Thoughtful Actions to Allow Accurate, Honest Mail-In Voting
By Andrew Snyder
The COVID-19 Pandemic has provided a backdrop for action on mail-in or absentee ballots. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an executive order sending all New York state voters absentee ballot application for the June primary election. The order occurs in the context of protecting New Yorkers from exposure to the Novel Corona Virus and includes other changes to laws to allow for greater social distancing. While many states require an excuse or justification for using an absentee ballot, this practice is not universal and is opposed because of the potential for fraud.
Opponents of mail-in voting cite the potential for fraud suggesting the practice will facilitate ballot stuffing, voting by non-citizens, and voting in multiple districts. Proponents claim that there is little or no evidence of voter fraud and the practice should be allowed because it permits more voter participation. Now the argument of safety can be added in favor of voting by mail.
Fraud in elections
The concern about fraud, however, is not to be taken lightly or dismissed out of hand by claiming that there is no evidence for election fraud. Fraud in voting is a seeming victimless crime. Often the only person aware of the fraud is the criminal, and the crime goes undetected. With no one directly hurt, the crime slips by unnoticed and election is corrupted. The argument that the impact of this fraud is trivial or non-existent hinges on a claimed lack of evidence. True, claiming fraud requires evidence, but when the system prevents detection of evidence in most cases, checks and balances must be put in place to minimize the opportunity for fraud.
Why should you care about this? Elections allow for the peaceful replacement of representatives according to the will of the people. An assumption of the election is that whether or not your candidate won, the fair election represents the will of the people. There is a resolution and a finality with an election. We fought hard battles based on different philosophies and principles, and the more popular ideas won out. If your side lost, there is a chance to make better arguments next time and win. When fraud is suspected, however, the election does not resolve anything. Instead, it creates even further division with claims of corruption now added to the discussion.
Under a fully corrupt system where fraud is the determiner of the winner, the goal for the next election becomes not providing a better argument or a stronger candidate, but instead becoming better at committing fraud and stealing elections. With such a system, you would expect the winners to be the most accomplished criminals with the most corrupt citizens supporting them. The candidates offered would have no discernable merit, and honest citizens regardless of party would be forced into an endless choice of the lesser of two evils. Is there any evidence that this is occurring? Do we have quality candidates on both sides that you want to actively support because you like the great ideas they have to offer and agree with their plans to improve the United States and your life?
Losing an election honestly and fairly can be painful enough. Believing that an election was stolen by fraud can in civilized societies justify legal actions and in less civilized ones sometimes leads to violence. To protect the rights of the citizens to honestly select their representatives and to prevent the risks associated with fraudulent elections, we need security measures to guarantee that elections are accurate—not just an assumption of accuracy based on lack of evidence in an arena where crime is particularly challenging to detect.
Make mail in ballots secure
Banking and financial transactions are regularly conducted by mail. In fact, the banking industry has figured out how to conduct secure transactions by phone, by mail, through the internet, from your car, and even in person. Even though most people do not steal, the potential for theft and fraud motivates banks to put security in place to ensure that fraud is not committed. The fact that we know that fraud could occur is sufficient to act to prevent it. It’s like locking the door on your house or car when you leave. There probably will not be a crime, but we take precautions anyway and feel more secure as a result.
In the election of our government, we must expect at least the level of security routinely employed in financial transactions. This argument for security has the benefit of being un-challengeable on moral or philosophical grounds. No honest person could - or should - defend a system that has security flaws allowing for fraud and corruption, whether intentional or unintentional. Instead of opposing mail-in ballots because they facilitate so many types of election fraud, we should focus on how to make mail-in ballots safe and secure in the future.
The strongest argument against securing the system is that the cost would be increased to add to the security. All things with value have a cost, so this is not a surprise. The value we place on the accuracy and fidelity of our elections and the potential for long term consequences support the idea that costs incurred in ensuring a secure and accurate election would be saved in legal fees from challenges, recounts, and most importantly the open ended liability of electing a corrupt representative supported by a criminal class that thinks fraud is a good idea and is acceptable. Banks use accountants, locks, security systems, safes, and guards to detect and protect against fraud. Surely our elections deserve similar protections.
Mail in ballot requirements and structure
Elections depend on three critical principles
1) one vote only per citizen
2) anonymity of voters
3) ease of participation
Mail in ballots clearly increase ease of participation, but the first two requirements provide some challenges. Keeping the vote anonymous means keeping personal identification off the ballot, but ensuring one vote per citizen requires identification and tracking to prevent multiple votes and votes by non-citizens.
On a mail-in ballot, ensuring legitimate voters and anonymity can be accomplished with a simple double envelope process:
- Voters complete their ballot and seal it concealing their choices.
- The sealed ballot is placed in an outer envelope with identifying information.
- Election officials determine from the outer envelope which votes are valid.
- Valid ballots are separated from identifying information but are not yet counted.
- In a separate step, the anonymous ballots are counted.
- Disqualified ballots would remain sealed and are never counted.
- Identification from qualifying ballots would be retained after being separated from the ballot.
Auditing the vote to ensure accuracy
Auditing is a key part of financial transactions. Even with efforts to maintain security, the audit provides an additional assurance of the integrity of the accounting of the transactions. Financial reports are not accepted or considered finalized until audits have been completed. Similarly, in elections, an auditing process should be used to ensure the highest possible integrity in our elections.
At a simple level, vote auditing could be done by an independent auditor or by having representatives of both sides in an election when votes are being counted. Vote counting is not difficult and we have all been involved in simple elections in schools for student council or class president where simple paper ballots were used and anonymity, limitation of voting to eligible voters, accuracy of count was ensured.
The audit even could be completed by the people themselves—highly appropriated for a government of the people by the people and for the people. Again, implementation is easy. Voters retain a copy of their ballot and a unique ballot identifier (not identifying the voter but associated with the anonymous portion of the paper ballot). Publicly posting the votes with these identifiers would let voters compare their ballot copy with the vote recorded on their behalf. After quick resolution of discrepancies, the vote would be certified and the election is complete.
Mail-in voting can be made secure and accountable. Opposition to accountability cannot be justified politically or morally without support of fraud and dishonesty. The value of a secure election justifies the additional cost of securing the vote. Unsecured voting that allows for cheating and fraud does not favor one candidate over another but it supports the less honest candidate and the candidate with a greater number of dishonest supporters.
When arguing against fraud made possible by in mail in ballots, focus on the need to make the process secure and trustworthy. What can we do to make the mail-in vote trustable and honest? Ask opponents if they want to open the system up for fraud or if they are interested in having an accurate vote.
Petition your representatives, governors, and voting officials to establish a process that has representatives from all sides involved in vote counting to complete an audit of the accuracy of the vote. Demand evidence that anonymity is preserved and that only qualified voters get to vote.
Before assuming supporters of mail in voting are trying to steal the vote—a very real possibility—ask them why they want it and what makes them think it is secure. Chances are, they do not understand the problems with mail in voting and you will have an opportunity to enlighten them. The goal is accurate counting of all votes by eligible voters with validation and acceptance by representatives of both sides in the election.
If you have any evidence of fraud, contact you local Democratic and Republican parties as well as this site and news outlets.
Executive Order New York. No. 202.26: Continuing Temporary Suspension and Modification of Laws Relating to the Disaster Emergency https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/no-20226-continuing-temporary-suspension-and-modification-laws-relating-disaster-emergency