Elections

Democrats Should Curb Their Enthusiasm for Mail-in Voting

Mail-in ballots for the congressional election are dropped off at a drive-through polling location in San Diego, Calif., October 22, 2018 (Mike Blake/Reuters)
Mail-in voting could contribute to a 2020 nightmare.

There’s a giant scheme afoot to disenfranchise voters in November — it’s called mail-in balloting.

Mail-in voting has, like many things in our politics, taken on the aspect of tribal warfare — if President Donald Trump is vociferously against it, Democrats must be vociferously for it, and vice versa.

Absentee voting is unquestionably less secure than in-person voting, but there’s no evidence of widespread fraud. Nor is there evidence that, at least prior to this campaign, mail-in voting has favored Democrats, as the president believes.

Trump shouldn’t be trying to delegitimize the process, a point that journalists have often made. Yet there hasn’t been enough focus on the other side of the equation: Does it make sense for Democrats to be fervent boosters of a process that may lead to a historic number of votes cast in a presidential election not counting? Stacey Abrams, call your office.

No matter what anyone says, there is inevitably going to be more mail-in voting in the fall, but in-person voting is superior. Only about one-hundredth of 1 percent of in-person votes are rejected, whereas rejection rates of 1 percent are common with mail-in votes, and some states exceeded that during their primaries this year.

This should be a five-alarm worry for Democrats. According to polling, almost twice as many Biden supporters as Trump supporters say they’ll vote by mail this year. According to NPR, studies show “that voters of color and young voters are more likely than others to have their ballots not count.” In another universe, if Trump were urging Democrats to stay away from the polls and instead use a method more likely to get their votes discarded, it’d be attacked as a dastardly voter-suppression scheme.

There are at least three ways that mail-in voting could contribute to a 2020 nightmare. Trump could be winning on election night, and the outcome slowly reverse over time. Delayed by the volume of mail-in ballots, states could blow past the deadline for finalizing their results. And if the margins in battleground states are very close, rejected mail-in ballots could lead to protracted, high-stakes court fights.

More than a half million ballots were rejected in this year’s presidential primaries. Ballots are discarded for improper postmarks and signatures, and mail-in voters are also more prone to accidentally vote for more than one candidate or make other errors.

In its primaries, New York delivered up the perfect storm of ramped-up mail-in voting and inadequate preparation. In the twelfth congressional district, it took weeks to declare a winner, and the number of rejected mail ballots was roughly three times Representative Carolyn Maloney’s 3,700-vote margin of victory over challenger Suraj Patel.

If this had happened in Georgia, in a race a Republican narrowly won over a Democrat, it would be considered a notorious offense against democracy.

What happened in New York easily could preview the general election. NPR notes that more than 23,000 absentee ballots were rejected in Wisconsin’s primary this year, exceeding Trump’s margin in the state in 2016. Nearly 40,000 were rejected in Pennsylvania, where Trump won by 44,000 votes in 2016.

In light of all this, it makes sense, first and foremost, to try to make more options available for in-person voting.

In addition, states should allow the counting of mail-in ballots prior to Election Day to minimize any swing in the count afterward. Congress should delay the date that states have to finalize their results, currently December 8. And election officials and the parties should do everything they can to educate mail-in voters to do it correctly.

What should be intolerable is any attempt to change the rules after the fact, although it’s entirely conceivable that Democrats will feel compelled after November 3 to argue that the mail-in voting that they’ve done so much to promote is desperately flawed and deeply unjust.

© 2020 by King Features Syndicate

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