- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 17, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Until the 1980s, the majority of American voters — save for those facing the most dire of extenuating circumstances — had to physically travel to the polls to cast their ballots, and they had to do so on Election Day itself.

We need to get back to those times.

It would help put a stop to the type of election mayhem we’re currently experiencing with these most recent midterms.

First, some history.

Decades ago, voting rights activists successfully won over certain states, beginning with Texas, to adopt policies that opened access to easier early voting. Their argument? That it would increase voter turnout.

Well, guess what. That’s not panned out as planned.

“Study: Early voting associated with lower turnout,” reported Pew Research Center in September of 2013, citing a study released that same year from the University of Wisconsin.

And in 2009, there was this report from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “The Turnout Effects of Early Voting, Election Day Registration, and Same Day Registration in the 2008 Presidential Election,” that found: “[W]hile some reform practices increase turnout, others have little effect. Most importantly, we find that the most popular proposal — early voting — actually decreases turnout.”

In the meanwhile, convenience voting has exploded.

Consider this, from the National Conference of State Legislatures: In 37 states and the District of Columbia, “any qualified voter may cast a ballot in person during a designated period prior to Election Day. No excuse or justification is required.”

Can’t take a time-out from grocery shopping to stop by the polling place on the designated day to vote? No worries.

The total number of Americans who voted early or who cast absentee or mail-in ballots rose from 24.9 million in 2004 to 57.2 million in 2016, according to an October 2017 report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The total number of Americans who voted early almost doubled between 2004 and 2016, from 10.2 million to 24.1 million, according to this same report. And by 2016, the EAC found, the trend toward bypassing the physical voting polls on the designated voting day had escalated to such a point that 16 states reported more than 50 percent of the ballots came by way of early, absentee or mail-in voting.

Here’re some more shockers: Nearly 95 percent of Colorado voters cast ballots early, by mail and with an absentee allowance in 2016. For Arizona, the percentage that same year was 75; for Washington and Oregon, almost 98 percent and 100 percent, respectively; for Nevada, more than 69 percent; for Florida, just over 68 percent.

The list goes on.

What’s happening is that voting is becoming about as humdrum as picking up the take-out from Peking Chinese.

What’s happening, too, is chaos.

“[One] question surrounding [Voting By Mail] is whether it increases voter fraud,” MIT’s Election Lab wrote. “There are two major features of VBM that raise these concerns. First, the ballot is cast outside the public eye, and thus the opportunities for coercion and voter impersonation are greater. Second, the transmission path for VBM ballots is not as secure as traditional in-person ballots. These concerns relate both to ballots being intercepted and ballots being requested without the voter’s permission.”

Don’t scoff. It happens.

As MIT cites, in March of 1997, the New York Times reported how Georgia’s lax absentee voting laws enabled “dozens [to vote] despite felony convictions that made it illegal for them to cast ballots.” The same newspaper reported a year later, in October of 1998, that “18 Are Arrested in 1997 Miami Ballot Fraud” on allegations they were “acting as false witnesses to the signing of absentee ballots cast in the mayoral elections.”

Democrats in particular like to pretend that election shenanigans don’t occur, that voter identification laws are discriminatory and senseless, and that mail-in, absentee and early voting allowances are crucial to the counting of every vote, as they like to say.

But stretching out Election Day into Election Week, or Election Month — and ultimately, to the inevitable courtroom Candidate A v. Candidate B drama — doesn’t seem to serve voters, citizens, the country or the Constitution.

Rather, it leads to disenchantment with the whole voting process.

It leads to such scenarios as this, reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Election officials across Georgia must revise their election results to include absentee ballots that were rejected solely because of a missing or incorrect date of birth, according to … Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden.”

Sigh.

Perhaps had these voters voted in-person, they wouldn’t have handed in improper ballots that, by law, were automatically voided. Perhaps they would’ve asked for and received the ballot assistance they obviously so desperately needed.

It’s one thing to want to help the handicapped and overseas-deployed members of the military to cast their votes. It’s another thing entirely to change voting laws to accommodate personal conveniences and yes, laziness. And it’s another level of outrage completely to change voting laws to accommodate those who do take advantage of the conveniences of early, absentee and mail-in voting, but then can’t manage to properly fill out their ballot.

Let’s remember: Voting is a citizen’s right — but it’s also a privilege. It’s not something to be taken lightly: it’s not supposed to be something that’s simply done as a matter of convenience to the voter.

It’s a somber, supposedly thoughtful act of patriotic duty that carries with it the weight of law and order, the potential to shape the republic, and the possibility to buoy — or bend and break — both spirit and soul of the Constitution.

This decades-tried experiment called easy early and absentee voting isn’t working. It’s time to reel it in and return to the time when only those with provable needs can vote off-site. Letting this layer of accountability and protection back into the election process will do a world of good toward making Election Day, once again, truly, a single election day.

• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter, @ckchumley.


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