“Trump is wrong about the dangers of absentee ballots”

I have written this oped in the Washington Post. Some excerpts:

President Trump has recently come out against expanding voting by mail, despite the fact that he regularly votes by mail himself. He tweeted that it has “Tremendous potential for voter fraud and, for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.” Given that expanded mail-in voting is going to be an inevitable piece of the November election because of the coronavirus pandemic, it is important that Americans understand what risks come from voting by mail and what can be done about those risks before November, so that voters can have confidence that the election can be fairly conducted, in part, through mail-in balloting….

According to the well-constructed News21 database, absentee-ballot ballot fraud made up 24.2 percent of all reported prosecutions of election crimes between 2000 and 2012. But the total number of cases was just 491 — during a period in which literally billions of votes were cast. While certain pockets of the country have seen their share of absentee-ballot scandals, problems are extremely rare in the five states that rely primarily on vote-by-mail, including the heavily Republican state of Utah.

Election design requires tradeoffs. Many states offer absentee balloting because they realize that the tremendous convenience to voters outweighs the small risk of fraud. Now, of course, the covid-19 pandemic has radically elevated the risk of gathering at polling stations, making mail-in balloting a crucial alternative….

o begin with, states need to be prepared to thwart and prosecute any attempts to tamper with ballots. The federal government dragged its feet on investigating the North Carolina case, despite being tipped off by state election officials well before the 2018 election.

Next, states should send an application for an absentee ballot to every voter listed on voting rolls. They should not send the ballot itself until a voter requests one, since voting rolls in many states unfortunately are not accurate enough. Voters should also be allowed to request absentee ballots online.

States should also prevent the unlimited collection of absentee ballots by private individuals — sometimes pejoratively referred to as “ballot harvesting.” North Carolina prohibited unlimited collection, but that ban was not enforced and collection allowed the actual ballot tampering that took place. I favor Colorado’s system which allows one person to collect no more than 10 ballots. There are some voters who need assistance getting their votes to the U.S. mail or to a state collection box, such as some on Native American reservations or those who are elderly or disabled. States should also ensure that ballot collection limitations do not put additional burdens on minority voters, as a federal court recently found happened in Arizona.

Finally, we should not forget that absentee ballots are more likely to be rejected than ballots cast in person, often because of voter error that cannot be corrected as it can in person. Absentee voters should be told if their ballots are being rejected for technical reasons — such as a purported mismatched signature — and have the chance to cure the problem and have their ballot counted.

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