Attorney General William Barr made an important point in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer in early September. The immediate topic at hand was widespread mail-in voting. But Barr's larger point concerned the integrity of the American electoral system: "We are a closely divided country. People have to have confidence in the results of elections and the legitimacy of the government." Anything that calls into question the fairness of elections, said Barr, is "reckless and dangerous"; it is "playing with fire."
Just 20 years ago, a presidential election was decided by 537 votes out of 105 million cast. In 2016, the swing of just 70,000 votes — less than the number garnered by Green Party candidate Jill Stein — in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania would have given Hillary Clinton victory in the Electoral College. And in two states — New Hampshire and Minnesota — Clinton's winning margin was miniscule. Every vote counts.
Yet mail-in voting, on an unprecedented scale, risks skewing the voters' choices. In New York congressional primaries in April, 84,000 mail-in ballots were disqualified for failure to comply with one of the technical requirements, and nationwide 550,000 ballots were similarly discarded.
In addition, tens of thousands of ballots may not reach their intended address or arrive back to be counted. In Pennsylvania's Westmoreland County, which President Trump carried by 30 points in 2016, 60,000 ballots still had not reached voters, with less than a month to go until the election, due to the misfeasance of an independent contractor. Recently 100,000 Brooklyn residents received absentee ballots marked with incorrect names and addresses, which would render them invalid.
Large-scale mail-in voting provides an open invitation to vote fraud. Vote fraud in various forms is a well-established American tradition, especially on the part of big city political machines. It is widely believed that Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley ("the Boss") provided the votes necessary to bring Illinois into the Kennedy column in 1960, and with it the election.
In our highly charged political environment, there are many who will find it hard to resist temptations to commit voter fraud. Georgia's secretary of state recently announced that 1,000 voters in the June 9 primary cast both absentee ballots and in person. Hans von Spakovsky, a former federal election commissioner, analyzed voter data from 21 states in 2016, and determined that over 8,000 people could be conclusively shown to have voted in two states, a number that projected to 45,000 nationwide.
"Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud," concluded the 2005 report of the bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform, co-chaired by former president Jimmy Carter and former secretary of state James Baker III. And the potential fraud from absentee ballots, which must be requested by the voter and in most states require proof of identity, pales compared to that of mail-in ballots sent to every registered voter.
For one thing, voter rolls are notoriously outdated. Judicial Watch published a study this week of 353 U.S. counties in which the number of registered voters exceeds the number of voting age residents, by a cumulative total of 1.8 million people. Given that 10 percent of Americans move each year, the potential for multiple ballots to be sent to a single address for those who are no longer residents or living is immense. For instance, Stefan Niemann, a US correspondent for German state-funded broadcaster ARD, received at his D.C. apartment three ballots — one for a former resident, another for the landlady living in Puerto Rico, and a third for the landlady's deceased husband. In 2016, 83 registered voters in San Pedro, California, received ballots at the same small two-bedroom apartment.
Especially in states where the identification requirements are weak or nonexistent, each one of those ballots can be used by whoever receives them in the mailbox. In Minnesota, for instance, no proof of identity — such as a driver's license or Social Security card — is required together with the mail-in ballot. As long as the bar code on the ballot envelope received conforms to one mailed, nothing more is needed — to wit, no proof of who filled out the ballot.
Another of the recommendations of the aforementioned bipartisan commission was a universal voter ID card. In recent years, however, Democrats have consistently decried all requirements of proof of identity, like that required to buy a beer, as forms of voter suppression. Pennsylvania's secretary of the commonwealth, Kathy Boockvar, has prohibited county clerks from matching absentee ballot signatures to those of voter registration cards. Perkins Coie, the same law firm used by the Democratic National Committee to transfer payments to Christopher Steele for his "Trump dossier," has filed suits across the country to force state officials to loosen rules for voting.
Many of those are collusive suits brought against Democratic officeholders, who then enter into consent decrees to do what they cannot under current state law. In Minnesota, the League of Women Voters, for instance, sued the Democratic secretary of state, Steve Simon, to suspend Minnesota's statutory requirement that absentee ballots be accompanied by a signed witness statement verifying the voter's identity, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Simon then entered into a proposed consent decree acceding to all of plaintiff's requests.
At least one Democrat, however, is worried about electoral integrity: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who has introduced a bipartisan bill with Congressman Rodney Davis (R-IL) that seeks to eliminate ballot harvesting, which "allows third parties to collect and deliver ballots for other people, potentially large number of people." The danger of ballot harvesters preying on the elderly, who are particularly susceptible to all kinds of fraud, and on low-income communities and immigrant communities, in which many residents have limited facility in English, is not merely speculative.
The results of a 2018 North Carolina Congressional race, in which the Republican candidate prevailed by 905 votes, was subsequently overturned when it was determined that a campaign operative had requested 1,200 absentee ballots on voters' behalf and then collected the ballots from voters' homes and filled them out.
And a recent Project Veritas exposé uncovered widespread vote harvesting fraud in Congresswoman Ilhan Omar's Somali community in Minneapolis. In the videos, one interviewee boasts of 300 absentee ballots in the trunk of his car. Another shows cash being exchanged for an absentee ballot, and the purchaser stating, "When I fill it out, I'll bring it back to you [for your signature]." Two witnesses describe a well-financed vote-buying operation as an "open secret" in the Somali community.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL'S point about the necessity of preserving the integrity of elections in a deeply divided society goes to an even larger point. Senator Ben Sasse, in his opening statement in the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearings, spoke of a realm of civics that exists above politics. That civic religion serves to bind together a diverse citizenry in a divided country. In the American context, it would include, inter alia, commitment to the five freedoms of the Bill of Rights. Above all, the realm of civics must be perceived as creating a level playing field — the belief that if one's political views do not prevail today, they might tomorrow.
Certainly Israelis know well the bitter anger created when such a level playing field does not exist. At the heyday of Justice Aharon Barak's leadership, Israel's Supreme Court interjected itself into every major national issue as the final arbiter. It was, as many observed, as if one side — the Left — was simultaneously a player in the game while creating the rules and serving as umpire through the Court. At the same time, Israel's media pronounced itself fully "mobilized" to advance the peace process — albeit it was far more honest about that mobilizing than the American mainstream media is today.
Sasse identified another aspect of the American civics 101 as the belief that judges should not serve as super-legislators, or as a group of Platonic Guardians determining the proper course for the citizenry.
Were the Democrats to go ahead with plans to pack the Supreme Court — something that even FDR at the height of his popularity could not pull off — as all indications are they will try to if they have the votes, they will turn the Supreme Court into an extension of the legislature, with the crucial distinction that justices serve for life.
The end of the judiciary as a separate branch from Congress; identity politics, downplaying an overarching American identity; and untrustworthy elections — a perfect trifecta for ensuring the complete breakdown of American society.