Imagine yourself as a CEO. Your contract explicitly identifies a delivery schedule, legitimate worries abound that you will fail miserably; a Board Meeting is scheduled to decide on your tenure. Naturally, you revert to a campaign mode to save your job. Chances are, and I could bet my last dollar, that you will not use your failure as the reason to extend your contract.
If you consider US Presidency as the job and the electorate as your Board, and your deliverable as the conduct of a free and fair election and transition of power, chances are I have already lost that bottom dollar and currently sleeping under an overpass.
“2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” President Trump tweeted last week. “It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???” The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed with the headline “An Invitation in the Mail for Election Fraud”; the author’s mail-in votes were forwarded to his current address in Texas from an old in the state of Washington. Careful to announce “we won’t be voting there. That would be fraudulent” he declares voting by mail is subject to “too much malevolent temptation” and any efforts to make it more seamless “would be doomed to inaccuracy and, yes, fraud” – we must thank him for rising above baser tendencies of the hoi polloi. President’s self-appointed immigrant-hater-in-chief Stephen Miller delivered his usual dog-whistle claiming, without proof, non-citizens harvest votes. Attorney General William Barr alleged that foreign countries will “easily make counterfeit ballots, put names in, send them in”. President Trump himself fanned the fire multiple times: “Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting” he said in April, “for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.” Republican blabbermouths and The State TV are in an infinite loop of how mail-in votes are going to steal an election from Dear Leader. In their dedication to passing on the blame, they have at least admitted that the President will likely fail in his key function of insuring the basic foundations of a democratic state.
The 2018 midterm had only one, yes, only one, confirmed the allegation of mail-in voter fraud, and that was committed by a Republican candidate. In North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District, that President Trump won by 16 percentage points, Republican contender Mark Harris was declared the winner with a lead of only 905 votes, only to be refused certification by the bipartisan North Carolina Board of Elections. The Board found irregularities in hundreds of mail-in votes from Bladen County, one of the two counties Harris won. Leslee Dowless, a Republican working for the campaign, filled in at least a thousand mail-in requests, many without voters’ knowledge, and then deployed army of posers as election officials to collect them. Votes for Democrats were tossed out, signatures forged, among other laundry lists of misdeeds. “I was willing to do whatever it took to be the man that God would use, and sacrificed”, Harris was quoted in saying. I only wish he did not take Lord’s name in vain.
I like to revert to numbers when in doubt. The Heritage Foundation maintains a database of voter fraud cases. Over last 20 years, it counts 1071 proven instances of voter fraud, resulting in 938 criminal convictions, in all types of voting activities; only 204 related to fraudulent absentee/mail-in ballots, resulting in 143 criminal convictions. One hundred forty-three proven cases in twenty years, under eight cases per year, average three cases per state over 20 years, in all elections with an estimated 250 million mail-in votes cast. Mail-in voting fraud occurred in less than 0.00006 percent of cases. It gets rarer if you consider a state where it is well-established, like Oregon, where the rate falls to about 0.000004 percent, or five times less than the chance of getting hit by lightning in the US.
In 2018, about one in four votes were cast in mail-in, in 2020 the number is expected to be almost seventy percent. 34 states now allow “no-excuse” mail-in voting, and all 50 allow some form of mail-in. Kim Wyman, Washington’s Republican Secretary of State, went through security measures the state takes in an interview with The New York Times. For example, all ballots in WA are bar-coded, every voter can monitor where their ballot is at any moment, and call for a replacement if needed. Votes must be signed and signature validated against one on file, illegible signatures kick in another round of verification. There have been cases of ballots being sent to wrong addresses or forwarded out-of-state as in the Wall Street Journal op-ed, but no case of stealing. There was a single case of the deceased voter, where the survivor cast one last ballot in memory, 14 cases of voting multiple times within state and 59 cases of voting in multiple states – all of these cases because of moving within or between states, everyone forgetting that a vote was previously cast. At less than .0025% instance of all mishaps, and zero willful malfeasance, WA was surely a paragon for integrity.
Given Republicans’ general antipathy to mail-in voting, you’d think people who do mail-in voting are overwhelmingly Democratic. A recent study by Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) puts that theory to rest. On average, they find, the two parties’ share are the same. “Our paper has a clear takeaway: Claims that vote-by-mail fundamentally advantages one party over the other appear overblown”, authors summarize. In addition, the study finds mail-in voting typically increases turnout by 2%.
That explains Republicans’ ire. Most of the 2% incremental votes come from people who otherwise would go without voting – overwhelmingly they are younger (in college or in transition), are economically disadvantaged (e.g., can’t take the hours off to vote), or, older Blacks (scared off, among others, by unreasonable ID requirements that Courts have repeatedly ruled against); all three demographics usually vote Democratic. As both parties prepare for a closely fought race, Republicans have an incentive to keep these voters out, even if one fears of COVID-19; for example, Texas Attorney General Paxton did recently.
Republican Party needs to come clean and not falsely implicate thousands of workers involved in voting process. Yes, New York Primaries were a sorry spectacle last month, and the fault does lie in mail-in voting – but there was no fraud!! The key in getting past the procedural bottleneck is to improve, allocate resources necessary, including with USPS as it plays an integral part of the voting process. Republicans can, and do win, despite widespread use of mail-in voting – they just won a Special Election in California. If the Feds can give out an individualized stimulus check for every family in 3 months, maybe the Feds, and the States, and the local authorities, can send out individualized ballots to every registered voter at their last address on record in 3 months. They probably can, but only if they have will.
Maybe Trump’s tweet(s) are an indication of what he thinks he can achieve. He is sowing doubt in his flock about the outcome of the vote by talking ad-nauseum about a non-issue. There might be bottlenecks for wider use of mail-in voting, but that does not mean they will be “INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT”. I will echo The Wall Street Journal in saying if he believes the election will be rigged because of mail-in ballots, “he should reconsider his participation and let someone run who isn’t looking for an excuse to blame for defeat.”
Democracy runs on the conscience of the voter, not on the con-science of a voter fraud conspiracy. It is time we all learn that.
[Partha Chakraborty is an Indian-born immigrant; a naturalized US Citizen since 2018. Educated in India and at Cornell University, Partha is currently an entrepreneur in water technologies, Blockchain and wealth management in the US and in India. The views expressed are his own].