In light of recent election results, Republicans and conservatives are debating whether to beat or join the mail-in ballot rush that Democrats have excelled at in most states.
Notably, after prolonged counting of mail-in ballots, Nevada put Democrats over the top to maintain control of the Senate as late results rolled in Saturday.
They’re still counting in Arizona, where the state’s largest jurisdiction, Maricopa County, had about 280,000 mail ballots delivered on Election Day.
In Pennsylvania, election results were available on time, but might have been decided by mass mail-in voting before Election Day.
Mail-in voting is terrible policy, said J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation. But, he said, voting by mail is popular with the public and election integrity advocates need to adapt to help make it as clean as possible.
“The reality is that voters seem to like [voting by mail] and it’s a fantasy to think it will disappear,” Adams told The Daily Signal.
Heavy voting by mail doesn’t always mean ballot harvesting is going on, but it creates an opening for the practice. Ballot harvesting, also known as vote trafficking, is when political operatives distribute and collect large quantities of absentee ballots.
Meanwhile, voter initiatives to expand mail-in voting and use of drop boxes for ballots passed this year in Michigan and Connecticut.
“The idea that Republicans vote on Election Day and Democrats vote early is not sustainable in the long run for Republicans,” Adams said.
Noting that Democrats have a major head start in the effort to get out the mail-in vote, local Republican leaders across the United States reportedly contend that the GOP must actively rally its base to do the same. In Florida, a rare bright spot for the Republican Party in an otherwise disappointing midterm election, Republican voters outpaced Democrats in early in-person and mail-in voting.
Conservative organizations such as the Public Interest Legal Foundation and the Honest Elections Project long have frowned on going door-to-door to collect ballots, warning that it’s an opening for fraud. Such groups also regularly have opposed universal mail-in voting based largely on concerns about outdated voter registration rolls.
At the same time, a majority of voters surveyed don’t trust mail-in voting and say they think cheating might have influenced the outcome of the 2022 elections, according to a poll by Rasmussen Reports.
Seeing flaws doesn’t mean conservative candidates either should accept universal voting by mail or abandon the field, said Jason Snead, executive director of the Honest Elections Project.
“It’s a false choice,” Snead told The Daily Signal. “You can play by the rules as they exist and still advocate for reforms.”
Still, other conservative commentators insist that mail voting and ballot harvesting must end.
“Republicans, end the vote-by-mail/ballot-harvesting regime or cease to be a major political party,” Newsweek opinion editor Josh Hammer tweeted over the weekend.
Former “Rush Limbaugh Show” producer James Golden, who has gone by the pseudonym Bo Snerdley, tweeted Friday: “ALL Ballot Harvesting should be eliminated. Period.”
BlazeTV host Steve Deace challenged the notion that Republicans can compete evenly with Democrats in ballot harvesting.
“If you think just doing our own ballot harvesting will solve our problems, you don’t know what the real problem is,” Deace tweeted Sunday. “If you think their ballot harvesting isn’t a problem, you’re part of the problem.”
Deace followed up Monday by saying that too often, ballot harvesting tends to help only one side.
“If you were watching a football game with lots of replay reviews, and EVERY replay review went one way—how much confidence would you have in that replay system?” Deace tweeted. “Because that’s what ballot harvesting looks like.”
The Republican Party focuses on getting voters out for Election Day, but generally doesn’t do a good job in getting voters out for the early-voting season, said Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at The Heritage Foundation, parent organization of The Daily Signal.
“At the same time that Republicans are doing everything they can to increase the security of mail-in ballots and to limit their use only to individuals who can’t make it to a polling place because they are too sick or disabled or perhaps are overseas—like perhaps our American military folks—they should use the rules to the extent they can legally,” von Spakovsky told The Daily Signal.
Snead, with the Honest Elections Project, noted that legally and effectively pursuing mail-in voters should not be conflated with coercive ballot harvesting or with fraudulent voter registration schemes.
“If the International Olympic Committee absurdly decided to no longer ban performance-enhancing drugs, an athlete who doesn’t dope can feel good for standing on principle, but will probably lose and lose badly,” Snead said. “There is something to be said for accepting the world as it is, not as we would want it to be. Try to compete in the states based on their rules and then try to make reforms to the process.”
In Nevada, where the U.S. Senate race was determined Saturday in favor of the incumbent Democrat, mail votes can be counted after Election Day so long as the ballots are postmarked by that day.
In Arizona’s race for governor, where a verdict is pending, mail ballots can be delivered up to Election Day.
“There may have been vote trafficking in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Nevada,” Snead said. “We won’t know until an investigation is done. We can’t look at delays and presume there was vote trafficking and can’t assume [that] in a timely election call there was no vote trafficking.”
He noted that Maricopa County, the most populous county in Arizona and the fourth-most populous in the United States, had slow-rolling results in statewide races in 2018, 2020, and 2022.
“In Maricopa County, procedures need to be reformed,” Snead said. “This raises questions about Maricopa County procedures. To say this is how long it took to count the votes in prior elections is not a good baseline.”
“It speaks to the need for a post-election audit and process reviews,” he added. “That doesn’t mean anything nefarious is happening, but there is no reason it should take this long.”
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