By Aaron Shuchman ’21
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a number of serious issues for the American election system. Voters standing close to each other on line, touching ballots and pens, and using the same touch screens pose a massive health risk for community transmission of COVID-19. In addition, with large numbers of poll workers being retirees or senior citizens at high risk for death from COVID-19, polling places are facing a shortage of poll workers to work on Election Day or in the early voting periods shortly before. This confluence of in-person voting issues has led numerous states to vastly expand mail-in and absentee voting in their states. While absentee voting, the process of requesting a ballot and then sending it in via mail, is proven to be an effective method of conducting elections, mailing ballots to every registered voter—in states like California—is an unproven, unsecure, and potentially catastrophic system.
Absentee voting has been in place for decades. It allows voters—often with an excuse required—to request a ballot, fill it out at home, and return it to an election center via mail. It also allows military members serving overseas to vote while they are deployed. That process is a secure method for allowing the electorate to vote without needing to go to the polls. Ten states are now automatically mailing applications for these ballots to all registered voters, and many states have loosened the requirements to be granted an absentee ballot or to vote by mail upon request.
A different system of voting being enacted in states like California and New Jersey involves every registered voter automatically receiving a ballot instead of a ballot application. This system has been used in states like Oregon and Utah for years, although it has never been enacted on a larger, national scale—like in the 10 states utilizing this system for the 2020 election. The implementation of this system on a large scale, in high population states like California, is unprecedented and could potentially allow rampant voter fraud or lack of faith in the authenticity of the election result.
When states mail a ballot by default to every registered voter, they are relying on the assumption that their voter registration logs are accurate. States like Wisconsin and Georgia, important battleground swing states in the coming election, spent several months before their primary elections “purging” names from their voter logs. While a number of liberal groups have filed lawsuits to block these “purges,” the states are merely carrying out a task required by federal law: removing deceased voters or voters who have moved from their registration rolls. The process of removing now-ineligible voters is a politically fraught one, and the process often gets tied up in the legal system for years.
When states are unable to adequately remove dead voters or voters who have moved from their registration, the records the states rely on to send out their ballots are inaccurate. That means that ballots will be sent to incorrect addresses, voters could receive multiple ballots, or ballots will be sent to unoccupied homes. If there is no way to be confident in the accuracy of the voter registration logs, then it is impossible for the electorate to have confidence that each voter is receiving one ballot or that third parties are not interfering in the collection and the mailing of ballots. There is no legitimate safeguard against ballots being mailed in bulk or against voters voting twice by using a ballot sent to someone else.
Absentee voting will be critical for senior citizens, people with health conditions, or anyone concerned about the health risk of voting in person. This is a tried and true process. However, mailing ballots to every registered voter, especially on a large, national scale when voter rolls are unable to be updated according to the law, is an unproven, risky method for conducting this election. Voter fraud is indeed rare, both in person and via mail. However, this widespread new system opens myriad opportunities for fraud and undermining confidence in the results. There may not be a hefty track record on the efficacy of mailing a ballot to every registered voter, but we shouldn’t risk our upcoming election to find out.