Group Threatens Lawsuits Amid COVID Mail-In Push

Group Threatens Lawsuits Amid COVID Mail-In Push
(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Group Threatens Lawsuits Amid COVID Mail-In Push
(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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It should be easy to vote but hard to cheat. Although both major political parties say they agree, for years Democrats only want to talk about the first part while Republicans have been fixated on the second.

But now, with most of the country on lockdown and uncertain when normal activity will commence, it’s no longer a question of whether there will be expanded mail-in voting this November but just how it will all take place. With the  stroke of a pen, Democratic governors can issue executive orders mandating all mail-in voting, and preparations are underway in several states to amend laws requiring a minimum number of in-person polling places in each county.

Republicans believe an expansion of mail-in voting is a recipe for fraud – with several studies showing millions of mail-in ballots going missing in recent elections. In early April, President Trump weighed in.

“I think that mail-in voting is a terrible thing,” he said. “There’s a lot of dishonesty going along with mail-in voting, mail-in ballots.”

Critics also argue that expanded mail-in voting further incentivizes “ballot harvesting,” a controversial practice in which campaign workers, union members, and other third parties collect mail-in ballots on behalf of voters and deliver them to election officials.

With that in mind, conservative-leaning groups are working to clean up old voter registration records that have not complied with federal laws requiring regular culling of residents who have died or moved to a different state.

Voters in three key presidential battleground states are threatening their election officials with lawsuits over bloated registration rolls. They are relying on research by a new watchdog group, the Honest Elections Project, which found that all three states -- Colorado, Florida and Michigan -- have multiple counties where voter registration rates exceed 90% of the adult population and in some cases exceed 100%.

Those rates are red flags because the nationwide voter registration rate in the 2018 election was 66.9%, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

“That disparity is a clear sign these states aren’t maintaining accurate voter rolls,” said Jason Snead, the group’s president. “The public’s faith and confidence in election results will continue to decline until and unless these problems are addressed.”

Snead found that five Colorado counties have more than 100% registration and 19 have more than 90%. In the perpetual swing state of Florida, seven counties have more than 100% registration while 27 fall above 90%. In Michigan, one county is higher than 100% while 18 are above 90%.

Those figures reflect a pattern of inaccurate voter registration rolls across the country. A 2012 Pew Center on the States report found that approximately 24 million — one of every eight —voter registrations is no longer valid, including 1.8 million dead people still listed as voters and roughly 2.75 million people who were registered in more than one state.

The Honest Elections Project, or HEP, is a venture of the 85 Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that supports many organizations and projects on the right similar to the left’s New Venture Fund. Before heading the Honest Elections Project, Snead spent 10 years at the conservative Heritage Foundation, where he managed the group’s election fraud database, a collection of legal cases documenting election irregularities in states and municipalities across the country.

Advocates for mail-in voting and other efforts to make voting easier say voting fraud is rare and that opponents are trying to suppress turnout, especially in minority communities, by supporting voter-ID laws and a preference for in-person voting. It’s an argument Snead rejects, rattling off several cases in recent years where documented voter intimidation and fraud took place involving mail-in or absentee voting. In one 2016 case, a Democratic incumbent in a Missouri state House race beat her primary challenger in a race where the local newspaper uncovered ballot manipulation. The race was litigated, redone and the incumbent lost the primary in a landslide.

In 2014, a Kentucky mayor was sentenced to 90 months in prison on a variety of charges that included vote buying, intimidation, theft and fraud. The mayor and several family members were found guilty of threatening residents who lived in public housing or properties the mayor owned with eviction if they did not sign absentee ballots the family members had already filled out.

“There are certainly instances where these things happen,” he told RealClearPolitics. “Any vote-by-mail scheme is going to be vulnerable to fraud.”

Voters don’t have to trust his word on it, though. They can review the conclusions of the 2005 report on the bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform, chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker III. The commission found that “absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.”

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission recently found that a total of 28.3 million mail-in ballots have gone missing since 2012, with one in five vanishing without a trace.

Supporters of expanded mail-in voting point to their own new study by Stanford University showing that universal vote-by-mail doesn’t benefit either party.

Opponents, however, say the issue is not who benefits but whether it creates more opportunities for fraud.

Instead of all mail-in voting, Snead said, states could opt to allow more excuse-free absentee voting one time for the general election if people continue to have coronavirus concerns into the fall. The act of voters’ requesting absentee ballots ensures there are fewer ballots floating around in the system and being sent to homes where voters may have died or moved, he explained.

During the controversial Wisconsin primary nearly a month ago, voters braved long lines when few poll workers showed up to work because of the risk of catching the virus. Most national headlines blasted the efforts of the GOP-controlled legislature and the state’s conservative Supreme Court to block moves by the Democratic governor to postpone in-person voting and extend the deadline to vote absentee.

Republicans were accused of strongly rejecting the mail-in voting push because they were trying to block a Democrat from winning a longtime GOP-held state Supreme Court seat. In the end, the Democratic candidate won the seat anyway, and so far Wisconsin public health officials have said they cannot establish a link between the election and a small number of people who have come down with COVID-19 out of the 413,000 voters who showed up at the polls on April 7.

In the final hours before the results were in, HEP tried to shift the narrative, spending $250,000 on a TV ad buy applauding the Republicans for their efforts.

“The facts about the Wisconsin election: Record absentee voting, five times more than 2016,” the narrator in the spot intoned. “Democrats didn’t think they could win so they tried lawsuits, changing the rules, even canceling the election. They create chaos. It’s wrong.”

Democrats are discounting studies showing serious problems with mail-in elections, Snead argues, in an attempt to exploit the coronavirus pandemic to implement a permanent all mail-in voting system they’ve long pushed.

If these mail-in advocates were really motivated by concern over spreading the coronavirus, they would write laws that sunset mail-in voting at the end of the year or next year, he said.

“I really believe they see this as a once-in-a-generation chance to change the way elections are conducted and do it in one big legislative push” during the COVID-19 crisis, he said. “In better times, voters tend to be more skeptical toward radically changing the way elections are run.”

Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics' White House/national political correspondent.



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