In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were calls in Texas and in Congress to dramatically expand mail-in balloting on the claim that traditional voting in-person represented a threat to health. However, calls to expand mail-in voting predated the viral outbreak and were largely made by the same people and groups.
Voting by mail lacks the protections that voting in person provides. This stems from issues starting with a lack of identification requirements at registration of the voter and the resulting inaccuracies in the voter rolls. Consequently, ballots can be misdelivered, lost and the mail-in ballot application can be completed by others. This sometimes is done with false information. The inaccurate voter rolls can then create a scenario where ballots are erroneously sent to felons, deceased people, and other ineligible voters. In some cases, large scale fraud can take place where gifts of food or alcohol, voter intimidation, or deception can be used by a professional ballot harvester to change a vote. Finally, a mail-in ballot is prone to errors and at risk of being invalidated by election personnel during the vote tabulation process.
Voting by mail requires none of the seven (7) accepted forms of ID required for in person voting. Further, Texas elections officials cannot question a voter who claims a disability to vote by mail. But law enforcement can pursue charges against those who lie on the vote by mail application, whether they are illegal ballot harvesters or individual voters.
In the 2017 special session of the Texas Legislature, lawmakers were concerned enough by illegal ballot harvesting that they passed SB 5. The law, in effect for the 2018 and subsequent election cycles, tightened mail-in ballot rules and increased criminal penalties for ballot fraud. However more remains to be addressed and the desired deterrent effect may not have materialized.
During the increased national discussion about mail-in balloting in 2020, advocates have asserted that mail-in balloting is safe, secure, and free of fraud. Ironically, at the same time these claims were being made, there have been numerous stories in places such as NJ, NV, and WV indicating otherwise, including 75 cases being investigated currently by the TX AG.
- Mail-in ballots should be treated with the same legal protections as ballots cast at a polling location, including requiring some form of unique voter identification verification on the envelope, options such as a driver’s license number or the last 4 digits of the Social Security number or information one of the seven (7) acceptable forms of identification (or a modified Reasonable Impediment Declaration) required for in person voting could be sufficient.
- Penalties for marking false information for more than one mail-in ballot application should be enhanced.
- A clear definition and verification process of a “disability” that prevents a voter from accessing a polling place should be crafted and stated on the mail-in ballot application.