Hans von Spakovsky (Senior Legal Fellow / Manager, Civil Justice Reform Initiative Center for Legal and Judicial Studies The Heritage Foundation): Trading the security, integrity, and shared experience of the in-person election process for all-mail elections is a bad idea for a number of reasons. An examination of voter fraud cases over the past two decades reveals that ballots requested and sent through the mail are vote thieves’ tool of choice. Despite claims that voting by mail will increase voter turnout, the evidence leads to the exact opposite conclusion. Such elections, while possibly less expensive for election administrators, can be more expensive for candidates, thereby increasing the costs of campaigns for ordinary citizens who want to run for office. Mail elections put voters at the mercy of the postal service: If their ballots are delayed or misdirected, their votes will not count. Also, voters could be casting their ballots without the same access to timely information about candidates. Finally, elections conducted through the mail destroy the communal act of voting in a way that is damaging to America’s voting traditions and the inculcation of civic virtues.
Paul Weyrich: I don’t want everybody to vote… As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.
The conservative Heritage Foundation, a “non-partisan,” (but pro-GOP) “non-profit” (though oriented to making the rich richer) think tank, has argued that absentee ballots should be reserved for individuals who cannot vote in person at their assigned polling place on Election Day or at early voting sites prior to the election.
I respectfully disagree.
All over the country, the GOP has been working relentlessly to change the rules governing our elections.
Prior to 2008, the trends had been running the other way, with innovations like early voting, “no excuse” absentee balloting and expanded voting by mail making the franchise easier for millions of Americans.
But, new laws aimed primarily at impeding the franchise of the voters most likely to vote Democratic have passed in over 40 states. These new laws include cutting early voting, repealing election day registration, creating citizenship challenges, and changing photo identification standards.
And that doesn’t even begin to deal with questions of selective implementation, whether it be rejecting voter registrations because the forms are on the wrong paper stock, or knocking voters off the rolls based upon erroneous information and then putting the burden on the voters to personally show up for a hearing to prove their eligibility.
Republican cry “voter fraud,’ but investigations have which found virtually no recent cases of intentional voter fraud.
As the NY Times noted “Many of those charged [with voter fraud] appear to have mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules, a review of court records and interviews with prosecutors and defense lawyers show.”
As the Times also noted “Of course the Republicans passing these laws never acknowledge their real purpose, which is to turn away from the polls people who are more likely to vote Democratic.”
As the The Voting Rights Institute has noted: “Early voting expands opportunities to vote, enabling people who can’t get to the polls on Election Day to make their voices heard.”
Republicans efforts have already cut back early voting periods in at least six states (maybe even more since the articles and studies I’ve drawn upon were written).
They’ve especially set their sights on states which have early voting on Sundays, which are in especially useful time to get out the votes of black churchgoers.
As The Voting Rights Institute noted “African Americans represented 13 percent of all Florida voters but 31 percent of the total voters on the final Sunday of early voting.”
One will not be surprised to learn that the Florida statute was recently changed to eliminate early voting the last Sunday before the election.
One would think that the small-d-democratic response of the GOP would have been to get their asses to some conservative evangelical churches and make similar efforts, but they seem intent on cutting the franchise for others rather than expanding it into their own turf.
Yet Republican recoil in horror at the thought of Democrats having these votes in the bank before election day.
I am puzzled.
Has anyone seriously argued that these votes are not being cast for candidates for whom the voter intended to cast them?
Republicans cry fraud, but there’ve been virtually no allegations of fraud in the two states (Oregon and Washington) which conduct their elections entirely by mail, let alone any wrongdoing actually proven.
What has been proven is that the vote expands.
Hawaii recently held an all mail-in vote for a special congressional election, and 54 percent of the ballots mailed out were returned. It also cost far less (about 25% less than a precinct-based system), and created a disincentive for last minute negative campaigning (since the last minute was three-weeks long).
What the Republicans really object to is GOTV being made easier.
Not surprisingly, when it comes to cutting back the franchise, Republican states are in the lead.
But, equally unsurprising is that fact that, when it comes to failing to expand the franchise, almost no state has been as backwards as NYS.
Thirty-six states have either all-mail voting, early-voting, “no-excuse” absentee ballots, or a combination of the last two.
Only 14 states have neither “no-excuse” absentee ballots, not early voting.
Naturally, NYS is on that list. In fact, it is the largest state on that list. But in some ways, we are consistent with the rest of the country.
Legislation to change the status quo has not even gotten a hearing in the GOP controlled State Senate.
So the archaic rules remain.
In NYS, one cannot get an absentee ballot without a valid excuse; the excuses are limited to being unavoidably absent from your county on election day, being a patient in a Veterans’ Administration Hospital, being detained in jail awaiting Grand Jury action or confined in prison after conviction for an offense other than a felony, or being unable to appear at the polls due to illness or disability (in the last case, a person who is permanently disabled may apply and receive permanent absentee status).
But, let me be fair to the GOP.
There is at least one NYS Republican who has been a pioneer in championing early voting.
Further, his courageous and innovative efforts were not undertaken alone, but were apparently undertaken with the full knowledge and approval of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.
Further, when push (or maybe putsch is a better word) came to shove, the Senate GOP’s legal eagles joined the cause as well.
I speak of newly elected State Senator David Storobin.
As you may recall, shortly before the recent special election for the seat which Mr.Storobin now occupies, a single individual, Alla Pometko, submitted 177 absentee ballot applications to the Kings County Board of Elections.
Most, if not all, of these applications were filled out in the same handwriting; they stated that the voter was disabled and wished to be placed on the permanent absentee list; they named Alla Pometko as their authorized agent to pick up their ballot from the Board of Elections.
In fact, Alla Pometko, a “consultant” for the Storobin campaign, received 177 absentee ballots from the Board of Elections and that she returned approximately 120 completed ballots to the Board.
With respect to a number of the ballots returned to the Board of Elections by Alla Pometko, the voter signed the absentee ballot envelope with a “mark” rather than a signature. The witness to the mark was Alla Pometko.
With respect to 16 of the absentee ballots returned to the Board of Elections by Alla Pometko, the voters appeared in person at their polling places on election day and cast votes in person on the machines.
While their absentee ballots have been properly invalidated on this account, it was not unreasonable to conclude that the applications claiming permanent disability for those persons were false and that the voters were probably unaware that whatever they signed for Ms. Pometko was a ballot.
Virtually every one of those ballots contained a vote for Mr. Storobin, who won the election by a mere 13 votes.
As Senator Skelos noted, with approval, “Mr. Storobin…ran a very aggressive absentee ballot campaign.”
Let’s be frank about what occurred.
Ms. Pometko solicited absentee ballots from dozens of able bodied elderly (and a few not so elderly) voters who swore on an application filed before a government agency that they were permanently disabled and unable to vote at their polling place.
In most cases, that polling place was in the very community room of the elevator equipped building the voters lived in; and that very community room was where the applications themselves were solicited and the ballots later filled out.
In other cases, the applications were solicited and the ballots were filled out at the very senior center those voters attended every day, and their applications swore that they were too disabled to walk to their polling place, which was in that same very senior center.
There are three ways of looking at the case.
First, there is the technical one.
The judge had no choice but to rule as he did based on the evidence before him. The Judge clearly knew what was going on. He called Ms. Pometko’s efforts an “early voting operation,” a term he himself put into quotes, and ”early voting operations” are a concept not allowed for under NYS law.
The judge himself cited “irregularities relating to the procurement of some of the absentee ballots.”
But the judge did not, and could not, find that there was “clear and convincing evidence” of fraud.
As a result, one can read the decision and obtain a road map of how to run an “early voting operation” in a State where the law does not allow for such operations.
Another way to look at it is statutorily.
In NYS, one cannot get an absentee ballot without a valid excuse; the excuses are limited to being unavoidably absent from your county on election day, being a patient in a Veterans’ Administration Hospital, being detained in jail awaiting Grand Jury action or confined in prison after conviction for an offense other than a felony, or being unable to appear at the polls due to illness or disability
These ballots were clearly obtained in defiance of the law, and Mr. Fidler has a right to say he was the victim of a stolen election for which he had no legal remedy.
Fidler now wants the existing law be amended to provide a concomitant remedy:
"The law proscribes that behavior. There's nothing to stop the next campaign from hiring 100 people to knock on doors and bank 1,000 votes before the [next] election,..The Legislature needs to do something about that."
I disagree, and look at it a third way.
Those ballots and that operation occurred in clear violation of the law.
But, those votes were all cast by duly enrolled voters, and those duly enrolled voters all intended to cast a vote for David Storobin.
During all these proceeding, not one person has person has ever suggested otherwise.
The operation was disgusting, and probably should be the subject of an investigation, but no one has ever adequately explained to me why these voters should have been disenfranchised.
Why should votes not be allowed to be banked, whether at black churches or Russian senior centers?
Banking votes which are cast exactly how the voter intended to cast them is not “fraud.”
A better name for it is “democracy.’’
But Mr. Storobin, who ran this legally dubious operation, and Mr. Skelos, who has admitted he had knowledge of it, should not get off scott-free.
They have proven one can get away with such operations if one is careful and lucky, especially amongst voters for whom English is a second language.
Republicans may yet come to regret the precedent and example they’ve set.
I can’t wait for this Chicken Kiev to come home to roost.
But, such operations should not have to operate covertly, looking over their shoulders to avoid creating evidence which might be “clear and convincing.”
What is good for the Russian Senior Center must also be good for the Black Church.
Either NYS State must have “no excuse” absentee balloting for all of its voters, regardless of their race and/or national origin, or it should have it for none of them
This is truly an issue of “equal protection.”
Mr. Storobin must introduce a bill creating “no excuse” absentee balloting immediately, and Mr. Skelos must pass it at once, or they will be found guilty of hypocrisy and racial bias in a court higher than Kings Supreme.
Dean and David literally have “no excuse.”
And the press should press them on it immediately.
Azi, Liz, Chris, Celeste and Colin, you have your marching orders.