Don’t Ever Let This Happen Again: We Need National Voting Standards Before the Next Election

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No matter who eventually wins, the 2020 US Presidential Election has not gone well. Talking heads on Cable TV can tell us this is going just the way it’s supposed to go and just the way it’s always gone, but no one is convinced. This election is different than any in recent memory. It’s like the Gore v Bush 2000 debacle, only worse.

The Current Process Does Not Inspire Confidence

This time around voting procedures in several states have led to protracted delays with results dribbling in day by day as the nation waits in suspense. The process in some states is not transparent enough and seems too vulnerable to cheating. Suits by the Trump campaign allege Pennsylvania vote-by-mail rules violate state law because they allow acceptance of ballots with missing postmarks received days after the election. They also claim certified poll-watchers were not allowed to be close enough to observe the count. Whether these are true or are enough to overturn the apparent result at this time, the point is that these procedures are questionable and do invite suspicion something afoul is going on. Delay itself raises suspicion. Why don’t we know the total of ballots cast and received the night of the election? Where exactly did that extra basket of ballots come from? Does it have a chain of custody?

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Assurances by Cable TV commentators that fraud has not occurred do not reassure skeptics. Too many of the statements are too categorical. There are, in fact, numerous court cases in which people have been convicted of voter fraud. Even if it were shown voter fraud is rare, that would not mean it is inconsequential. When elections are decided by a point or less, stuffing a few thousand ballots out of a few million can be enough to swing an election. Finally it is an error of logic to infer voter fraud is rare if it is rarely caught. The other possibility, of course, is that fraud is rarely caught because it is hard to catch. Do we have systems that would catch widespread fraud if it was happening?

The legitimate concerns about the integrity of the vote count extends to concerns about the integrity of earlier stages of the process. Voter registration rolls are notoriously out-of-date and inaccurate. This becomes a major problem when unsolicited ballots are sent out to all registered voters. Who knows how many of the dead received ballots, and how the graveyard electorate voted? Since we have death certificates and we have records on who voted, it should be possible to know how many of the living dead cast ballots. That investigation should be done in each state just to establish how much of an issue this is. A similar question is how many received ballots who have long since moved and registered to vote in another state. Another concern is that people are registered and voting who are not US citizens. Motor-voter procedures encourage voter registration, but they often do not require proof of citizenship and in fact make it illegal for a state to require such proof. Some states allow ballot-harvesting. This practice lets a harvester turn in hundreds of mail-in ballots. This promotes coercion or voting scams perpetrated on senior citizens and other vulnerable members of the populations as well as outright ballot stealing.

Debates about voter fraud tend to turn into wrangling over who has the burden of proof. Ultimately, they are hard to settle. To some, evidence is required in court to prove fraud occurred. To the dubious, evidence is required to prove fraud did not occur.

The current system is broke and needs to be fixed. The solution is to adopt national standards that allow states limited flexibility but which guarantee more transparently fair and honest elections. These include voter registration standards and electoral process standards.

  1. No same day registration.
  2. New registrations require proof of US citizenship. Existing registrants are grandfathered in.
  3. New registrations include a photo as well as a signature.
  4. States must send death certificates to election boards of the last known residence of the deceased.
  5. New registrations for voters over the age of 18 require a prior address or declaration that the prospective voter is a first-time registrant. For registrants with prior addresses, the state will send notice of the new registration back to the election registration board for the prior location.
  6. All parties with more than 2% of the registered voters in a state, will be given opportunity to challenge specific registrations for a limited number of reasons including citizenship, proof-of-life, or residence.

Voting Process Standards

  1. “No-excuse” requests for mail-in or drop-off ballots will be honored. Anyone who wants to vote by mail can do so.
  2. States can send ballot request forms to all registered voters.
  3. Ballot harvesting is prohibited.
  4. Voter ballot collection boxes require each voter to deposit a ballot and get their picture taken. Ballots can be challenged for false identity using the pictures as evidence.
  5. Mail-ins received after election day are not counted.
  6. Counting of mail-in and drop-off ballots can begin before Election Day. States should have most of these counted by Election Day.
  7. Poll Watchers from all parties on the ballot get to observe all counting procedures. Each type of ballot will be kept segregated.

Under the process envisioned here, all the major grounds for questioning mail-in and drop-off ballots are eliminated as much as possible. The days of delay are replaced with a process that should give us vote totals the night of Election Day. Lawsuits will become much less common.

You may disagree with some or all of these reforms. These are an attempt to re-vamp and modernize the voting process, to systematically tighten up the registration rolls, and to allow legitimate mail-in and drop-off votes by getting rid of the ways those modes of voting can be abused. There could still be fraud under the proposed rules, but it will be a lot more difficult to do.

If you have a different approach or a refinement of any of these ideas, let’s hear it. The point is to get beyond the current system and the irreconcilable differences it produces. Rather than debate how fraud-prone the current process is, we can work together to fashion a system that is manifestly more transparent and better protected against fraud.

Mathematician, Statistician, Businessman, and Academic. Student of history, poli sci , and the Bible.

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