Eric Shawn: Mail-in voting fraud warnings
A new case in New Jersey as disputed claims enter the presidential campaign.
Mail-in voting across the country has led to a series of anomalous results in recent weeks – including delayed, misplaced and missing ballots, a review by Fox News has found.
As the issues surfaced, Fox News obtained a copy of a recent U.S. Postal Service (USPS) memo sent to employees detailing budget-related cutbacks. Mark Dimondstein, the president of the America Postal Workers Union, told Fox News that the changes are significantly slowing down mail delivery, and that he is concerned about the impact it will have on mail-in ballots in November.
“Anytime the mail slows down, it's harder for the postal workers to serve the customers, whether it's a mail ballot or anything else," Dimondstein said. "So, again, we're just absolutely opposed to any effort to slow down mail, to delay mail. And that includes, obviously, for the ballots as well."
In the memo, the USPS says mail carriers may have to leave mail behind at distribution centers in order to make it on time to their delivery routes.
"One aspect of these changes that may be difficult for employees is that – temporarily – we may see mail left behind or mail on the workroom floor or docks (in P&DCs), which is not typical," the memo reads.
In this May 5, 2020, file photo, Jordan Smellie moves absentee ballots to be counted at City Hall in Garden City, Mich. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
The memo continues: "We will address root causes of these delays and adjust the very next day. Any mail left behind must be properly reported, and employees should ensure this action is taken with integrity and accuracy. This is a critical time for us, when decisive, quick and meaningful action is needed."
USPS assured Fox News in a statement that mail-in ballots wouldn't be compromised: "The Postal Service is committed to delivering election mail in a timely manner … the Postal Service’s financial condition is not going to impact our ability to process and deliver election and political mail," the statement read.
However, USPS has experienced rising delays during the coronavirus pandemic, and numerous sources tell Fox News that the Chicago USPS international processing center suffers from mailing delays of several months. A test package sent by Fox News that was routed through the Chicago processing center has been held up for five weeks and counting. In a statement, the USPS inspector general said more information may be forthcoming in September; the USPS itself offered no explanation.
Republicans have cautioned that the risks are clear. Last week, the GOP notched a major win in a Florida election integrity dispute, and the party says its well-funded efforts are ongoing.
“States that abruptly transitioned to a vote-by-mail system saw elections plagued by fraud and infrastructure and logistical nightmares, which should be a clear and ominous warning ahead of November," RNC national press secretary Mandi Merritt told Fox News. "Democrats’ plot to rapidly implement nationwide vote by mail is a recipe for disaster, disenfranchisement and massive dysfunction in our elections."
Democrats counter that security concerns are overblown and that enhanced ballot access is a worthy tradeoff in any event. "Election officials spend a great deal of our time building in security measures," Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, told NPR last month. "The idea that people could print millions of ballots either within the country or external to the country, just on its face, is not going to pass muster with an election official."
The following is a state-by-state rundown of major isues that have been detected with mail-in balloting this year alone.
New Jersey: ‘Massive computer issues, genuine scandal’
The New Jersey Globe reported in June that "massive computer issues and U.S. Postal Service delays" meant that thousands of residents wouldn't receive their ballots until after the state's July 7 primary.
The paper found that the Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS) was "crashing several times a day for the last few days, leaving local election officials without the ability to process thousands of vote-by-mail ballots just 11 days before the New Jersey primary election."
The series of problems led Division of Elections director Bob Giles to tell election officials to "stop processing ballot requests because of network overloads," according to the Globe.
And, in May, experts said a "genuine absentee ballot fraud scandal" was underway following the May 12 New Jersey city council election. Thousands of ballots were disqualified because signatures on the ballots didn't match with those on file – and, perhaps more concerning, records showed that several thousand mail-in ballots were received but not counted.
"Videos are surfacing online of a single voter carrying numerous ballots," read one NBC report. "Postal workers were seen leaving some ballots sitting out in building lobbies.”
The NBC report noted that Ramona Javier complained that she was recorded as voting, when in fact she had not.
"We did not receive vote-by-mail ballots and thus we did not vote," she told NBC, which then showed her an official list of people who had voted on her block – a list that contained her name.
"This is corruption. This is fraud," Javier said, adding that "there are eight relatives and immediate neighbors she knows of listed as having voted – but who insist they never even received ballots, including one relative who she says has been in Florida for weeks.”
Election law experts sounded the alarm, and Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh warned that so-called "ballot stuffing" may have occurred.
"This is corruption. This is fraud."
“There is a genuine absentee ballot fraud scandal going on in Paterson,” election law expert and University of California-Irvine School of Law professor Rick Hasen said. Hasen wrote: "When someone tries an absentee ballot scheme like this clumsy attempt in Paterson, it is hard to hide. People get caught.”
RealClearInvestigation's Mark Hemingway reported in June that "following accusations of widespread fraud, voter intimidation and ballot theft in the May 12 municipal elections in Paterson, N.J., state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced Thursday he is charging four men with voter fraud – including the vice president of the City Council and a candidate for that body."
More than 3,190 votes, constituting 19 percent of the total ballots cast, were "disqualified by the board of elections," Hemingway noted.
West Virginia: Postman admits altering ballots
Earlier this month, the Justice Department announced that Thomas Cooper, a mail carrier in Pendleton County, admitted to election fraud.
Cooper "held a U.S. Postal Service contract to deliver mail in Pendleton County," the DOJ said. "In April 2020, the clerk of Pendleton County received '2020 Primary Election COVID-19 Mail-In Absentee Request' forms from eight voters on which the voter's party-ballot request appeared to have been altered."
After the clerk reported the finding to the West Virginia secretary of state’s office, an investigation "found five ballot requests that had been altered from 'Democrat' to 'Republican,'" the DOJ said. "On three other requests, the party wasn’t changed, but the request had been altered."
A United States Post Office mail truck (USPS) parked in Miami, Florida
Recent research from Stanford University indicates that mail-in balloting may have neutral partisan effect, and that overall vote shares wouldn't be significantly different.
"Our paper has a clear takeaway: Claims that vote-by-mail fundamentally advantages one party over the other appear overblown," researchers said. However, deliberate fraud in key districts could alter their conclusions.
California: 100K ballots rejected
More than 100,000 mail-in ballots were rejected by California election officials during the March presidential primary, according to data obtained by The Associated Press in July, highlighting a glaring gap in the state’s effort to ensure every vote is counted.
The California secretary of state’s election data showed 102,428 mail-in ballots were disqualified in the state’s 58 counties, about 1.5 percent of the nearly 7 million mail-in ballots returned. That percentage is the highest in a primary since 2014, and the overall number is the highest in a statewide election since 2010.
Two years ago, the national average of rejected mail ballots in the general election was about 1.4 percent and in the 2016 presidential election year it was 1 percent, according to a U.S. Election Assistance Commission study.
The most common problem, by far, in California was missing the deadline for the ballot to be mailed and arrive. To count in the election, ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received within three days afterward. Statewide, 70,330 ballots missed those marks.
What is ballot harvesting?
Ballot harvesting has drawn bipartisan concerns of fraud from election watchers but not every state is trying to stop the practice.
An additional 27,525 either didn’t have a signature, or the signature didn’t match the one on record for the voter.
Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation that seeks to improve elections, called the uncounted figure discouraging.
“The only thing worse than people not voting is people attempting to vote and having their ballot uncounted,” she said. The tally of nullified votes “can make a difference in a close contest.”
The data didn’t break down the uncounted ballots by party registration. While the overall number was large in March, if it’s the same in November it’s unlikely to affect the presidential race – Trump lost to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 4.3 million votes.
But there are expected to be at least several tightly contested U.S. House races where relatively few votes could tip the balance. In 2018, Democrat TJ Cox upset Republican David Valadao by less than 1,000 votes in a Central Valley district. They have a rematch in November.
New York: ‘Scattered problems’
The New York Times reported in June that systemic issues forced many voters to show up at polling places because they simply never received mail-in ballots.
“With many people reluctant to vote in person, or unable to because they have relocated, roughly 765,000 absentee ballots were distributed in the city, according to data released by the New York City Board of Elections," the paper reported. "Yet many people interviewed at polling stations said they were forced to vote in person because they never received absentee ballots that they had requested.”
Indeed, the "overwhelming majority of calls received through the state attorney general’s voting hotline leading up to Tuesday’s primary were from voters who applied for an absentee ballot but had not received it," the paper observed. "More than three weeks after the New York primaries, election officials have not yet counted an untold number of mail-in absentee ballots, leaving numerous closely watched races unresolved, including two key Democratic congressional contests. The absentee ballot count — greatly inflated this year after the state expanded the vote-by-mail option because of the coronavirus pandemic — has been painstakingly slow, and hard to track, with no running account of the vote totals available.”
The president’s view
In May, Twitter slapped a warning label on one of President Trump's tweets for the first time, cautioning readers that despite the president's claims, "fact-checkers" say there is "no evidence" that expanded, nationwide mail-in voting would increase fraud risks – and that "experts say mail-in ballots are very rarely linked to voter fraud."
Twitter's new warning label was issued even though a Twitter spokesperson acknowledged to Fox News that Trump's tweet had not broken any of the platform's rules, and even though several experts have called mail-in balloting an invitation to widespread fraud.
"Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud," read the conclusion of a bipartisan 2005 report authored by the Commission on Federal Election Reform, which was chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker.
"Twitter 'fact-checkers' really suck," wrote Dan Bongino, a Fox News contributor. He linked to a 2012 article in The New York Times headlined, "Error and Fraud at Issue as Absentee Voting Rises." The article states that "votes cast by mail are less likely to be counted, more likely to be compromised and more likely to be contested than those cast in a voting booth, statistics show."
Separately, GOP chairwoman Ronna McDaniel observed that Alabama's secretary of state, John Merrill, told CNN earlier in the day that five of the six voter fraud convictions during his tenure related to absentee balloting.
Fox News has reported that Twitter's "Head of Site Integrity" Yoel Roth is in charge of fact-checking efforts – and that he has previously referred to Trump and his team as "ACTUAL NAZIS," mocked Trump supporters by saying that "we fly over those states that voted for a racist tangerine for a reason," and called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a "personality-free bag of farts."
Fox News' Hillary Vaughn and Alex Nerska and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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