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Stanford political groups discuss integrity of vote-by-mail

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As the country approaches its November general election, politicians from both major political parties, along with political experts and the general public, have raised concerns about voting challenges during a pandemic.

The need for public safety measures like social distancing has made traditional in-person voting challenging. With many people choosing not to wear masks and the limited space at polling places, the risk of contracting COVID-19 is high — especially for the poll workers, who will be in contact with many people on that day.

“Poll workers are less willing to work in [polling stations],” said Kevin Li ’22 co-president of the Stanford Democrats. “[The work] consists of sitting there for 14 hours, coming into close contact with hundreds of different people over the course of a day.”

Due to the risk of COVID-19, the number of polling station workers has decreased substantially.

“Because we haven’t been able to find enough qualified poll workers, so many polling stations have been removed,” said Li. “The limited space for social distancing has caused the lines at some polling stations to be extraordinarily long.”

Trump has suggested delaying the election until it is safer for Americans to vote in-person. The possibility of voter fraud from mail-in-voting is the driving factor for Trump’s strong opposition to vote-by-mail.

“Fraud is easier when we vote by mail,” wrote Walker Stewart, treasurer of the Stanford College Republicans, in an email to The Daily. “In New Jersey, there was massive fraud in a city election a few months ago; we can’t afford to have this happen in November. The mail simply isn’t reliable enough to fully conduct an election of this scale.”

A new local election was recently ordered after a New Jersey judge ruled that the election “was not the fair, free and full expression of the intent of the voters.” Even so, election experts have said that it is misleading to use the New Jersey case to discredit mail-in voting because election fraud is extremely rare and, when it does happen, like in New Jersey, it is easily detectable.

Trump tweeted that if mail-in voting were allowed, the 2020 election would be “totally rigged.” He and some vote-by-mail critics believe it creates an advantage for the Democratic Party.

“It depends on the implementation,” Stewart wrote. “As long as there is bipartisan support for a vote-by-mail regime it would likely not provide a partisan advantage, but my general concerns about widespread voting by mail still remain. The possibility of partisan postal workers (especially considering their union recently endorsed Mr. Biden) tampering with ballots is also a concern of mine.”

The Stanford Democrats feel differently about the possibility of vote-by-mail fraud. 

“Voting by mail is a positive force in every election, as we have seen in both Democratic- and Republican-led states who have previously engaged in universal vote-by-mail,” Li said. “There is no evidence whatsoever of widespread voter fraud.”

A recent analysis of vote-by-mail ballot fraud by political science professor Andrew Hall explained that there is a minuscule risk of fraud and that vote-by-mail creates no partisan advantage.

“Universal vote-by-mail does not appear to tilt turnout towards the Democratic party,” Hall wrote in his vote-by-mail report. “What we found is that ruling out universal vote-by-mail did not convey any partisan advantage to one party or another.”

Hall also addressed the concern of people mailing ballots that do not belong to them.

“The idea that the ballots are mailed out and there are lots of mistakes that go through is a common misconception,” Hall said at a recent webinar held by the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences. “The states take lots of precautions to try to prevent this.”

The Stanford Democrats and the Stanford College Republicans agree people’s safety is a top priority. Most states will continue to have limited polling places open for in-person voting.

Contact Clyde John at CJTNiles ‘at’ gmail.com.

This article has been corrected to reflect that the student group representing the Democratic Party on campus is called Stanford Democrats. A previous version of the article referred to the group as Stanford College Democrats. The Daily regrets this error.

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Clyde was a high school intern for The Daily in summer 2019.