Commentary, COVID-19, News

Universal voting by mail working well in both red, blue states

Reporter Jeremy Duda of the Arizona Mirror had a compelling story yesterday on a subject of growing interest across our pandemic-stricken country: voting by mail. His chief finding: It works.

Here’s an excerpt from “Officials in all-mail balloting states say GOP claims of fraud are false”:

Officials in states where everyone casts their ballot by mail say Republican claims, like those made by local leaders and even President Donald Trump, that such elections are havens for fraud and stolen elections aren’t true.

Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington have all-mail elections, meaning every registered voter is mailed a ballot. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, California, Nebraska and North Dakota allow counties to use all-mail elections, while 13 other states, including Arizona, permit some localities to do so.

“Our state’s experience has not been seeing an increase or a large amount of fraud. In fact, probably the opposite – a very small incidence of fraud,” said Kim Wyman, Washington’s secretary of state.

Much like in Arizona’s vote-by-mail system, which is voluntary but used by around 80 percent of voters, all Washingtonians who are registered to vote receive their ballots in the mail with envelopes that are tied to their voter registration information. They fill out their ballots, sign the envelope and either mail it back or drop it off at a designated place. 

When election officials receive the envelope, they compare the signature to the one that’s on file for the voter. If they’re unsure, they contact the voter. Once they’re confident of a match, the ballot is counted. After a voter’s ballot is counted as received, any other attempt to vote under that voter’s registration information is automatically flagged and the ballot discounted.

Duda reports that there are problems at times, but they have proved manageable.

In deep-red Utah, election officials also haven’t found mail balloting to be vulnerable to fraud….

Rozan Mitchell, the elections director for Utah County, just south of the Salt Lake City area, said the only problems she generally sees with all-mail voting is when people sign their spouse’s ballot envelope, or when a parent signs the envelope for an adult child who is away on a church mission. Sometimes, an elderly voter will show up at a polling place after forgetting and not realizing he or she already mailed in a ballot.

Occasionally there are red flags, Mitchell said, such as when several ballot envelopes have the same person’s handwriting. In those cases, election officials refer the case to the county attorney for prosecution. But Mitchell said she’s only seen that happen once in 20 years.

“It’s really not that common. People think it happens all the time, and it really doesn’t,” Mitchell said.

Wyman said the most common problem Washington sees with fraudulent voting is people who try to double vote by casting ballots in multiple states. Washington, like Arizona, is part of a multi-state system that cross-references voters to catch people who vote multiple times. Of about 3.5 million ballots cast in the 2018 general election, Wyman said there were about 100 instances where people might have voted twice….

Andrea Chiapella, a spokeswoman for the Oregon secretary of state’s office, said her state had 22 convictions for voter fraud in 2016, which she noted represents one one-thousandth of a percent of all votes cast.

Justin Lee, elections director for the Utah lieutenant governor’s office, said election officials in the Beehive State have seen no evidence of voter fraud outside of anecdotal stories. In addition to the security measures Utah uses to verify mailed ballots, Lee said the state’s ban on door-to-door ballot collections, derided as “ballot harvesting” by opponents, adds another layer of security. 

Of course, as we know well in North Carolina after last year’s GOP ballot harvesting debacle in the 9th Congressional District special election, fraud is possible and there is a need for election officials to remain vigilant. But the experience out west provides strong evidence that North Carolina (and, indeed, the nation as a whole) would do well to explore a system of universal voting by mail (or, at the least, a significant expansion of the current system) ASAP.

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