Brad Smith, the Josiah H. Blackmore II/Shirley M. Nault Professor of Law at Capital University Law School in Ohio, is an expert on federal election law (having served as chairman of the Federal Election Commission at one point), and moreover a certified Power Line reader. He has a good Twitter thread up today on the matter of early- and mail-in voting that is sober and sensible:
I believe that we should have options for absentee and early in-person voting for those who need them. However, voting on election day should be the presumptive norm.
Here’s why we should be discouraging absentee voting and encouraging in-person voting on election day:
Absentee balloting is more prone to fraud. Fraud is rare, but it is more common among absentee ballots. Absentee ballots are more likely to be rejected due to voter error. Most ballots will be counted, but there is a higher rejection rate for absentee ballots.
People who vote in person report a higher degree of confidence in the legitimacy of the election and electoral results. Early voting and no-fault absentee voting have not been shown to increase turnout. Absentee balloting creates greater opportunities for coercion, intimidation, and influence, and can jeopardize the secret ballot.
Early in-person voting creates more opportunities for misconduct (deliberate or accidental) by election officials and increases the burden of protecting ballots and voting equipment from tampering or damage. It places extra pressure on chain of custody procedures.
Early voting raises the costs of campaigning with little or no corresponding benefit.
It is good for voting to be a public act (secret ballot, but public act). It is good for us to have a day where we come together to participate in the great act of self-governance.
“A person who must go out of his or her way to vote is likelier to pause for reflection. A voter who stands in line with his or her fellow citizens at a polling place is likelier to keep their needs—and, more important, the common good—in mind.” – Greg Weiner.
Again, we should have options for absentee and early in-person voting for those who need them. However, voting on election day should be the presumptive norm.
UPDATE—Several people on Twitter and also in our comment thread were curious about sources for each of Brad’s claims, so today he has offered a follow-up Tweet thread that we are happy to reproduce here:
Yesterday I tweeted out a number of reasons why we should encourage in-person voting. Some demanded sources for certain propositions. So here goes: /1
Absentee balloting is more prone to fraud. CALTECH/MIT VOTING TECH. PROJECT, VOTING: WHAT IS, WHAT COULD BE (2001); UNITED STATES ELECTORAL ASSISTANCE COMMISSION, AN INITIAL REVIEW AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE STUDY (2006) /2
COMMISSION ON FEDERAL ELECTION REFORM, BUILDING CONFIDENCE IN U.S. ELECTIONS (2005); Am. L. Inst, PRINCIPLES OF ELECTION Law ADMIN.: NON-PRECINCT VOTING AND RESOL. OF BALLOT COUNTING DISPS. (2019); Stephanie Saul & Reid J. Epstein, NY TIMES Sep. 28, 2020 /3
Adam Liptak, Error and Fraud at Issue as Absentee Voting Rises, N.Y. TIMES (Oct. 6, 2012); Richard L. Hasen, A Détente Before the Election, N.Y. TIMES (Aug. 5, 2012) /4
Absentee ballots are more likely to be rejected due to voter error. Source: Pew Research Center, Most mail and provisional ballots got counted in past U.S. elections – but many did not, Nov. 10, 2020. [You can also just look at numbers–this one is pretty obvious] /5
People who vote in person report a higher degree of confidence in the legitimacy of the election and electoral results.
Sources: 70 J. POL. 754, 761-62 (2008); 40 POL. SCI. & POL. 655 (2003); 62 POL. RES. Q. 507 (2009); 38 J. ELEC. STUDIES 1 (2015) /6
Early voting and no-fault absentee voting have not been shown to increase turnout. Sources: 58 AM. J. POL. SCI. 95 (2014); 40 Political Sci. & Pol. 639 (2007); GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE, ISSUES RELATING TO REGISTERING VOTERS AND ADMINISTERING ELECTIONS 97 (2016) /7
The fact that you may have had a good experience with absentee voting (as have I) doesn’t change the fact that overall, absentee voting leads to higher rates of fraud, more rejected ballots, & lower confidence in electoral results, nor does it increase voter turnout. /8
And that’s before we get to the intangibles I noted–that voting in-person likely improves our civic life in a variety of ways.
As noted before, we should have options for absentee and in-person early voting for those who need them. We should also assure that polling places and hours are plenty and convenient. So that it’s easier to vote in person.