Confidence in the United State’s ability to safely and securely carry out an election was already shaky. A nationwide pandemic doesn’t help.
Questions about widespread voter fraud because of increased mail-in voting have been rampant, instigated by claims from President Donald Trump (who has, himself, voted by mail) as well as some state-level Republican officials.
Here’s what some experts and recent history have to say about voting by mail and other potential 2020 elections concerns.
1. Is fraud more likely to happen with mail-in voting?
“The myth of mail voter fraud is exactly that,” said Chris Deluzio, policy director for the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security. “The president is the chief purveyor of that myth and the fact remains you are more likely to be struck by lightning than to experience mail voter fraud.”
Deluzio pointed to the five states that had already conducted their entire elections by mail -- Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah. Oregan sent out 100 million mail ballots since 2000, and they’ve had only about a dozen cases of fraud, according to the National Vote at Home Coalition. More than 33 million votes nationally -- about one in four -- were cast by mail in the 2016 election.
“I just don’t think it’s grounded in reality,” Deluzio said of the claims.
2. How likely is fraud for in-person voting, anyway?
Voter fraud in general is “just vanishingly rare,” according to experts like Adam Lawrence, professor and acting chair for Government and Political Affairs at Millersville University. “It just doesn’t happen with near anywhere the regularity that some say it does.”
Trump, claiming 3 million to 5 million fraudulent votes in his own 2016 election, established a voter fraud commission soon after entering office in 2017. Led by Vice President Mike Pence and the Republican secretary of state in Kansas, Kris Kobach, the commission disbanded after less than a year and found no widespread evidence of fraud.
3. Does mail-in voting help Democrats more than Republicans?
Though some small instances of voter fraud have occurred and could again, “there’s been no partisan tilt to that low level fraud,” said Robert Speel, an associate professor of political science at Penn State Behrend.
“It’s due to a perception among many Republican that mail-in ballots mean higher turnout and that benefits Democrats, but studies have shown higher mail-in ballots don't benefit either party,” Speel said.
Speel said the most likely voters to choose mail-in ballots are senior citizens, especially this year with the pandemic, and those voters skew Republican.
4. Have the few instances of voter fraud significantly swayed election results?
Election outcomes have rarely been invalidated because of voter fraud. A recent example came in 2018 when a North Carolina congressional election was thrown out after an operative for a Republican candidate was found to have collected hundreds of absentee ballots in a race where the margin of victory was only 900 votes.
More often, small cases of voter fraud leaves room to cast doubt on elections and the systems in place.
Take, for example, a former Philadelphia judge of elections who just recently pleaded guilty to casting a few dozen extra votes in three different primaries from 2014-16. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the 27 fraudulent votes in May 2014 represented 22 percent of that precinct’s 118 votes -- likely a small subset for a race that would have included multiple precincts.
But state Rep. Greg Rothman, a Cumberland County Republican and chair of the state House GOP’s election efforts, tweeted the story while incorrectly saying the person “accounted for as much as 22% of votes in races.”
5. Can the president move the date of the Nov. 3 election?
No. It would take an act of Congress to move the presidential election. The question came up last month when the president’s advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner said he couldn’t “commit” to the current date because of the pandemic.
Deluzio, in a recent report, wrote in a recent report there is “no lawful mechanism” for the White House to act unilaterally, and, “moreover, there is ample time between now and then to prepare” for a free, fair and safe election.