Democrats' Misplaced Faith in Mail Voting
The Democrats are beating the drum to expand mail-in voting. They assume voting by mail will increase turnout.
The results of the July 7, 2020, New Jersey Primary election should give them pause.
Allegedly in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, instead of opening most polling places, mail-in ballots were sent to every registered Republican and Democrat in New Jersey. Unaffiliated voters received forms for requesting a mail-in ballot.
I say allegedly because since Phil Murphy became Governor, he and the legislature have passed clearly illegal legislation sending mail-in ballots to voters who did not request them. They passed bills that were retroactive, saying that anyone who asked for an absentee ballot in 2016, a high turnout presidential race,would automatically receive one in 2018. This legislation was a thinly disguised attempt to try and increase turnout in the 2018 off-year election. Voter turnout did increase in 2018, not only in New Jersey, but in the whole country, to the highest off-year totals in decades.
The Democratic Governor and legislature repeated the plan by sending mail ballots for the 2019 off-year state-legislature-only elections to everyone who requested one in 2016. Again, the turnout did increase to 26.77%, the second-lowest general election turnout in New Jersey since 1925, up from 21.65%, the lowest, four years earlier. While the Democrats scream about voter suppression with closed polling places and stringent voter ID laws, someone ought to explain how New Jersey manages to keep three out of every four voters home for legislative elections. (Hint: by defrauding voters of special elections to fill vacancies in the legislature and letting political party committees fill them by appointment instead.)
Voters were infuriated who received vote-by-mail ballots that they did not request. Under New Jersey law, a voter who receives a vote-by-mail ballot is not allowed to cast a ballot in a voting machine. People who had automatically been sent absentee ballots went their polling place location only to discover that they either had to return home to find the unrequested ballot, and put it in the mail, or fill out a provisional ballot at the polling place. Voting with a provisional ballot is an arduous process, identical to re-registering to vote.
So, when the pandemic hit, Governor Murphy seized on the social distancing requirements to force everyone except the visually impaired to vote on paper ballots. To ensure that visually impaired people can cast a secret ballot, at least one voting machine had to be available in each town. There are special audio-enabled voting machines that walk people who can't see through the ballot, allowing them to cast a vote with a keypad. Without these special machines, visually impaired people would have to depend on someone else to cast their ballots for them. In the past, without the machine, visually impaired people needed to either find a trusted individual to assist them or two election workers, one from each party, entered the booth and executed the proper vote.
By the time New Jersey holds its primary, the presidential nominees for the major parties have already been decided, so it is legitimate to compare different primary elections. The results of mailing ballots to everyone do not support the idea that mail-in voting increases turnout.
In 2016, primary turnout was 1,388,669 out of 5,356,205 registered voters, or 25.92%.
In 2020, primary turnout was 1,466,366 out of 6,194,661 registered voters, or 23.67%, a decrease of 2.25% of the voters. Rejected ballots in 2020 were 2.7%. So, the turnout in 2016 and 2020 were almost identical. Sending ballots automatically to every voter did not increase the turnout. So, people who think merely sending ballots to people will get them to vote are whistling in the dark. Voters still need to be persuaded to vote for a candidate, so the Democrats would do better to figure out how to get voters to support Biden than to waste their time and resources on fighting for vote-by-mail ballots.
More disheartening for advocates of mail-in voting was the rise in rejected ballots. In a normal election, 0.8% of ballots are rejected for various reasons: no postmark, arriving after the deadline, missing signatures, or other identifying information on the affidavit that must be included.
In the July primary, the rejection rate was 2.7%, more than eight times the rate four years earlier when only people who requested mail-in ballots received them. The high error rate proves that voting in machines is safer than paper for casting a ballot.
About 2% of the electorate is first-time voters in every federal election. When people vote in polling places, there are election inspectors to answer questions and tell the voters what they need to do to cast a ballot that will count. Vote-by-mail is a do-it-yourself operation open to error.
Furthermore, people under 30 years old are resistant to using the postal service. They were raised on email and the internet. A young man asked, "Where do I vote?" I said, "It's printed in the red box next to your name and address on the front of your sample ballot." He replied, "Oh, those. I always throw them out." The people who were sent ballots they did not request may have discarded them, too, thinking they were junk mail.
The good news is that an examination of the 2020 returns in Monmouth County, New Jersey, where I live, shows that Republican and Democrat vote-by-mail ballots were rejected at exactly the same rate. So, neither party seems to be advantaged by the use of mail ballots.
So, in spite of clear proof that voting by mail does not necessarily increase turnout, and given the obvious pitfalls of depending on the post office to postmark and deliver ballots on time, the Democrats continue to try to force people to vote on paper ballots, the most insecure form of voting. What could go wrong?
[NOTE: In the interest of full disclosure, and given the current climate of suspicion of political sabotage, I am a supporter of Joe Biden. Originally, I was for Bernie Sanders. I have donated a small amount of money to Biden and bought a sign for a third party.]