter rolls – primarily because until now, it didn’t much matter. Lawsuits have abounded, and some of these counties have been forced to clean up their act, but suing state by state and county by county is a long and tedious process.
President of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, J. Christian Adams, recently told Liberty Nation, “the number of problems on the voter rolls are about the same number of problems that Hillary [Clinton] won the popular vote by. They are significant. The voter rolls are a mess. People are registered multiple times simultaneously – dead people are registered. This is not a Michigan problem. This is an American problem.”
Fraud or Failure?
A recent column in The Washington Post by Marc Thiessen points out, “Trump is right that mail-in voting is a source of potential voter fraud, especially on the scale that is being proposed. But the bigger problem is not vote fraud — it’s vote failure.” Citing an MIT study of the 2008 presidential election, Thiessen published the research conclusion:
“ … about 3.9 million voters said they requested mail ballots but never received them; 2.9 million ballots that were sent out did not make it back to election officials; and about 800,000 were rejected for a variety of reasons — either because they were postmarked after the election, arrived without a signature, were improperly filled out or did not match voting records. ‘The pipeline that moves mail ballots between voters and election officials is very leaky.’”
By and large, Republicans prefer a more controlled election process while Democrats tend to be loose about who votes, where, and when. However, the accuracy of the upcoming election is not a partisan issue but rather one of national concern. Will citizens be able to trust that their vote has been counted and ultimately will they be able to have faith in the accuracy of the outcome? Whether it is in the hallowed halls of justice or Congress, something can and should be done now to ensure a fair and timely election result. If nothing is done by November 3, Americans may look back at the business of “hanging chads” like a walk in the park.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.
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