This piece was written exclusively for COTR by Joanne Young, who is a Lawyers Democracy Fund Board Member (a non-partisan, non-profit organization focusing on election integrity), and managing partner of Kirstein and Young, PLLC. She has served as President of the Washington Foreign Law Society, the Women’s Bar Association, the International Aviation Club, and the International Aviation Women’s Association. She’s serving as a delegate for DC to the 2020 GOP Convention and serves as Vice Chair of the Republican National Lawyers Association.
In other words, she’s kiiiiiiiiiiinda of a big deal. 🙂 Read her piece below and share!
Imagine if you checked your mailbox one day and found the 2020 election ballots for every voter in your house in there. You didn’t ask for them; they just appeared. You call the number on the back to see if it’s real and the elections official tells you that your state has decided to go to a “vote-by-mail” system. You ask if you can still vote at your usual polling place and they say no.
You are worried about mailing in your votes for a very important election. You ask about the safety of the ballot and how to be sure it’s received and counted, but are told to just drop it in the mail and trust the system.
This illustration may seem far-fetched, but the sudden change to universal vote-by-mail is actually happening in California – and other states are contemplating it as elected officials scramble to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet the risks for universal vote-by-mail could far outweigh any reward in the name of public health. The concerns with mail voting include out-of-date voter rolls, undue influence over voters, foreign interference through counterfeit ballots, ballot harvesting through unscrupulous parties, and many others that are exacerbated when use of mail ballots is dramatically increased.
Simply put, universal vote-by-mail is very different from traditional absentee voting and presents far more serious challenges and risks. Even though both are conducted by mail, these two voting systems are not the same.
Traditional absentee voting is where eligible voters can request to have their ballots delivered to them by mail as an alternative to voting in-person. All 50 states provide for some form of absentee voting, and 17 states require voters to provide an excuse, such as severe illness or disability, to qualify for an absentee ballot.
Universal vote-by-mail, or all-mail voting, is instead essentially compulsory vote-by-mail. In-person voting options are made extremely inconvenient. Every eligible voter is automatically sent his or her ballot in the mail, whether or not the voter actually wanted to vote by mail. Currently, five states – Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington – conduct all-mail voting.
In the five states that have universal vote-by-mail, it has taken them several years to roll out and improve their voting systems. Washington, which implemented all-mail voting in 2011, is still working through the transition from in-person voting to all-mail voting nearly a decade later.
Implementing universal vote-by-mail is an immense administrative undertaking. It requires an expansive voting infrastructure, costly voting equipment, and an impressive amount of resources to transport, process, and accurately count an election worth of mail-in ballots.
How could new states suddenly decide to adopt it before the November 2020 election? And how could they assure their voters they can do it in a way that will have sufficient safeguards to protect ballots? It just is not realistic.
Printing and sending ballots, envelopes, and instructions to every eligible voter comes with a hefty financial burden, not to mention the inevitable logjam of local postal systems tasked with processing tens of thousands more ballots.
Significantly and most noticeably to voters, switching to an all-mail voting system, particularly in a state that is not used to a high level of vote-by-mail, leads to delayed election results. In our instant news world, voters expect election results on election night, within minutes of the polls closing. With a large number of mail ballots, it would be virtually impossible to count the ballots and announce the winner on election night. As we saw in 2018 in California and this year in the New York primary, the winner may not be known for weeks, and sometimes the lead changes during the counting process.
And that’s not all. There is also the problem that when voters who prefer not to participate in the election automatically receive a ballot in the mail, hundreds of thousands of ballots are sent but never used. Because absentee voters intentionally request and anticipate their mail ballots, they are not normally ignored or misplaced. The sheer number of unused ballots in all-mail elections makes it hard to ignore the potential for voter fraud, especially when considering the limited administrative oversight and the press for results inherent in all-mail elections. Add to this the grim reality that the mail ballots of younger, minority, and first-time voters are rejected at a much higher rate.
As Election Day gets closer, elected officials at every level should stand up to those who believe their own politics would benefit from a sudden change to universal vote-by-mail. If we really want our elections to have the highest amount of participation and the lowest amount of fraud, it would be irresponsible to pretend this goal would ever be achieved by half-baked plans to overhaul election systems virtually overnight.