Monday, December 21, 2020

What’s Missing in the 5,500-page “Stimulus Bill?” Election Law Reform

 You might think that Congress threw everything including $600 gold-plated toilets in the soon-to-be-passed $1 trillion Covid Stimulus 3.0 bill. They didn’t reportedly include the toilets, but I’m continuing to read the bill. Stay tuned. If there’s $700 million for the Sudan and $10 million for “gender programs” in Pakistan, there’s gotta be a golden toilet in there somewhere.

But there’s something else they didn’t include, and you would think Republicans, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would be all over it, given his intense interest and expertise in election law - legislation to clean up our state and local election systems. There has been plenty of time to fashion legislation that incentivizes (carrot and stick) states to restore integrity to our voting process. 

I guess it was lost in the din of buying congressional votes with your money to help people who can really use it - restaurants, small businesses, the travel industry and their employees, among others. There’s nothing quite like watching politicians bribe their colleagues for votes with your money. Lobbyists don’t actually “buy votes,” (illegal) but Senate leaders are masterful at using taxpayer dollars to sway votes from recalcitrant and persuadable colleagues (perfectly legal). 

Despite efforts by Democrats and the media (after screaming fraud, faux Russian collusion, and spending four years undermining the past election) to Jedi mind trick the American public that there’s nothing to see here (“these aren’t the droids you’re looking for”), there is considerable evidence of election law violations, election fraud, and massive irregularities that no court has substantively considered. And this has been going on for many elections. Just never on this scale. 

While I supported President Trump, more important to me is faith in the integrity of our election system. Confidence in our elections not only helps us accept who won, but helps those who lost accept the results. The massive push to “vote by mail,” unseemly seeking political advantage from the China-caused coronavirus, has resulted in the worst executed election in American history. Yes, that’s big talk, and the evidence continues to accumulate. And it is massive.

Despite enactment of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 - which most Republicans opposed - most states have complete failed to properly maintain their voter rolls. Section 8 of the law prescribes how states are supposed to clean up their voter rolls. Most clearly don’t. Early mail voting states like Oregon and Colorado have, mostly, successfully implemented vote by mail precisely because they invest time and dollars to maintain their rolls (to varying degrees of success - still too many dead voters in Colorado, for example). 

Bad voter rolls coupled with unconstitutional intervention by Pennsylvania’s deeply partisan if not corrupt state Supreme Court has undermined confidence in the election in the Commonwealth, and turned it’s elections into banana republic status. The courts - not the legislature, as the US Constitution requires - removed basic procedures proscribed by the state constitution to ensure voter integrity. No signature matches required on mail ballots - signatures were not even required. And changes that appear to violate the state constitution, which require an elaborate constitutional amendment process. 

If I were a Senator, I would have insisted on an amendment that would have provided some $3 billion (perhaps more) to the states (collectively) to clean up their voter rolls, in exchange for a system to certify, via the Federal Election Commission or Federal Election Assistance Commission, any vote by mail system based on compliance. It would encourage “in person” voting or in-person early voting (not more than 14 days prior to official Election Day). It would also outlaw private subsidies of government election systems as we saw on a grand scale in heavily Democratic areas like Philadelphia. 

Since there doesn’t seem to be a constituency for election reform, it didn’t happen; and it wasn’t even tried. But “gender programs” in Pakistan made the cut. 

That’s important. Facebook’s Mark. Zuckerberg and his wife invested well north of $500 million through the Center for Tech and Civic Life to subsidize voter registration, voter early rallies, and official ballot drop boxes in mostly Democratic leaning areas. It is simply wrong to allow politically-motivated private entities and persons to subsidize official election activity - some of it usually reserved for political parties, such as voter registration and “get out the vote” drives. I shouldn’t have to explain why.

The drive to vote by mail not only overwhelmed many local and state election systems, but opened the door to fraud, which is difficult to prove. And many Democratic Party operatives know it. Over my career, I’ve seen what they can do in places like Texas and Louisiana (both states have largely cleaned up their elections over the past 40 years - Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Michigan, not so much), especially with the interesting places that people list as their residence with registration (13 voters with pristine voting participation histories at an empty lot in Baton Rouge, LA) to nursing homes (forged absentee ballots). Just for the record, I’ve been involved in 35 congressional and US Senate campaigns in 25 states over a couple of decades. I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two.

It’s funny how Democratic Party officials in Congress and our administrative state are eager to regulate everything from the use of synonyms on food labels to light bulbs, but happily want to deregulate our elections. All to increase “voter participation,” and eliminate “voter suppression,” they bleat. Uh huh.

Of course, the latest mantra is that even if there IS evidence (and again, there’s plenty, including here in Georgia), there isn’t enough to change the outcome. Perhaps, but isn’t that beside the point? “Yes, officer, I was driving 40 miles per hour over the speed limit, but it obviously didn’t cause an accident or prove harm to the public.” Try that the next time you’re pulled over, and good luck. Any election law violation disenfranchises legitimate votes and undermines the integrity of our elections. At a minimum, election integrity should go hand in hand with voter access. 

I know of no one who opposes every eligible voter being able to cast a secure vote. But penalty flags should fly when “voter access” comes at the expense of traditional, effective, and important safeguards to prevent illegal votes, or the ability to manufacture them. 

Of course, there is a legitimate role for voting by mail. I have done so in most elections over the past 20 years, since election days often coincided with travel out of the United States on business, and almost always away from my residence in Pennsylvania (I worked long hours at a company headquarters in neighboring New Jersey, when I wasn’t traveling). But I had to request a ballot. I had to provide a reason. And I had to sign the outside the envelope that would be checked against my official signature, just as people voting in person have done in PA for years. When voting in person, you’re required to sign the poll book that matches signatures. 

Some say matching signatures is overly objective; signatures can change over the years. That is not untrue, but it exaggerates. Georgia reduced is machine “match” standard from 40% to 25%. Why?  My signature hasn’t changed noticeably since 1995. Your’s probably hasn’t, either. Of course, illness and other chronic issues can change that. But there are ways to rectify questions when signatures don’t appear to match, or to institute a new “official” signature. How else do you validate mail ballots to ensure integrity, or at least disincentivize cheating? I’m open to suggestions. 

There’s also nothing wrong with allowing mail voters to “cure” their ballots in advance of an election. And there is nothing wrong with counting mail-in votes early so long as those who do aren’t allowed to vote on Election Day, except by a “provisional” ballot that is matched against a request or submitted ballot envelope. It is a crime to vote more than once, and it must be enforced. If people are seeing their votes cast by mail when they didn’t request it, it should be a red flag for election authorities and law enforcement to investigate and prosecute as necessary.

Senator McConnell is the best and most effective Senate majority leader of my lifetime. Maybe this wasn’t the time or place, or he lacked interest and support so close to the heels of a controversial election that is still being investigated and litigated. But will a President-elect Biden* be willing to focus on serious election reform after he benefited from the “issues” of the 2020 contest? I doubt that seriously. Nor will soon-to-be President Kamala Harris allow it. 

Another missed opportunity. But here’s hoping there’s an assertive coalition in Congress, with support from honest election reform organizations (if their are any), that will work to fix things before the next election in 2024. There’s a path forward. Let’s see if anyone in official Washington takes it. 

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