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Sprinkle: Voting by mail fails to secure the integrity of the vote

Some Americans believe opening the gate to mail-in voting is a good idea; all foxes believe opening the gate to the chicken house is a good idea. The commonality, of course, is that temptation sometimes proves to be irresistible — both to foxes and humans.

Superficially, voting by mail sounds like a panacea designed to lower costs and spare the American voter the “inconvenience” of trekking off to the polls every two years only to find himself wending his way to the voting area through a battery of last-minute solicitations meant to sway his vote. Further, it allows the voter to luxuriate over his preferences at home rather than mulling over his selections at the voting station and holding up a line of people who want to cast their vote and go.

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But before we buy into mail-in voting, let’s carefully consider the potential complications associated with a panacea that could later find us struggling to extricate ourselves from a quagmire.

First. Verification of every voter and his right to vote should be confirmed — before he casts a vote.

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Those who criticize the requirement of photo/voter ID, the ability to identify the person about to participate in a privilege bought with a sea of American blood, amaze me. If I’m stopped by a police officer while driving, that officer wants to see my license/photo ID. When I show up for any medical procedure, I need to produce my photo ID. If I want to travel out of the country, I need my passport — photo attached. In each of these examples, we are compliant because we understand the issues of safety and security.

The American citizen is no less entitled to know that his vote is protected by that same level of security, that it will not be diluted by illegally cast votes of non-citizens, dead citizens, and multiple votes by the same voter using different identities.

Second. While absentee mail-in ballots are available (and necessary) upon request to those who are unable to appear in person to vote by reason of distance (e.g., military service or employment requirements) or infirmity (the elderly or medically compromised), the system is wide open to potential fraud and misdirected ballots.

In 2018, “ballot harvesting,” the practice in which workers or volunteers collect absentee ballots and deliver them to polling places or the election office, became an issue in California. Questions and accusations arose concerning how much “help” those volunteers gave to the elderly or those less informed in completing their ballots.

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Whether any fraud was actually involved is irrelevant. The problem lies with the appearance, the ease with which ballot tampering could occur.

Third. Imagine dumping millions of mail-in ballots on the U.S. Postal Service for delivery to every registered voter on a given day. Then, remembering the unscrupulous characters who follow around UPS and FedEx trucks, stealing packages from porches where drivers leave them, it’s not a big leap to envision ballots stolen from mailboxes on the day of delivery. When the intended recipient finally realizes his ballot has not arrived and calls the Board of Elections, his ballot, complete with his name and signature on the return envelope, has already been received and tallied.

Fourth. Voting by mail could easily destroy the voter’s right to anonymity. The “secret ballot” is cherished by Americans because it’s a primary barrier to voter intimidation. When one votes in person, the completed ballot passes directly from the voter’s hands to the mechanical or digital reader or the locked ballot box where it is comingled with other ballots to be tallied after the polls close; no one else is privy to a particular voter’s preferences — no liaison between the voter and his ballot.

Stated succinctly, potential problems with mail-in voting abound, and American voters may want to consider if they are willing to risk ballot security and their right to a “secret ballot” for the sake of convenience. It’s not a matter of “trust,” it’s a matter of security — and awareness that open gates sometimes prove to be irresistible.

M.K. Sprinkle writes from Hampstead. Her column appears every other Saturday. Email her at sprinklemk@comcast.net.

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