Voting by Mail: What’s the Problem?
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Voting by Mail: What’s the Problem?

In Which Our Columnist Casts His Ballot at Home, Commits No Fraud and Lives to Tell His Story

Terry H. Schwadron

Terry H. Schwadron

I mailed my absentee ballot early last week for the New York primary. I was able to vote at home over breakfast. No lines. No coronavirus threat. I just needed to be awake and have a stamp—though some states even have pre-paid envelopes.

I filled it out, put it inside two envelopes as instructed and met the deadline.

It was so civilized and easy that it is hard to see what all the arguing is about.

No one came to my door with a fraudulently pre-filled ballot, no one tried to make me step up to an imagined partisan line.

Of course, there also was no sticker later to say that I had voted.

All this arises because Donald Trump is persisting in his attacks on mail-in voting in November as a safe alternative to the near-certainty of having voters stand in line for an extended time and for having poll workers, who often are older volunteers, be exposed all day long to unmasked voters who may be contagious. Mail-in voters will lead to “MASSIVE FRAUD AND ABUSE,” Trump tweeted, with no evidence of the claim.

I know that Trump is hard of empathy for others, but actually putting people in harm’s way because he fears democracy may deliver an outcome he dislikes seems extreme even for him.

Indeed, the anti-mail voting kick seems increasingly to be echoed in the official Republican Party strategies as a vehicle for fraud. It was highlighted again this week by massive voting machine breakdowns in Georgia and once-again rising coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.

Is There Fraud?

The best case for fraud mail-in ballots involved a Republican operative in a congressional election in a rural North Carolina district last year. Professional Republican Party organizers went to homes with pre-filled ballots or stood there offering advice as voters filled in their own.

Leslie McCrae Dowless was charged with two felony counts of obstructing, justice and perjury in handling absentee ballots in an election that had to be re-run—with a new Republican candidate, who won.

That’s not exactly the kind of fraud Trump is floating.

He sees undocumented immigrants and unregistered voters—or those registered at multiple addresses—as overwhelming the ballot.

Of course, Trump and wife have voted from the White House in Florida, daughter Ivanka has cast mail-in ballots, as have many at the top of the Republican National Committee. No problem. Except, Trump tried to register using 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. as his address, which was illegal. Then he registered from Mar-a-Lago in West Palm Beach, officially listed as a club and not a residence.

That’s, um, fraud. (The Florida state official in charge flipped the issue to the town of West Palm Beach.)

The military, diplomats and citizens abroad have voted by mail for generations without incident.

Recent presidential primaries have been seen as tests for mail-in ballots. In Pennsylvania last week, the only problem was getting the volume of absentee forms distributed in time for the actual election deadline, meaning a lot of votes went uncounted. But Pennsylvania had trouble counting the ballots anyway—because there were so many, despite the Trump finger-wagging. Officials acknowledged that they had not thought ahead enough and didn’t expect so many ballots.

Um, these are the people in charge?

Despite Trump’s tantrums over the issue, a growing number of red and blue states have approved absentee balloting or loosened rules governing their issuance—all as a result of coronavirus contagion concerns.

The Why

The question, then, is whether political conservatives just naturally fear too much democracy in voting or whether they believe that they can only win by suppressing voters. Democrats suggest thst is the reason.

One can only assume that if everyone marching in the streets these last two weeks is voting, both parties might have some apprehensions about the certainty of turnout.

Republicans are pouring tens of millions of dollars towards lawsuits and advertising aimed at restricting who receives ballots and who remains on the voter rolls. It is becoming an official strategy for the party. William Consovoy, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, is coordinating a series of legal actions on behalf of the RNC as well as an independent group called the Honest Election­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­s Project, which is connected to a Trump adviser. They seem intent on stopping administrative changes to loosen rules for absentee ballots, sending them potentially to dead or moved voters.

The other side notes that people die or move regularly and that those actions do not qualify voters. Democrats say Republicans are trying to disenfranchise younger and minority voters, who historically have voted by mail in lower numbers than other groups and are less familiar with the practice.

Trump argued during the 2016 election that the contest was “rigged” and that he would consider not accepting the results if he lost to Hillary Clinton. After his victory, Trump claimed, without evidence, that millions of undocumented immigrants had voted. Weeks later, he formed and then had to disband an Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which never could identify voting fraud across the country.

This summer, Trump’s campaign wants staff focused on voting in at least 10 battleground states.

One would think that they might focus on making their candidate better than on disenfranchising voters.

 

June 12, 2020