The Republican problem with voting by mail

by Tony Quinn

Along with everything else in the 2020 election, we are now going to fight about how to cast the votes.   

Across the nation Democrats are pushing for expanded voting by mail, assuming it will increase Democratic turnout; Republicans led by President Donald Trump scream fraud and insist it will finish off their party.  

Voting by mail has historically helped, not hurt Republicans.  The mail ballot in California helped elect George Deukmejian governor in 1982. In last month’s special elections, which were all-mail balloting for the first time, GOP candidates won handily, and one flipped a Democratic congressional district.

So why are Republicans so afraid of voting by mail?  The real reason is not voter fraud, there is none, but because Republicans have lost the ability to turn out their own voters and to expand their electoral base.  So the nationwide GOP effort to stop mail balloting and reduce the electorate to just reliable voters who don’t need to be coaxed to turn out.

Voting by mail is extremely popular in California; more than 70% of the March primary ballots were cast by mail.  Postal voters tend to be older, more stable, used to dealing with snail mail. Younger voters communicate by social media, and college students move around a lot. So the mail-in voter is much more of a Republican demographic.

But in 2018, Democrats, especially in California, proved far more adept at harvesting mail ballots and delivering them to the counties, thanks to a new law that allows you to deliver another person’s ballot to the elections office.  Republicans simply did not understand how the new law worked or devote the manpower to taking advantage of it.

Since the reliable voters vote early, on election night it looked like several Republicans had won, but then they lost in the late balloting.  Somehow the GOP has decided this is the result of fraud.  It’s not; it is simply that the Democrats are better at playing the game.

But the California GOP has now sued to stop the Secretary of State from sending everyone a ballot by mail in November.  The suit claims that the voter rolls contain duplication and inactive voters, many of whom have moved or died, and that they should not be receiving ballots.  

On this they are right, and that is why California and the conservative group Judicial Watch signed a consent decree in 2019 that the state voter rolls must be purged of inactive, dead or moved voters.  Republicans really should be focusing their energy on seeing that this is carried out.

The suit also relates horror stories of ballots being thrown away or getting lost.  That’s also true, because less than 100% of registered voters actually cast a ballot.  Only 47% of voters voted in the March primary; for a presidential election, the turnout is about 75%.

So one quarter of all ballots mailed to voters will not be cast in November; they will indeed end up in the trash.  But that does not mean there is fraud.  There is no evidence whatsoever of voting by undocumented immigrants or non-citizens who are registered, and the mail ballot has to be signed by the voter. The ballot is checked by the registrars before it is counted.  Mail ballots are probably less susceptible to fraud than in-person voting.

Mail ballots have been widely used in California, and their popularity is growing; five states do all-mail balloting.  There is no evidence anywhere that voting by mail increases voter fraud; it just makes it easier for people to vote.

And that is the Republican problem. Their party has atrophied; suburban voters and college educated women are trending Democratic.  Trump and the GOP know what will happen if huge numbers of college students and racial minorities turnout this November. That is behind the effort to make it more difficult for them to vote.  If anything, this ploy is very likely to backfire.

Tony Quinn has more than 50 years involvement with California politics and government, and has written extensively on elections and demographics, He wrote this commentary for CalMatters.


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