The False Narrative of Vote-by-Mail Fraud
If we are to have safe, healthy, and fair elections this year in the face one of the worst pandemics in a century, Americans must make widespread use of mail ballots. Election administrators and other leaders from across the political spectrum have urged support to make the necessary adjustments to their election infrastructure. They recognize we have no choice. Most Americans, including a majority of Republicans, agree .
President Trump and his allies, however, are pushing back against this option, raising spurious claims that fraudulent mail ballots will contaminate the election. “I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting,” Trump said earlier this week. “Mail in voting is a terrible thing. . . . I think if you vote, you should go,” he later added , not long after he requested a vote-by-mail ballot for the Florida primary. Shortly afterward, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel echoed the president in a Fox News op-ed. (This is in sharp contrast to former chairman Michael Steele, who coauthored an op-ed arguing that “the current emergency demands expanded use of vote-by-mail,” and that “democracy depends on it.”)
Trump’s claims are wrong, and if used to prevent states from taking the steps needed to ensure public safety during November’s election, they will be deadly wrong. Mail ballot fraud is incredibly rare, and legitimate security concerns can be easily addressed.
Mail balloting is not a newfangled idea; it was already deeply embedded in the American electoral system before the coronavirus hit. In the last two federal elections, roughly one out of every four Americans cast a mail ballot . In five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington — mail balloting has been the primary method of voting. In 28 additional states, all voters have had the right to vote by mail ballot if they choose, without having to provide any reason or excuse. Over time, a growing number of voters have chosen that option. Since 2000 more than 250 million votes have been cast via mailed-out ballots, in all 50 states, according to the Vote at Home Institute. In 2018, more than 31 million Americans cast their ballots by mail, about 25.8 percent of election participants.