Mail-In Voting Is 'Not Rampant Voter Fraud,' Says Washington's Top Election Official | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Mail-In Voting Is 'Not Rampant Voter Fraud,' Says Washington's Top Election Official

21 hours ago
Originally published on August 2, 2020 10:13 am

This past week, President Trump renewed his unsubstantiated claim that mail-in voting begets inaccurate or fraudulent results when he raised the prospect of delaying November's election.

"With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history," Trump tweeted Thursday.

Trump's rhetoric alarms Kim Wyman, the secretary of state of Washington, one of a handful of states that vote almost entirely by mail. A growing number of states are embracing mail-in voting — which is essentially the same as absentee voting — over fears that going to polling stations could increase exposure to the coronavirus.

"I think it really shatters peoples' confidence in the process," Wyman, a Republican, said in an interview with All Things Considered on Saturday. "We need to make sure we're inspiring confidence in the public that this is a fair election. And the way you do that is balancing access and security."

Contrary to the president's claims, fraudulent mail-in voting is very rare, according to election security experts. And as for Washington, Wyman said, "We've seen a very low incidence of any kind of voter fraud."

"When someone makes a really robust claim about fraudulent activity, we can show all the security measures," said Wyman, who's invited Trump to Washington to inspect the safeguards of the state's ballot process in person. "If someone said there's rampant voter suppression, we can show all of the things we did to make the election accessible."

Wyman, a former auditor and elections director for Thurston County, said most states require identification, including Washington, which can come in the form of a Washington state ID, a Washington state driver's license or the last four digits of their Social Security number. Those IDs then go through a verification process to check the ID against a government database, Wyman said.

During the 2018 election, Wyman said the Washington found that, out of 3.2 million ballots cast, there were 142 cases of voter fraud, where people had cast more than one ballot between different states or voted on behalf of a deceased family member.

"So is it perfect? No, but it's not rampant voter fraud either," she said.

With more Americans expected to cast their ballot via mail come November, there's a bigger concern at the front of Wyman's mind. U.S. Postal Service workers say the new Postmaster General's cost-cutting measures have led to disruptions in mail delivery.

"I'm very concerned that delays in postal delivery is going to have a negative effect on absentee ballots and vote by mail elections," she said.

Her state set up alternatives, including offering printable ballots that can be returned at the same sites where in-person ballots are cast.

"I'm worried about states that don't have similar processes," she said. "All of those things take time and money and we are running out of time. We absolutely need Congress to act so that we can overcome these changes in the Post Office."

Kira Wakeam and William Troop produced and edited this interview for broadcast.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

This week, President Trump took to Twitter to float a brash idea - not for the first time. He suggested postponing the November elections - which, of course, he has no authority to do. Offering exactly no evidence, President Trump used that same tweet to predict that the 2020 election will be, quote, "the most inaccurate and fraudulent election in history" - end quote.

The reason, according to the president's claims - mail-in voting, something that all states allow in some form, something that the president and that many of his top officials have themselves done and something that most states are encouraging this November because of fears tied to the coronavirus pandemic.

We reached out to Kim Wyman about this. She's the secretary of state for the state of Washington, where all elections are 100% vote-by-mail, and she's a Republican. We asked her for her reaction to the president's tweet.

KIM WYMAN: Well, it concerns me because I think it really shatters people's confidence in the process. And if voters don't believe that the election was fair, they don't believe the results. And ultimately, that means they don't believe that the people who won the election were legitimately elected.

We need to make sure we're inspiring confidence in the public that this is a fair election, and the way you do that is balancing access and security. So when someone makes a really robust claim about fraudulent activity, we can show all the security measures. If someone says there's rampant voter suppression, we can show all of the things we did to make the election accessible. So that's what election administrators do, is focus on balancing access and security.

FOLKENFLIK: Yesterday, in an interview on "Fox & Friends," Stephen Miller, who's a senior policy adviser for the president at the White House, claimed that people who mail in their ballots do not have their identity checked in any way. Is there any truth to that claim?

WYMAN: I can't speak for every single state, but I can tell you that most states do have some sort of identification requirement. Our requirement is that a person applying to register to vote or updating their voter registration provides their Washington state ID, their Washington state driver's license or the last four digits of their Social Security number.

And we actually verify those pieces of ID against the databases that they reside in and make sure that this is a real person who's walked into a government agency, who's proven that they exist. And when that ballot comes back, we check the signature of that ballot against the signature on the voter registration record. So we close that loop, and we have a high confidence level that those voters are real. They're not people's, you know, cats or something. They're a real voter...

FOLKENFLIK: (Laughter).

WYMAN: ...Who cast that ballot.

FOLKENFLIK: What evidence have you seen over your years of administering in voting by mail of fraud occurring by people casting ballots in that way?

WYMAN: We've seen a very low instance of any kind of voter fraud. Probably the two biggest cases I can remember - one was voter registration fraud, actually, where we had a bad group of signature gatherers for an initiative who sat in the public library and filled out voter registration forms and turned them in. We detected it. We prosecuted them. And, you know, those are felonies. So they were basically told never to come back to the state, or they would be put in prison.

And then we also in 2018 compared our voter history to that of other states and found that we had 142 people who cast a ballot either more than one ballot or on behalf of a deceased family member. And that was out of 3.2 million ballots cast. So is it perfect? No. But it's not rampant voter fraud, either.

FOLKENFLIK: As you alluded earlier, you describe yourself as a Reagan Republican. You're a member of the Republican Party this day. You're right now, as I understand it, running for a third term in this specific office - that is, a secretary of state for Washington state. How does the fact that Republican leaders, that this really is something coming from the head of your party, from the president on down, have questioned this process - how does that affect, you know, your own run for office?

WYMAN: My run for office is very separate from the work that I do, even though, obviously, there's a lot of overlap. And I try to keep those two worlds very separate because I originally was an election administrator at the local level, at the county level. And that was a nonpartisan role, and I really learned the value of being in that nonpartisan space and not trying to do anything that helps my party or may hurt the other party.

So as we're coming into, you know, arguably the most anticipated election of a century, we have everybody on edge. And my job as secretary of state is to calm the waters and make sure that people have confidence that the election is well-run. So I can separate out that chatter and really try to just focus on the administration of the election.

And I think most election administrators do the same thing. Many of us are partisanly (ph) elected, but when we walk in the door every morning, we're trying to uphold our oaths to uphold the Constitution and uphold the constitution and laws of our individual states. And we take it seriously because we know our work is what really democracy rests upon. People have to believe the results.

FOLKENFLIK: We're talking about voting by mail, and there's this issue about the U.S. Postal Service. Postal employees and their unions are sounding an alarm right now. They're talking about huge backlogs. They say there are delays. And they're saying these recent cost-cutting measures put in place by the new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, have the effect of making it less reliable. Does that issue serve as any additional wrinkle? You know, to what degree does that worry you about how well voting by mail will function given the current state of the mail?

WYMAN: Well, 2020 has been an election unlike any presidential election I've seen. And so I'm very concerned that delays in postal delivery is going to have a negative effect on absentee ballots and vote-by-mail elections. And one of the things that needs to happen is states need to have the capacity and the capability to deal with these changes.

So, for example, in my state, our voters can download a ballot and print it out on their computer and return it the same way they would if we issued them the ballot. So we have some alternatives if the post office can't get a ballot to a voter for that voter to be able to receive it and return it. I'm worried about states that don't have similar processes.

So what they need is the resources to be able to do that. And at this point, the only way they could even have a hope of doing that would be money from Congress so that they can add ballot drop boxes to the mix, so that they can add more capacity in their parking lot for curbside service for replacement ballots and ballot issuance. All of those things take time and money, and we are running out of time. So we absolutely need Congress to act so that we can overcome these changes in the post office.

FOLKENFLIK: That's Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman.

Secretary Wyman, thanks so much for your time.

WYMAN: Oh, you're welcome. Thanks for having me on Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.