Election integrity still matters

This is neither a column about “Stop the Steal” or “there was no fraud.” At this point, whether there was a sufficient level of fraud to affect the outcome of the 2020 presidential election is a moot point. Nonetheless there were, and continue to be, legitimate concerns about election integrity in the United States.

If this nation is to survive as a constitutional republic, those concerns must be addressed. The problem is that our nation is currently so divided that there exists little trust in any remedy that may be proposed by one side or the other. Just how deep is that mistrust? Consider this.

In a Politico/Morning Consult poll taken shortly after November’s election, 70 percent of Republicans rejected the notion that it was conducted in a “free and fair” manner. Before the election, just 35 percent of Republicans held that belief. The shift was opposite among Democrats, where 95 percent believed the election was free and fair afterward, compared with 52 percent who said the same before the election.

Despite this divide, there is a workable template for election reform that was the product of a bipartisan commission. Several of its recommendations are worthy of consideration.

After the 2000 election debacle culminating in the Supreme Court case of Bush v. Gore, a Commission on Federal Election Reform was formed. It was a continuation of a previous commission created by former President Jimmy Carter. Co-chairing the new commission was James A. Baker III, who served as Treasury Secretary in the Reagan administration and Secretary of State under President George H.W. Bush. The commission’s twenty-one members were a who’s who of political heavyweights and academics from across the political spectrum.

In a 91-page report, the commission put forth 87 recommendations to secure fair elections. Key among these proposals was the recognition that voter ID laws are important to preserve election integrity. Granted, with the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a perceived need to rely heavily on mail-in voting last year, but that does not mean that we should ignore this important recommendation for future elections.

Today, there is little consistency in voter ID laws. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states either require or request voters to present identification at the polls. The conference says only six states have “strict” photo ID requirements—Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

In its 2005 report, the Carter-Baker Commission recommended a five-year phase-in of voter ID standards nationwide: “To ensure that persons presenting themselves at the polling place are the ones on the registration list, the Commission recommends that states require voters to use the REAL ID card, which was mandated in a law signed by the President in May 2005.”

Carter and Baker made the argument in a 2008 New York Times op-ed that “a free and fair election requires both ballot security and full access to voting.” They criticized everyone who has stood in the way – Republicans “who have not made it easy enough to acquire an ID,” Democrats who “have tended to try to block voter ID legislation outright,” courts that “have not been consistent” in their decisions, and individual judges who “have appeared to vote along partisan lines.”

The Carter-Baker Commission also raised concerns about mail-in voting, stating, “Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.” This potential has led to widespread mistrust of election results heavily dependent on absentee voting, amplified when the results of absentee ballot tallies diverge significantly from the tallies of ballots cast in person.

The commission emphasized the importance of securing the chain of custody for ballots, taking a shot at the practice of “ballot harvesting.” The report states, “State and local jurisdictions should prohibit a person from handling absentee ballots other than the voter, an acknowledged family member, the U.S. Postal Service or other legitimate shipper, or election officials. The practice in some states of allowing candidates or party workers to pick up and deliver absentee ballots should be eliminated.”

Voter ID laws, strict oversight of absentee ballots, prohibitions against ballot harvesting and maintaining current and accurate voter rolls are critical to give citizens confidence that their votes won’t be diluted by fraud or by ballots from individuals not legally entitled to vote.

Without that confidence restored, distrust in election outcomes could have disastrous consequences, as we recently witnessed. And no one wants that.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.