Law & Principles
Trent England | May 7, 2020
Should Oklahoma elections go postal?
Nancy Pelosi wants to use federal legislation to push states to expand voting by mail. Her allies in Oklahoma are pushing the same agenda. Partisans on all sides see advantages—mostly in smearing their opponents by attacking their motives. But what really are the tradeoffs involved in shifting voting from the polls to the post office?
On Monday, a coalition led by the liberal League of Women Voters convinced the Oklahoma Supreme Court to overturn a requirement to notarize signatures used to verify mailed-in ballots. The Oklahoma House yesterday voted to reverse that decision. According to NonDoc,
the bill would require absentee ballots to be notarized for elections in 2021 and beyond. It includes provisions for 2020 when an election occurs within 45 days of a health emergency declaration related to COVID-19. In that instance, a photocopy of a valid state-issued license featuring the voter’s picture—such as a driver’s license or a medical marijuana card—would suffice as proof of identity.
Many left-leaning states have in recent years shut down their polling places, forcing nearly all voters to receive ballots by mail. The significance of this change is often misunderstood because voting by mail was not entirely new. States have long allowed shut-ins and others unable to vote in person to cast ballots by mail. But making postal voting the rule, rather than the exception, is a radical transformation and not just a little slip down the slippery slope.
In a vote-at-the-polls system, ballots are under the care of election officials and staff at all times. Even when a voter fills out a ballot, that happens within a supervised polling site. In Oklahoma, the completed ballot is put directly into a ballot box. Americans adopted this system to prevent fraud and protect voters from being either bullied or bought—neither is possible when voters fill out their ballots in a secure location where their privacy is protected.
Voting by mail puts ballots in the hands of countless postal employees. At central mail facilities, a handful of workers may handle thousands or more ballots with none of the controls used in election facilities. But it gets worse: voting by mail also relies on private mailrooms and other private persons to handle ballots on their way to and from voters. And when a ballot does reach a voter, anyone might stand there over her shoulder trying to influence, manipulate, or buy her vote.
Opportunities for fraud and abuse are myriad. If the college student working in the dorm mailroom knows the political leanings of his roommate, all he has to do is misplace the ballots of the students he disagrees with in order to reduce their chance of voting. The chance of getting caught is nil. When ballots show up at nursing homes or homeless shelters, a single staff member can engage in various kinds of manipulation. Again, the odds of getting caught, let along prosecuted, are virtually zero.
Some election frauds do get detected. But as a detective once told me, they mostly catch the dumb criminals. The Heritage Foundation maintains a database with more than 1,200 verified election fraud incidents. These include those who voted multiple times, who trashed mailed-in ballots cast for opponents, and who manipulated mailed-in ballots to steal an election. This is only the tip of the iceberg, but no one can say with certainty how big the problem is. We do know that millions of ballots put into the mail simply never return.
Election fraud is a particular kind of crime—to be successful, it generally must go undetected. And it can go undetected—these are not assaults, robberies, or murders, where the victim knows she is a victim. An election can be stolen without anyone outside the fraud ever knowing it happened. In fact, if someone was trying to steal an election it would be imperative that no one know.
Even violent crimes go mostly unreported, and those that are reported go mostly unsolved. Again, those are crimes where at least someone other than the perpetrator knows that a crime took place. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners finds that 88% of people committing fraud try to conceal their crime. Successful election fraud is the fraud that is never found out.
The risk of election fraud is real. Well-meaning people can come to different conclusions about how concerned we ought to be, and thus what safeguards make sense. But voting at the polls will always be more secure than voting by mail. Increasing the number of anonymous private individuals who must handle a ballot on its way to and from a voter creates obvious risks. And reducing security creates another risk—that voters will lose faith in the system. Oklahoma policymakers should consider all these risks and continue to resist the push to increase voting by mail beyond those who have no alternative.
David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow
Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.