Trump claims mail-in ballots will be 'greatest rigged election in history', expert debunks baseless tweets
Professor Michael Latner slams POTUS' claims: 'We can track where every ballot goes through mail until it is received back the election headquarters'
States have expressed concern over the safety of voters as officials grapple to find a feasible alternative to carry out the elections in November, amid a life-threatening pandemic.
As a solution, efforts are being made to broaden universal vote-by-mail so voters won't have to cue up in front of polling stations for hours with increased risk of contracting the virus. However, the President had a scathing response to universal "Mail-In Ballots" as an alternative and has also called for Republicans to fight against it.
Last week, President Trump took to Twitter to make "a series of false and baseless accusations" that he deems come with embracing mail-in voting. He offered no evidence to his statements but claimed that mail elections could result in a massive voting scam involving robbed mailboxes, forgery and illegal printing of ballots. "The United States cannot have all Mail-In Ballots. It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history. People grab them from mailboxes, print thousands of forgeries and "force" people to sign. Also, forge names,” Trump wrote in a tweet dated May 24. “Some absentee OK, when necessary. Trying to use Covid for this Scam!”
Despite having used the mail-voting process in the past, Trump said that the vote-by-mail process could mean “thousands of people sitting in somebody’s living room, signing ballots all over the place.” He also drew caution to this alternative voting system resulting in "massive fraud" and alleged that “Ballots will be printed by foreign countries and others. It will be the scandal of our times!” None of his claims were backed by solid evidence, and tinkering with ballots is virtually impossible because it has a specific tracking system and is branded with bar codes. “Kids go and they raid the mailboxes and they hand them to people signing the ballots down at the end of the street,” said Trump.
MEA WorldWide spoke with Professor Michael Latner, the Kendall Science Fellow at the Center for Science and Democracy, Union of Concerned Scientists. He is also the Associate professor of political science at California State Polytechnic University. Professor Latner gave his expert opinion on the President's claims with regard to vote-by-mail and debunked his baseless accusations. "There's no evidence that voting by mail leads to substantially larger levels of voter fraud. In fact, there's no evidence that there's systemic voter fraud in the United States at all", said Professor Latner. "Many political scientists have studied states that have made the transition from in-person Election Day voting to universal vote-by-mail - states like Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Utah - and there's no evidence that any of those states have experienced a more significant amount of fraud."
Vote-by-mail has been in use since the civil war in the United States. The process of vote-by mail-began with the need to send soldiers ballots who weren't in the states that there they lived in and were registered to vote in. Today, while the systems of vote-by-mail have expanded, a more extensive method is the universal vote-by-mail. States like California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Hawaii, and more recently Nevada and Michigan have been moving towards mobilizing universal vote-by-mail. Under this system, every eligible voter receives a ballot in the mail. Voters have numerous opportunities to turn their ballots in early by either sending them through the mail, dropping off their ballots at a voting center or like in the case of most states, where counties provide drop boxes, similar to a mailbox. Election authorities set the drop boxes up at drop-in points at least month prior to the date of the election, so that the voter regardless of where they live can drop off their ballots.
In the process, the chances that electoral fraud may occur is highly likely. Voter fraud, which is a very specific type of election fraud may certainly pose a risk as it is not entirely non-existent, but they're not as big a threat as the President claims it will be. Voter fraud is when voters either illegally vote or impersonate an eligible voter. "if you fill out somebody else's ballot, that's voter impersonation fraud. And those types of fraud are among the rarest kinds of fraud that we find in the United States and in the election systems abroad." Professor Latner explained. "The magnitude of voter fraud is really insignificant", he added. "We're talking about a handful of cases when we look at the millions of ballots that have been cast. Indeed, the largest threat from electoral fraud."
The reality is that most types of fraud that we see committed are actually at the hands of the election officials by either stuffing ballots or are organized and part of the organized part. The best example is the 2018 elections for the 9th Congressional District in North Carolina. It had to be held again because Republican operatives were collecting ballots and filling them out for their preferred candidate or throwing them away. That's the type of election fraud we want to be concerned about, Professor Latner concurs, but on the other hand, it is also very rare, coupled with the fact that there are ways to identify a type of fraud when it takes place. Like "when you see, a handful of precincts where there's an enormous amount of ballots coming in for one candidate versus another, any of these sorts of irregularities and patterns is typically the way that we identify that kind of fraud", he added.
Just like any political structure, the vote-by-mail system also has its pros and cons. Professor Latner opined that it may marginally increase turnout but it doesn't have a big effect, as such. "It doesn't have a big effect on in terms of party advantage. There's no evidence that you know, advantages Democrats over Republicans", he said, effectively ruling out Trump's claim that mail-in voting process will lead to results in the favor of the Democrats. This claim that mail-in voting could lead to massive voter fraud is without merit, Professor Latener asserted. "Every mail ballot that is printed has its own identification number. And there is ballot tracking software that allows both voters and election officials to track where every printed ballot goes in. Only ballots that are associated with a voter that's already on a registered voter list will receive a ballot," he explained the mail-in-voting mechanism. "They can track where that ballot goes through the mail, through the chain of custody until it is received back at the election officials headquarters. They can tell whether it's counted or not. We have ways of tracing every ballot that is made. You can't just introduce a bunch of fake ballots into the process. It would be immediately identified by election officials."
Yet the benefits outweigh the detriments and Professor Latner focuses on the paper ballot that also addresses the questions about security. "You have a paper ballot that can be used for auditing. So it actually adds a layer of security to the voting process rather than then takes it away," he said. In addition, it also a cheaper alternative to the normal election system complete with voting booths and polling stations. Elections cannot be organized without capital investment, because you need to purchase equipment for ballot counting, and then there some upfront costs as well. So in that case, vote-by-mail is more economical. "It tends to help with costs. So if local election officials don't need to hire as many poll workers or open up as many precincts, there are administrative savings associated with mail voting over the long run", he elaborated.
Whilst it profits the states, it is also advantageous to voters, the foremost being that you're not forced to a single day to cast your vote. Voters have access to the universal vote-by-mail option and a regular no-excuse absentee voting. Absentee voting is a type of voting system that provides voters with a ballot and voting information, early on in the election process, typically a month before the election date. You fill the ballot at home in your own leisure, deciding who should gain your vote and how you want to vote on issues. "It provides a little bit more time for the voter to think about casting their vote", Professor Latner added.
The current concern amid the pandemic is how to ease congestion on Election Day and voters waiting in long lines. The primaries were an accurate representation of just that, and with infections on the rise and safety issues, it has also been hard to find poll workers in several states. "We've seen really long lines on Election Day, and that is exactly the thing that we want to avoid because we're risking exposing voters to a greater threat of infection by all of it", said Professor Latner. "One of the ways that we can reduce that is to offer different types of voting for voters. And the research on this is very clear, that when voters have more options on waiting, lines are shorter. We want to be able to provide vote by mail for it for every voter who chooses and is able to do that. And we need public education to encourage people to vote by mail that it's a safe and secure and effective way to vote."
"At the same time, millions of Americans have to vote in-person, either for reasons of disability or lack of access to residential mail or for a variety of reasons," he added. "And so we also need to provide early in-person voting. Election officials need to set up early voting as a way to reduce the clustering of people on Election Day. And that's one of the most important health requirements that we need to make before November. And frankly, we're not very well prepared for it."