Over the last two days, both President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr have taken aim at mail-in voting, claiming such a practice could lead to a fraudulent outcome at the ballot box if postal voting occurs during a pandemic.
“Because of MAIL-IN BALLOTS, 2020 will be the most RIGGED Election in our nations history – unless this stupidity is ended,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “We voted during World War One & World War Two with no problem, but now they are using Covid in order to cheat by using Mail-Ins!”
This is an ongoing theme for Trump. He’s tweeted about it before, earning fact checks from Twitter itself, but Attorney General William Barr echoed his claims on a platform unwilling to challenge the assertion, suggesting voter fraud would be rampant during an interview on Fox News. Barr also told The New York Times that there was a possibility that foreign countries could “easily make counterfeit ballots, put names on them, send them in. And it’d be very hard to sort out what’s happening” earlier this month.
What are the chances of that actually happening? Next to nil.
While the Washington Post found 31 cases of proven fraud for a billion votes from 2000-2014, NYU School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice claimed “It is more likely that an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”
Lawrence Norden, who directs the Election Reform Program at the Brennan Center, provided USA Today explained why defrauding the mail-in vote system (which has been around for years) is so difficult. According to Norden, because mail-in ballots must be returned in a secrecy envelope created by local election authorities, foreign interference is very unlikely.
Envelopes are bar-coded in many states with a unique identifier that ties the ballot to the voter. The secrecy envelopes also require personal information that only the voter should have: the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number and the voter’s signature. Mail ballots in several states rely on signature-verification tools to check voter authenticity. It would also be “very difficult” to forge a ballot that meets all the specification required to be read by a particular voting machine, which vary by jurisdiction, he said.
So there are reasons that make it difficult to swamp the ballot boxes with fake ballots, but what about domestic sources impersonating or intimidating voters to cast their ballot for a particular candidate? And are states that already conduct mail-in voting less likely to experience fraud, or more likely to have such cases of cheating at the ballot box? And do states that require an excuse to vote absentee cut down on voting fraud?
Should You Have A Doctor’s Note To Vote?
More than a dozen states require a “valid excuse” to case an absentee ballot. According to Ballotpedia, these include “a voter’s absence from his or her home county on Election Day, illness or physical disability, a voter’s prolonged absence from his or her home county (e.g., armed forces personnel, overseas employees, college students, etc.), a voter being required to work during polling hours, religious observance, incarceration (non-felony, for some states).”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures and Ballotpedia, these 16 states that require a “valid excuse” in order to vote absentee: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.
Some states have waived the requirement during the coronavirus pandemic. In others, a voter could write in “illness” as a reason during COVID-19, but they would be running the risk of being charged with a felony unless they actually had the disease, according to an Alabama report. And Texas has promised to prosecute any local election official who even suggests that voters cast an absentee ballot if they fear contracting the coronavirus by voting on Election Day. The State Supreme Court ruled that it would disallow a lack of immunity to COVID-19 as a sufficient reason to vote absentee. The issue may soon go to the United States Supreme Court.
Republicans Are Divided On The Making It Easier To Vote By Mail
Some conservative politicians have tried to link the lack of an excuse to vote absentee to voter fraud, thus limiting its application in their states.
“Democrats never let a crisis go to waste, and they are using a pandemic to completely destroy the integrity of our elections,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in May during a debate in Florida over the right to vote by mail. “The case, she said, ‘exposes Florida to potential fraud.’”
Not all Republicans agree. Former RNC Chair Michael Steele criticized the Wisconsin special election in which many voters were forced to cast their ballots in person, despite the risk posed by the pandemic. Steele noted that there have been fewer than 150 cases of fraud using mail ballots in the past two decades. “Every Republican elected official should be working to shore up the foundation of our democratic system so citizens can vote in November, no matter the state of our fight with the coronavirus.”
Do States That Require An Excuse To Vote Absentee Do A Better Job Of Stop Voting Fraud?
Does requiring an excuse to vote absentee actually lead to less fraud? To test this, I use the data gathered by the Heritage Foundation’s Election Fraud Database from each state, divided by the voting age population for each state, to see if states that demand an absentee vote excuse have less fraud from those that don’t.
This study reinforces exactly how rare voting fraud really is. In my state of residence, Georgia, there are 19 cases of voter fraud, fewer than the number of elections Georgia has in the database (23) since the first documented case in 1997. Since there are annual primary elections and frequently runoffs, that would amount to almost 70 elections.
Evidence shows that states that demand an excuse to vote absentee have an average of 0.495 cases per 100,000 voters. That’s more voting fraud than the average from states which do not require an excuse to vote absentee, which is 0.388047 per 100,000 eligible voters.
The contrast is even stronger when we look at states that have mail-in elections. Of those five states (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, Washington), the average voting fraud per capita is 0.2499 per 100,000 of the voting-age population.
The results are clear. Requiring an excuse to vote absentee does not reduce voting fraud. If anything, states making such a demand are more likely to experience voting fraud, having almost than twice as many cases of voter fraud as states which have all mail-in elections.
The Great Debate Among States Over Excuses For Absentee Voting
In some states, the coronavirus has led lawmakers and officials to loosen or even waive the requirements for requesting an absentee ballot. In others, they’ve been stubbornly opposed. And in some cases, it’s not a partisan matter. New York, for example, now allows “no excuse” absentee balloting, while in Connecticut, it’s a different story.
“Our residents still may not obtain an absentee ballot unless they are a poll worker, an active member of the military, sick, out of town during all hours of voting, physically disabled or prevented by their religion,” writes Shari Cantor with the Hartford Courant. “There is no exception for a front-line healthcare provider, or an hourly worker with multiple jobs, or a parent trying to juggle work and child care pickup.”
The debate over mail-in voting is likely to continue until through Election Day. But two matters have been resolved. States that demand excuses to vote absentee are not less likely to experience voter fraud, despite claims from mail-in voting critics. In fact, states requiring an excuse for mail-in voting are more likely to have cases of fraud. States that already provide mail-in voting options, meanwhile, have the least amount of fraud.