This is the third post in a series about the elections and whether concerns over their legitimacy are valid concerns.
In the first post, I discussed why some states on election night appeared to be going red and then over the next few days turned blue. I discussed why the evidence suggests that red and blue shifts like this are a logical result of voting behavior the President encouraged, as well as the legal voting options all the states allowed because of COVID concerns. I also included some links to articles people wrote predicting these exact shifts before the elections. You can read that post here.
In this second post, I discussed the concern that there is widespread voting by non-citizens and that it is swaying the elections in one directions. You can read this post here.
In this post, I want to address the issue of mail-in voting because some people have raised concerns over the validity of the elections due to the large number of people voting by mail this year. You should know that in this post I am not going to argue that voter fraud never happens. Mail-in voter fraud does happen sometimes and is perpetrated by both Republican and Democratic voters and politicians. Election officials and experts certainly acknowledge this. What I do argue is that voter fraud happens infrequently (compared to the number of overall votes cast) and not enough to swing national presidential elections.
And the reason I am going to argue this is that there is consistent research from a wide variety of conservative, liberal, and bipartisan election research groups and from state election officials that support this conclusion. In fact, the state of Oregon, which has been a pioneer in mail-in ballots has documented only about a dozen cases of mail-in voter fraud out of more than a million ballots that have been mailed in since 2000. The documented cases of mail-in voter fraud have amounted to 0.0001 percent of the total number of votes cast.
We will return to their findings shortly, but first I want to look at the two types of mail-in ballots and why it is difficult to commit voter fraud with them.
Voting by Absentee Ballots
The first one is an absentee ballot, which people can apply for if they are unable to vote in the person. By the way, President Trump and many people in his family and administration vote by absentee ballot.
In some states, people must provide a reason for why they are voting by absentee ballot. In other states, anyone can request an absentee ballot for any reason.
Photo by Obi Onyeador, courtesy of Unsplash
President Trump himself has said that he is not concerned about absentee ballots, which he himself uses. It is universal mail-in voting he is concerned about.
I will address universal mail-in voting shortly. First, however, since this post is specifically about whether people should be concerned about mail-in votes, let’s go ahead and examine some ways people could perpetrate mail-in voter fraud and why it is hard to pull this off, especially at a national level.
One: Some people are concerned that people can make ballots and send them in.
Why this is unlikely (nigh impossible) to occur: Election ballots are printed on a special paper of a certain style and thickness, and the ballot has specific official markings and graphics on it. Ballots are rejected if they are not printed on this specific paper with all the appropriate markings.
In addition, in a presidential race, people aren’t just voting for the President. They are voting for a variety of officials and legislation in their specific county, and so ballots for every county in every state are very different. A ballot that doesn’t have the appropriate officials and legislation on it wouldn’t be counted either. For these reasons, it would be extremely difficult—almost impossible—to forge an official ballot.
Two: Some people are concerned that anyone can request an absentee ballot, even if they are not a citizen of the United States.
Some people have expressed concerns that widespread voting by undocumented immigrants is occurring. I dedicated an entire post to this topic, which you can read here.
Three: Some people are concerned that people can steal and/or forge people’s absentee ballots.
Why This is Unlikely to Occur: It is important to note that when people request an absentee ballot, it is sent to them by mail. While people’s absentee ballots could, hypothetically, be stolen from their mailbox, it would be extremely difficult to perpetrate widespread voter fraud this way. Someone trying to do so wouldn’t know who had requested absentee ballots or when they had requested it.
Or if they did know these things, they would have to spend several days haunting people’s mailboxes to steal the ballot. And they would have to do this without being detected by the people (or the people’s neighbors) whose ballots they were trying to steal.
Photo by Brian Patrick Tagalog, courtesy of Unsplash
In addition, if people voting absentee do not receive their absentee ballot, they are able to contact local election officials and request another ballot or vote in person, and there are measures in place to make sure that any other ballot cast in their name is invalidated. You can read about measures like this here, here, and here.
Lastly, when people vote through absentee ballot, they are required to provide information like the last four digits of their social-security number or their driver’s license, and they are required to sign their ballot. Election officials match the signature on the ballot to the one they have on record. They will not count a ballot that has a signature that does not match the signature on record.
Therefore, for someone to commit mail-in voter fraud, they would need to know who was voting by absentee ballot; the day their ballot arrived; personal information like their social security number and driver’s license number; and their signature (and to be able to forge it convincingly). It would require people to know and do all these things without getting caught.
Is it possible that people could pull all this off? Yes, it is possible.
Is it likely? No.
Is it likely that hundreds of thousands of people could do this, which is the number it would require to throw a national election? A resounding no.
But What about Universal Mail-In Voting?
Some people argue that it is not absentee ballots that are the problem but rather universal mail-in voting. With universal mail-in voting, everyone who is registered to vote automatically gets a ballot in the mail no matter what. By the way, this practice occurs in both typically blue states like Oregon, as well as typically red states like Utah.
Some people have argued that universal mail-in voting increases the likelihood that voter-fraud will occur.
It is important to note that even with universal mail-in voting, only people who are registered to vote receive ballots (not everyone in the state). Thus, all the security safeguards in place for absentee ballots, and all the reasons why it is hard for people to forge absentee ballots, still hold true for universal mail-in voting.
Photo by Tiffany Tertipes, courtesy of Unsplash
Some have argued that it is easy for undocumented immigrants to register to vote and, therefore, to vote in and sway elections. I have dedicated a whole post to this and other related concerns, which you can read here.
Still others have argued that people (such as spouses or family members) can easily forge the ballots of their deceased loved ones and that a lot of dead people are voting in elections.
There is a significant disincentive for people to do this because1) it is illegal, and people can face fines or prison time for doing so; 2) because election officials are on the lookout for such forgeries; 3) because election officials regularly update their voter registration list, and regularly remove deceased voters from their list.
Thus, while ballots do sometimes go out to deceased voters (especially if they died right before an election), spousal or family forgery of such ballots is not common, namely because it is hard and carries significant penalties. That is why it is extremely unlikely that the national election could be swayed by widespread forgery of deceased people’s ballots.
Here is a reminder: The issue is not whether voter fraud sometimes happens with absentee or universal mail-in voting. Almost all, if not all, election officials and election experts acknowledge it sometimes happens–and is perpetrated by both Democrats and Republicans–and consistently work to detect these cases. The question is whether it happens enough—e.g. with hundreds of thousands of votes—to sway national elections.
Research consistently show it does not. In fact, recent research suggests that someone is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud.
How do we know this?
Imagine for a minute that you wanted to investigate the possibility of voter fraud thoroughly and fairly. What would be a good method to gather this evidence?
One good method would be for investigators to talk to people from a wide variety of political backgrounds who were in the best position to detect evidence of widespread voter fraud: namely, election officials and observers.
Photo by Elliott Stallion, courtesy of Unsplash
Election officials and observers who oversee the vote-counting usually consist of people from both political parties, public observers, and observers from outside the country who can offer objective confirmation of election integrity. You can read about some of the various election accountability mechanisms here, here, here, and here.
Two organizations conducted such an investigation of such official recently, which you can read about here and here. Despite interviewing a large number of national election officials in 2016 and 2020, no one reported any evidence of significant or widespread voter fraud.
In addition, the Heritage Foundation, , a conservative organization, maintains a database which contains a sampling of convicted voter fraud cases–perpetrated by people in both political parties–dating back to 1979. None of them are instances of widespread, national voter fraud. (This is an analysis of the cases listed on the Heritage Foundation website.)
And in fact, two recent election security agencies in the President’s own government declared this year’s elections one of the most secure in election history.
But What about the President’s Concerns?
At this point in the post, if you voted for President Trump, you may be asking, “Well what about the President’s concerns over the elections?” I would like to remind you that one of the reasons you likely voted for Trump is because he says what is on his mind.
There may be some advantages for people to say what is on their mind all the time. However, I think you and I can agree on this: People who are in the habit of saying what is on their mind often speak before they have carefully considered or researched their opinions and before they have determined whether or not there is evidence to support such opinions.
Sometimes, acting in this manner is not a big deal. However, when you are the President of the United States and you are talking about election results you don’t like, it IS a big deal. The President has been saying what is on his mind since the elections, and the result of this is that he has made a lot claims that have no consistent or credible evidence to back them up–his accusations are based in his feelings, rather than fact. Furthermore, he continues to make these claims even when people in his own administration who know more about the voting process than he does tell him they aren’t true. He recently fired one such person, which you can read about in the hyperlink in this paragraph.
If you are a Republican and a supporter of President Trump, I would ask you to consider that this is unwise behavior on the part of President Trump, and it significantly harms the reputation and integrity of the U.S.
The U.S. has a long history of respect for the election process. We freely vote for our leaders, and the winners and losers of the elections honor the results. For President Trump to cast aspersions on this process, with no credible evidence to support the claim, and when election officials from both parties, as well as national security advisors in Trump’s own administration tell him there is no evidence to support the claim, is reckless behavior.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash
Even if you still support the President, I would ask you to consider that you have a responsibility to call your representatives and tell them that the President has the responsibility to honor the election process and to concede.
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 People might vote by absentee ballot because they are in the military or otherwise out of the country or out of town for work. They might be physically unable to vote in person because of a disability, or their work schedule may not permit them to vote in person.