Did someone say election day was a “great day for democracy”? Maybe it was in states such as Florida, Tennessee, and Missouri. They welcomed eligible in-person voters, also offered absentee paper ballots with proper safeguards, counted votes quickly, and reported totals on election night and the next day.
Election results in those states were not totally unpredictable. Most reasonably corresponded to prior polling, midterm election patterns, and voter expectations.
But in other states such as Arizona, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, it was a great day for compromising democracy. They seemed to care more about collecting ballots than counting real votes or serving real voters, some of whom they turned away.
Based on 2020 “COVID” election changes in 17 states that favored absentee ballots over more secure in-person voting, these states cranked out endless paper ballots, dragged out counting for days, and reported results defying predictions.
How did they get those results? A month earlier, many states mailed millions of absentee ballots to unverified addresses, including deceased, relocated, or inactive voters. One state sent postcards encouraging non-citizens to register.
Then they encouraged canvassers paid by electioneering organizations to harvest ballots from nursing homes, colleges, and inner city areas, and drop off ballots with no oversight in unattended drop boxes open 24/7 for weeks.
The only voter IDs they required were signatures scrawled on return envelopes. Signature verification software could not reliably verify up to half of them. States also used minimally-tested counting machines vulnerable to error or tampering.
What could possibly go wrong with procedures like these? Unfortunately, they greatly reduce election oversight and create opportunities for fraud. The Lawyers Democracy Fund explains how susceptible mail voting is to fraud. Indeed, many European countries have banned absentee ballots altogether. In the U.S., criminal cases involving harvested ballots are becoming commonplace.
We need to stop pretending that large-scale election fraud is not happening in some states. Here are 10 proven election reforms for substandard states based on recommendations of the Lawyers Democracy Fund, successful election security changes in states such as Florida, and fraud cases like those noted above:
1. The voter, not the state, should decide how to vote. Many voters do not trust mailed ballots. Even during COVID, 59% of Americans preferred the more secure method of voting in person using time-tested direct recording equipment (DRE) to confidentially record and count their votes. States should encourage in-person voting while permitting absentee ballots with safeguards discussed below.
2. Each state should maintain and annually update accurate lists of eligible voters. States have legal duties to maintain accurate voter rolls. But some “fight against anything . . . that would purge voter rolls or fix incorrect voting rolls.” Florida requires county officials to conduct a voter registration maintenance program annually to identify voters with potential address changes.
3. A state should mail an absentee ballot to a voter only if the voter requests it. Election officials enable fraud by knowingly mailing thousands of ballots to inactive or relocated or deceased voters or ineligible non-citizens. Those ballots are easily intercepted and misused. Absentee ballots should be mailed to a voter only upon the voter’s request, as in Florida.
4. Voters should provide secure identification when requesting an absentee ballot, and when registering earlier. Voters who want an absentee ballot should provide reliable IDs such as driver’s license numbers and/or four SSN digits as in Florida. A scrawled signature on a ballot return envelope is not enough. Software can’t reliably verify up to half of “voter” signatures. Also, voters should not register on election day, but weeks before to ensure states can confirm they are residents and U.S. citizens, as in Tennessee.
5. States should ban or sharply restrict harvesting of ballots. Collection of ballots by third parties from nursing homes, colleges, and inner city areas presents one of the greatest threats to election integrity, and is often involved in fraud cases. Paid or unpaid harvesting or “ballot collection assistance” should be banned, or at least limited to collecting and delivering ballots for just two voters as in Florida. Compliance with restrictions should be monitored at drop boxes.
6. States should monitor and protect ballot drop boxes. Collection and storage issues are critical for mailed ballots. Unmonitored drop boxes open 24/7 for weeks raise acute concerns about the lack of meaningful safeguards. Florida requires drop boxes to be located near official polling places, open only during business hours, and monitored in person by an election officer at all times. Poll watchers should be allowed to closely watch boxes and ballot collectors.
Florida and other states also appropriately ban the use of private funds (such as “Zuckerbucks”) for election expenses such as building drop boxes.
7. States should stop stretching Election Day into Election Month. Advance voting should occur only during a reasonably limited period before election day. Florida requires advance ballots to be received 8 to 13 days prior to election day.
8. All ballot handling and counting should be bi-partisan and open to poll watchers, and machines should be repeatedly tested and audited. Bi-partisan teams of election officials and poll watchers of all parties should be present at all times for all phases of ballot handling and counting. Ballot tabulation machines, signature verification software, and related systems should be subject to repeated testing and audits with bi-partisan observers as in Florida.
9. All ballots should be received by election day and counted and publicly reported by the next day. It is inexcusable to delay ballot counts for days after election day, or accept ballots received after election day because they were postmarked that day. All ballots should be returned and received by election day as in Florida, and final tallies should be counted and reported by the next day.
10. States and counties should diligently investigate and prosecute election fraud and encourage citizens to report it. States should dedicate offices to investigate and prosecute election fraud as Florida has done.
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Fair elections must be a top priority in any state claiming to be a “democracy” governed “by and for the people” instead of for political parties and power seekers.
We’ve seen many election complaints and protests from all sides in recent years – and that’s fine. Questioning election results and complaining about potential fraud are not “insurrection” or “election denial,” but Democracy 101.
Protestors have every right to “petition the government for redress of grievances” about elections or anything else. They are exercising classic free speech protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. States should fully and fairly investigate election fraud complaints regardless of who or what party raises them.
Both blue state and red state officials and candidates also should get behind proven election reforms designed to restore a fairer playing field, better oversight, more security over mailed ballots, and fewer opportunities for fraud.