California’s Wild West versus Canada’s security

14 September 2021

11:45 AM

14 September 2021

11:45 AM

Some conservatives did themselves no favors by exaggerating the threat of election irregularities in California’s Tuesday recall election. Tomi Lahren of Fox Nation claimed on air that: ‘The only thing that will save Gavin Newsom is voter fraud.’ A New York Times news story promptly labeled concerns about the election as ‘baseless allegations’.

But regardless of the recall outcome — which Gov. Newsom is favored to survive — we shouldn’t dismiss concerns about the shift California and other states have made to all mail-in elections at the expense of the traditional secret ballot.

Two elec­torates in places with some 40 mil­lion peo­ple each — Cal­i­for­nia and Canada — will vote this month. The wide­ly dif­fer­ing ap­proaches taken in each on voting speaks vol­umes about the skewed, one-sided de­bate the US is hav­ing over elec­tion in­tegrity.

The anti-re­call cam­paign has de­ployed what Steve Smith of the California Labor Federation calls ‘the largest field campaign ever run in the state’. A total of 20,000 staffers and volunteers targeted 10.3 mil­lion vot­ers in order to ex­ploit Cal­i­for­nia’s sweep­ing legal­iza­tion of bal­lot har­vest­ing in 2016.

Bal­lot har­vest­ing is the col­lec­tion of ab­sen­tee bal­lots for de­liv­ery to elec­tion of­ficials. It’s il­le­gal in 23 states be­cause it’s ripe for abuse and fraud — it al­lows po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tives to in­ter­act with vot­ers with­out safe­guards to en­sure they aren’t be­ing misled, co­erced, in­tim­i­dat­ed or paid for a vote, or that the vot­er’s bal­lot is ac­tu­al­ly de­livered.

In 2018, a new US House elec­tion was or­dered in North Car­oli­na af­ter eight oper­a­tives were charged with ‘schem­ing to il­le­gal­ly col­lect, fill in, forge and sub­mit mail in bal­lots’ for a GOP can­di­date.

In Texas, Omar Es­co­bar, the De­mo­c­ra­t­ic dis­trict at­tor­ney of Starr Coun­ty, says the abuse of el­der­ly or in­firm vot­ers is so per­va­sive that ‘the time has come to con­sider an al­ter­na­tive to mail-in vot­ing’ that ‘can’t be hi­jacked’.

In the Cal­i­for­nia re­call, a felon was ar­rest­ed last month with drugs, a loaded firearm and more than 300 un­opened mail-in bal­lots for the re­call elec­tion in his car.

Even elect­ed of­fi­cials give into temp­ta­tion. Last month, pros­e­cu­tors charged six peo­ple with vot­er fraud, in­clud­ing Comp­ton City Coun­cil mem­ber Isaac Gal­van. Gal­van won his race last June by only one vote. He’s al­leged to have con­spired with an­oth­er de­fendant, Jace Daw­son, to fill in blank mail-in bal­lots. A text has Daw­son telling Gal­van he’s found a neigh­bor who has moved out of town and need­ed more ‘lost bal­lot forms’.

Those forms are out there. Cal­i­for­nia’s leg­is­la­ture ex­tend­ed an emer­gency COVID-19 rule change so all 22 mil­lion reg­is­tered voters have been mailed a postage paid bal­lot for the re­call.

But state reg­is­tra­tion rolls are no­to­ri­ous­ly out­dat­ed. In 2019, Los An­ge­les Coun­ty had to agree to a court set­tle­ment to re­move as many as 1.5 mil­lion in­ac­tive vot­er regis­tra­tions. For 20 years nei­ther the state nor Los An­ge­les had fol­lowed a 1993 law signed by Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton re­quir­ing states re­move in­ac­tive reg­is­tra­tions.

Send­ing bal­lots ad­dressed to in­el­i­gi­ble vot­ers that can be stolen, forged or misused is a recipe for dis­as­ter and un­der­mines con­fidence in the out­come. The fed­er­al US Elec­tion As­sistance Com­mis­sion re­ports that in 2020 al­most 15 mil­lion mail-in ballots weren’t re­turned as vot­ed, were un­de­liv­er­able or were oth­er­wise ‘un­able to be traced’. The Pub­lic In­ter­est Le­gal Foun­da­tion concludes ‘un­known bal­lots are the great­est blind spot in the Amer­i­can elec­toral sys­tem’.

That may ex­plain why Cana­da has such dif­fer­ent rules. Cal­i­for­nia doesn’t re­quire a vot­er to pro­duce ID. Cana­da re­quires its vot­ers present some gov­ern­ment-is­sued ID or at least two pieces of ID with their name and full ad­dress. Those who lack any can still vote, but only if some­one who knows them and is as­signed to their polling sta­tion vouch­es for them.

For mail-in vot­ing, Cana­di­ans must re­quest ‘a spe­cial bal­lot and pro­duce proof of iden­ti­ty, ei­ther by ap­ply­ing on­line and send­ing a digi­tal scan of doc­u­ments, or by mail with pho­tographs of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion’.

Sal­ly Pipes, a Cana­di­an who heads Cal­i­for­nia’s Pa­cif­ic Re­search In­sti­tute, told me: ‘Cana­da’s rules are much more se­cure. We need them rather than the any­thing-goes bal­lot­ing of Wild West Cal­i­for­nia.’

That’s not like­ly to hap­pen re­gard­less of the re­call out­come. Na­tion­al­ly, mail-in vot­ing in­creased from 21 percent of all bal­lots in 2016 to 46 percent in 2020 as pan­dem­ic de­crees is­sued by gov­er­nors and health of­fi­cials ex­pand­ed the prac­tice with­out legislatures ac­tu­al­ly chang­ing the law.

California’s legislature has sent Newsom a bill to require counties to mail ballots to all registered voters in every election. The bill passed this month on a strict party line vote.

If whole­sale mail-in bal­lot­ing be­comes a norm in other states, it’s es­sen­tial state leg­is­la­tures also pass safe­guards against fraud and abuse.

Sad­ly, in­stead House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing a move in Con­gress to have a fed­er­al takeover of state election laws in Con­gress.

Vot­ing rules should lead peo­ple to re­spect the out­come. Merely boosting ‘voter turnout” shouldn’t be the only goal. In­cred­i­bly lax laws only add to vot­er cyn­i­cism and po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion. A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found there’s even less trust than ever in the election process among Californians. Asked how much confidence they had in it, 58 percent of Democrats said a ‘great deal’ but only 13 percent of Republicans did. Among Republicans, 43 percent had ‘very little’ confidence.

Maybe Cana­da should send elec­tion ob­servers south to teach us how they make it both easy to vote and hard to cheat.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Show comments