Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) continues to call for another round of stimulus to help mitigate COVID-19 related damage to the US economy. But as her previous efforts demonstrate, Pelosi’s prescription to “save” the country might do irreparable harm to American democracy.
In addition to giveaways for climate change, labor unions and student loan forgiveness advocates, the bill contained several election-related measures that would fundamentally change the methods and security of the way our country votes.
Buried on page 643 of the original bill was the “American Coronavirus/COVID–19 Election Safety and Security” or ACCESS Act. It included funds for states to conduct elections via mail-in ballots during a declared national emergency, and would permit voters to return absentee ballots by designating another person to return the ballot to the post office or other ballot drop-off location, including an election office.
Given public warnings to avoid public places and gatherings such as traditional polling stations, the push to expand mail-in balloting makes sense. But it is also true that mail-in ballots are highly susceptible to fraudulent interference and tampering. In fact, Donald Trump closed his press conference last Friday by stating his opposition to national mail-in balloting because “I think a lot of people cheat.”
Here, the President enjoys broad agreement. Elections officials from all political stripes acknowledge that mail-in ballots are far more vulnerable to fraud. Stories of political operatives who routinely scam senior citizens out of their absentee ballots are so widespread that the term “granny farming” was coined. Even the New York Times, when reporting on suspicions of election fraud in North Carolina last year, noted that “absentee ballots are especially susceptible to manipulation.”
And allowing third-party ballot delivery would do nothing to reduce that vulnerability. Recent history indicates it would make it worse.
In Texas, paid political operatives known as politiqueras run rampant in the Rio Grande Valley, collecting ballots and manipulating electoral outcomes. In Florida, an elderly man who was blind swore an affidavit that an operative scammed him out of his absentee ballot.
In fact, the concept of allowing a third party to deliver or submit a ballot on another’s behalf is known by election workers as “ballot harvesting.” While it has only been legal in a single state for one election cycle, its impact has already been profound.
California became the first state to legalize the practice, and it was practiced there during the 2018 midterm election cycle. Following huge gains by California Democrats in those elections, political operatives from both parties agreed that the Democrats’ mastery of ballot harvesting led to seven GOP-held congressional districts flipping blue, including every seat in once reliably Republican Orange County. The provision on page 643 of Pelosi’s ACCESS Act bill would have extended this practice nationwide.
Democrats have long argued that collection of ballots by third parties might make it easier for vulnerable populations to cast ballots. These “vulnerable populations” typically include those lacking transportation, senior citizens in nursing homes, and people with medical issues. Ironically, these same populations are the ones being told by health and government officials to stay home and avoid contact with the outside world due to their higher risk of COVID-19 infection.
Finally, how accurate are each state’s voter registration rolls? When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s efforts to clean up its voter rolls in 2012, the court’s opinion noted two Pew Center statistics: Twenty-four million voter registrations in the U.S. were either “invalid or significantly inaccurate,” and that “2.75 million people are said to be registered to vote in more than one state.”
The provisions expanding mail-in voting and allowing ballot harvesting were ultimately scrapped before the stimulus bill’s final passage. But Speaker Pelosi’s renewed calls for an expanded federal response to address the growing impact of the COVID-19 virus suggest she may try again. It is vital that whatever legislation Congress might pass to help save the country from the ravages of this virus not infect our democracy with a new disease of its own.
Eric Eggers is the Research Director of the Government Accountability Institute (GAI) and author of Fraud: How the Left Plans to Steal the Next Election,