Mail-in ballots

There has been a lot of talk about mail-in ballots lately. Some states want to expand mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic. President Donald Trump and others say they promote vote fraud. This is a mail-in ballot from Utah in its envelope.

Mail-in ballots have been in the news lately. Some Democrats are urging all mail-in elections with the coronavirus pandemic. One publication, “The Atlantic Monthly,” even called this a “matter of life and death.”

This came after the recent primaries in Wisconsin. Due to the pandemic, the state received more requests for mail-in ballots than they could handle. The state tried to change the rules to allow for more time for mail-in ballots, but the Supreme Court said “no.”

President Donald Trump has said mail-in ballots are “a terrible thing.” He said the practice hurts Republican candidates and was susceptible to widespread fraud.

On May 21, the President criticized the efforts of Michigan and Nevada at expanding mail-in voting. “Politico” reported he said these efforts were illegal, and he threatened to withhold federal funds from these states. He called Michigan’s Secretary of State, Democrat Jocelyn Benson, a “rouge.”

President Trump accused Nevada’s plan of creating a “giant voter fraud scenario.” Nevada’s Secretary of State, Barbara Cesgavske, is a Republican.

The President is not alone in these concerns. “The Wall Street Journal” noted that, in 2005, the bi-partisan Commission on Federal Election Reform said, “Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.” The commission was chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James A. Baker.

On May 24, the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the California Republican Party filed suit in U.S. District Court to stop California Gov. Gavin Newson’s May 8 Executive Order authorizing Secretary of State Alex Padilla to send mail-in ballots to every voter in the state.

Newsom said he was concerned about possibly spreading the coronavirus by having people go to the polls.

The Republican suit claims this is an illegal action that should’ve been left to the legislature. They say this increases the possibility of massive vote fraud.

“USA Today” offered this quote from the complaint that was filed:  “This brazen power grab was not authorized by state law and violates both the Elections Clause and Electors Clause of the U.S. Constitution.” 

Despite these claims by the President and others, mail-in ballots are very popular. According to a report from Greg Allen on National Public Radio’s website, 1 in 4 of the ballots cast in 2018 were mailed in.

The National Council of State Legislatures said all states allow for some sort of absentee balloting by mail. Five states do their elections entirely by mail:  Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah.

Patricia Southwell, a political science instructor at the University of Oregon, told “The Atlantic Monthly” these states have had few problems with fraud.

“U.S. News” reported a total of 28 states and the District of Columbia offer “no excuses” mail-in ballots. Anyone can request a mail-in ballot with no explanation needed. They went on to say some of these states could be overwhelmed by all the requests they might receive during the pandemic.

The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office said more Republicans (1.03 million) are on the Permanent Early Voting List than Democrats (972,000).

Do mail-in ballots work against Republicans, as President Trump said? Someone who disagrees with this view is Mac Stipanovich, a former Republican strategist in Florida. In Allen’s story on NPR, he said Republicans there embraced mail-in ballots and early voting because it helped them. Among other things, they knew who had received ballots so they could call them and make sure they returned them.

“Absentee ballots are typically Republicans’ friends in Florida,” he said.

Daniel Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida, said it was Republicans who pushed for mail-in balloting in Florida.

“Their electorate (Republicans) happens to be older on average than Democrats, happens to be more affluent,” Smith told NPR. “It happens to have a more permanent residency in terms of less transient, less mobile population, which makes the delivery and return of absentee ballots easier.”

Arizona has had mail-in balloting for some years now. Sophia Solis, Public Information Officer for the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, said they have many safeguards in place to prevent vote fraud.

“Arizona has a robust vote-by-mail system,” Solis said in an e-mail to the Pioneer. “Every early ballot must be returned with a signed affidavit. That signature must be compared to the signature in the voter’s registration record. If the signature does not match, the county recorder will contact the voter via mail, phone, text message, and/or email to notify the voter of the inconsistent signature, and allow the voter to correct or confirm the signature.”

Solis said they are looking at several options for the upcoming election, including sending vote-by-mail request forms to registered voters who are not already on the early voting list.

La Paz County Recorder Richard Garcia said mail-in balloting can be done on a one-time basis or someone can be added to the permanent early-voting list. He said his office mails the ballots out and the people send them back.

Garcia said how many ballots are returned depends on the election. Some elections have more ballots returned than others.

When a ballot comes back, Garcia said they compare information that comes with the ballot, like signatures and addresses, with what they have on file.

“If there’s an issue, we’ll contact them,” he said.

Garcia said his department’s employees have taken signature verification classes provided by the FBI.

The returned ballots are stored in a vault until Election Day, Garica said.

“I think the system works well,” Garcia said. “It’s available to anyone who wants to use it.”

As for mail-in voting nationwide, “Politico” said, “Cases of election fraud in the United States are exceedingly rare, although certain experts acknowledge there are some slightly higher risks with mail-in balloting when proper security measures are not implemented.”

In the story in “The Atlantic Monthly”, Southwell said mail-in balloting doesn’t favor one party or the other, but it helps make it easier for people to vote.

“There is no evidence that vote by mail favors one party over the other,” she said. “Vote by mail simply makes it easier to vote. It helps older and rural voters, who are more likely to be Republican, by reducing the impact of unanticipated difficulties, such as illness, bad weather, or long travel time to the polls. Young voters, who are more likely to be Democrats, often face inflexible work schedules or lack adequate transportation to the polls. For all types of voters, vote by mail simply reduces the likelihood that an unexpected crisis will prevent a voter from getting to the polls.”

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