Mail-in ballots are a real problem, said... the New York Times?

After Donald Trump began tweeting about how widespread use of mail-in ballots could compromise election security the press was quick to deride his remarks as being false. One example of this phenomenon comes to us from the Gray Lady. They were quick to justify Twitter’s decision to flag the President’s tweets as being both inaccurate and untrue.

Twitter added information to refute the inaccuracies in President Trump’s tweets for the first time on Tuesday, after years of pressure over its inaction on his false and threatening posts.

The social media company added links late Tuesday to two of Mr. Trump’s tweets in which he had posted about mail-in ballots and falsely claimed that they would cause the November presidential election to be “rigged.”

But as Marc Thiessen points out at the Washington Post, that hasn’t always been the position taken by the New York Times. Not all that long ago – in fact less than a decade – the Times was singing a very different tune. At that time, they were reporting on the comments of a number of people, including prominent Democrats, who were all saying the mail-in ballots were highly problematic and open to abuse and errors.

In 2012, before mail-in voting became a partisan political litmus test, the New York Times published an article titled “Error and Fraud at Issue as Absentee Voting Rises.” The piece noted that “there is a bipartisan consensus that voting by mail … is more easily abused than other forms,” and that “votes cast by mail are less likely to be counted, more likely to be compromised and more likely to be contested than those cast in a voting booth.”

A bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform, chaired by former president Jimmy Carter and former secretary of state James A. Baker III, concluded in 2005 that “absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud” and that “vote buying schemes are far more difficult to detect when citizens vote by mail.” Carter and Baker also pointed out that citizens who vote at nursing homes “are more susceptible to pressure, overt and subtle, or to intimidation.” In Florida, there is even a name for this: “granny farming.”

I’ll confess that the term “granny farming” had escaped my notice until now, but it certainly makes sense. There were reports of a specialized form of ballot harvesting going on at nursing homes, where confused or easily influenced seniors could be pressured into filling out ballots a particular way. Those ballots could then be collected and mailed in bunches.

Thiessen also points to another study showing that during the 2008 election, 7.6 million of 35.5 million mail-in ballots requested (21%) were not counted for one reason or another. Feel free to pull out a napkin and a pencil and apply those ratios to the more than 100 million people expected to vote this November.

If this plan is rolled out nationally, the ensuing fiasco will be both predictable and a factor undermining the public’s confidence in the election results. Some states, such as Washington, have been doing vote-by-mail for quite a while and will probably fare pretty well. But at least half of the states have little or no experience in handling more than a relative handful of mail-in ballots. And even then, they are generally just sent to motivated voters who both qualify and specifically request them. Those are probably also the voters most likely to take the time to fill them out properly and send them in on time.

As Thiessen goes on to point out, sending ballots to every registered voter in the nation will cause a far wider range of problems. Inaccuracies in the voter rolls (which are legendary) will result in millions of ballots being sent out to incorrect addresses or to dead people. All of those ballots will wind up out on the streets just inviting people to take liberties with them. Other potential problems abound, as you can easily imagine.

Apparently, the editors at the New York Times were aware of all of these things as recently as 2012. So what has changed since then? Has there been some sort of game-changing breakthrough in technology when it comes to… mailing things? Has there been an evolutionary leap that I missed where all of our citizens are suddenly far more honest and competent simultaneously? Or is it just that the Bad Orange Man is opposed to the massive use of mail-in ballots so they must, by definition, be good?

May you live to see interesting times. Oh, wait… you already have.