The Stew Reporting on government and politics

Mail-in voting war escalates

Politics | The pandemic sparks a debate over the pros and cons of different polling methods
by Harvest Prude
Posted 5/28/20, 03:31 pm

For 32-year-old Andy Rose, voting has never been more convenient. Rose is from Arkansas, but he moved to Seattle six years ago. Now, when he’s ready to vote, he simply fills out a ballot that is mailed to him. Rose has never even had to take it to a drop-off box or mail it back—because his wife does it for him.

“I actually appreciate mail-in voting,” he said. “It’s a lot easier.”

But Rose said he can think of a dozen scenarios of how the process could go wrong—such as the U.S. Postal Service failing to deliver the ballot, in-home pressure on how to fill it out, or receiving a ballot that is meant for someone else. Perhaps worst of all: “Let’s say one of my housemates didn’t vote the way I wanted her to, so I dropped it off in the trash.”

Rose, who leans Republican, admitted he’s never heard of any of these scenarios happening to anyone he knows, but they are why he is skeptical of the Democratic-led effort to take mail-in voting national ahead of November’s presidential election.

“How do you standardize this by November, in a five-month period when they can’t even mail out a stimulus check to only living people?” he asked.

Mail-in voting has become a divisive topic as election officials have sought to safely hold elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. Congressional Democrats, citing concerns over a potential resurgence of the coronavirus, are pushing for mail-in voting in all 50 states.

Republicans are not convinced. President Donald Trump and his allies have launched an all-out war on the effort, citing potential fraud and threatening punitive action against states that move to all mail-in voting.

“The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots,” Trump tweeted on Sunday. “It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history.”

Last week, the president threatened to withhold federal funding from the battleground states of Michigan and Nebraska over the issue. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson plans to mail absentee-ballot applications to the state’s 7 million voters for its Aug. 4 primary and the November election. Nebraska is sending ballots to voters for its June primary. It is unclear what funding the White House would withhold, but both states have requested financial aid from the Election Assistance Commission.

“The president’s right to look at this,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during a recent press briefing. “We want a free and fair election, and that’s a fair concern.”

The Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the California Republican Party are suing California after Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a plan to switch to mail-in ballots for November’s general election. Newsom wants to automatically mail ballots to every registered voter. The state would still allow limited in-person voting.

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel called the move “the latest direct assault on the integrity of our elections.”

Blue states are not the only ones seeking to ramp up voting by mail. Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican, plans to mail instructions to every registered voter on how to apply for absentee ballots online. Ohio and Georgia’s Republican secretaries of state are also weighing plans to send absentee ballot applications or information to voters. In acknowledgment of security concerns, Kentucky and other states are creating fraud task forces.

The pervasiveness of voter fraud is the subject of intense debate, but recent, documented examples do exist. In 2018, state officials ordered a do-over in a North Carolina congressional election after a GOP operative requested, collected, and marked more than 1,200 absentee ballots.

Voting experts say there is less opportunity for bad actors when elections are supervised by officials in person. But in-person elections can have their own problems.

On May 21, U.S. Attorney William McSwain unveiled the conviction of a former Philadelphia election official, Domenick DeMuro, who pleaded guilty to stuffing ballot boxes for Democrats in local elections while serving as the municipal judge of elections. In exchange for bribes, DeMuro would stand in a booth and vote “over and over, as fast as he could, while he thought the coast was clear,” McSwain said.

Mark Hemingway, a senior writer at RealClearInvestigations, recently came under fire from voting rights organizations after writing an article pointing out that voters did not return nearly 1 in 5 of all absentee ballots between 2012 and 2018. But he did not present evidence of fraud.

“I don’t believe there is widespread voter fraud in this country,” Hemingway told me. “But it doesn’t have to be widespread to affect a close election.”

Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite (file) Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite (file) Rep. Jennifer Wexton

Stimulus bill tampers with voter ID laws

Andres Lavilla, a 21-year-old poll worker during Virginia’s 2019 elections, said verifying voters’ identification “makes me feel patriotic.” He wants to volunteer for the 2020 general election in November, but the latest House coronavirus economic relief bill could make photo verification unnecessary.

The $3 trillion measure passed by House Democrats—the largest proposed expenditure of federal funds in U.S. history—is primarily a federal bailout for state budgets. But dozens of the bill’s 1,800 pages would change the landscape of how the country runs federal elections.

The bill allows voters in all future federal elections to cast ballots without proof of identification. Instead, officials could accept “a sworn written statement.” This change would affect all states, regardless of current laws, and includes both absentee and in-person voting.

Charlie Kirk, president of Turning Point USA, drew attention to the proposal in a tweet on May 12. He is concerned it would “destroy all remaining trust in our elections” by facilitating fraud. “This is one of the many poison pills lurking in … the most bloated bill ever to come out of Congress,” Kirk said.

U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., who supported the measure, called voter ID requirements “voter suppression laws” because they could potentially stop eligible citizens from voting. Some studies have found racial minorities, the elderly, people in lower-income brackets, and people with only a high school diploma are less likely to possess the identification required by many voter ID laws.

The bill also affects states’ rights, according to Virginia Del. Jason Miyares, Republican: “It’s ridiculous that they’re trying to use COVID-19 to federalize state’s voter ID laws.” He cited studies showing that voter ID laws do not hamper minority participation.

The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate likely will not approve the bill. That makes Lavilla, who was born to Venezuelan parents, happy: “It’s best to respect the law and have voter ID. Let’s not infringe on the rights of people voting the right way—people who earned their citizenship and can prove it.” —Joshua Raimundo

Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Harnik (file) Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Harnik (file) Sen. Tom Cotton

A call for accountability

Twenty-six senators co-signed a letter written by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., to Attorney General William Barr accusing Planned Parenthood of fraudulent COVID-19 relief requests.

To apply for a forgivable loan under the coronavirus economic relief law, an organization cannot have more than 500 employees. Planned Parenthood has $1.9 billion in net assets and employs 16,000 people. But its affiliate organizations, which often employ fewer than 500, applied for and received $80 million in COVID-19 relief. The Small Business Administration considers Planned Parenthood one large employer. It also said the affiliates don’t qualify for funds.

Cotton and his colleagues claim the abortion giant’s partner organizations knew this when they applied.

“The money needs to be recovered,” tweeted Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., one of the co-signers. “If anybody knowingly falsified applications, they need to be prosecuted.”

The letter also cites President Donald Trump’s publicly stated intention to deny Planned Parenthood and its affiliates any aid.

Barr has yet to respond to the letter, which he received on May 21. —J.R.

Investigation dropped

The U.S. Department of Justice has closed its investigations into three U.S. senators who had come under public scrutiny for stock trades they made shortly before the COVID-19 outbreak caused global markets to falter.

The Wall Street Journal learned that federal prosecutors informed Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) the investigations into the matter are now closed. All three senators denied improper involvement with shedding hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock.

The Justice Department is still investigating Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. —H.P.

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Harvest Prude

Harvest is a political reporter for WORLD's Washington Bureau. She is a World Journalism Institute and Patrick Henry College graduate. Harvest resides in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @HarvestPrude.

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  • PAMom
    Posted: Fri, 05/29/2020 08:59 am

    The absurdity of people claiming that voter I. D. laws "could potentially stop eligible citizens from voting" is beyond me. You have to show an I. D. to buy liquor at a restaurant, to apply for a driver's license or a vehicle registration. There is no reason why the U. S. shouldn't have voter I. D. laws in all 50 states. We are the only country that doesn't require I. D. to vote. Voter fraud is very real. Allegheny County officials in PA admit duplicate ballots were mailed out just recently. Judicial Watch has been one organization fighting the corruption in the U. S. of voter fraud. They are in the process of suing the state of PA for having over 800,000 inactive voters on its rolls.

  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Sat, 05/30/2020 07:20 pm

    Mail-in voting is inevitable as a modern convenience, just as the telephone, cell-phones, and on-line shopping all became inevitable as soon as they were invented. Instead of squabbling over it, the politicians should spend their resources trying to design the best systems they possibly can. President Trump uses a mail-in ballot. Why shouldn't everyone?

  • Gpa Russ
    Posted: Sat, 08/01/2020 05:08 pm

    I live in Michigan. Earlier this week I received a card in the mail from the Michigan Republican party urging me to "Request your absentee ballot today!" It went on to state that Trump "needs you to request your absentee ballot online" and included the following Trump quote: "Absentee ballots are fine because you have to go through a precise process to get your voting privilege." Then the next day I read that he wants to postpone the election!.