Franke: Ballot Harvesting
by Mark Franke
One needs a sense of irony to read the news headlines these days. Or maybe a suspension of disbelief.
I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to follow the debate over voting issues in the upcoming election. Here’s my take:
The Democrats are convinced Donald Trump will order the Post Office to slow down delivery of mailed-in ballots, but apparently only in Democrat strongholds and thereby stealing the election.
The Republicans are equally convinced the Democrats will perpetrate massive voter fraud through illegal paper ballots, thereby stealing the election.
So it is a given that the election is going to be stolen but we get our choice as to which party will be the thief. Do the political and media elites really believe this? Probably they do. They have incarcerated themselves in an echo chamber of self-validation.
Will the Post Office struggle if 150 million paper ballots are mailed out to every eligible voter and then more than half of them, based on past voter turnout, are returned by first class mail? No doubt it will. Just look at what happens to the delivery infrastructure each December.
USPS has been bleeding red for years as it operates under antiquated rules and the curse of partisan congressional oversight. What would any other business which is losing billions of dollars annually do in that situation? Cut costs, for starters, look for efficiencies and focus on priority services. The USPS has been trying to do this over the past several years but suddenly these operational improvements are part of a conspiracy to affect the election’s outcome. Rational management does not a conspiracy make.
On the other hand, Republicans believe they have reason to fear massive vote-by-mail fraud. The Heritage Foundation database has over 1,000 proven cases of voter fraud logged, most with criminal convictions. Indiana’s entries in the list typically involve absentee ballot malfeasance. Here in Indiana, one can vote by mail by requesting an absentee ballot.
If Republicans have a voter fraud focus, it should be on ballot harvesting. Originally designed to allow family members to assist less-able voters as a convenience, it can serve as an effective “get out the vote” tool. But one must wonder about its susceptibility to misuse. Orange County in California has been a perennial Republican stronghold yet every one of its congressional seats was won by the Democrats in 2018. Typical mid-term losses for the incumbent party? Perhaps, but that county received a quarter million harvested ballots, some being returned in batches of 100 or more. Curiouser and curiouser, to quote Alice of Wonderland fame.
Behind all these schemes is an underlying principle that citizens in a democracy should vote. At risk of being burned at the stake for heresy, I ask why? My objection rests on two premises, one philosophical and the other practical.
If America is the land of the free, based on classical liberal principles of natural rights, shouldn’t one have the right to vote or not? How can voting be a freedom if it is played as a requirement of citizenship? If I am told I must vote, how free can I be?
The practical aspect of this is even more critical to our democracy. If I don’t care who wins or if I am too subsumed in other things in my life to research and analyze candidates, how is my vote helpful? Do we want uninformed, uncaring citizens making decisions like who should be the next president?
Perhaps there is something devious in this drive to “force” everyone to vote. Where would one expect to find pockets of large numbers of otherwise disinterested residents needing persuasion to vote? Where are the political machines most effective? Tammany Hall and Mayor Dailey would have found this tool quite handy in the iron-fisted control of their cities.
The Post Office has enough problems of its own and Congress’ making without being set up as the fall guy if Donald Trump is reelected. And our democracy absolutely requires that citizens have easy access to ballots, assuming they really want to cast their vote. Reasonable safeguards can be and have been put in place to protect the integrity of our elections. Effective, at least until overzealous federal judges interject themselves at the 11th hour.
Democracy isn’t meant to be effort free, but much of today’s foment is nothing more than self-inflicted pain. Could our deteriorating American ethos be attributable to the retrenchment in formal civics instruction in our public schools? One wonders.
When asked which is the greater threat to our country, ignorance or apathy, one wag responded, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” Pathetic? Or just one citizen exercising his freedom to live his life according to his own priorities? Where is the nobility in compelling such a person to vote? It certainly can’t advance the cause of good government which is why the right to vote is fundamental to our liberty when used by an informed citizenry.
Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar and of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.