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Byron York column: Top Republicans sound alarm on election chaos

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ith less than five weeks to go before Election Day, two top House Republicans — Jim Jordan, ranking GOP member on the Judiciary Committee, and James Comer, ranking Republican on the Oversight Committee — have released a report warning that widespread dysfunction with mail-in voting could “put at risk the integrity of the nation’s electoral process.”

The culprit: changes to state election laws and procedures, pushed by Democrats amid coronavirus concerns in the waning weeks before voting. States have long-established procedures for in-person voting. But now, the report says, “some Democrat-run states have belatedly changed election administration procedures and moved to all-mail balloting — meaning that as many as 44 million total ballots will be mass-mailed to registered voters with no assurance the ballots reach the right person.” The rushed schedule of changes gives many states no room for error as they attempt their first election with massive numbers of mail-in votes.

But first, the report makes a critical distinction between all-mail voting and traditional absentee voting. “The two are fundamentally distinct,” Jordan and Comer note. An absentee voter requests a ballot, that ballot is mailed to him, he fills it out and mails it back to election officials. All-mail voting, on the other hand, involves election officials sending out unsolicited ballots to every registered voter. “The voter may already be planning to vote in person, may have moved from the jurisdiction, or may even be deceased,” the report notes. Soon some states will be awash in unsolicited ballots.

This year nine states — California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Washington State and Vermont — as well as the District of Columbia, will have all-mail elections. Some of the states have been doing it for a while. Others, like California, will be trying it for the first time — surely a high-wire act in perhaps the most contentious election in memory.

But even those states that have some experience with all-mail elections have had their problems. The report notes that in the 2012 and 2018 elections, “Oregon could not account for 871,000 ballots sent out — or one out of every eight ballots that the state mailed out.” Nationwide, the Election Assistance Commission found that a total of 28.3 million mailed ballots were missing during the four federal elections held between 2012 and 2018.

Part of the problem: Those ballots, dumped in the mail by the millions, will be sent according to “inaccurate and outdated voter registration rolls,” according to the report. It notes that in 2012, Pew found that nearly 24 million voter registrations were “no longer valid or significantly inaccurate.” The law requires that the rolls be cleaned up periodically, but many local officials have faced Democratic opposition in doing so.

And what happens when the ballots hit the mail? Democrats in a number of states have been pushing to extend deadlines under which a late-mailed ballot will be counted. In Michigan, for example, a judge ordered election officials to accept mail-in ballots that arrive two weeks after Election Day, if they were postmarked the day before the election. Pennsylvania will allow ballots to be accepted until Nov. 6, three days after Election Day, even, in some cases, if they don’t have a postmark.

It does not take a prophet to see lawsuits galore over late-arriving ballots. Several states, including swing state Nevada, have also passed laws allowing party operatives and activists to collect ballots and deliver them to election offices.

Put it all together, and the nation’s 2020 voting system is a recipe for disaster.

What to do? The report has a simple solution: Vote in person.

Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.

We’ve already seen a preview of that in New York’s congressional races this past summer. “Gov. Andrew Cuomo changed election procedures at the last minute,” the report notes, and “election officials discarded thousands of ballots for lack of postmarks in one congressional primary — delaying certification of the result for six weeks.” It turned out that the Postal Service, which usually postmarks election mail, had failed to do so for many ballots, leading to “confusion and litigation about the timeliness of mailed-in ballots.” Look for that situation to be repeated in November.

And then there’s ballot harvesting.

California has one of the worst laws. “Prior to 2016, California had sensible restrictions in place allowing only a family member of the voter to collect and deliver a ballot,” the report notes.

Then California passed a law that “permits any individual to collect and return the ballot of another individual without any limitation placed on the amount of ballots collected, the relationship between the collector and the voter, or the relationship between the collector and candidate for whom the vote is being cast.”

“Democrats weaponized ballot harvesting to their advantage in California during the 2018 congressional election,” the report notes. “Although multiple Republican candidates had more votes on election night than their Democratic opponents, all saw their leads shrink due to ballot harvesting. In the days and weeks following the election, ballot harvesters flooded votes into the registrar’s office — eventually changing the results in four Republican-held seats in Orange County. The flood of ballots arriving so late after Election Day created considerable uncertainty and confusion about the results of the elections.”

“The best and surest guarantee of electoral integrity is for Americans to vote in person where safe and possible,” the report says, “with absentee ballots available for those who legitimately cannot make it to the polls.” As Jordan has often said: If you can protest in person, you can vote in person. The report also includes statements from Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Robert Redfield that voting in person is safe amid worries about coronavirus.

“What Democrats are trying to achieve around the country is a cynical effort using the coronavirus pandemic to inject uncertainty, inaccuracies and delay into the electoral process,” the report says. The way to counter that, Jordan and Comer recommend, is as old as the republic itself: Go to the polls — literally — and cast a vote.

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