Due to the COVID pandemic, there has been a surge of interest in mail-in ballots. President Trump and his administration claims voter fraud is rampant prior to the November presidential election; fueling debates
During the latter half of the first Presidential Debate of 2020, President Trump continued his campaign against mail-in-ballots, and stated that “They’re sending millions of ballots all over the country. There’s fraud.” The majority of Trump’s diatribe about voting integrity was laden with misleading claims. In response to them, the commissioner of the Federal Election Commission has stated “There’s simply no basis for the conspiracy theory that voting by mail causes fraud.”
Ample research has shown that voter fraud is a rare occurrence, and that current protective measures are effective. An analysis was done on the 2016 and 2018 general elections, by the Washington Post, and the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center. It was found that Washington, Oregon, and Colorado officials flagged only 372 votes as potentially violating voter integrity amongst 14.6 million mail-in votes. Past evidence clearly has proven that mail-in voting is safe and secure. In fact, Oregon has been using mail-in-ballots successfully for two decades, with very few flagged cases, at all.
The Problems Associated with Mail-In Ballots:
Although voter integrity is not a huge concern, the increase of mail-in ballots poses other problems.
Mail votes require several steps, and can confuse first-time voters. With millions of new voters, this year, many votes could be cancelled, or done improperly. In 2018, two studies found that new, and young voters were more likely to have their mail ballots cancelled. This is an extremely concerning problem for two reasons: swing states, and youth voter turnout. In swing states, cancelled ballots can play a big role, and push a margin of victory. Youth voter turnout is expected to be substantially higher this year. However, this demographic also has a higher rate of ballot rejection, which could skew election results.
There also could be many logistical problems, due to the sudden necessity of mail-in ballots. This could be exploited by our current President, to his electoral advantage.
The Exploitation of the Election:
Despite undermining the legitimacy of the mail-in voting process, Trump has repeatedly implied he intends to utilize voting disparities to his advantage.The clock on the Electoral College could get delayed through opposition vote scrutinization. With the influx of mailed ballots, lawyers could challenge votes in bad faith, simply due to a signature. Slowing down the recount of ballots might not only give Trump a premature lead, but also block the Electoral College majority vote. Litigation from the other side could lead to more delays as well.
Additionally, Trump has admitted to blocking postal cash —additional cash given to the Postal Service—to prevent mail-in-votes. In an interview, he mentioned “They need that money in order to have the post office work, so it can take all of these millions, and millions of ballots. If they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it.” His opposition suggests that his concerns regarding mail- in-voting have more to do with voter turnout, than fraud. It is clear that the Trump Administration is trying to boost his chances of reelection, by any means.
The Rise of Authoritarianism:
In their book How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt state that “would-be authoritarians are primed to exploit crises to justify power grabs.” Trump challenging the electoral process during a pandemic is an attempt to control the election narrative.
This move is just an example of his many instances of authoritarian tendencies. In the past few months only, he has encouraged hostility towards the election process, disregarded laws, and falsely claimed that “when somebody is the President of the United States, the authority is total.” Trump’s power-grabbing behavior has deepened concerns over the rise of authoritarianism, and the decline of democracy, in the US.
The Democratic Backsliding:
In “On Democratic Backsliding”, Nancy Bermeo defined democratic backsliding as “the serious weakening of existing democratic institutions for undefined ends.” President Trump’s actions erode democratic norms , and his refusal to admit the validity of the election results discredits the election process. The possibility of a hostile power transition further threatens American democratic values. Fair and free elections are the bedrock of any democracy.
It is possible that the mail-in ballot system can be taken advantage of to an extent. Although the benefits and safety offered by mail-in-ballots clearly outweigh the low rates of voter fraud, there is the possibility of electoral exploitation through fraudulent use and removal of ballots. This could result in an unfair reelection of Trump, and heighten fears of the backsliding of democracy in America. Given America’s influence on democracies around the world, it is vital to safeguard the values of democracy.
Your argument that we should be concerned that the mail-in ballot system is unequipped to rebuff political pressure and barriers created by the President is very convincing. I agree that Trump’s attacks on the postal service and ballot counters have proven to be the primary methods for undermining electoral integrity, far more widespread than inviting foreign interference like some analysts may have feared.
Moving forward, I am very interested in learning more about how opposition parties have responded to these acts of executive overreach. For instance, what is the rhetoric of Democratic Party leaders? And what legal appeals are currently underway, which you briefly alluded to in your article. Focusing on the pitfalls opposition groups face ahead in the upcoming weeks would help clarify the severity of the electoral crisis facing America, as well as strengthen your argument that the mail-in ballot system lacks sufficient guardrails against interference.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post! The legal battles and election delegitimization rhetoric in the aftermath of the 2020 Presidential Election add further salience and context to your argument. Not only has President Trump exploited the foreignness of mail-in voting to his advantage by exploiting voting disparities and blocking postal mail services, but the President has spread baseless conspiracies questioning the very basis of our democratic process and institutions after the election results projected Vice President Biden would be elected to the presidency. Specifically, your argument about how President Trump’s actions represent democratic backsliding particularly resonates with me. In addition to “seriously weakening democratic institutions for undefined ends,” his actions threaten the bedrock of American democracy and cultural norms.
Going forward, I think that the United States and advocates must take a multi-pronged approach to combat these signs of democratic erosion. More specifically, I am curious about the role that the media can play to combat disinformation in the context of your arguments about authoritarianism and democratic backsliding. By moderating falsified stories and informing the citizenry through constant reporting, the media can play a vital role in demonstrating the validity of the election results and, thus, safeguarding democracy. Similarly, I contend that party leaders have a crucial role to combat these symptoms of democratic erosion from a gate keeping standpoint. If Republican leaders advocated for the legitimacy of mail in voting and the subsequent election results, the harm of the public not believing in the election results would be mitigated.