We have to expand mail-in voting. But . . . let's be frank about a real problem.

Expanding our voting-by-mail procedures is an absolute imperative and a moral no-brainer in the midst of a national pandemic.  I also am completely unsurprised that President Trump and federal and state Republican leaders are increasingly not just opposing such a common-sense measure, but demonizing it and falsely associating it with their untrue claims of wide-spread voter fraud.  Trump and other Republicans are in favor of voter suppression generally — and cannot resist seeking any unfair electoral advantage from the pandemic conditions.  Wisconsin is a harbinger. 

Yet . . . I am deeply concerned and nervous. Why?  Because Republicans have a weirdly consistent history of telling us in advance what misconduct they plan to do, and typically signal such misconduct by first accusing Democrats of doing what they themselves plan to do.  And right now, Trump and the Republicans are talking an awful lot about vote-by-mail fraud.

All of which means that if Republicans are complaining about wide-spread vote-by-mail fraud, then you better believe that Republicans are planning on committing vote-by-mail fraud.

You see, while voting-by-mail (or “absentee ballots”) does not have any historical record of measurable voter fraud, it is generally recognized as a less secure system than in-person voting and is more easily subject to potential abuse.  Examples of abuses include forms of pressure campaigns, or “ballot harvesting,” and known examples of systemic exploitation of nursing homes and other vulnerable communities.  And so the problem with mail-in voting is that the threat of tampering is real and Republicans are talking about it.

More specifically, we have a recent illustration of what fraudulent schemes Republicans may commit with mail-in voting with Republican House Candidate Mark Harris (N.C.).  You should read this full Vox report, but in short:

North Carolina state investigators laid out in detail last week an “unlawful,” “coordinated,” and well-funded plot to tamper with absentee ballots in a US House election that remains uncalled more than three months after Election Day — finally bringing clarity to one of the most bizarre election scandals in recent memory.  

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Mark Harris, the Republican candidate in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District race, fights back tears at the conclusion of his son John Harris’s testimony at a state board hearing on alleged election fraud.
 Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP

. . . . During last week’s hearing, state investigators established their theory of the case — that [campaign aide] Dowless directed a coordinated scheme to unlawfully collect, falsely witness, and otherwise tamper with absentee ballots — and workers who said they had assisted him in the scheme delivered damning testimony. The hearing’s first day ended with Dowless, under the advice of his attorney, refusing to testify before the election board.

So, what does all this mean?  Well, first, Democrats should recognize that voting by mail does increase, even if only incrementally, or at least differently, the risk of voter fraud.  But that doesn't mean that Trump’s specious claims that voting-by-mail is fraudulent or suspect is correct.  Indeed, a good background piece to read is The False Narrative of Vote-by-Mail Fraud by the Brennan Center for Justice.  And, while defending voting-by-mail, this Brennan Center article lays out the necessary precautions and protections that are needed.  The piece is too long to block-quote but the issues involve:  (i) Identity verification, (ii) Bar codes, (iii) Tracking through the U.S. postal system, (iv) Secure drop-off boxes and locations, (v) Harsh penalties, (vi) Post-election audits, and (vi) Polling sites as a fail-safe. 

The upshot is that voting-by-mail can be safe — but it is made safe by looking at the actual laws and regulations that various states have enacted around it.  In other words, Democratic leaders cannot merely advocate for voting-by-mail, but must draft a bill that incorporates all of these protections and lessons learned by the various states — and thwart the plainly stated Republican threat to tamper in the next election.