I’ve come to believe that voting ought to be a little bit difficult.
Voting shouldn’t be an ordeal or an all-day project, but for me, voting has always meant taking time on Election Day itself to go somewhere off the beaten path, wait in line, possibly as much as an hour, and vote. In my work, some of the controls of the machinery are designed to be purposefully difficult to operate because they would be dangerous if used without specific intent. To me, voting is a similar endeavor: it’s serious, and not to be done lightly.
New York mailed absentee ballot applications a few weeks before this year’s primaries, with helpful instructions: you couldn’t simply vote absentee because you were afraid of Covid, but if you wrote it up as a ‘health issue’ you were good to go. In the spring, I had not yet returned to the office, but I had been going out for a walk every day, joining my wife for grocery shopping, and heading out to job sites: a trip to the polls didn’t seem particularly frightening.
I ultimately didn’t vote. Biden had already won the Democratic Presidential nomination, and none of the candidates in the other races were different enough from their opponents to make a vote worthwhile. Not making a decision is, itself, a decision.
New York took a reasonable approach in sending out absentee ballot applications before the election, and giving voters an alternative to voting in person. It represented a minor change from established law and procedure, but was appropriate under the circumstances. However, while the Presidential race was effectively already decided by the time New York held its election, some of the other races were undecided for weeks until all the absentee ballots could be counted or their disposition resolved.
Now that we know what happened, would this be the right thing for the general election?
In one respect, it may not matter: New York is a thoroughly blue state and will go for Biden no matter what. But the New York experience suggests that mandating national vote-by-mail, as the Democrats are proposing, is a spectacularly bad idea.
- First, it’s an unwarranted intrusion by the Federal government on a function that is the responsibility of state and local governments. It’s the responsibility of the states, with their knowledge of local conditions, to decide the best method for their citizens to vote.
- Contrary to the insistence of the news media, vote-by-mail fraud does happen: in fact, the results of a local election in New Jersey were thrown out by the courts just last week. The potential for election fraud with mail voting has historically been recognized by both parties, until the Democrats decided a couple of years ago that such a thing just didn’t happen. For my part, it appears the Democrats are more interested in grabbing power than in good governance: I wouldn’t put it past them to try to finagle the election.
- But the real problem with a vast shift to mail-in voting is human error and the Postal Service. When you vote in person, the election staffer is checking the paperwork and walking you through a process so simple as to be essentially foolproof. If you make an innocent mistake with your mail-in ballot, like forgetting to sign the accompanying paperwork, you’ve lost your vote. (Some places will give you the opportunity to rectify such errors, but that takes time.) And even in the best of circumstances, lost or delayed mail, or mail without postmarks, could result in more people losing their votes than the margin of a close race. The Postal Service is an imperfect organization, and even throwing $25 billion at it, two and a half months before the general election, isn’t likely to help.
At this point, alas, all I can do is hope for the best, and hope and pray for a calm and fair election. If the election goes badly—no matter who wins—it will be a worse emergency than Covid.