Election Day was Nov. 2, but if you lived in Bucks County, Pa., and you thought you would know the winners by the end of the week, you were in for a disappointment. One week after the fact, the county was still trying to figure out which ballots to count and who won. Not surprisingly, some people sending mail-in ballots were unable to follow simple instructions. Also not surprisingly, the election board was still debating what to count — even in the case of unsigned ballots, which are clearly illegal under Pennsylvania law (eventually, these ballots were rejected).
But Bucks County is not the only place where delays and debates occur. Election workers not following instructions, machines jamming, false registrations and voting in the wrong precinct are just some of the various mistakes that occur regularly. Individually, each problem is minor and not likely to result in a change, but the collective weight of mistakes and regularity of occurrence are grating, to say the least.
Worse, tracking who is and who is not eligible to vote is far from assured. When a person dies, their county election department is one of the places that is supposed to get a copy of the death certificate — at which point they are removed from the rolls. How efficiently do you think that’s working? Not very well in Michigan, where up to 25,000 deceased people are still on the voter rolls.
The same problem exists for changes of address, where your “new” county election department is tasked to inform the county of your previous residence that you have moved, which takes your name off the rolls. That process is not going too well either, with over 7 million voters registered in more than one jurisdiction — and virtually unchanged since 2014, so the problem is not getting better.
None of this proves fraud or vindicates Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 Trump endorses David Perdue in Georgia's governor race MORE’s allegations of a stolen election.
If anything, the fact that Trump and his legal team could not find a single vote to overturn in the midst of all these voting roll problems makes his crew so incompetent they don’t even qualify to serve as “Keystone Kops.”
But it does show that the opportunity exists — and where there is both opportunity and motive, somebody, somewhere will take advantage.
The problem is not in high-profile, well-funded races, where a combination of media and partisan scrutiny pairs with the resources for poll watchers and lawyers. No, the problem is in low-profile local races where candidates don’t have the resources for lawyers and investigators.
What’s the motive? Not only do local governments have their own patronage, contracts, public authorities and finance, but they make land use and permitting decisions that are worth millions. Consider a municipality in an “off-year” with low turnout, but dozens or even hundreds of non-existent voters on the rolls. With no media coverage, limited partisan interest and low funds, it would be quite tempting for an unscrupulous land developer to “nudge” the vote in one direction — and who would know? Or care to investigate?
We know that elections have been stolen or been subject to fraud: local elections, state elections and national elections; Robert Caro essentially proves Lyndon Johnson stole his 1948 U.S. Senate primary and may have stolen Texas for President Kennedy in 1960. But the scattering of proven stolen elections likely hides many more. After all, why register thousands of fraudulent voters, if you don’t intend to use them at some point?
Election fraud has three possible outcomes: 1) You steal enough votes to win, 2) You steal votes, but not enough to win, and 3) You steal votes, but you would have won anyway. In the latter two cases, the election fraud does not change who won. If a candidate wins in a landslide, there is little impetus to investigate. The same holds for a candidate who wins despite an attempt to steal the election. Why don’t we hear much about election fraud? Simply because examples #2 and #3 are not investigated. Should criminals be let off the hook just because they are bad at their chosen profession?
Voter fraud and election security is proving to be a potent issue beyond just Republican voters. Lost in all the handwringing over Trump’s sore-loser whining and the media hyperventilating over GOP voters’ acquiescence is that independents are also listening. According to YouGov, 39 percent of independents think President BidenJoe BidenMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Dole in final column: 'Too many of us have sacrificed too much' Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 MORE was not legitimately elected — even 5 percent of Democrats agree.
When it comes to being a sore loser, Trump has company among Republican and Democratic voters. Only 26 percent of voters think the correct person won each of the last two Presidential elections, according to Rassmussen, with 52 percent of Democrats not thinking Trump legitimately won in 2016 (20 percent of independents) and 66 percent of Republicans thinking likewise about Biden (25 percent Independents). YouGov puts the number of Republicans who think Trump beat Biden at 76 percent. And plenty of Republicans remember Terry McAuliffeTerry McAuliffeNortham announces final steps in clearing, ceding area where Lee monument stood Judges uphold GOP win for Virginia state House seat, cementing party control of chamber To empower parents, reinvent schools MORE refusing to accept the results of the 2000 presidential election.
Put together, GOP demands for better election accountability, post-election audits, voter ID and general transparency will prove to be powerful issues going forward. There is surprising public agreement on a series of election integrity questions.
According to Pew Research, 76 percent of voters support requiring a photo ID to vote (61 percent of Democrats, 93 percent of Republicans), 82 percent want a paper backup to electronic voting, and 78 percent support early in-person voting (63 percent of Republicans, 91 percent of Democrats).
Removing people from the voter rolls is less popular (“purging the rolls”), with just 46 percent support. But that is when the question asks about removing people who have not “recently” voted. In the past, a voter purge was for those who have not voted in 4-5 years (an automatic purge would remove dead people and duplicate voters). I think it is quite likely if the question included a 5-year time frame, it would garner significant support. Regardless, Republican support for the purge has gone up in three years from 53 percent to 68 percent, and even Democratic support has edged up from 23 percent to 27 percent.
Voting should not be a medieval gauntlet, but it should have appropriate safeguards. Deciding who should run our various governments is a critical act with far-reaching consequences. The priority should be to educate the public and ensure the integrity of the process, not to make it as easy as ordering a pizza.
Keith Naughton, Ph.D., is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.