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Mail-in Elections: Why Not?

As we move closer to November with no solution for the global Covid-19 pandemic, several U.S. states are looking to expand access to mail-in voting. This is greatly concerning to U.S. President Donald Trump. "To really vote, and without fraud, you have to go and you have to vote at the polling place," he said while visiting a Ford factory last week. Trump's allies in California have filed a lawsuit against Governor Gavin Newsom, who has signed an executive order to mail ballots to every registered voter.

Although Trump and his allies have alleged mail-in voting is rife with fraud, the conservative Heritage Foundation's voter fraud database can point to fewer than 1300 instances of fraud—of all types—in the nearly four decades they've been tracking it. To put that in perspective, even in the lightest-turnout elections in this time span—the Congressional elections of 1982, 1986, and 1990, more than fifty million votes were cast each year; and the two most recent elections have seen more than 110 million voters each.

A total of about 1300 cases of fraud in 40 years (20 elections) works out to about 65 cases per year, or somewhere on the order of just under one per million votes cast.

But is there a reason to think mail-in voting is more susceptible to fraud than other forms of voting? How can we be sure that if we were to hold all voting through the mail this November, we wouldn't be susceptible to widespread vote manipulation?

We do have an answer to this question, because five states already mail ballots to all registered voters. Oregon has done so for 20 years. Washington, Colorado, and Hawaii joined them in the early 2010s, and Utah has allowed it since 2013 but has let county officials decide whether to hold in-person or mail-in elections. As of 2018, 27 of Utah's 29 counties had chosen the vote-by-mail option. In Arizona, Montana, and California, although mail-in voting is not required, a majority of voters in these states submit absentee ballots.

How safe have these elections been? According to the Heritage database, Oregon has had two cases of mail voting fraud since 2000. Washington has seen six, Colorado five, California one, and Montana one. UtahHawaii, and Arizona have not had any. That's fifteen instances of mail voting fraud across eight states and more than 30 elections. That's not what I would call a widespread problem.

So why would Trump make this accusation? Because it's what he does. When he lost the 2016 Iowa Caucus to Ted Cruz, he claimed Cruz stole it. When polls three weeks ahead of the 2016 general election showed him trailing Hillary Clinton, he claimed the election was rigged against him. The narcissistic Trump simply cannot grasp that real voters might prefer another candidate, so he imagines his opponents are orchestrating a grand conspiracy to steal the election.

Trump's objections are not actually about voting by mail. He objects to holding elections at all.

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