Jimmy’s Washington Examiner Op-Ed | Legitimate voting systems must answer these three questions
Written by Jimmy at the Crossroads on November 17, 2020
Coauthored with former Colorado Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Taheri (Staiert)
President Trump’s campaign has powered ahead with lawsuits in several states, challenging voter fraud and technical problems. Depending on the facts of each case, Trump may be right to do so — and for reasons that are much bigger than himself or his campaign. Election integrity is fundamental to our republic; the government’s legitimacy depends on it.
What happens in 2020 will set a precedent for future elections. It is critical that everyone understands how elections are conducted and what controls and safeguards are in place to assure voters that the process is fair and the results are trustworthy.
We write this based on the experience of Colorado, where one of us helped oversee the state’s move to statewide vote-by-mail in 2013. When the Centennial State became the third state to implement statewide vote-by-mail, it only happened after more than a decade of preparation led to that point. We improved the system in subsequent years and have become known for election security and integrity. In that way, Colorado offers a strong point of comparison for evaluating other states’ vote-by-mail systems, safeguards, and controls — and provides three critical questions voters everywhere should ask about 2020.
How reliable was your voter registration database?
No election system can function properly with inaccurate or poorly maintained voter lists, especially with vote-by-mail, whereby ballots are sent directly to voters. In Colorado, officials regularly cross-check voter lists with state databases, the Social Security Index, the Post Office, departments of corrections and sheriffs’ offices, and other agencies. Election officials run citizenship checks to expunge noncitizens. Colorado has successfully completed four general elections and four coordinated elections with statewide vote-by-mail and has improved database maintenance along the way.
Inaccurate or outdated voter rolls create a breeding ground for voter fraud. Voters must ask, how rigorous was your state in ensuring accuracy amid sweeping changes and what can be done to improve?
Are ballot returns secure and properly surveilled with bipartisan chains of custody?
You cannot have a meaningful vote-by-mail system without secure ballot return locations and a chain of custody that’s reliable, consistent, and bipartisan. For example, Colorado offers drop boxes in each county, and by statute, each box must be locked, lit, and monitored by 24/7 camera surveillance. Ballots are collected by a team of bipartisan election judges; they are then brought to counting rooms that also have surveillance and bipartisan election judges, as well as poll watchers.
While Arizona statute permits drop boxes, the only requirement is that they be “secure.” Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania provided drop boxes this year despite not being mentioned in statute. Counties are thus responsible for their own drop box security requirements. This is concerning, particularly because organizations like the Center for Technology and Civic Life have provided outside funds for these drop boxes, contributing to concerns over politicization.
In Colorado, election judges are appointed by the parties; if a county party doesn’t have enough judges available, it can appoint from outside the county. This way, Republicans and Democrats can always trust that they will have someone there to ensure ballot chain of custody as well as judges’ authenticity. Pennsylvania is one state that doesn’t provide this essential guarantee.
Is there a robust signature verification and cure process?
In Colorado, we have a well-executed, multistep process of verifying signatures and rejecting and “curing” those ballots with issues. This time-tested step doesn’t take place until after a voter’s ID is verified in the first election. No legitimate vote-by-mail system can operate without credible verification of voter eligibility.
Unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s partisan Democratic Supreme Court majority removed the state’s signature verification requirements for mail-in ballots only. As former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams put it, this “undermines the entire legitimacy of that process.”
Georgia raises questions, too: As its GOP Chairman David Schafer observed, 230,000 absentee ballots were cast in 2018, with a 3.5% rejection rate for signature mismatches or other reasons. More than 1.2 million absentee ballots were cast in 2020, yet the rejection rate fell to 0.3%. How can Georgia’s rejection rate, even after a dramatic mail-ballot expansion, have improved so drastically, so quickly? A well-designed verification system will catch these things; a poorly designed one will not. Voters are right to ask what’s changed and why.
In 2020, numerous states quickly and rashly ramped up vote-by-mail. Many of them have conducted elections in ways that raise significant and legitimate concerns. Thus, this isn’t just a matter of one presidential election: It’s about the future of election integrity. We must get this right.