Dr Harvey Schantz, a political science professor at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, has shared his views on the matter.
Sputnik: Following accusations of widespread fraud, voter intimidation, and ballot theft in the 12 May municipal elections in Paterson, N.J., the state's Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal on Thursday announced that he is charging four men with voter fraud. What does this tell us about the overall situation and concerns raised over mail-in ballots?
Dr Harvey Schantz: Care must be taken to verify the honesty of every vote that is counted and in a closely decided election a recount with further scrutiny of all ballots is necessary and this job is more difficult for mail-in ballots. One of the advantages of the electoral college system is that it limits the impact of fraudulent voting to the state in which it occurred. So say, there was fraudulent voting in the City of Paterson, to use the current controversy as an example, this would only affect the electoral votes of New Jersey. Nevertheless fraud in a presidential election is a potential problem because an election may turn on the outcome in a single state.
Sputnik: New Jersey Deputy Assembly Speaker Benjie Wimberly claimed that voting booths should be open for elections, adding that if people can shop in supermarkets and liquor stores using checkout machines, they can do it for elections too. Would you agree with this assessment? Should in-person voting be ensured in order to have a transparent election process?
Dr Harvey Schantz: I agree with this assessment, in-person voting is a valued tradition in American politics and every voter needs the opportunity to cast an in-person ballot. But reforms have been needed to supplement voting on a single Election Day, notably early voting, very helpful to those who have to work on the day of the election. In a time of a coronavirus pandemic, it is reasonable for voters to have the opportunity to vote by mail. It is easier for a person to skip an election than it is to skip a few days of groceries.
Sputnik: As the issue of mail-in ballots remains controversial, how will people react if we see the continuation of flaws in the process? Won’t this somehow lead to a lack of trust among voters?
Dr Harvey Schantz: In the 2016 presidential exit poll, 83 percent of voters were “confident in the vote count”. Pew research found this confidence continuing through at least 2018. But in 2018, the national House exit poll found over a third of voters more concerned with the casting of “illegitimate votes”, while over one half were more concerned with some people being “prevented from voting”. It is thus very important that mail-in voting be allowed and be properly supervised to assuage both of these fears.
Sputnik: To what extent can these flaws in mail-in ballots still produce a great deal of uncertainty in a national election?
Dr Harvey Schantz: Mail-in ballots prolong the time that it takes to finalise the results of an election because they are counted after Election Day and this introduces the question of whether the absentee ballots will change the outcome of the election or whether they reflect the votes cast at the polls. Uncertainty, I suppose, could be introduced by questioning the validity of the mail-ins if they proved decisive, but this has not been the usual course of events. Uncertainty in the outcome of elections, also, has not been limited to mail-in ballots, as demonstrated by the Florida recount in the 2000 election and the difficulty in counting the vote in the Democratic 2020 Iowa caucuses.
Sputnik: This issue has raised a partisan division between Republicans and Democrats. President Trump has repeatedly raised concerns over voting by mail. There has been a heightened interest in voting by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic, as Democrats have backed it as an alternative to standing in line at polling places. Who stands to gain the most from large-scale mail-in voting?
Dr Harvey Schantz: One of the long-held beliefs in American elections is that a high turnout election helps the Democrats and a low turnout election helps the Republicans, so much so that many commentators and politicians believe that rain on Election Day by making it more uncomfortable to vote, helps the Republicans.
Mail-in voting is a reform intended to increase voter turnout by making it more convenient to vote by reducing the effort needed to vote, rather than going to a polling station and waiting in line, voters can merely mail in their ballots.
Mail-in voting, along with the related convenience voting reforms such as early voting and same-day registration, has long been viewed as helping the Democratic Party because it has historically been presumed to draw more support than the Republican Party from voters with less formal education, those least likely to vote, and therefore the voting bloc that would turn out more if it were easier to vote.
The new tie between non-college degree white voters and Republican voting suggests that mail-in voting, by drawing in voters without a college degree, may offer some additional votes for the Republican Party.
Mail-in voting will increase overall turnout. Democrats will gain among younger voters, who according to a national Quinnipiac Poll of June 18, are the most in support of this voting reform and will also increase among less enthusiastic voters, both of these groups would work to the advantage of the Democrats.
Sputnik: Florida Democrats have gained a vote-by-mail advantage in terms of enrolment, an edge that could pay big dividends in President Donald Trump’s newly adopted must-win state. How does this further exacerbate the current battle between former VP Biden and Donald Trump, as recent polls show that Biden is leading in most key states?
Dr Harvey Schantz: Florida has been exceedingly competitive in presidential elections during the 21st century, indeed, the 2000 presidential election was decided for Republican George W. Bush by a 537-vote margin in Florida, which gave him the state’s 25 electoral votes, allowing him to win with 271 electoral votes - only one more than the required 270.
In 2020, Florida has 29 electoral votes, tied with New York for the third largest haul, and is crucial for Trump. While the current numbers do not look promising for the Republicans in Florida, with Democrats leading in enrolment for mail-in voting and Biden leading Trump in the horse race polls, the state has yet to be decided, because in 2016 Trump was trailing in the polls at this point and actually trailed in the voting before Election Day.