Last month, United States Senator Tina Smith voted twice to hold up coronavirus economic relief. We need not speculate as to why Democrats delayed passage of this bill if we take House Majority Whip James Clyburn at his word when he told his colleagues this pandemic is a “tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.”
One of the provisions that Democrats were demanding was increased federal control over state and local elections in the form of vote by mail/early voting. If there’s one single place where voters should be wary of “mail in” ballots, it’s Minnesota. Voting by mail may be the last straw for ballot integrity in a state that already has some of the nation’s most lax guidelines for elective franchise.
Minnesota is one of the few states that doesn’t even have provisional ballots. Such ballots are required by the 2002 federal HAVA law and are designed for voters who are unable to provide sufficient evidence of eligibility. Instead of setting aside these questionable votes (non-residents, illegal immigrants, felons on probation, or parolees) to be tallied once verification checks are complete, Minnesota just goes ahead and counts them. Throwing illegitimate votes out of the system is much more difficult once they are already cast. And Minnesota sure makes it easy to cast votes. States with same-day voter registration are presumed to demand “documentation” to verify identities. Yet Minnesota, which has SDR, doesn’t require a photo ID or much of anything substantive. In fact, a utility bill, credit card, student fee statement or just another voter who will “vouch” for you are all deemed sufficient evidence.
Research shows that voter turnout falls when an electorate is concerned about fraud. People, after all, worry that their vote won’t count. More stringent voting rules may reassure voters and actually raise voter participation rates.
Instead of ensuring election day integrity, Minnesota puts its faith in recounts. In 2008, a recount dragged on for eight months and turned a 725 vote victory by Norm Coleman into a 312 vote loss to Al Franken. Not surprisingly, the Franken path to victory was based on mailed absentee ballots that were “mistakenly” rejected.
Minnesota should heed the warnings of the 2005 “Building Confidence in U.S. Elections” report by the Commission on Federal Election Reform. The report was chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker III and it cautioned, “absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.” The report raised numerous concerns about fraud and voter intimidation in mail-in voting. “Citizens who vote at home, at nursing homes, at the workplace, or in church are more susceptible to pressure, overt and subtle, or to intimidation. Vote buying schemes are far more difficult to detect when citizens vote by mail,” the report states.
There have been no new advancements since that allow us to better detect such voter discrepancies. Vote buying has long been a concern and was a major reason states adopted secret ballots between 1888 and 1950. When buyers couldn’t check which candidates a person voted for, vote buying became much more difficult. Research finds that voter turnout fell by about 8–12 percent after states adopted a secret ballot—in part because people were no longer paid to vote.
The Commission provided numerous examples of fraud with mail-in ballots. And there have been more cases since then. In 2017, 700 fraudulent mail-in ballots were discovered in a Dallas City Council election, all signed with fake names by a single person. The discovery postponed calling two city council races, and was much larger than the vote difference in one of those races. The case resulted in a criminal conviction.
In a 2018 North Carolina Congressional race, Republican Mark Harris edged out Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. But political operative McCrae Dowless had requested more than 1,200 absentee ballots on behalf of voters, collected from voters’ homes that he and his staff then filled out and sent in. Dowless currently faces criminal charges. Often, impossibly large numbers of people supposedly live at the same address. In San Pedro, California in 2016, eighty-three registered voters received absentee ballots at the same small, two-bedroom apartment. When these types of cases arise, they are virtually never prosecuted. Of course, any attempt to tighten these massive loopholes will be labeled “voter suppression.” But the Carter-Baker report said clearly: “Photo IDs currently are needed to board a plane, enter federal buildings and cash a check. Voting is equally important.”
In October 2021, Minnesotans will be asked to have a “real ID” to board a flight. Instead of weakening ballot integrity, the “real ID” card should, as the Carter-Baker commission noted, “be modestly adapted for voting purposes to indicate on the front or back whether the individual is a U.S. citizen.”
Former Rep. Lewis is a candidate for US Senate in Minnesota and Mr. John Lott is President of the Crime Prevention Research Center.