Democracy and ZIP Codes

The rules for voting in America vary widely.

Voters Voting

In a Los Angeles Times essay that is blessedly not paywalled, staff writer Arit John declares, “Two democracies are forming in the U.S. Zip code determines which one you’re in.”

For a brief time in 2020, it seemed as though the vote-by-mail movement was having a bipartisan moment.

Red and blue states that had offered the option only to a relatively small number of residents were suddenly scrambling to expand mail voting to as many people as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at polling places. Voting rights advocates saw it as a chance to educate lawmakers and voters about the long-term benefits of moving away from casting ballots in person.

Then came President Trump’s baseless allegations of widespread mail ballot fraud.

Two years later, access to mail voting looks radically different from state to state, mirroring a broad partisan divide in voting policies.

Republican-led states, echoing the former president’s unfounded fraud claims, have passed laws restricting access to ballot drop boxes, created new requirements for verifying voters, limited who can return a voter’s ballot and made it harder to correct mistakes on mail ballots. Democratic states have moved in the opposite direction — or attempted to do so. Legal challenges, failed ballot initiatives and constitutional hurdles have hampered efforts to make mail voting easier, particularly in the Northeast.

In fairness, voting by mail during the pandemic was an emergency measure never intended to be made permanent. And Republicans have been more skeptical than Democrats of voting by mail going back to long before Trump and the Big Lie. Indeed, the practice was only in place in a handful of states out west Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado, and Hawaii) before 2020. Note that Utah is the most Republican state in the Union.

Yes, at the elite level, part of this is simply the calculation that making it easy to vote advantages Democrats. This, despite the evidence showing no partisan effect of mail-in voting and that Republicans actually benefit slightly from early voting more generally.

But Republicans in general were always more skeptical out of conservative instinct that Election Day should be Election Day. Poll after poll showed ordinary Republicans much more resistant than ordinary Democrats to no-excuse early absentee voting. That’s not about voter suppression or even alarmism over stolen elections.

Regardless, John’s larger point is unassailable.

Voting rights advocates say mail voting makes the process easier for people who have difficulties traveling to polling places and helps blunt the impact of policies that suppress voter turnout, such as polling location closures that have a disproportionately negative effect on Black and Latino communities, leading to longer lines. They have raised concerns that the policies Republicans have enacted to prevent mail ballot fraud — despite existing safeguards such as signature verification and ballot tracking — are discriminatory and disenfranchise people of color and low-income voters.

“It’s getting to the point where, really, we’re seeing these two democracies emerge,” said Liz Avore, a senior policy advisor at the Voting Rights Lab, a nonpartisan advocacy group that tracks state election laws. “Your ZIP Code really determines what kind of access you have to the ballot, which is concerning.”

My main concern remains when it’s done intentionally for the purposes of voter suppression. Situations where there are long lines to vote in Democrat-leaning precincts and none at Republican-leaning precincts in the same contest are simply undemocratic. (Indeed, that’s true even if the disparity is a function of resource constraints rather than targeted suppression.)

I’m less concerned that residents of Colorado can vote more easily than those in Mississippi because of local preferences. Even so, we should have relatively uniform rules for voting for national-level offices even though the elections are held at the state and local level. And we’re very far away from that, with the gap widening.

Vote-by-mail policies exist on a spectrum. Eight states, including California, offer universal mail voting, which means registered voters automatically receive a ballot for elections. About a dozen states offer mail voting in smaller counties or in state and local elections.

In 15 states including Texas, voters can request an absentee ballot only if they provide an approved reason for voting by mail, such as being outside of one’s voting jurisdiction, working as a poll worker or having an illness or disability that prevents in-person voting.

Conversely, 27 states and the District of Columbia allow voters to request a mail ballot without providing a reason. Some of those states allow eligible voters to sign up to receive an absentee ballot on an ongoing basis.

Within those states, there are varying rules dictating how ballots are verified, when and how ballots should be returned, and what happens if a voter’s signature doesn’t match the one on file or they don’t properly fill out their ballot.

I live in Virginia, a Purple state that was Red when I moved here twenty years ago but its increasingly Blue thanks to the burgeoning DC suburbs in Northern Virginia, where I live. A few years back, we moved to no-excuse absentee voting. Indeed, while I haven’t yet voted in the midterms, early voting started on September 23 and continues through November 5. It can be done via mail or in person at various state and county facilities.

(Amusingly, my ZIP code is split between two Congressional Districts—the 10th, represented by Democrat Jennifer Wexton, and the 11th, represented by Democrat Gerald Connolly. I’m in the former. Alas, it’s not competitive.)

California has been shifting toward remote voting since 1978, when it became the first state to allow voters to request an absentee ballot without a specific reason. In 2016, the state enacted the Voter’s Choice Act, which began the process of allowing counties to apply to start sending all voters a mail ballot. The pandemic moved up the timeline for bringing the entire state over to mail voting — in 2021 the state passed a law requiring counties send a ballot to every voter.

“We’ve taken all the excuses off the table,” said Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), who served as California’s secretary of state in 2020 and oversaw the shift to vote by mail. “There’s no other states that’s bigger than us, that’s as diverse as us. And so to say, ‘Oh, it’s too expensive or too complicated,’ — no. If [California] can do it, any state can do it.”

While I still have a visceral instinct that Election Day should be Election Day and that having a large number of ballots cast before the debates or before all information is in, it’s outweighed by the simple logistics of getting everyone in to vote at the same time. We live in a world where people are used to doing everything from shopping to paying their taxes online. It’s just silly to make folks line up before or after work to cast a vote. (Although, I must say, I’ve seldom had to wait more than 20 minutes in the 38 years I’ve been voting—and I’ve lived in a lot of states over that span.)

On the other end of the spectrum, states such as Texas, Georgia and Florida responded to the 2020 election by overhauling their election laws in ways that add hurdles to mail voting. In Georgia and Florida, which allow no-excuse absentee voting, new laws have limited when drop boxes are available and where they can be located, and added requirements for how drop boxes are monitored.

Advocates of increasing drop box access say they are secure and a more reliable option for returning ballots on time than the mail system. Republican legislators, however, have argued that limiting and securing ballot drop boxes will help reestablish faith in elections.

“Removing drop boxes will help restore the trust that has been lost,” Butch Miller, a Georgia state senator and former lieutenant governor candidate, said last year during his failed push to eliminate drop boxes in the state. “Many see them as the weak link when it comes to securing our elections against fraud.”

Again, I have a visceral sense that it’s easier to commit fraud via unmanned drop boxes than at a community polling station, so understand the impulse. But there’s just not evidence that such fraud actually exists in meaningful numbers.

Then there’s just batshit craziness:

In a separate lawsuit, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Oct. 12 that ballots left undated by voters should not be counted. The ruling, which overturned an appeals court decision, is a blow to advocates who argue federal law protects voters from being disenfranchised by minor mistakes.

Then there is the question of when election officials should start pre-processing ballots. In other no-excuse absentee ballot states such as Florida, election officials have days or weeks to begin preparing ballots to be counted on election day. In Pennsylvania, that process can’t begin until the morning of the election, which led to major delays in the 2020 general election and the 2022 primary.

“That time between the polls being closed and all the votes being counted is dangerous,” said Al Schmidt, a former Republican city commissioner who helped oversee elections in Philadelphia. “The longer it goes on, the more likely you are to have people who have been deceived by all these lies act out.”

We live in an instant-information world. It’s simply nuts to wait around for days after an election to find out the winner because of crazy superstition. Of course ballots should be tabulated as they come in.

But, again, it’s not just Republican-dominated states that are resistant to changes that make voting easier.

Blue states have also struggled to expand mail voting, particularly in the Northeast, where Vermont is the only state that holds all-mail elections. Delaware, Connecticut, New Hampshire and New York all require voters to provide a reason to request an absentee ballot.

“Northeast states, constitutionally, have all sorts of hurdles,” said Gerry Langeler, the director of research and communications at the National Vote at Home Institute. In many cases, expanded mail voting requires amending a state’s constitution, which often requires support from Republican legislators and voters.

New Hampshire Republicans blocked an effort last year to allow no-excuse absentee voting. In Delaware, the state Supreme Court overturned a 2022 law this month that would have allowed universal mail voting in the state. An effort to amend the state constitution’s language on absentee voting also failed this year. And in Connecticut, the legislature approved a proposed constitutional amendment to allow no-excuse absentee voting this year, but because it didn’t pass with a supermajority, the legislature must approve it again next year to put the issue to voters on the ballot.

After New York lawmakers passed legislation to put a no-excuse absentee voting measure on the ballot, voters rejected the proposed constitutional amendment in 2021. Out of 3.4 million ballots cast, 49% voted against the measure, 40% voted for it and 11% left the question blank. Voters also rejected two other election-related proposals on redistricting reform and same-day voter registration.

Conversely,

Western states, including some led by Republicans, have embraced mail voting for decades. Historically, vote-by-mail states have started off by allowing smaller counties to apply to hold all-mail elections before gradually expanding to larger population centers.

Utah held its first all-mail election in 2019 after first giving counties the option in 2012. Farther east, Nebraska started allowing counties with fewer than 7,000 voters to apply to hold all-mail elections in 2005. That population threshold was later increased to 10,000.

“It makes the process much easier for them and, given the lack of security concerns, it seems to be popular among the places that have been using it,” said Heidi Uhing, the director of public policy at Civic Nebraska, a pro-democracy advocacy group.

Uhing pointed to the June special election in the state’s 1st Congressional District. Republican Mike Flood beat Democrat Patty Pansing Brooks by just over 5 percentage points. Brooks performed better than recent Democratic candidates and won the district’s largest county — Lancaster, where the state capital, Lincoln, is — but Flood won the race because of wide margins in the surrounding rural counties. He garnered 88% of the vote in Stanton, an all-vote-by-mail county where 48% of eligible voters cast ballots.

“That shows getting people out to vote is just good for voting in general,” Uhing said. “There are some times that it might benefit one party over another, but overall, more voting is better for our democracy. And I think that should be a shared goal for all of us.”

Indeed.

Of course, it would also help if more contests were competitive. All the ease in the world doesn’t matter if the outcome is preordained.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Barry says:

    From the Kemp voter suppression files. Kemp had 12 black women arrested for winning an election. 120 felony charges – 0 convictions.
    https://twitter.com/Esosa_Osa/status/1580534755262545920

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  2. Tony W says:

    (Although, I must say, I’ve seldom had to wait more than 20 minutes in the 38 years I’ve been voting—and I’ve lived in a lot of states over that span.)

    This is more a function of white/wealth privilege than any indication of the national status of polling places. Rest assured that black people in poor Atlanta suburbs have not had the same experience.

    We need stronger voting rights in this country. If more people voting means more Democrats in office, then the Republicans have the choice to adopt policies that appeal to a broader range of people.

    Or as they often say, “The marketplace has a solution for that”

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  3. Scott says:

    Coincidently there is this article in today’s Express-News. Texas uses enormous amounts of administrative friction to put barriers to voting.

    For a Texas family, voting by mail meant 5 applications, 3 different outcomes and a 5-week wait

    For Julie Fette and her family of five, voting in this year’s midterms has already been a weekslong headache, and two of them haven’t even filled out a ballot yet.

    The family calls Houston home, but they’re all voting absentee in this election for various reasons: Fette is a Rice University professor on sabbatical in Montreal with her husband, and their three children are all attending college, at McGill University in Montreal, Northeastern University in Boston and the University of California-Los Angeles.

    Even though they got an early start on the process — all but one of them requested ballots in August, more than two months before Election Day, Nov. 8 — they’ve each seen a different result as they’ve navigated complicated forms, gone back and forth with elections officials in Harris County and waited weeks on end.

    Three of them received mail ballots more than a month later and sent them off earlier this month. One was rejected on Tuesday. The other two are waiting to hear if theirs will be accepted.

    Meanwhile, two others are still waiting for their ballots.

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  4. steve says:

    There are a lot of things governments do poorly or dont really help taxpayers all that much. Mail in ballots actually make it easier so of course people want to go and stop it. Sigh.

    Steve

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  5. Kurtz says:

    While I still have a visceral instinct that Election Day should be Election Day

    Do you mind explaining this and the more general Republican aversion referenced earlier in the piece?

    7
  6. Scott says:

    While I still have a visceral instinct that Election Day should be Election Day

    An interesting experiment is going to happen in San Antonio this election. Most of the school districts declared a school holiday on Election Day. Why? School safety. So many schools are used as voting locations and the districts, by and large, determined they couldn’t have the schools safely opened with lots of strangers wandering around. If schools are closed, a lot of parents are going to have to take the day off also. Will it change the volume of voting? We will see.

    2
  7. charon says:

    In fairness, voting by mail during the pandemic was an emergency measure never intended to be made permanent. And Republicans have been more skeptical than Democrats of voting by mail going back to long before Trump and the Big Lie. Indeed, the practice was only in place in a handful of states out west Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado, and Hawaii) before 2020. Note that Utah is the most Republican state in the Union.

    Voting by mail has been pretty easy in AZ for at least as long as I have lived here – 20 years. Over 70% of the vote in 2020 was by mail.

    It’s easy to add your name to the PEVL – Permanent Early Voting List. Once on it, you automatically are mailed a mail ballot before every election. (I got mine Tuesday, mailed it back yesterday).

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  8. charon says:

    @charon:

    I should note there is an initiative on the current ballot, Proposition 309, to make voting harder. The neighbor near me with the Blake Masters yard sign also has a yes on 309 sign. So yeah, Republicans.

    3
  9. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Tony W: Republicans realize that the market doesn’t care whether people can vote or not. Republicans can continue to suppress voting and it will work fine. They don’t need market-based solutions, and their product is not one the most people will buy no matter how it’s advertised–in fact, advertising it seems to detract from seeing the product as desirable except among its small market-sector group of fans.

    They’re better off staying with what they know–obstruction.

    1
  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Scott: “So many schools are used as voting locations and the districts, by and large, determined they couldn’t have the schools safely opened with lots of strangers wandering around.”

    This sounds a lot like “we can’t have people taking multiple ballots to the collection boxes; it’s not secure” and “We can’t have the same number of voting machines in Precinct 5 as we do in Precinct 3 (which has half as many voters, BTW); there’s no money available for more machines.”

    1
  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: But maybe pedophilic ax murderers are a bigger problem in San Antonio than I realize. 🙁

    1
  12. James Joyner says:

    @Tony W:

    This is more a function of white/wealth privilege than any indication of the national status of polling places.

    That’s almost certainly true these days but it hasn’t been the case through much of the tenure. When I was in graduate school, I lived literally across the street from the Section 8 housing and was in the majority-Black 7th Congressional District. For that matter, while I lived in an affluent development in my last house (2006-2019), it was surrounded by a historically Black community (Hybla Valley) and probably plurality Hispanic.

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  13. James Joyner says:

    @Scott:

    Most of the school districts declared a school holiday on Election Day. Why? School safety.

    We’re doing the same thing for what I believe is the first time.

    3
  14. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Scott:

    Most of the school districts declared a school holiday on Election Day. Why? School safety. So many schools are used as voting locations and the districts, by and large, determined they couldn’t have the schools safely opened with lots of strangers wandering around.

    This makes sense–even if only from a PR standpoint.

    It looks good to parents who are worried about safety issues, it has little downside for the district (missing a day of work may be a harder hit on the parents), and it mitigates issues should anything happen.

    2
  15. James Joyner says:

    @Kurtz:

    Do you mind explaining this and the more general Republican aversion referenced earlier in the piece?

    The reasons are manifold but mostly it’s about two things. First, that elections should be a snapshot of the community’s preferences at a moment in time, preferably when they’re fully informed by the debates and the rest of the campaign having played out. Second, and related, is that elections should be a communal experience, not a serious of individual votes spread out over several weeks.

    Still, as implied by “visceral,” that’s more about feeling than analysis—about how things ought to work rather than how they do. Most voters are pretty low information and tend to vote based on party preference and other things completely unrelated to the campaign. And I’m not sure there’s much of a sense of community outside of maybe something like the Iowa Caucuses.

    5
  16. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @James Joyner:

    elections should be a snapshot of the community’s preferences at a moment in time

    After watching a state senator for 6 or 12 years, I kinda of know already whether his preferences line up with mine…. I don’t really need to wait till the last shot is fired to make up my mind.

    The “community preference” is simply the aggregation of many, many individual preferences. So the emphasis ought be on individual preferences. If an individual needs to see the very last political add or news story (hours before the polls close), maybe they haven’t been paying attention. Or maybe they are waiting to see which band-wagon to jump on. Neither case seems to be consistent with the “informed voter” model.

    5
  17. Franklin says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    In our district, part of the safety issue was that the schools wanted to remain gun-free, but some Michigan ruling allowed concealed weapons at polling places. That’s how I remember it anyway.

    I think the more interesting development is if all theseschools are going to close anyway, perhaps it will start forcing workplaces to close as well because sll the parents are scrambling. And then, voilá: the hoped-for election day holiday is inadvertently born.

    4
  18. Michael Cain says:

    @charon:

    Voting by mail has been pretty easy in AZ for at least as long as I have lived here – 20 years. Over 70% of the vote in 2020 was by mail…. It’s easy to add your name to the PEVL – Permanent Early Voting List. Once on it, you automatically are mailed a mail ballot before every election. (I got mine Tuesday, mailed it back yesterday).

    Talk is cheap. I wonder how many people have taken their names off the PEVL. Or if it’s a matter of “voting shouldn’t be easy for those people.”

    1
  19. Scott says:

    @Franklin: @Mu Yixiao: Normally, school have locked front doors and people have to be buzzed in. That’s one issue. Two, there are really no good locations to put 3-4 voting booths in most schools, so they are in the library, cafeteria, a empty classroom. Three, voters tend to vote and then wander to see the rest of the school pretty much distracting the poll worker and/or a school employee.

    I think the probability of an incident is low but after Uvalde, the risk is evaluated by parents as sky high. And there you have it. I question the need for the teachers to be off. Just make it a staff development day but the Board chose different.

  20. Kurtz says:

    @James Joyner:

    Thank you.

    I did some poking around about attitudes toward voting. And I was a little disappointed by one particular thing.

    There seems to be a paucity of polling on the nature of voting as a right. Pew has one conducted in April 2021, but I’m not crazy about the wording of the question.

    It’s also potentially complicated by a lack of understanding of what a “fundamental right” entails legally.

    1
  21. Andy says:

    Regional differences matter – it’s no coincidence that all the mountain states have long had better voting systems than the rest of the country, particularly the older parts of the country that had, until very recently, political machine systems in that made voting very difficult.

    Secondly, I find it annoying that no one discusses or wants to discuss the fundamental issue – where to draw the line between election security and ease of voting.

    In my view you ideally want a system that makes it easy for people to vote while still:
    1. Ensuring only eligible voters can actually vote
    2. Ensuring sufficient monitoring and checks and balances to actually be able to detect fraud.
    3. Ensuring that #2 is sufficiently robust to be a deterrent from people attempting fraud.
    4. The above points should be sufficient enough such that the relevant population has actual faith in the system.

    Reasonable people can disagree about such details, but that assumes people are willing to have that conversation, which practically no one is. It’s easier, I guess, to repeat the usual partisan mantras.

    I think #2 is particularly important. I remember when I lived in Florida the first time, it was a poorly-hidden fact that a lot of snowbirds and others who had second homes in Florida, primarily from the Northeast, would vote in each state. I haven’t checked recently, but I think Florida and some states share voter data to try to prevent this now.

    Anyway, I would just put my own state of Colorado as a place that gets almost all of this right. I think we could have some weeks, but overall, our system could be a national model. We’ve had it for a long time and have worked out most of the kinks.

    1
  22. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @Michael Cain:

    …Or if it’s a matter of “voting shouldn’t be easy for those people.”

    Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

    1
  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Franklin:

    I think the more interesting development is if all theseschools are going to close anyway, perhaps it will start forcing workplaces to close as well because sll the parents are scrambling.

    I’ve been wrong about stuff before, but I suspect that docking parents for being absent “without justifiable cause” and apologizing to customers for system-failure delays will be the preferred route.-

  24. Gustopher says:

    @Andy: People have the conversation all the time, you just might not like the conversation.

    The number of voters being denied access to the polls is far greater than the number of illegal ballots cast.

    We have voter registration, we have signature matches on mail-in ballots, and at the polling place.

    (My mail-in was flagged one year because my signature was so off, and I had time to correct it)

    Meanwhile, you cannot pretend that 4+ hour long lines to vote in minority districts throughout the South aren’t resulting in a lot of people not voting.

    We have a minor-impact problem (voter fraud), and a large-impact problem (voter suppression).

    The people who don’t see it that way are generally either grossly misinformed, or just don’t think certain people should be voting anyway.

    We should pursue voter fraud where it happens (snowbirds and absentee voting for dead relatives are the biggies), but not get too hung up on it.

    (And if the state of Florida registers ineligible felons to vote and then wants to prosecute them… ugh, that’s kind of the state’s problem, and if I were on the jury I would not vote to convict)

    4
  25. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    Asserting that voters are being denied access to the polls and that is a far greater problem than illegal ballots is far different from the conversation I’m describing, which is about how – exactly – to ensure people can access that ballot while deterring fraud and detecting it when it happens.

    To actually have that conversation, one would need to move past generalized assertions and look at and analyze a particular system to see if it meets the criteria I described above. Or else if one doesn’t like my criteria, then develop some other criteria and examine the system against those criteria.

    The problem is hardly anyone is doing that kind of analysis or even discussing it. It’s mainly just a few specialists in think tanks and non-profits.

    And if the state of Florida registers ineligible felons to vote and then wants to prosecute them… ugh, that’s kind of the state’s problem, and if I were on the jury I would not vote to convict

    That would be one of my points. Florida’s system is flawed because it did not prevent ineligible voters from voting, indeed it gave the impression that they could vote and the system allowed them to vote. It is, IMO, outrageous and unfair to punish those people when the problem is the system.

    It’s like arresting people for driving after the DMV gave them a license to drive.

    So, this is where my systemic approach would come in. Florida’s system violated the 1st item in my list above and what should happen is for the system to be corrected so it doesn’t happen again. But it seems that very few are interested in that.

    1
  26. Scott says:

    @Andy:

    The above points should be sufficient enough such that the relevant population has actual faith in the system.

    Should be. But it’s not. Why? Because bad faith political actors will run around casting doubts on the system regardless of any actual facts. And then when those bad faith doubts are reflected back by ordinary people, the the bad faith actors will say “See, the public doesn’t have faith in the system and therefore we have to to this, this, and that.”

    2
  27. Rick DeMent says:

    When I lived in Georgia I lived in the city and my first presidential election was in 1996. I stood in line for 2 and 1/5 hours. I moved to Gwinnett Co. and in 2000 I stool in line for 10 mins.

    I moved to Columbia SC, the only blue district, in 2003. In 2004 I stood in ln line for 3 hours. I am a suburban guy who spent most of my life in in Oakland county (suburban Detroit). I never waited for more then 10 mins to vote. I also was a poll watcher in 2016 and the lines in some of the inner city of Pontiac were well over 1 1/2 hours.

    If these areas lack resources, and they do, the state should be required to step in and fix it. Not doing that is voter suppression plane and simple.

    7
  28. EddieInCA says:

    @Rick DeMent:

    In 2012 I was working in Walton, GA, way, way, way north of Atlanta, almost to Chattanooga. Voting day, I went to check out the local voting precinct. There were more machines than people. 11 voting machines. 9 people voting. This is Marjorie Taylor Greene country. Very, very, very red.

    2016, I’m working in Atlanta. 5+ hour waits to vote in Fulton and Cobb counties In certain Fulton County precincts it was a 9+ hour wait to vote. The videos and stories are out there to prove it.

    F**k anyone who thinks it’s fair if you live in a blue city or county in a red state. Just F** you.

    8
  29. Scott F. says:

    @Andy:

    To actually have that conversation, one would need to move past generalized assertions and look at and analyze a particular system to see if it meets the criteria I described above. Or else if one doesn’t like my criteria, then develop some other criteria and examine the system against those criteria.

    Here’s a summary of specific analyses (not general assertions) that have looked at voter fraud over more than a decade. Does this work for you? I’ve clicked through to several studies that have researched your questions. For me, this collective research addresses 3 of your 4 criteria. I don’t think I need to explain why research like this isn’t “sufficient enough such that the relevant population has actual faith in the system,” but I’ll give it a go. The relevant population has been told by the a former POTUS and a major political party that research like this is fake and it’s better to go with your gut and make general assertions of fraud if you want to have power.

    3
  30. EddieInCA says:

    @JamesJoyner

    While I still have a visceral instinct that Election Day should be Election Day and that having a large number of ballots cast before the debates or before all information is in, it’s outweighed by the simple logistics of getting everyone in to vote at the same time.

    Election Day should be “The end of the election cycle”, not just one day. We should allow people to vote by mail for at least three weeks. We should be encouraging companies and people to make it easier to vote.

    But one party is against that.

    5
  31. Kathy says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Agreed on all counts.

    Also, given how long American ballots tend to be, I can’t see myself conscientiously ticking off every box for every election while standing somewhere at a polling station. I’d rather take my time, and at least get even a little info on the candidates for dog catcher or sanitation commissioner, or whatever.

    I suppose this also makes voting the straight ticket popular. I think some states allow that option. Just one box to tick.

    2
  32. Scott F. says:

    @Kathy:
    I voted by “mail” when I lived in Oregon and have continued the practice now that I am in California. Voting from home allows me to have my voter’s guide in hand as I make my choices and I am able to deliberate on referenda or judge candidates I’m not clear about. I’ve never been surprised by late breaking news sufficient to change my mind (I though Trump was scum before the Access Hollywood tapes dropped). I’ve even managed to derive some community by hand delivering my mail-in ballot to the local election office and by wearing the “I voted” sticker they give you with pride. The only way in which Election Day in-person voting is superior is in the difficulty it brings on people who work for a living.

    They’ll have to take Vote by Mail from my cold, dead hands.

    5
  33. Michael Cain says:

    @Kathy:

    Also, given how long American ballots tend to be…

    I filled out my ballot this afternoon. I filled in 40 bubbles for the scanner to read. I did not vote in some of the contests. There were 14 referendum and initiative items.

    1
  34. Mister Bluster says:

    @EddieInCA:..election cycle
    In Illinois electors can mail in their ballots 40 days before Election Day. September 29 is also the beginning of early voting at a polling place.
    As far as I can tell the election cycle for members of the US House of Representatives starts once they are sworn in January. They are campaigning for 2 years. The 40 day voting event is barely a moment in time compared to the 730 day campaign.

    @Kathy:..I think some states allow that option. Just one box to tick.
    Illinois ended straight ticket voting in 1997.

    …Republicans said the prohibition will force voters to be more thoughtful when they cast their votes.

    All I can think about is that I will never vote for a Republican candidate as long as Trump is the leader of the party as I mark the box for every Democrat on the ballot.

    1
  35. Andy says:

    @Scott F.:

    If any of those that you know of are actually systemic analyses, then please point them out. I’ve looked and haven’t found many. Most of these reports only look at reported (known) cases of fraud and specific types of fraud like in-person fraud. Or they only look at convictions. That said, I generally agree that voter fraud is rare and likely insignificant in affecting outcomes in most elections.

    However, from a systemic standpoint, voting systems are not able to detect certain types of fraud or are poorly able to detect them. If the system cannot discover fraud, then it’s no surprise that there is no evidence or prosecutions for it. How about some examples?

    I mentioned before about people voting in more than one state. With mail voting, this potentially becomes a lot easier. What systems are in place to prevent and detect someone who tries to vote in two states? I don’t think it’s an unreasonable question to ask, nor is it unreasonable to expect states to take some basic steps to detect, prevent and deter this kind of fraud – or, just as likely – keep people from making an honest mistake.

    I’ve relayed here before that I’m the court-appointed legal guardian for my sister, who is institutionalized with dementia. She is still registered to vote, and I receive a ballot for her every year. I tried to get her registration withdrawn, but that is not possible under Colorado law. Election officials tell me to just shred her ballot when I get it, which is what I do.

    I could, however, fill out my sister’s ballot, sign the envelope, and send it in. The ballot would then go through a signature check. It would be counted if I did a good job of forging my sister’s signature. Colorado’s signature checks seem to be pretty good – at least only about 1% of ballots fail this check.

    If I did a poor job of forging it, then I’d receive a notice that my sister’s ballot was pending via text or email (and snail mail). I could then “cure” the ballot online by signing an online affidavit and sending a picture of my sister’s ID card. That would be easy for me to do because I have her ID card. Then her ballot would be counted. Or I could just play it safe and do nothing, and my sister’s ballot wouldn’t be counted.

    This is a vulnerability in Colorado’s system, albeit likely a small one. There is no easy way to detect this type of fraud in Colorado’s system. It’s not clear to me how I would be caught if I tried this, at least not initially. That said, the numbers of people doing this and taking advantage of vulnerable and older people are probably very small. But no one can really claim how extensive it is because there is no way to know.

    That’s the kind of systemic analysis I’m talking about. And that’s also a reasonable point of debate about what – if anything- should be done. How many systemic vulnerabilities are OK in the service of competing priorities?

    And in some cases, you can have your cake and eat it too. As noted, I really like the all-mail voting system here in Colorado. Mail voting not only increases voting ease and convenience, it also helps prevent some kinds of potential fraud, like ballot harvesting.

    But you can’t figure out how good a system is unless you examine it closely – not only in terms of how effective it is at enabling people to vote but also how secure it is from various potential threats ranging from foreign hackers, to dis-honest poll workers, to guardians voting for their wards.

    And finally, when the rare mistakes or cases of fraud are discovered (as in the Florida felon instance) then, the proper response is to systemically analyze what when wrong and make corrections, so it doesn’t happen again.

    Simply declaring that voter fraud is or isn’t a problem as a kind of political catechism doesn’t do that and doesn’t tell us anything.

  36. Andy says:

    @Michael Cain:

    I haven’t done mine yet – I’m setting aside time this weekend to look closely, especially at the ballot initiatives. My practice is to fill out the ballot itself and drop it off at our local dropbox the day before the official election day.

    Like James, I’m still a bit of an “election day” kind of guy and don’t like to turn in a ballot early, though I do very much like the option to do so.

  37. Andy says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    All I can think about is that I will never vote for a Republican candidate as long as Trump is the leader of the party as I mark the box for every Democrat on the ballot.

    I would urge you to at least look at the candidates in local races.

    Just as one example, I live in a mostly red area which means that most people who want to get elected become, Republicans. In some contests, Democrats will run a good challenger. In other contests, they have run people who are seemingly plucked off the street.

    The best example of this I remember is from the 2018 election for the county coroner. The incumbent had held the job for several years, and I could not find any issues with his job performance. His Democratic challenger was a guy who hadn’t even completed college, much less have the qualification necessary for coroner. IIRC, he still got something like 35 or 40% of the vote. I’d like to think that the people who voted for him must have just been blindly voting party line, because the alternative explanation wouldn’t speak well of them.

    This is one reason I research all my votes. I want to at least be sure I vote for someone competent. And in many local and county elected offices (like coroner), that is very important.

  38. Mister Bluster says:

    @Andy: …local races…
    Since I live outside the city limits of Carbondale, Illinois the local races that I can vote are Jackson County and Makanda Township.
    When Trump visited the Southern Illinois Airport to campaign for US Representative Mike Bost all the Republicans who held local office were there. That’s all I need to know. I won’t vote for them.

  39. steve says:

    There is plenty of research on mail in voting and lots of experience. It meets all of Andy’s criteria. However, as others have noted there wont be a meaningful conversation as Republicans dont want to do anything they perceive as making it easier to vote, especially for people who are not retired.

    Steve

    2
  40. Scott F. says:

    @Andy:
    So a system that would discover your first illegal attempt to claim your sister’s vote due to a poorly forged signature which could then be thwarted only by your willingness to falsify an affidavit risking arrest for the sake of a single vote isn’t robust enough for you? Seriously?

    Take a look at the link for the bullet – “A 2016 working paper concluded that the upper limit on double voting in the 2012 election was 0.02%…” from the Brennan Center. It directly addresses your snow-bird double voter scenario. The working paper does exactly what you are claiming is never done – it examines closely how good the system is at catching this kind of fraud. (It even acknowledges the vulnerabilities in the research’s reliance on government data.)

    You are using anecdotes to argue against a broad array of election analysis. Analysis that has been ongoing for decades. Analysis that has been applied by election officials across the country to shore up the system’s vulnerabilities when warranted. Analysis that is often peer reviewed. Who in this case is simply declaring a political catechism? If you feel the need to delegitimize our electoral system and legitimize those who suggest fraud of the level that would shift the results, that’s on you. Just be clear with yourself about who it is that is jumping to the conclusions they want.

    3
  41. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Andy:

    I’m the court-appointed legal guardian for my sister, who is institutionalized with dementia. She is still registered to vote, and I receive a ballot for her every year. I tried to get her registration withdrawn, but that is not possible under Colorado law.

    IANAL, but it sounds like the deficiency is in the scope of your legal authority over your sister’s affairs, rather than some malpractice by election officials (to void her registration at your request).

    1
  42. Andy says:

    @Scott F.:

    So a system that would discover your first illegal attempt to claim your sister’s vote due to a poorly forged signature which could then be thwarted only by your willingness to falsify an affidavit risking arrest for the sake of a single vote isn’t robust enough for you? Seriously?

    Since I’ve said multiple times now that I think Colorado has about the best system in the country, the answer is no. As I previously stated, this kind of fraud is probably very rare. But, as I also pointed out, we don’t really know because there is no way to detect it. If you’re fine with assuming that such vulnerabilities in the election system can safely be ignored, then fine. In my view, it shouldn’t be ignored, and if there’s an easy way to close that loophole, it should be closed. What specific objection do you have to that?

    Or you can look at multi-state voting. Do you remember Mark Meadows? He is still under investigation for being registered to vote in three different states at the same time. None of the state systems caught this, it was only discovered when the press started digging into it. Is that also something that should be ignored?

    So what, exactly, would have prevented Meadows (or people who are much less well known) from voting in each state? That would be illegal in most places, but what systems are in place to detect or catch this? Or is this another area where we just assume that it’s not happening very often and ignore it?

    I believe our election systems are important and need to be robust and inclusive as possible. When potential problems are identified, I think those problems, ideally, should be addressed. When the state of Florida allows felons to vote who shouldn’t vote, that is a problem with the system – one that ought to be addressed by fixing the errors in the system and not by arresting people who made a mistake What is your view? To just ignore it all and assume that it’s not important?

    I don’t buy this binary view that fixing obvious vulnerabilities or taking a systems analysis approach is bad, or that it magically makes it more difficult to vote. The GoP “election security” measures are not based on systems analysis either, and their concern for election security is mostly fake, or else they would be trying to deal with some of the issues I’ve laid out here.

    Unlike, it seems, the political left and right, I’m genuinely interested in making the systems better both in terms of access and security. That’s why I promote Colorado’s system every chance I get yet acknowledge there is still room for improvement.

    @Bob@Youngstown:

    IANAL, but it sounds like the deficiency is in the scope of your legal authority over your sister’s affairs, rather than some malpractice by election officials (to void her registration at your request).

    Guardians in Colorado have broad authority, but there are some limitations. I can legally “help” my sister vote, for instance. But there’s no standard (that I’m aware of) or process to determine when she’s no longer competent to make that decision. This may not be easily solvable.

    And having experience in the space, I hear a lot of stories about exploitation. This seems rare for guardians and conservators because they have court oversight, but many more people are de facto guardians and conservators based on a POA or even less.

  43. The main problem that I see with voting by mail (or any kind of voting from home) is that opens the way for parents voting by their children, husbands instead of wives, Mafia dons by all their “family”, etc.