This commentary is by Tom Evslin of Stowe, an entrepreneur, author and former Douglas administration official. It is republished from the Fractals of Change blog.
It was necessary and appropriate to quickly open up drop off and remote voting during the pandemic conditions of the last presidential election. Despite some legitimate fears and some very illegitimate claims, the more open elections did not lead to significant fraud. There’s been enough investigation after the fact to make any reasonable person confident that Biden won and Trump lost because that’s the way the voters wanted it to be.
Unfortunately the good results from last time do not guarantee that we will have a fair election next time unless we take precautions now. Do you trust the other side not to cheat? Do you trust hackers of all kinds to stay away? Last time no one knew there would be such widespread open voting until almost the last minute. This time those who want to steal elections have plenty of time to prepare to cheat.
The country will be deeply damaged if there is enough evidence of fraud that the result of the coming presidential election is legitimately in doubt.
Mail-in ballots invite cheating unless we take steps to make them safe. Third party ballot collection is a disaster waiting to happen. Back in 2018, a South Carolina Republican primary had to be rerun because of a criminal operation involving collection ballots and forgery. There is very little protection against this being repeated many times over in states which allow third party ballot collection including Vermont.
Secret ballots were invented to prevent ballot-buying as much as to protect voter privacy. If the ballot is secret, how does someone who wants to buy a vote know that they actually got the vote that they paid for? This was a problem for Tammany Hall in New York City during the bad old days and they came up with a pretty ingenious solution; all it required was a few blank ballots to start with. Each person who was hired to vote would get a filled in ballot which they would smuggle into the voting booth; they didn’t get paid until they returned with the blank ballot they had been given by the election officials but didn’t deposit in the ballot box. That ballot would then get filled in and used by the next bought voter. Voting machines were supposed to end that scam but have problems of their own. We now use outsized cardboard ballots partly to avoid ballot smuggling.
If there is no effective verification of mailed in ballots, they can be used to make sure bought voters stay bought. The problem is worse if ballots are mailed to people who don’t request them because there will be blank ballots floating around. We know we have a large population of drug users whose addiction drives them to do almost anything to obtain the money to buy drugs (Tammany Hall counted on alcoholics to be part of its election stealing). If a crooked ballot collector can simply pay drug users for their blank ballots or even pay them to fill them in as told, that is certain to happen. I’m not advocating disenfranchising those with a drug problem; but a requirement that votes be signed in a way that can be authenticated and delivered in person (preferably) would help prevent massive fraud. In the interest of safety, mail in ballots should have to be requested and individually mailed.
Verification requires something to verify against. Even if same day registration is allowed at polling places, prior registration must be required for mail in ballots. Signature verification is tricky although it can be automated to some extent, Passwords (and a mechanism for rediscovering forgotten passwords) would be familiar to most Americans by now,
I’d advocate online voting with authentication but think that’ll take too much time to develop in a hacker-proof way. And then might not be hacker-proof after all.
It’s racist nonsense to imagine that minority voters are less capable than anyone else of complying with some simple verification requirements. Also it’s racist to assume minority voters “belong” to one party or the other. It is necessary, however, that traditional polling places be equally accessible in all neighborhoods.
Trumpists and anti-Trumpists are both gearing up to declare the next election fraudulent unless they win. More frightening than that, they will absolutely believe their own accusations of fraud. Denial of results didn’t start with Trump even though he uniquely tried to turn denial into criminal insurrection. Stacey Abrams still hasn’t conceded that she lost the Georgia gubernatorial race; many people still believe that Trump only won the first time with Russian help; and, of course, you remember the hanging chad.
Extremists are not going to believe the next election is fair unless their side wins. Many Americans are going to be very unhappy with the next election no matter how it turns out. It is essential to national unity that the results not be clouded by actual evidence of fraud.