Voting By Mail – A Trumpian Fiasco

The night before his impeachment acquital in the senate, Trump delivered a speech that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would rip in half immediately after his delivery.

By George Ball

“[T]he evidence . . . [is] that voting by mail is rarely subject to fraud, does not give an advantage to one political party over another and can in fact inspire public confidence in the voting process, if done properly.”

One reason may be the anti-fraud protections built into the voting by mail process, which (by state) typically include requiring people requesting absentee ballots to be registered voters, mailing ballots to the official address listed on voter registration rolls, requiring voter signatures on the external envelope, and having election authorities make sure the ballot came from the address of an actual voter. If a ballot appears questionable, some states use a signature matching technique to verify the signature of the voter.

Indeed, voting by mail appears to be more secure than in person voting.  It bears mention here that according to the Heritage Foundation, the numbers of fraudulent votes are infinitesimal (totaling 1,200 allegations of fraud and 1,000 convictions over the last twenty years).  In 2016, approximately twenty-five percent   of U.S. votes (33 million) were cast by either universal mail or absentee ballots. Yet since 2001, sixteen percent of all voter fraud allegations and ten percent of all voter fraud convictions involve voting by mail.

Voting by mail also saves states substantial amounts of money as compared to in person voting.

It is therefore unsurprising that 34 states (plus the District of Columbia) allow any voter to cast an absentee ballot by mail without providing any reason, and five of those states also allow universal voting by mail. [1] Among those 34 states are Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Idaho, South Dakota, North Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana – hardly bastions of the Progressive Left.

Rejecting the considered judgments of these perennially Republican leaning states, President Trump has stated that:

‘I think mail-in voting is going to rig the election, I really do,’ Trump said in an interview with Fox News Sunday . . . [as well as] ‘I think it’s subject to tremendous fraud.’ ‘With mail-in ballots, people can forge ’em”’ and ‘Mail-in voting… will lead to the most corrupt election in USA history.’

Just days ago, Trump tweeted:

With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2020

Contrary to the President’s claim, we have already seen that there is no difference from a security perspective between absentee ballots and “universal” mail in voting.  And if the President actually believes that waiting to cast in person votes at polling stations is so unsafe that our national election should be delayed, it seems incongruent for him to also insist that school buildings are so safe that millions of children can congregate in confined classrooms for six hours a day before returning to multi-generational homes.

Faced with these obvious disconnects, Team Trump has tried to reshape the President’s public statements. Mark Meadows (Trump’s fourth Chief-of Staff in three and half years) has suggested that the problem with mail in voting is that it delays the result, which could take weeks to tabulate.  In an arguably more nuanced reformulation, a well-known newspaper columnist characterized Trump’s objection to mail in voting as “guarantee[ing] mayhem and cast[ing] doubts on the November results.” Which covers everything, and therefore says nothing.

There are at least two problems with this repackaging.  One is that it does not resemble what Trump has repeatedly stated, repeatedly says he believes, and presumably wants us to believe; that mail in voting is “corrupt” and a “tremendous fraud.” The other is that while counting mail in votes may delay reporting the results, any such delay can be substantially mitigated without much effort. Since most states permit early voting, mail in voters can be encouraged to vote early, as the federal government itself suggested as recently as June 11, 2020.  The United States Postal Service has also issued detailed recommendations to address this potential problem (including the simple step of voters postmarking their votes one week earlier than their respective state’s voter cut-off date).  And even if there was a delay, that does not speak to the integrity of the vote count.  We have been through delays before – in 2000, Al Gore did not concede the results until some six weeks after the election – and American democracy was fine.

Why, then, is the President doing this? I’m not a mind reader, so I can’t confidently tell you why Trump is determined to fabricate chaos about the integrity of our electoral process.

In 1970 Roman Hruska, a Senator from Nebraska, famously argued in support of a proposed Supreme Court nominee widely reputed to be a mediocre judge that:

“Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?”

That nominee was not confirmed.

Everyone has moments of mediocrity. All of us are, at times, simply wrong.

But it is one thing for a nation to live through profound policy disagreements or decisions that, in the event, are wrong.  It is quite another to groan under the strain of what has become an endless series of Trump’s ad hominin attacks on our Intelligence Services, the FBI, multiple Inspectors General, huge swaths of the Department of Justice and Department of State, the Pentagon (including its system of military justice), all national polling services, the National Weather Service, any elected official (Republican or Democrat) who questions his decisions,  the NIH, the CDC, the growing legion of his own former Cabinet members, and  the Media – including at times Fox News– to name but a few.  Capped off – now – by a relentless effort to undermine the public’s belief in our own elections.

Every week – and in some weeks most days – the President reveals more and more of what he is. And isn’t.

In doing so, President Trump has shown us many things.  He may simply be profoundly mediocre.  Which is bad for the country.  Or these jigsaw puzzle pieces may be part of a purposeful design.  Which is even worse.

Every election is, fundamentally, a referendum on the person. Each of us has the ability to decide for ourselves how to best understand what kind of person Trump is. This election season, our most basic responsibility as individual voters is to do so.

[1] To get an absentee ballot, a registered voter must request one through their state government. Election officials mail the voter an absentee ballot, which they complete and sign, and return by mail or, under certain circumstances, fax. Officials can reject absentee ballots if they are improperly filled out, and voters face steep penalties if they falsify any information.  A mail in ballot refers to a “process that’s often referred to as all-mail voting. Registered voters in these states automatically receive a mail ballot, which is sent to their address before Election Day and mailed back by the voter or deposited at a voting location or secure drop box by a certain time on Election Day.”

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