GOP Undercuts Vote-Security Push by Going Light on the Security

Republican lawmakers in 47 states have proposed measures to tighten voting laws in the name of electoral integrity, but some of them omit steps that security experts say would do the most to protect elections from equipment malfunctions, fraud, hacking or terrorism.

While state lawmakers are largely focused on limiting vote-by-mail, people who study and run elections say they should be considering steps such as automatically registering voters, expanding early voting, using ID numbers to verify mail-in ballots, distributing more ballot drop boxes and processing mail-in ballots before Election Day.

“It’s unfortunate that so many administrative processes that really make elections go more smoothly and accurately have become so polarized on partisan lines,” said Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican.

Georgia recently passed a controversial law that cuts voting days and limits ballot drop boxes, two steps voting rights experts say are counterproductive. But they also enacted a more generous voter ID requirement for mail-in ballots and sped up processing of ballots, two steps that experts recommend.

Meanwhile, Republican-led Kentucky has expanded early voting and sped up ballot processing, while Maine sped up ballot processing. But dozens of other bills are still being actively considered that would limit early and mail-in voting or make other changes to election laws that experts say either won’t work or is unnecessary.

There is little evidence that fraud is widespread in either in-person or mail-in voting, but elections security experts say there are measures that can make elections systems more resilient to it or other unexpected problems without making them less accessible.

Here is a look at what they say works:

Keeping good voter lists

Voter rolls become cluttered over time with the names of people who have died or moved away. The trick is keeping the lists accurate and up-to-date without removing eligible voters.

What is proposed: At least 50 bills have been proposed that would cull voter rolls in ways that could cut legal voters as well. Under a new Iowa law, local elections officials could face criminal prosecution for not removing ineligible voters. The Georgia law allows anyone to propose mass challenges to voter eligibility in county clerk’s offices.

What works: Automatic voter registration, in which citizens are registered to vote or have their registrations updated when they interact with state agencies such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, is recommended by experts as a simple fix.

Experts also recommend states cross-check their voter lists with other states to avoid duplication when someone moves. The Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonprofit that has allowed states to cross-check over 17 million voter records since 2012, is used in 30 states and the District of Columbia.

How and when ballots are cast

Republicans began pushing back against measures to expand early and absentee voting that were put in place during the pandemic after roughly half of ballots cast in 2020 were mailed in. Former President Donald Trump slammed the increased use of absentee balloting, calling the system ripe for fraud and arguing that it boosts Democratic chances, but there is no evidence of either.

What is proposed: At least 190 bills have been proposed to restrict vote-by-mail in some way and at least 25 to cut back on early voting. Six bills plus newly signed laws in Georgia and Iowa limit the use of ballot drop boxes in the name of security.

What works: By expanding early voting and vote-by-mail options and distributing drop boxes to return ballots, states can ease stress on the entire system and build in redundancies.

GOP Undercuts Vote-Security Push by Going Light on the Security

Clint Watts, a researcher at the Foreign Policy Research Institute who studies foreign interference in elections, said that U.S. elections have traditionally been vulnerable to attack or interference because of the emphasis on a single day of voting every two to four years.

With larger windows for voting, many people would have already voted before an attack and elections officials could spot problems like altered voter files with weeks still left to correct them.

“If everything comes down to one moment, one day and one method of voting, your system is going to be less resilient,” he said.

Verifying who is voting

States use a variety of methods to verify that a mail-in ballot was cast by the right person, including requiring a signature from the voter which may be compared to one on file, signatures of one or two witnesses or even a public notary, or an ID number.

What is proposed: The Georgia law moves away from signature matching toward a standard used by states like Minnesota: requiring the voter write a driver’s license number, state ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number on a sealed flap on the ballot envelope. Eight other bills have been proposed that would add or change ID requirements for mail-in ballots.

What works: Experts say trying to match signatures is subjective and leads to higher numbers of young, Black and Hispanic voters having their ballots rejected. They recommend using ID numbers and giving voters alternatives if they do not have a driver’s license.

Counting ballots

Mail-in ballots require some preparation before they can be counted, including verifying the voter, removing the secrecy envelope and flattening the ballot for processing. Some states bar local officials from touching ballots at all until polls close, but this is one area where states are moving toward efficiency.

What is proposed: New laws in Georgia, Maine and Kentucky allow elections officers to start processing ballots earlier. Thirteen other bills have been proposed that would do the same.

What works: Getting a jump on the process early allows local officials to spot problems and give voters more time to correct them. It also allows for much faster vote counting and quicker results after polls close on Election Day.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.