Debate Was a Missed Chance to Detail Mail-In Vote Flaws

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Neither Joe Biden nor debate moderator Chris Wallace seems to believe that vote fraud with mail-in ballots is a real issue. They both made that clear in Tuesday night’s presidential debate. “Nobody has established at all there is a fraud related to the mail-in ballot,” Biden claimed. Chris Wallace asserted: “The biggest problem with mail-in voting is not fraud, historically.”

President Trump tried to explain that absentee ballots, which people have to request, are more secure than ballots that are mailed out to everyone on the voter rolls. Many people on these lists have moved or passed away, and the mail-in ballot may fall into the wrong hands.

But even absentee ballots are far from secure. Just this year, Texas convicted a U.S. Postal Service employee for selling a list of absentee voters to vote harvesters. In another absentee ballot harvesting scheme, an affidavit by a retired police captain alleges that a witness heard a Harris County precinct employee bragging that the ballot operation he was a part of “could harvest 700,000 illegal ballots” this November.

As Trump mentioned in the debate, some military ballots cast in his favor ended up in the trash in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In Paterson, N.J., 20% of the votes in this year’s City Council election were deemed fraudulent because of absentee ballot fraud.

A Los Angeles television station found that hundreds of absentee ballots had been cast year after year in the names of deceased individuals. Also in L.A., four men pled guilty to paying homeless people with cash and cigarettes for their votes. The list of similar cases from this year alone is long. But these are hard cases to catch, since both the vote buyer and seller have an incentive to hide the transaction.

Liberals and progressives often argue that we should model the United States on Western European countries, but you never hear them claiming that we should adopt their voting rules. There is a reason for that — most European countries either ban mail-in voting or require people to use photo IDs to obtain a mail-in ballot.

To study this subject, the Crime Prevention Research Center, of which I am president, created a database on voting rules around the world. Here is what we found: Besides the United States, there are 36 member states in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – essentially a club for industrialized countries. About half of them (47%) do not allow absentee voting unless the citizen is living abroad, and another 30% require a photo ID to obtain an absentee ballot. In 14% of the countries, absentee voting is banned even for those living abroad.

Strict requirements are found around the globe, as well.  Many democracies only allow for mail-in voting under extraordinary circumstances. Japan and Poland limit absentee voting to those who possess disability certificates. Only for this year, during the coronavirus pandemic, France has allowed citizens who are sick or at particular risk to vote by mail. Poland will allow mail-in ballots for everyone for this year only. Brazil and Russia satisfy the economic standards of the OECD, but are excluded for various political reasons. Both nations completely ban mail-in voting and require photo IDs for in-person voting.

Among all 43 European countries, 72% ban absentee ballots unless living abroad and another 22% require a photo ID to obtain a mail-in ballot; 19% ban the practice even for those who live abroad. Are all of these countries, socialist and non-socialist alike, Western and Eastern European, developed and undeveloped, acting “without evidence”?

It is not as if officials serving in these governments haven’t heard the same arguments about the importance of ease of voting. Or about how photo ID requirements will supposedly, as one professor in the UK explained, “lead to people not being able to vote.”

These countries have learned the hard way about what happens when mail-in ballots aren’t secured. They have also discovered how difficult it is to detect vote buying. France banned mail-in voting in 1975 because of massive fraud in the island region of Corsica, where postal ballots were stolen or bought and cast in the names of dead people.

The United Kingdom, which allows postal voting, has had some notable mail-in ballot fraud cases. Prior to recent photo ID requirements, six Labour Party councilors in Birmingham won office after what the judge described as a “massive, systematic and organised” postal voting fraud campaign. The fraud was apparently carried out with the full knowledge and cooperation of the local Labour party, and involved “widespread theft” of postal votes (possibly around 40,000 ballots) in areas with large Muslim populations. Labour members were worried that the Iraq War would spur these voters to oppose the incumbent government.

In 1991, Mexico mandated voter photo IDs and banned absentee ballots. The then-governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had long used fraud and intimidation with mail-in ballots to win elections. Only in 2006 were absentee ballots again allowed, and then only for those living abroad who requested them at least six months in advance.

If Trump is delusional for worrying about vote fraud with mail-in ballots, it is a delusion shared by most of the world. Even the countries that allow mail-in ballots have protections, such as government-issued photo IDs. But Americans are constantly assured that even this step is completely unnecessary.  The president is right that without basic precautions, our election is on course to become a nightmare that could last for months.





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