A response to a mail-in voting critic on Facebook

Ballots envelopes sit in a bin prepared to give voters inside a polling center at the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder’s office, in Boulder, Colo., on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
The following is a response I wrote to a critic of widespread mail-in voting I wrote today on a friend’s Facebook post on the subject. I’ve removed names and added few links from others in the conversation for context.

There is a great deal to unpack in your response, so allow me to take it point by point.

You wrote “Voter lists are often outdated and inaccurate. Many names are people who have moved, people who have registered more than once, people who have died. It invites corruption, activists collecting absentee ballots.”

Voter roles do go out of date, no question. But that issue is not unique to mail-in voting, and since it’s unavoidable (as you say, people move or die), all voting systems have procedures in place to accommodate the inevitable errors in the voting role. And that’s true of in-person voting or mail-in voting.

Your claim about inaccurate voting roles inviting corruption is partly true, but again, because these errors are inevitable, voting procedures are designed to minimize the opportunity for corruption. And again, that’s true of in-person or mail-in voting.

You wrote: “The counting of mail-in ballots can start days or even weeks before Election Day, which when leaked ( and you know the results will be leaked) can influence voters.”

How is this any different than absentee or early in-person voting? Absentee ballots are often counted as soon as they come in, and early voting (especially via electronic machines that don’t have paper records, which pose a serious risk of fraud themselves) is always tallied up as the votes are cast, days to weeks in advance. I’m unaware of any leaks that suppressed voter turnout, but it’s at least theoretically possible there have been some. But I haven’t ever seen that happen in Colorado, which has had automatic absentee voting for anyone who requested it for decades and went all mail-in in 2013.

You wrote: “Some states allow vote harvesting and completed ballots can be picked up by anyone….. would you hand over something of great value to a stranger?”

Agreed, some states do allow complete votes to be picked up by anyone, but that has been true of absentee ballots forever, and if the state allows it, then either a) that state has had a fraud problem forever or b) the state has procedures in place to detect and prevent fraud. Either way going to all mail-in doesn’t change anything.

Also, most states that do mail-in voting have options for drop off (that’s what my wife and I do here in Colorado) or even a couple of locations in each county for in-person voting if you prefer to do it that way.

As for the question of giving something of great value to a stranger, you and I do that all the time with not just the documents that Wendy’s original meme above showed, but when we send our children off to school to be taught by strangers on a public school bus driven by a stranger. We rely on strangers to protect us and heal us and ensure our food and drugs and vehicles and furniture are safe. Voting is no different, especially since there are lots of protections in place to keep our votes safe.

You wrote: “The Heritage Foundation has 1300 proven cases of voter fraud.”

Have you actually poked around their database? I have. I’ve spent hours there trying to learn what I could about their cases of fraud and I learned a few things.

First, their database is very hard to use. I don’t know if that’s because it was built ages ago and hasn’t ever been upated or because the difficulty of using it makes it harder for others to copy and analyze in more depth. Occam’s razor says the former, but given the effort Heritage has put into their database, I could see them wanting to protect it.

Second, while there are some cases of ballot harvesting of absentee ballots, most of the fraud (and all of the fraud I found where results were reversed) occurred when an election official was corrupt. Ballots were thrown out by election officials, absentee ballots weren’t counted by election officials, and so on. And that kind of voter fraud will happen regardless of whether the ballots are mail-in or in-person. The only way you correct fraud by a corrupt election official is by putting procedures in place to catch the fraud and punish the official.

You wrote: “Your turn: show me, prove to me that mail-in ballots are better, more accurate and have no corruption or fraud.”

Others have provided multiple examples of states that have mail-in voting today and have had no significant fraud, and certainly no more fraud than in-person voting does. So you have been given evidence, but thus far you seem unwilling to accept it.

Your expectation of “no corruption or fraud” is an unrealistic expectation. Every law has loopholes, every process can be manipulated, and nothing is perfect. The question is whether corruption and fraud in mail-in voting is worse than it is with in-person voting. And the experience of states who have implemented mail-in voting is that the corruption and fraud are no worse. Even the Heritage Foundation’s database seems to support this.

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