October 25, 2020

Texas’s war on drop-off votes gets almost everything wrong

https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/10/06/1009402/texas-vote-by-mail-security-truth/

There’s a broad consensus among academics and election officials that mail-in voting and ballot drop boxes are secure, that fraud is extremely rare, and that drop sites expand access to voting. But vote-by-mail has been hit by disinformation more than almost any other topic during this election.

At the first presidential debate, President Donald Trump called vote-by-mail a fraud “disaster.” That’s wrong. In fact, vote-by-mail has been expanded nationally over decades on a bipartisan basis, and there’s no evidence of widespread fraud. Between 2000 and 2012, billions of votes were cast, but the total number of vote-by-mail fraud cases prosecuted was 491.

“Disinformation about drop boxes leading to fewer of them in states would have the effect of limiting voter access to the ballot box,” says David Levine from the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan security group. “Drop boxes are secure. They can be more convenient for voters. They enable a safer voting experience. If there was any evidence to support the assertion that drop boxes contribute to fraud, we wouldn’t see an increase in them across the country.”

Walking it back

It’s not the first time Governor Abbott has tried to push the idea of voter fraud. His last attempt didn’t go to plan, however.

Last year the Texas Republican Party launched a high-profile inquiry into illegal votes, echoing Trump’s rhetoric and questioning the citizenship of 95,000 voters. But the review quickly collapsed when it became apparent that many of those people had already been cleared as legitimate voters. The whole incident was quietly walked back.

So what next? Civil rights organizations have launched two court challenges to Abbott’s order. The state’s Democrats called it a “blatant voter suppression tactic.”

“The bottom line,” says Perez, “is when you completely divorce the way that the election is talked about from the actual sober facts of how elections are administered, you’re really creating dynamics where division and chaos can overwhelm the accurate and methodical counting of votes.”