[I am not authorized to speak for my employer; everything in this post comes from personal experience. I am solely responsible for the content herein.]
I’ve watched a lot of political coverage this year. A LOT.
Lately, Donald Trump has claimed that if he does not win it will be because the election was rigged. Republicans across the country have yelled that fraud is rampant, so you need to curtail early voting and require ID from a list that enfranchises gun owners and disenfranchises minorities and students.
But election fraud of the type that these laws purport to prevent is rare — you are more likely to be struck by lightning than to have committed voter fraud. News outlets, mostly (excepting Fox News) have done a decent job of reporting this.
It does not matter. Republicans insist that it is necessary to outlaw out of precinct voting, and reduce early voting days and institute onerous ID requirements.. (After the Shelby County v. Holder decision gutting the Voting Rights Act, the North Carolina legislatures wasted no time in putting in place restrictions that would impact African-American communities with “almost surgical precision,” according to Judge Diana Gribbon Motz of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.)
Telling people exactly how rare voter fraud is matters. But what may matter more is telling voters why voter fraud of the type these laws purport to prevent doesn’t happen.
I live in a state which tries to enfranchise people as much as possible, and to make it as easy as possible for people to cast ballots. More pertinently, I worked in the elections division of a neighboring county.
When you go to the polls, you have to sign the poll book. This is a list of everyone who is registered to vote in that precinct, and who has not been sent a vote-by-mail ballot. You sign, you go to a booth and fill out a paper ballot or use an electronic voting machine. (In California, electric voting machines also have paper trails.) If you have been sent a vote-by-mail ballot, you can surrender it and vote at the polls. If you do not live in that precinct or for some other reason (such as not being registered) do not appear in the book, you fill out a provisional ballot.
Ah, the mystical provisional ballots. Bernie Sanders supporters held on for weeks claiming that provisionals were disposed of. No doubt, this is the mechanism by which Trump supporters believe the election could be rigged: people going about casting provisionals right and left.
The Bernie supporters were wrong: the provisional ballots do get counted. They don’t get counted election night, however. And they aren’t counted without being investigated first.
Provisional ballots are checked against the computer to see if the voter cast a ballot at a different precinct. If, so, the provisional isn’t counted. They are checked against the vote by mail ballots, and if the voter mailed in a valid vote by mail ballot, the provisional is not counted. They are checked against the voter rolls, to make sure that the voter is even registered to vote in the county.
Someone could go around precinct to precinct and cast provisional after provisional, and it would have no effect on the outcome of the election whatsoever. All the ballots cast after the initial one would be invalidated.
None of those franchise restriction laws would change the level of fraud one way or another, because carrying off such a fraud in numbers sufficient to impact a race would be impossible.
All those laws do is make it more difficult for people — at least people who are poor, or elderly, or minority — to vote. Didn’t we deal with this years ago? Apparently not.
Or maybe we did, and for the Republicans, that’s the problem.