Editorial: Mail ballots should be the least of your worries
photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration
At first glance, it would seem that President Trump is an expert on matters of fraud, if for no other reason than he listens to the table chatter at the company cafeteria. (Harsh? Yes, but the scorecard of Trump campaign officials convicted of or indicted on fraud is significant.)
But, being an expert on fraud and an expert on fraud prevention aren’t exactly the same thing. With that in mind, perhaps the president isn’t the best source for advice on preventing election fraud.
His most recent musing that people ought to try to vote twice as a way to test the system is reckless. But perhaps some good can come of it, if Americans use it as an opportunity to more deeply examine our election system. If done honestly, most will find the system isn’t perfect but is better than the alternative. It certainly deserves our confidence when it is allowed to operate without manipulation and when it is protected from foreign influences and other threats from our country’s enemies.
So, let’s examine this issue of using a mail ballot to vote twice in an election. The first thing to know is there are protections in place, they’ve been used for a long time, and they have proved adequate. The key is that mail or advance ballots aren’t simply thrown in a pile with Election Day ballots where the two become indiscernible. Rather, mail ballots are kept in a separate pile. They are kept sealed and attached with names. They aren’t counted until election officials can check that the names attached to the mail ballots don’t also show up on the list of people who voted in person on Election Day. If the names show up on both lists, there is a vote that won’t count. If it is determined you voted twice on purpose, a law enforcement official may visit with you. If you follow the president’s advice on voting twice to test the system, you have rocks in your head.
But what happens if election officials don’t check their lists, you ask? Well, of course, that is a problem. But that is a problem of incompetent election officials, not a problem with mail-in ballots. Opponents of mail ballots are conveniently glossing over that point. If you think bad election officials are the issue, fix that problem. Don’t ban voting by mail. That’s no solution. Reckless election officials will create plenty of problems with in-person voting too. If you are concerned about election fraud, the most important thing you can do is to vote for competent election officials.
To be fair to people concerned with mail ballots, there are nine states and the District of Columbia that automatically mail ballots to all registered voters whether requested or not. Kansas’ system does seem better than that. Voters here can get a ballot mailed to them for any reason, but they do have to request it. It does add another level of security to the process. It is reasonable to have a debate about whether it would be better to have that added level of security. But it is unreasonable to suggest that these nine states and D.C. have created a system that will invalidate election results. There is no evidence of that. You can come up with hunches and suppositions about fraud, but you can come up with hunches and suppositions about fraud with in-person ballots too.
The bar must be higher than that before we start sowing doubt about something so sacred as our elections. What should concern us are security problems that are systemic in nature. While some people might be able to find a way to misuse a mail ballot or two, it is much more difficult to find a way to misuse millions of them at a time. A true systemic threat to our elections is a computer hack of vote counting software that changes millions of votes at a time. Mind you, we have systems in place to prevent that too, but that threat should keep you awake far more than mail ballots.
Another systemic threat that should be more worrisome: Russian interference. We’ve now had a Republican-appointed special counsel and a Republican-controlled Senate panel both come to the conclusion that Russian actors are trying to manipulate U.S. election results.
It is hard to understand why people concerned about mail ballots aren’t expressing more concerns about those Republican findings of Russian interference.
Well, maybe it isn’t that hard to understand. They spend too much time listening to a certain cafeteria table.