Forget vote fraud for the moment, while we try to forget delays too. Are Americans willing to suffer a 3% failure rate or higher in ballot submission in adopting mass vote-by-mail systems in a presidential election? Or even in local elections? Augusta CBS affiliate WRDW tried an experiment in mailing ballots, and had three out of a hundred go missing. And it took concerted efforts by the reporter just to get the other 97 back at all:
Local news’ experiment in mail-in voting ends in disaster: "I just don’t trust the mail" pic.twitter.com/BUPP5a9TK9
— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) July 29, 2020
One thing is clear: You need to give it even more time than officials might recommend to get your ballot through the mail system.
How long might it take for that vote to actually arrive and be counted?
CBS News decided to test it, sending 100 mock ballots simulating a hundred voters in locations all across Philadelphia to a post office box. After some delays, 97 arrived. In a close election, 3% could be pivotal, especially in what’s expected to be a record year for mail-in-voting.
This points up the added risks of voting by mail. It introduces several handling points between voters and the ballot counters that don’t otherwise exist. All of those are potential points of failure. Furthermore, because the security protocols are more complicated, those introduce even more points of failure. And unlike voting in person, the voter never knows that they have failed — and has no opportunity to rectify the errors and remain enfranchised for that election.
We didn’t need this experiment to discuss failure rates in vote-by-mail systems. California trashed over a hundred thousand mailed-in ballots in its March primary for various issues. That represents a failure rate of just under 2% in an election where 5.7 million votes were cast, and that’s not counting other disqualified ballots. In New York’s primary last month, the New York Times estimated that tens of thousands of mailed-in ballots have already been disqualified — and they’re still not done counting the vote there either. Florida also trashed tens of thousands of mail-in ballots.
That means, as the WRDW reporter noted in Pennsylvania, that a significant percentage of voters got disenfranchised. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won Minnesota by 1.6% of the vote, while Donald Trump won Wisconsin by 0.8%, Pennsylvania by 0.7%, and Michigan by 0.2%. Any voting process that has a 2% or greater failure rate will risk producing results that the losing side won’t accept unless a landslide occurs in each and every state. And that’s only in terms of the presidential elections; this same problem exists all the way down the ballot. This isn’t a risk for Trump alone — it’s also a risk for Joe Biden, and every candidate on the ballot this year.
This isn’t a reason to postpone an election. It is, however, a very good reason to stop vote-by-mail systems and use the most reliable voting systems available in order to build confidence in the results. Those systems use paper ballots, with scanning technology to validate ballots before voters leave and to count the votes accurately and quickly, while maintaining the paper records for potential recounts later. If we can go to Walmart and attend protests for hours on end over policy, we can cast ballots in person, too.