The Real Objection To Vote By Mail

I have some truly brilliant Facebook friends who regularly enlighten me.

For example, I have been puzzled by the degree of opposition displayed by Trump Republicans to voting by mail. The research shows pretty conclusively that vote by mail  doesn’t benefit either party (although it does increase turnout, and there are those who believe that larger turnout benefits Democrats.) It just seemed odd that the Trumpers would get so hysterical– and spend so much time and energy– fighting mail-in ballots.

Now I understand.

One of my Facebook Friends is David Honig, an Indiana lawyer whose posts are always informed and perceptive. However, his post this week–in which he answered the “why” question–was especially brilliant, because he cut through all the speculation and explained what is really motivating Republican opposition to vote by mail.

If people mail in their votes, robocalls to black communities telling them the election has been rescheduled, or their polling place changed, won’t work.

If people mail in their votes, robocalls to black communities on election day, telling voters to relax, the Democrat has already won, won’t work.

If people mail in their votes, calling out the “Militia” to intimidate voters won’t work.

If people mail in their votes, a “random” road block near a black neighborhood on election day won’t work.

If people mail in their votes, closing down the polling places in predominantly black neighborhoods, and leaving the only polling place miles from the populace, without any public transportation, won’t work.

As David argues–pretty persuasively– this isn’t about managing expectations, or creating an argument about errors in the vote in the event of a close Trump loss. This is about Republicans not being able to use their usual tactics– their time-honored strategies to suppress minority turnout on election day–to eke out a win. (The links will take you to recent examples of those tactics.)

GOP opposition is about the fact that vote-by-mail would eliminate most of the cheating we actually see every election.

As one of my sons pointed out in a comment, an additional problem Republicans have with voting by mail is that it returns the system to good old-fashioned paper. Voting by mail, with paper ballots, eliminates concerns about computer hacking and (with many of the newer voting machines) the lack of paper backup.

With “vote by mail” there is a paper trail that can be checked for accuracy in the event of a dispute or recount.

Ironically, it turns our that the arguments about vote by mail actually are arguments about voter fraud– just not in the way Republicans are framing it.  Vote by mail is a way of preventing fraud–preventing games the GOP has perfected and played for years–preventing voter suppression tactics that are every bit as fraudulent as casting an unauthorized or impermissible ballot. When we talk about rigging an election, these are the methods that have been used for years to do the rigging.

Ultimately, vote by mail isn’t just about preventing the spread of disease, or about accommodating the schedules of working folks, or even about facilitating the casting of more thoughtful and considered ballots, although it will do all of those things. It’s about keeping elections honest.

I just didn’t see it before.

No wonder the Trumpublicans oppose it.


Smoke and Fire and Vote Suppression

Can an American election really be rigged? Probably not–but it looks like we’re going to find out just how good those Russian cyber guys are. In any event, if results could be manipulated, it wouldn’t be through so-called “voter fraud.”

Repeated accusations of in-person voter fraud just go to disprove that old adage that “where there’s smoke, there must be fire.” GOP officials across the country have generated a whole lot of smoke, despite the fact that numerous credible studies have found that the incidence of this particular offense is–in the words of one scholar–“vanishingly small.”

Trump, of course, wasn’t content with the level of smoke being generated by party pooh-bas –or even with the tactic’s demonstrable and intended side-effect of discouraging poor and minority folks from voting. Intent on proving that he did too win the popular vote and those three million more votes for Clinton were all fraudulent, he has convened a national commission to “investigate.”

It isn’t going well.

I’ll let Juanita Jean explain: 

The Washington Post is reporting this morning that the head of Trump’s so-called Voter Fraud Commission has made a request of every state’s voter file so he can give it to the Russians.  Okay, okay, I just made up that last part.

“The chair of President Trump’s Election Integrity Commission has penned a letter to all 50 states requesting their full voter-roll data, including the name, address, date of birth, party affiliation, last four Social Security number digits and voting history back to 2006 of potentially every voter in the state.”

He says he’s going to make all this information available to the public…I’m gonna try real hard to think of a way this information would be important to anyone in the federal government except for voter suppression.

Evidently, state officials are having an equally hard time envisioning a legitimate reason for supplying this information–not to mention that election laws in a number of states prohibit doing so (something you might think they’d have known). Thus far, forty-plus states have refused to comply.

Trump’s touching concern about voter shenanigans evidently doesn’t extend to other ways of manipulating election results, despite the fact that such fraud is far more likely to occur through the hacking of voting technologies. Given irrefutable evidence of Russian efforts to interfere with the last election, it would seem prudent to investigate whether that interference extended to breaches of voting machines.

The Trump Administration–surprise!–disagrees. 

Pressure to examine voting machines used in the 2016 election grows daily as evidence builds that Russian hacking attacks were broader and deeper than previously known. And the Department of Homeland Security has a simple response:


DHS officials from former secretary Jeh Johnson to acting Director of Cyber Division Samuel Liles may be adamant that machines were not affected, but the agency has not in fact opened up a single voting machine since November to check.

A number of recent reports suggest that at least 39 states were targeted by Russian hackers. DHS itself has confirmed domestic attacks, but the agency continues to insist that there is no reason to look further.

Computer scientists have been critical of that decision. “They have performed computer forensics on no election equipment whatsoever,” said J. Alex Halderman, who testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week about the vulnerability of election systems. “That would be one of the most direct ways of establishing in the equipment whether it’s been penetrated by attackers. We have not taken every step we could.”

Voting machines, especially the electronic machines still used in several states, are so insecure that an attack on them is likely to be successful, according to a report from NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice out Thursday morning. David Dill, a voting systems expert and professor of computer science at Stanford University quoted in the report, said hackers can easily breach election systems regardless of whether they’re able to coordinate widely enough to alter a general election result.

Intimidating poor folks in order to “protect the integrity of elections”? Check.

Looking to see whether voting machines might have been tampered with? Nah.


Voter Fraud…One More Time

What are Americans to make of Donald Trump’s insistence that he would have won the popular vote but for “millions” of fraudulent votes?

I suppose the first thing we need to do– as my mother used to admonish me– “Consider the source.” As Philip Roth memorably described Trump in an interview published by the New Yorker,

“[he is] ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

Given that (actually, somewhat understated) description, I suppose it is pointless to expect Trump to understand even the most basic aspects of America’s electoral system–especially when his ego requires not understanding it.

Challenged by people who do understand how voting works (including the difference between registering to vote and casting a ballot), Trump has announced an “investigation” into “rampant” voter fraud, to be headed by Mike Pence. As Ed Brayton reports, 

So now he says Pence will be leading the investigation. Why Pence? You have an entire department of the DOJ that specializes in voter fraud and voting rights. Pence seems to be his dumping ground. He says really stupid things and then leaves it to Pence to clean up after him. As for the allegations themselves, he offers this defense:

Shortly before announcing the Pence-led commission, Trump dug in on his false allegations of voter fraud and insisted he had been vindicated by, well, “many people.”

“Many people have come out and said I am right,” the president told O’Reilly. He offered no additional support to his claims.

This is an argument made by someone who doesn’t understand basic reasoning. “Many people” believe the moon landings were fake. Many people believe they’ve talked to aliens. Many people think the earth is 6000 years old. The number of people who believe in those things provides precisely zero evidence that they are true.

Ignore, for purposes of this post, the fact that careful academic studies and legal investigations have consistently found virtually no in-person voter fraud–the sort of actual fraud that is used to justify those “Voter ID” laws that are really intended to suppress turnout by poor and minority voters.

The “evidence” Trump has repeatedly cited for his insistence that there is “massive voter fraud” is the fact that lots of dead people remain registered, and many others are registered in two locations.

Think about that.

Now, it would be great if state-level offices responsible for maintaining voter rolls could purge people immediately after they die; it would also be great if everyone moving to a new house or new state notified those offices of the move. (I’ve never even thought about adding that to my moving “to do” list, and I bet no one reading this has either.)

Earth to Donald: If people vote twice (or once, if they’re dead) that’s fraud. Being registered in two or more places for a time after dying or moving is not, and it’s very common.

You know, if Trump understood anything about the government he is inexplicably leading, he could avoid repeatedly making a fool of himself.


Voter Frauds

One of the most pernicious tactics employed by Republican political operatives is voter suppression masquerading as protection against “voter fraud.” As proponents of Voter ID are well aware, such fraud as exists almost never happens during the in-person vote process that Voter ID laws target.

Virtually all of the “Voter ID” measures being pushed by Republicans are thinly-veiled efforts to intimidate poor and minority voters, who are more likely to vote Democratic. This year, the suspicions fostered by these ungrounded accusations of voter fraud have been further inflamed by Donald Trump’s insistence that, if he doesn’t win, it will be proof that the election is “rigged.”

Here in central Indiana, the media has been reporting on an investigation that newspaper and broadcast outlets have labeled “voter fraud”–but that should be called “registration fraud.”

Interestingly–at least from the somewhat garbled news reports–they are investigating what appears to be an effort to disenfranchise legitimate voters, rather than provide phony credentials to illegitimate ones. Easily detectable inaccurate information is apparently being coupled with the names of actual voters, who may not check to be sure they are properly registered, and won’t realize  they aren’t until they appear at their precinct voting place and are rejected.

Until more details are released, it’s hard to tell precisely what scheme is being alleged. Whatever the actual scam turns out to be, the labeling of any dishonesty focused on the franchise as “vote fraud” simply confirms the public’s belief that there’s justification for Voter ID laws–even though people getting hit by lightning occurs more frequently  than in-person vote fraud.

Illegal voting behaviors include such things as double voting (ballot stuffing), where one individual casts more than one ballot in the same election; dead voting, where the name of a deceased person remains on a state’s official list of registered voters and a living person casts a ballot using that name; felon voter fraud, where a convicted felon who is for that reason not eligible to vote does so; vote-buying,  where someone pays voters to vote a certain way; and fraud by election officials: where dishonest officials toss out ballots or cast ballots using the names of registered voters who didn’t show up at the polls.

As anyone who has worked at the polls can tell you, the best guarantee against these efforts to “rig” the system is competent management of the state’s voter rolls–purging dead and otherwise ineligible voters, ensuring that poll watchers from both major parties are present and similar safeguards. Vote buying is by far the most difficult to detect, and Voter ID would do nothing to prevent it.

The election fraud we see most frequently, ironically, is voter suppression, defined by Ballotpedia as  “A variety of tactics aimed at lowering or suppressing the number of voters who might otherwise vote in a particular election.”

During this election cycle, a new concern has arisen: the possibility that an election dependent upon electronic voting machines might be hacked. As the Brennan Center has noted, however,

There are over 10,000 election jurisdictions in the United States. This means in a federal election, there are essentially more than 10,000 separate elections being run, with different voting machines, ballots, rules, and security measures. One clear benefit of this system is that it is not possible to attack the nation’s voting machines in one location, as might be possible with a statewide voter registration database or campaign email server.

Bottom line: no one is going to “steal” or “rig” this election. If the results are–to coin a word–“deplorable,” American voters will have only ourselves to blame.


Projecting the Vote

There’s so much fabrication floating around the internet, it’s hard to trust anything you read–especially as the election draws closer. So when a Facebook friend posted an article from a source I didn’t recognize, my first inclination was to categorize it with the various paranoid fantasies of “dirty deeds” and “voter fraud” that have grown thicker than ragweed this election cycle. The article claimed that Mitt Romney’s son Tagg, and other members of the Romney family, are part owners of Ohio’s voting machines–specifically, those supplied by Hart Intercivic.

A search of Snopes turned up nothing, pro or con. Google, however, was more accommodating, as were a few Facebook friends. The story was corroborated by several sources, among them Politifact and that noted left-wing publication, Forbes. Forbes reported that Hart Intercivic is largely owned by H.I.G. Capital, that H.I.G. Capital employees hold two of the five board seats–and both of them have made direct contributions to Romney’s campaign. Tony Tamer, the firm’s founder, is a major bundler for Romney, as are three other directors of H.I.G. In fact, H.I.G. is Romney’s 11th largest contributor. And to top it all off, H.I.G. has shared business interests with Solamere Capital, owned by…Tagg Romney.

Election experts have long warned that electronic voting machines are vulnerable to hacking; that’s one reason many jurisdictions have begun insisting on a paper trail. (I’m told some European countries have recently gone back to paper ballots in order to reassure voters of the legitimacy of election results.) There are all sorts of reasons why this latest bit of news is disquieting: the centrality of Ohio in our electoral vote system, the persistent accusations of irregularities in that state’s vote in 2004, and the increasingly brazen efforts by Republicans to suppress minority votes.

It began with so-called “Voter ID” laws, purportedly aimed at in-person voter fraud, a largely imaginary problem. As some unguarded comments by GOP operatives have confirmed, the real aim of such laws is to suppress the votes of elderly, poor and minority Americans–those most likely to lack the documentation, transportation and/or resources needed to obtain the necessary ID.

The Voter ID efforts have been accompanied by persistent measures to restrict voting–to limit early voting periods, and refuse to authorize satellite voting sites, and generally to make exercising ones franchise as inconvenient as possible, again on the theory that such measures would be most likely to discourage lower-income voters who tend to skew Democratic.

In the past week or so, there have been reports from swing states of other shenanigans: in Florida, Republican operatives were caught trashing registrations; in several other localities, robo-calls have been made to minority voters “reminding” them to vote–on November 8th. (The election, of course, will take place on November 6th.) Then there were the billboards in minority neighborhoods, featuring a judge’s gavel and the text “Voter Fraud is a felony—up to 3 1/2 years and a $10,000 fine.” Those appeared in Cleveland, Columbus and Milwaukee. (Clear Channel has now responded to community outrage and begun taking them down; however, much of the harm has been done.)

I’m sure there must be places where the Democrats are engaging in similar tactics, and they certainly have done so in the past, but reports of Democratic chicanery  haven’t surfaced in this election cycle. My sense is that these are the sort of tactics used by folks who smell defeat–who realize that winning will require a bit of “fudging” here and there, and for whom winning is more important than playing fair and square. This year, despite the close national polls, that best describes the Romney/Ryan team.

Their faux concerns about voter fraud are an example of what psychologists call “projection.”