Mail-in Voting Issues Mount as Election Approaches

Mail-in Voting Issues Mount as Election Approaches
Mail-in primary election ballots are processed at the Chester County Voter Services office in West Chester, Pa., on May 28, 2020. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)
Petr Svab

Less than a month before the election, Americans have witnessed a stream of cautionary tales regarding the unprecedented expansion of mail-in voting this year.

Ballots have been lost or unexpectedly found, destroyed or discarded, delivered to wrong addresses, or have returned undeliverable. Even when safely delivered to election authorities, many ballots end up rejected.

While the CCP virus pandemic prompted many Americans to opt for voting by mail, attitudes have been cooling amid repeated warnings that the system isn’t ready to handle a massive vote-by-mail expansion.

The issue has become partisan as well, with Democrats promoting mail voting and Republicans cautioning against it.

Democrat and Republican groups have filed more than 100 lawsuits this year over vote-by-mail rules around the country. Most of the lawsuits are backed by Democrats, who argue that due to the CCP virus pandemic, mail-in voting rules need to be relaxed so that it’s more convenient to vote remotely.

It’s not that voting by mail is necessarily problematic. Some states, such as Oregon and Washington, have done all-mail elections for years with no major problems. Other states, however, have never had to deal with mail voting on the scale expected this year—and it’s showing.

Case Study

Nevada decided to do all-mail elections for the first time this year, both for the primaries and the general election.

Normally, states only allow absentee voting by request. A person sends a request to the election authorities and is mailed a ballot in response. The request is important as it verifies the voter’s identity and address.

Nevada now skips the registration step and mails ballots to all voters based on addresses on their registrations.

However, voter rolls are notoriously messy. One of the most common problems is that people fail to update their registrations when they change residences. At least some states have mechanisms to update the addresses, but there’s a lag. If the voter moves to another state, the process to drop them from the origin state’s rolls could take years. The same applies for deceased voters, who sometimes stay on the rolls well beyond their passing.

In Clark County, Nevada, which covers the Las Vegas metro area, more than 223,000 mail ballots were undeliverable due to having old or wrong addresses, according to the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), which tallied the data.

“More bounced ballots were intended for registered Democrats than Republicans, but non-affiliated voters bounced the most,” PILF spokesman Logan Churchwell told The Epoch Times via email.

And it’s not just people’s moving—some simply register with an invalid address to begin with.

PILF found more than 30,000 people registered at commercial addresses, “such as casinos, gas stations, and restaurants,” across 42 states, its recent report states (pdf).
In Nevada, the right-leaning nonprofit found more than 400 such registrations. When its investigators went to visit several of the locations, it found the registrants not only didn’t live there, but didn’t work at the establishments either. One was a mining outpost without a living soul in sight. Another was an empty lot—a man on site said the building was razed half a year ago.

Ballots that made it to the registrants and back awaited yet another hurdle to clear—rejection.

Nevada’s Washoe County, the Reno area, rejected about one in four ballots that voters returned for regular counting in this year’s primary, PILF found.

“That was historically high for the county,” Churchwell said.

Ballots are rejected usually because they arrive late, are filled out wrong, or the signature doesn’t match the one election authorities have on file.

President Donald Trump has singled out Nevada in his frequent critiques of all-mail voting.

“We’re gonna win this state easily, but when they send out millions of ballots to people that they don’t even know who they’re sending them to, or maybe they do know, and maybe that’s even worse, you’re gonna have a big problem with the state,” he told KTVN 2 during his Sept. 12 rally in Minden, Nevada.
It’s not just Nevada facing problems.

Ballots Wrong, Lost, and Found

Mail-in ballots were found discarded in Pennsylvania last month.
Trays of mail, including several absentee ballots, were discovered in Wisconsin.
In Richmond, Virginia, six mail collection boxes were recently broken into, authorities reported. It’s not clear if any mail was in them at the time.
Some voters in New York City reported receiving erroneous mail-in ballots, such as with wrong voter IDs and names, incorrect return labels, or ones mislabeled as military ballots, the Gothamist reported. Authorities responded by saying they will mail 100,000 new ballots to residents.
Thousands of uncounted mail-in ballots have surfaced in Massachusetts in a tight congressional race between two Democrats, according to the Boston Herald.

Ballots Rejected

California election officials tossed more than 100,000 mail-in ballots during the March primary, The Associated Press reported. That was about 1.5 percent of the nearly 7 million mail-in ballots returned, the highest percentage since 2014 for a primary.

In Michigan, more than 10,000 ballots mailed to election officials won’t be counted, primarily because they arrived late.

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered the May 12 primary to be conducted entirely by mail. But in the state’s third-largest city, Paterson, one in five ballots were rejected, according to Real Clear Politics.
In New York City, mail-in ballots from upwards of 84,000 Democrats were disqualified in the June 23 primary, election officials told the New York Post; that’s more than one in five.

“States like Oregon and Washington spent many years developing their mail voting systems. They were not created on emergency orders with short timelines and grants provided by Facebook and others,” Churchwell said.

“Their legislatures crafted the systems at the behest of citizens and empowered election officials to police the voter rolls for errors and outdated entries. You do not see these states critiqued by PILF and others for voter roll bloat because they are demonstrably aggressive in voter roll list maintenance.

“Mail voting proponents tried to con New Yorkers and others into thinking that the pivot would be painless because of the Pacific Northwest’s example. It’s another reminder that you shouldn’t think something is easy when you’re watching someone who’s mastered a craft.”

During the primaries, PILF counted more than a half-million rejected ballots nationally, close to the number of rejects from the 2012 and 2016 November elections combined.

“We are on track to break records for rejected ballots,” Churchwell said.

Fraud Concerns

Conservatives have long warned that mail-in voting, and all-mail voting, in particular, are susceptible to fraud. Examples have popped up around the country, but the extent of the phenomenon remains elusive.

Minneapolis police are investigating allegations of ballot harvesting revealed by undercover journalism outfit Project Veritas. The nonprofit released a video of a man bragging about collecting hundreds of absentee ballots for a Minneapolis councilman.

State law prohibits people from collecting more than three ballots per election, even if they are named as a “designated agent” by the voters.

Another Veritas undercover video indicated a vote-buying scheme in Minneapolis, showing a man handing $200 to another person who says he will fill out his ballot and bring it back.

Mail Voting Popularity Wanes

An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Sept. 18 found that 35 percent of registered voters say they will vote by mail, down from 50 percent in May.

Only 25 percent of Republicans and 32 percent of independents said they want to vote by mail, while 50 percent of Democrats did. In May, the figures were 11 percent higher for Democrats, 17 percent higher among Republicans, and 32 percent higher for independents.

A Citizen Data poll from earlier in September showed similar results. Among likely voters, 35 percent planned to vote by mail.

The poll indicated Democrats were twice as likely to vote by mail as Republicans—61 percent versus 30 percent, respectively.

Update: The article has been edited for clarity.