Yesterday I spent the day working as an election officer in Prince William County. We were busy, but not nearly as busy we could have been. Because of early voting (mostly voting in person, but with lots more mail-in ballots than usual) about 65 percent of the electorate had already voted in my precinct. So, on Election Day the turnout just increased to 80 percent. We were busy, but we were not swamped with voters.
Was early voting a good idea? I think so, and based upon what I saw I am convince we can make in-person voting work better. We had bipartisan teams of election officers monitoring the process and voters liked the convenience, and in-person voting doesn’t automatically leave large numbers of ballots completely outside of control of election officers. In addition, when a voter is at the polls, they can see whether their vote is recorded and fix any problems in real time.
What about voting by mail? Voting by mail is easier to corrupt. Consider.
- Do we require the voter to apply for a ballot or do we allow the office of elections to blast out ballots to everyone registered to vote, a registration list which may not be especially accurate. If we require that those who vote by mail have a good excuse, then the first option is easier to monitor.
- How do we verify ballots come from the actual voter they are supposed to come from? With a signature? How many people actually know anything about verifying a signature?
- How do we prevent voter intimidation? Because of curbside voting, it is not that difficult for someone to intimidate a voter at the polls. When someone is in a car with the voter, how does an election officer prevent a passenger from “assisting” a voter? Voting by mail increases the opportunity for voter intimidation astronomically.
- How do we stop voters from selling their votes, especially in states where ballot harvesting is legal?
- How does the average citizen do anything to ensure the integrity of the vote? When we vote at the polls we can least see the people serving as election officers, and we may even know some of them. When mail-in ballots are counted, however, all we know is what the news media tells us.
Even if no dishonesty is involved, are there real problems with voting by mail? I saw some.
- Some voters with mail-in ballots used the Drop Boxes both at early voting locations and at the polls on Election Day. That is, we used Drop Boxes to collect mail-in ballots from voters who were afraid of trusting the United States Postal Service (USPS). When we collected mail-in ballots in Drop Boxes, the Office of Elections just wanted us to give voters a document that told voters how they could track their ballots and an “I Voted!” sticker. They did not want us to assist the voter in preparing their ballot. Why? I assume they were afraid volunteers would be blamed for giving out bad information or inadvertently depriving the voter of privacy. Yet we could see lots of mail-in ballots were not being returned within the mailing envelope, and that envelope has a barcode that identifies the voter. Hence, the absence of that barcode could, if nothing else, could slow and complicate the processing the ballots.
- Other voters with mail-in ballots, after they decided not trust the USPS with their ballot, decided to vote in-person. These people were suppose to bring their mail-in ballot to the polls if they wanted to vote in-person. Unfortunately, many did not bring their ballots. Many said they had not even received their ballot. Others said they had destroyed their ballots, and some even said that the Office of Elections had informed them their mail-in ballot could not be processed or had been sent to the wrong address. Many had just left their ballot at home, and they had to go back to get it. The rules for handling these different scenarios can get complicated, and they were not the same for early voting as they were for Election Day. The bottom line is that some people, even if they came to the polls on Election Day, had to vote provisionally.
- We should make election integrity a primary goal and the ease of voting a secondary goal. If the general public cannot and does not trust the results, the system has completely failed.
- A simple, straight forward system is easier for volunteers to operate and voters to understand. Therefore, we should limit voting by mail to those with legitimate excuses and encourage everyone else, especially those who are actually in Prince William County, either to vote early in-person or at the polls on Election Day.
- BONUS: We should require voters to use either their drivers licenses or a “free” state issued Real ID credentials to vote. Voters should not have so many options to identify themselves that the variety of options just confuses both them and the volunteers. EVERYONE does not have the right to vote. When people who don’t belong in Prince William County (or even in Virginia) vote here or people cheat and vote more than once, that interferes with the right of citizens to vote, and it is nonsense to pretend otherwise.