States are struggling with a massive volume of early, mail-in ballots. End the practice.
|There’s one thing in common involving the inexorable delays in the tedious counting of hundreds of thousands of ballots well beyond Election Day in Florida, Arizona, California and Georgia, and a few other locales: they were votes cast through a plethora of well-intended “early voting” programs instituted by states over the past 20 years. Nearly every state, including my own of Pennsylvania, has long-established (and well regulated) “absentee voting” systems, but they tend to be a bit more cumbersome than genuine “early voting” systems. Absentee voting requires an infirmity, absence from the vicinity or other clearly stated reasons for not voting on Election Day; not so with early voting schemes. In Pennsylvania’s case, the law states that even if you voted absentee, you still must show up in person on Election Day if you’re in the vicinity, and the polling hours are ample: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. No early voting programs here.
Political parties, especially Democrats, have brilliantly and effectively capitalized on these programs to encourage people vote from the convenience of their own environs and to forget the time-honored tradition of trudging to the local polling station, waiting in line, and casting your ballots on a workday (except in Texas, where some primary and special elections are held on Saturdays – not a bad idea, actually). Other states, such as Colorado and especially Oregon, have moved to “vote by mail” systems. In some states, such as Virginia, you can vote early specific polling stations, such as county courthouses.
Every smart competitive campaign now seizes the ability to “get their voters to the polls” as early (and perhaps in Florida, as often) as possible through early voting. And now, local and state systems are overwhelmed and seemingly incapable of handling the sheer volume, not to mention the enormous potential (see: Florida, again) for errors and shenanigans.
It is simply time to admit early voting is undermining confidence in our election system and must end. Brad Todd, a co-author with Selena Zito of the definitive book on the 2016 election, “The Great Revolt,” tweeted this yesterday (commenting on a tweet by journalist Josh Kraushauer): “Move to election day only, machine only voting - with a lot more precincts, more hours, and zero paper? Hard to cheat under that scenario.”
I mostly agree with Brad. Perhaps using Pennsylvania’s voting (not necessarily it’s counting) system, it is time to end early voting. Keep a well regulated absentee program available for those with a legitimate inability to vote; lengthen voting hours (6 a.m. to 8 p.m. should suffice) at polling stations; shrink the size and add the number of polling stations or precincts, especially in faster growing locales (this is already being done but often too slowly).
Another problem that especially arose in Arizona was the discrepancy in signatures on mail-in ballots versus voting rolls (your signature, when you register, is matched against the one on the outside of your envelope that contains yet another envelope with your secret ballot). Voting officials have to make sure those signatures match, a laborious and imprecise process. Voters have 5 days to “reconcile” any discrepancies that may result, even without their knowledge, that their ballots are being rejected or tossed into a “provisional” basket. What a burden for local officials, and what a mess for everyone.
When you vote in person, especially if you bring your voter registration or other valid ID, your identity can be confirmed instantaneously.
There’s another valid, sociological reason to end early voting and encourage “in person” voting. It restores a valuable community tradition, where we get out of our homes, see and commune with real people. Maybe even get off our digital devices for a few moments. And it helps eliminate the potential for mistakes and even fraud while rebuilding confidence in our electoral system. Yes, machines can be tampered with, but that’s a technological (and money) problem that is solvable. If the makers of one-armed bandits in casinos have figured this out, why can’t government officials? This is something that should resonate with the estimable Republican U.S. Senator from Nebraska, Ben Sasse, who writes about the loss of community and our growing national epidemic of loneliness in his new book, “Them — Why We Hate Each Other and How We Can Heal.”
This is a state and local issue, but I would not mind seeing Congress direct the Federal Election Assistance Commission to develop new model programs — and even provide some matching funding — to states that terminate these early voting programs and replace them with the aforementioned policies. Of course, I would expect many Democrats to oppose this since they’ve mastered these early voting schemes to obvious advantage, but good policy should trump politics (pun intended). They will, of course, claim what I’m proposing is “voter suppression,” which is, on its face, absurd, indefensible and insulting.
There is something else that needs to be done that Christian Adams at the Public Interest Legal Foundation has highlighted – the need to clean up voter rolls. As many of predicted would happen 20+ years ago when “motor voter” laws were being enacted, ineligible non-citizens are registering and voting in increasing amounts. Perhaps not enough to swing many, if any, elections, but this is still illegal and it needs to be addressed. Adams and his organization (disclosure – I financially support PILF) have successfully sued counties, including in Virginia, to address this problem. Again, some states may need financial help to accomplish this.
It may not be feasible or realistic to address this issue before the 2020 election – and if you thought the 2018 election was wild, just wait — but we’d better get started.