I have done political science empirical research for years that frequently involves examining polling data. In recent years I have observed this troubling fact: Americans are not as divided as frequently lamented by the media. There is, in fact, remarkable agreement among a large majority of Americans on most “divisive” issues. But in poll after poll, it is frequently noted by the pollster that there was one group who was the exception: self-identifying Republicans (or conservatives).
I have explained this as Epistemic closure and the ‘conservative misinformation feedback loop’ media bubble. Obtaining information exclusively from within the ecosystem of the conservative media entertainment complex that openly promotes “alternative facts” and an “alternate reality” (propaganda) leads otherwise reasonable people to believe in things that are demonstrably false, and unsupported by any empirical evidence. I have frequently described this closed-mind response as “Don’t bother me with the facts, I know what I believe!”
A great example of this is the Republican belief in widespread “voter fraud.” The conservative media entertainment complex has built an entire cottage industry around promoting the myth — the lie — of widespread voter fraud among Republicans.
This is preventing a rational and responsible response to legitimate concerns people have about voting safely in the time of a coronavirus pandemic, with tens of thousands of Americans having already died from the disease. Officials say at least 40 people who voted or worked in Wisconsin elections have coronavirus. UPDATE: Now up tp 52 who worked or voted in Wisconsin election have COVID-19.
The easy answer to this problem is voting by mail, something 80 percent of Arizona voters already do. But Republicans — most of whom themselves vote by mail — remain opposed to an all-mail ballot election, asserting unsupported claims of widespread voter fraud.
A new poll by the Pew Research Center shows Republicans Are Split Over Allowing Any Voter To Vote By Mail Despite Trump Opposition, Poll Shows:
A new poll by the Pew Research Center, the results of which were published Tuesday, shows that 49 percent of Republicans support allowing all voters to cast their ballots by mail, while 51 percent oppose the option. Among Democrats, there is overwhelming support for expanding voting by mail, with 87 percent saying they are in favor, including 63 percent who are strongly in favor.
Overall, 70 percent of respondents said they favor allowing any voter to cast a ballot by mail. The Pew survey also found that 69 percent of respondents backed automatically registering all eligible citizens to vote. Among Democrats, 84 percent favored the idea of automatic registration, while a slim majority (53 percent) of Republicans supported the option.
A previous survey by Harvard and Harris Insights and Analytics, which was published earlier this month, found that nearly three-quarters of Americans supported conducting the presidential election entirely by mail. While 72 percent of respondents supported the proposal, just 28 percent were opposed.
Just to be clear, the reason we cannot have nice things that the vast majority of Americans agree upon is because a small minority — one-half of self-identified Republicans — is opposed for reasons that they cannot support with any empirical evidence. “Don’t bother me with the facts, I know what I believe!”
Making it easier for Americans to vote by mail has been discussed more urgently during the coronavirus pandemic. Activists have argued that it is unwise to encourage people to visit often crowded polling centers amid fears of infection. Despite a significant majority of Americans, and about half of Republicans, supporting the expansion of vote-by-mail options, Trump has strongly opposed the move.
“Mail ballots, they cheat,” Trump said earlier this month, without citing any evidence. “Mail ballots are very dangerous for this country because of cheaters. They go collect them. They are fraudulent in many cases. They have to vote. They should have voter ID, by the way.”
This is demonstrably false, and unsupported by any empirical evidence. Amber McReynolds, CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute (formerly the director of elections for Denver, where she helped to design and implement Colorado’s vote-at-home system), and Charles Stewart III, the Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science at MIT, the director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, and co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, in an op-ed write Let’s put the vote-by-mail ‘fraud’ myth to rest:
Widespread calls to conduct the 2020 elections by mail, to protect voters from COVID-19 exposure, are being met with charges that the system inevitably would lead to massive voter fraud. This is simply not true.
Vote fraud in the United States is exceedingly rare, with mailed ballots and otherwise. Over the past 20 years, about 250 million votes have been cast by a mail ballot nationally. The Heritage Foundation maintains an online database of election fraud cases in the United States and reports that there have been just over 1,200 cases of vote fraud of all forms, resulting in 1,100 criminal convictions, over the past 20 years. Of these, 204 involved the fraudulent use of absentee ballots; 143 resulted in criminal convictions.
Let’s put that data in perspective.
One hundred forty-three cases of fraud using mailed ballots over the course of 20 years comes out to seven to eight cases per year, nationally. It also means that across the 50 states, there has been an average of three cases per state over the 20-year span. That is just one case per state every six or seven years. We are talking about an occurrence that translates to about 0.00006 percent of total votes cast.
Oregon is the state that started mailing ballots to all voters in 2000 and has worked diligently to put in place stringent security measures, as well as strict punishments for those who would tamper with a mailed ballot. For that state, the following numbers apply: With well over 50 million ballots cast, there have been only two fraud cases verifiable enough to result in convictions for mail-ballot fraud in 20 years. That is 0.000004 percent — about five times less likely than getting hit by lightning in the United States.
[W]e should make two things clear. First, there is no excuse for any type of voter or election fraud, by any method. States are justified in creating systems that are intended to deter and detect fraud, and for prosecuting it when discovered. All do.
Voting by mail presents challenges to the prevention of voter fraud that voting in person lacks. Most obviously, in-person voting occurs in public. A voter must announce their name out loud, and it is checked against the voter registration list. All states make provisions for some form of objectors, who can question the identity of the person at the check-in table, within the constraints of state law. Some states require a photo ID to be shown. Many states require the voter to sign a poll book. These and other procedures have been in place for a century-and-a-half, since the widespread election reforms of the 1880s and 1890s.
Second, no voting methodology is perfect. In-person voting has its own examples of fraud, however rare. It is also full of stories of missing power cords, missing keys, an inadequate number of ballots, machines that switched the voter’s intent, improper application of ID requirements, long lines and more. Nonetheless, in-person voting also has a role to play even in states that use the 100 percent mail-ballot election model.
As with in-person voting, states have methods to guard against fraudulently casting votes by mail too. Most have signature-matching requirements, either to scrutinize the application, the returned ballot, or both. We have seen this done effectively using a mix of human oversight and technology. Many states restrict who can return a ballot for a voter, or require those who return ballots on the behalf of others to identify themselves on the return envelope. Finally, the states with the most expansive vote-by-mail systems — such as Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Washington — send ballots to all registered voters and rely on the steady stream of mail between election offices and voters to keep the rolls clean, and to minimize the number of stray ballots that might be distributed.
Expanding voting by mail will be a challenge in most states in 2020. Logistical and security issues will need to be reviewed to ensure that every registered voter can do so safely and effectively, and that no one votes more than once. But we reiterate: There is no evidence that mail-balloting results in rampant voter fraud, nor that election officials lack the knowledge about how to protect against abuses.
Here in Arizona there is literally no excuse for the state legislature not to enact an all-mail ballot election this year. Virtually all municipal elections in Arizona are already all-mail ballot elections, and as I noted above, 80 percent of Arizonans already vote early by mail-in ballots. No one has ever presented any credible evidence of widespread voter fraud in these elections.
This is simply a question of appropriating enough money to assist the counties in ramping up their election operations for an all-mail ballot election. This could be done quickly in a one day special session called by the governor. The legislature could approve voting remotely by its members if it so desired. There is no sense of urgency in protecting the public in voting by Republican leadership and the governor.
The only reason this is not occurring is because of Republicans perpetuating the myth — the lie — of widespread voter fraud. Republicans have heavily invested in perpetuating this myth as a means of enacting voter suppression measures.
For example, Attorney General Mark Brnovich in a filing on Monday “lays out for the justices why he believes the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals got it wrong earlier this year when it declared that the state acted illegally in making it a crime to return someone else’s early ballot.” He said the state had good reason to act in a way to prevent the potential for fraud — not actual evidence of fraud mind you — and allegedly intimidation of voters by political operatives who were collecting these ballots. Brnovich takes ballot harvesting case to U.S. Supreme Court.
Brnovich also told the justices they have to slap down the logic used by the appellate judges — that Arizona lawmakers enacted the ballot-harvesting law with the goal of suppressing minority vote — in voiding the law. He said if that verbiage is allowed to stand, it could pave the way for future challenges, and not just here.
“This erroneous finding could be weaponized in future litigation to undermine Arizona’s autonomy to govern itself,” Brnovich separately wrote to the high court. He called the conclusion of the 9th Circuit majority “a loaded charge with potentially long-term legal, social and practical consequences.”
The attorney general also wants the justices to void another part of the ruling which says the state cannot simply discard the entire ballot of someone who votes in the wrong precinct on Election Day. Here, too, the appellate judges said race played a factor, saying that minorities were more likely to be disenfranchised by the laws.
The 9th Circuit Court got it right. The Arizona legislature enacted this “ballot harvesting” law specifically targeting Latino voting organizations who offered to collect and deliver ballots for the Latino community. Legislators said so in floor debates of the bill. Brnovich’s assertion to the court that Arizona’s history of racism in voting is “ancient history” is a lack of candor to the court. It is belied by repeated efforts by Arizona’s legislature in just the past 20 years, including by the current legislature, at voter suppression.
You can protect yourself in voting by signing up for the Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL) and requesting an early mail-in ballot. You do not have to risk your life, or the life of a poll worker, by voting in person.
A final note: Spare me the hand-wringing about the delay in getting election results caused by early mail-in ballots. We already have a system that takes weeks to count the vote, because the legislature has not appropriated enough money to speed up the counting of early mail-in ballots. Your desire for instant results on election day only hours after the polls close is not a legitimate concern. Counting the vote fairly and accurately, regardless of how long it takes, should be your only concern.