President Trump has said many times that voting by mail – which will play a big role in this November’s presidential election – is vulnerable to fraud. “There is tremendous evidence of fraud whenever you have mail-in ballots,” Trump has noted. The November election, he added, “will be, in my opinion, the most corrupt election in the history of our country.”
Democrats and many in the press have pushed back hard. Trump’s claims are “false” and “baseless” and “preposterous” and “debunked,” they said. Voting by mail is safe and reliable.
But the fight over fraud could be a distraction from a very real and serious danger of voting by mail. The country has just seen some very troubling examples of massive dysfunction in elections in which voting by mail played a big role. If anything like that happens in even a few states in November, there would be big trouble.
Recently, The New York Times published a story, “3 Weeks After Primary, N.Y. Officials Still Can’t Say Who Won Key Races.” The article outlined enormous difficulties with voting by mail in three congressional races – New York’s 12th, 15th and 16th congressional districts.
“The absentee ballot count – greatly inflated this year after the state expanded the vote-by-mail option because of the coronavirus pandemic – has been painstakingly slow, and hard to track, with no running account of the vote totals available,” the Times reported.
In the 12th district, the situation is absolutely crazy. There were 65,000 absentee ballots in the race. Only a few have been counted – the primary was June 23. But 1 in 5 – roughly 13,000 ballots – have been disqualified for various reasons. The leader’s margin is 648 votes at the moment.
Of course, there are lawsuits. One candidate has taken the Board of Elections to federal court, seeking an order that all ballots mailed by June 30 – one week after election day – be counted, whether or not they have a postmark. The losers, of course, will cry that voters were “disenfranchised” by rules on when vote-by-mail ballots have to be received.
Now, imagine these problems in a presidential election, with the white-hot passions it will create. Say, just for the sake of argument, that there is not even a hint of fraud in the vote counting. But if there are important areas where very few votes have been counted three weeks after Election Day, where there is no way to track which votes have been counted and which haven’t, and there is great confusion about how the job will ever get done – well, that will be a huge problem. Chaos could descend, with no resolution of the presidential election. In the absence of a reliable vote total, both candidates might proclaim victory.
“Americans might spend Christmas wondering which self-claimed president-elect will prevail in court,” warned The Wall Street Journal editorial page.
It is something to be deeply concerned about, whether or not one believes vote-by-mail is susceptible to fraud. Recent primaries have shown beyond any doubt that it is susceptible to crippling dysfunction, and that is bad enough. (And of course, there are allegations of fraud – four men have been charged in connection with May’s special election in Paterson, New Jersey, after hundreds of ballots were found in a mailbox there.)
Meanwhile, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows the public has great doubts about voting by mail. To the question “How would you prefer to vote in the presidential election – by mail or in person?” 59% of respondents said in person, while just 38% said by mail. Then pollsters asked, “Do you think mail-in voting is vulnerable to significant levels of fraud or do you think it has adequate protections against significant levels of fraud?” Forty-nine percent said it is vulnerable to fraud, while 43% said it has adequate protections (7% had no opinion).
People are right to be worried. When someone tells you that voting by mail is nothing to worry about, be skeptical.