Don’t Send Unsolicited Ballots If You Can’t Avoid Sending Them to Dead People

Elections
A Priority Mail Express collection bin is seen near the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., August 22, 2020. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Trump has a line he’s been using about the dangers of mail-in voting: The problem isn’t absentee ballots that voters request specifically; the problem is in the nine states (plus D.C.) sending “unsolicited” ballots to all registered voters.

The fact-checkers always run wild when he talks about this stuff, and it doesn’t help that he tosses in over-the-top allegations of fraud. Voter fraud does happen, but it generally seems pretty rare; anyone who does it commits a crime, and states have safeguards, such as signature checks, to make sure mail-in ballots were filled out by the right person.

Still, there’s a germ of a point in there. Voter-registration lists aren’t always cleaned up as well as they should be, so there’s a constant flow of anecdotes about people getting ballots they shouldn’t — for example, where the intended recipient is dead or now lives elsewhere. That does not inspire faith in our elections, even if these ballots are hardly ever cast.

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NJ.com had a piece this month about the situation in the Garden State, reporting that “some ballots have gone out to people who moved out of state, some family members have received ballots for relatives who have died, while others have received duplicate ballots with the same name, voters and election officials said.” Folks in Washington, D.C., are getting ballots intended for former residents of their homes; dead people are getting ballots in California. Other states are sending unsolicited ballot applications, with similar results. The problem seems widespread enough that lots of voters are hearing about it not just on the news but personally; I’ve heard a few stories this year myself from various acquaintances.

The headline of an August Washington Post story was “Yes, tons of ballots are sent to dead people. Trump shouldn’t worry about them.” That’s not reassuring. To the contrary, “tons” of ballots’ being sent to dead people gives the impression that opportunities to cast extra votes are everywhere. What’s wrong with having people request a ballot for each election they intend to vote in, rather than just sending them out willy-nilly?

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