March 26, 2020
By Jenna Bentley
Over the past few weeks, there has been much talk surrounding emergency legislation to aid in the coronavirus pandemic. While there has been no shortage of ideas about how best to address America’s new reality, not all of the proposed legislative solutions are what they seem. The U.S. House’s response bill, in particular, carries a nefarious Trojan horse that would wreak havoc on U.S. elections with nary a benefit for public health.
Take a look inside the “American Coronavirus/COVID-19 Election Safety and Security Act” (ACCESS Act), and you’ll see a series of sweeping reforms that the left has long championed but that would be detrimental to America’s elections.
Say “Goodbye” to Voter ID
Voter identification is critical to ensure the integrity of the ballot and “one person, one vote.” But the ACCESS Act prevents states from imposing any additional requirements on a person to vote by mail-in ballot. That includes simple safeguards like presenting an ID to drop your ballot off or the requirement of a witness signature.
A High Hurdle for Polling Places
Voters might be accustomed to voting in schools, churches, or community centers. But the ACCESS Act requires states to place each polling place within walking distance to a stop on a public transportation route. That’s a costly if not impossible requirement for rural areas or states with limited public transportation funding.
Same-Day Voter Registration – Without Your Permission
The ACCESS Act would allow for same-day voter registration. And in times of emergency or natural disaster, voters in the affected area would automatically be switched to a mail-in ballot, regardless of whether they have given the government permission to do so.
Ballot Harvesting Danger
Worse yet, the ACCESS Act would allow for ballot harvesting, a dangerous tool that gives biased third parties physical control over a person’s ballot with no supervision. It’s a change that the left has continually pushed for under the guise of delivering the ballots of those unable to do so themselves, but which certainly would have other consequences.
In most states, third parties or candidates may not come within a certain perimeter of a voting booth to ensure voters are not unduly influenced when they cast their ballot. However, because mail-in ballots can be filled out anywhere and in the presence of anyone, they are ripe for coercion. In 2014, a Kentucky mayor was convicted for intimidating vulnerable mail-in voters to cast a ballot for her. She even went so far as to fill in some of the mail-in ballots herself before delivering them. The ACCESS Act opens the door for this kind of practice by allowing parties—including even union workers or campaign employees—to drop off an unlimited number of mail-in ballots.
Practical Obstacles to Ensuring the Integrity of Mail-in Ballots
While the use of all mail-in ballots might seem enticing at a time when we’re trying to practice social distancing, there are practical obstacles to implementing them in time for the November election. Currently, only four states have all vote-by-mail elections, and in 2016, only 24% of national ballots were mail-in ballots. Given the low adoption rate of vote-by-mail, a significant voter education campaign would need to be undertaken before foisting a new voting system on Americans.
Where there is fraud in an election, the majority occurs with mail-in ballots. That is not to say that mail-in voting is bad, or that we should not encourage its use in the future, but there need to be proper safeguards and education before doing so—standards that take months or sometimes years to implement and should not be blocked by federal laws.
While the ACCESS Act does allow for some safeguards against fraud, in reality the provisions tie the hands of state election officials to identify and act on suspected cases. Under the ACCESS Act, if an election official thinks a mail-in ballot is fraudulent, he cannot ask for a voter’s ID to verify identity. The official may only compare the signature on the mail-in ballot to the ones on the list of registered voters. If there is a discrepancy between the two signatures, the state must have at least two election officials concur, and both must have received special training in signature verification. That’s an overly burdensome process.
A Lesson from Arizona
While Arizona can be looked to for good election laws, some also create unforeseen consequences. Arizona is one of the few states that allows early voting up to the day of the election—something that the ACCESS Act would require nationally. We have seen firsthand in Arizona that this practice creates a backlog of early ballots on Election Day, which often take weeks to process in additional to regular ballots. Do we really want to wait weeks or maybe months to learn the results of our national elections?
While there are good measures we can take to ensure that voters are able to vote in November, those decisions should be left to the states. If voters choose to switch to a mail-in ballot, they must have plenty of time to do so. Additionally, early voting and increased voting locations are simple ways to reduce large crowds while allowing people to make their voices heard. Ballot harvesting or same-day voter registration are not the correct answers to this pandemic.
We are living in and adapting to a new environment in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. However, we should not use a crisis to push a laundry list of election reforms that have nothing to do with the slowing the pandemic. The fact that the ACCESS Act would permanently enact these election changes—not just during this time of emergency—shows that these measures are disingenuous and not truly aimed at providing aid during this pandemic.
Jenna Bentley is the Director of Government Affairs at the Goldwater Institute.