28 million mail-in votes missing since 2012; New push seen incentivizing ‘ballot harvesting’

by WorldTribune Staff, April 27, 2020

Amid the coronavirus crisis, Democrats are pushing hard for nationwide vote-by-mail to be instituted for the 2020 elections.

Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Ron Wyden have proposed the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020, a bill that would allow every eligible voter the opportunity to vote by mail, regardless of state laws governing mail-in ballots.

California legalized ballot harvesting in 2018.

President Donald Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have suggested that nationwide voting by mail would be subject to fraud.

Trump has warned that Republicans would “never” be elected again if Democrats succeeded in broadening mail-in and absentee voting.

Data from the federal Election Assistance Commission shows that Trump and Republicans may be justified in their concerns.

The commission found that, in elections between 2012 and 2018, 28.3 million mail-in ballots remain unaccounted for.

“The missing ballots amount to nearly one in five of all absentee ballots and ballots mailed to voters residing in states that do elections exclusively by mail,” Mark Hemingway a writer in Alexandria, Virginia, noted in an April 24 analysis for RealClearPolitics.

“States and local authorities simply have no idea what happened to these ballots since they were mailed – and the figure of 28 million missing ballots is likely even higher because some areas in the country, notably Chicago, did not respond to the federal agency’s survey questions. This figure does not include ballots that were spoiled, undeliverable, or came back for any reason,” Hemingway noted.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), which compiled the public data provided from the Election Assistance Commission, says that the sheer volume of missing mail-in ballots raises serious doubts about election security.

“I really think the only reason vote-by-mail problems are not getting more attention on a regular basis, is that it’s kind of an embarrassing problem and people just aren’t paying attention,” says Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for PILF. “These numbers of missing ballots demonstrate large voter list maintenance failures and security gaps within the broader mail voting process.”

About 40 percent of U.S. votes are now done by mail. Use of mail-in ballots more than doubled from 24.9 million in 2004 to 57.2 million in 2016.

“Along with this dramatic increase there have been virtually no new safeguards, scrutiny, or additional research on the risks of vote by mail,” Hemingway noted. “If the current pandemic is going to force the issue during a presidential election, proponents of voting by mail may have to address obvious risks that come with proposing that more than 200 million ballots be mailed out this fall.”

Hemingway added: “A significant increase in mail-in voting this fall could greatly incentivize ‘ballot harvesting,’ where third parties collect mail-in ballots on behalf of voters and deliver them to election officials. There’s long been a consensus that such a practice incentivizes fraud, and ballot harvesting is illegal in most of the country. Public debate over the issue has intensified in recent years after a GOP operative in North Carolina was indicted for crimes related to ballot harvesting in 2018.”

The 2018 election cycle also saw California legalize ballot harvesting, and observers say the practice played a key role in several Republican congressmen in Orange County being ousted. Orange County had been a longstanding GOP stronghold in the mostly liberal state.

The fact that millions of unused mail-in ballots are floating around in every election cycle “is not a secret type data here – it’s sitting there on the Internet, and you’re paying for the server cost,” Churchwell said. “So what do people that really focus on the election process do about that? They go into ballot harvesting. If there’s so many ballots out there in the wind unaccounted for by election officials, surely some manpower could be dedicated to go bring them in. And that’s another part of the system where you have weaknesses and risk.”

Churchwell noted that in 2016 Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by garnering over 2.8 million more votes than Trump. But nearly 6 million unaccounted mail-in ballots were never counted in 2016, more than twice her margin in the popular vote.

There’s little doubt that as the number of mail-in ballots increases, so does fraud. A 2012 report in The New York Times noted that voter fraud involving mail-in ballots “is vastly more prevalent than the in-person voting fraud that has attracted far more attention, election administrators say. In Florida, absentee-ballot scandals seem to arrive like clockwork around election time.”

According to a Wall Street Journal report on voter exploitation in Hispanic communities in Texas, mail-in ballots have “spawned a mini-industry of consultants who get out the absentee vote, sometimes using questionable techniques.” Poor, elderly, and minority communities are most likely to be preyed upon by so-called ballot “brokers.”

Concerns about fraud in mail-in ballots were serious enough that a 2008 report produced by the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project recommended that states “restrict or abolish on-demand absentee voting in favor of in-person early voting.”

“The convenience that on-demand absentees produces is bought at a significant cost to the real and perceived integrity of the voting process,” the report added. “On the face of it, early voting can provide nearly equal convenience with significantly greater controls against fraud and coercion.” Similarly, another academic study done in 2008 from Reed College flagged various concerns related to absentee voting and conceded there is a “great deal of literature on turnout” but when it comes to mail-in ballots there is “a dearth of research on campaign effects, election costs, ballot quality, and the risk of fraud.”

Despite these concerns, five states – Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah, and Hawaii – now do all elections exclusively by mail.

U.S. Census data confirms that 11 percent of Americans move every year, and voters on the lower end of the economic scale are especially transient.

“Without implementing some extensive, and likely problematic, government surveillance program, there’s no way for election administrators to reliably get ballots to tens of millions of Americans every election cycle without a large percentage of ballots going to the wrong address,” Hemingway noted.

“This problem is compounded by states that mail ballots automatically.”

(Hemingway is from Oregon, where ballots with his name on them were sent to his parents’ address for years after he graduated from college and moved out of state – despite repeated contacts with the county clerk telling them he had moved.)

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