op-ed

At Real Clear Politics: COVID-19 Danger at the Polls Is Exaggerated

13 May , 2020  

Dr. John Lott had a new piece at Real Clear Politics on the continued push for mail-in ballots because of the Coronavirus

“No Californian should be forced to risk their health in order to exercise their right to vote,” warns California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Last Friday, he signed an executive order mandating every registered voter in California receive a mail-in ballot for the November presidential election.

In the age of the Coronavirus, Democrats nationwide have pushed mail-in ballots over concerns that in-person voting risks Americans getting sick. Democrats in Congress want to send an additional $4 billion to states to fund mail-in voting and help conduct elections. That is on top of last month’s stimulus package already including $400 million to assist states conduct elections. Last month a group of powerful Democrat representatives issued a statement warning that public health concerns “could result in depressed voter turnout.”

Republicans are pushing back. They point to the hundreds of thousands of errors in California’s voter rolls. An audit of 3 million voter registration files in 2018 found 83,684 duplicate registrations. The state has no ideahow many non-citizens have been accidentally registered to vote as a result of its  automatic voter registration system. Unless someone opts out, the system enrolls everyone when they register their car or get a driver’s license.

It isn’t unusual to find impossibly large numbers of people living at the same address. In 2016, 83 registered voters in San Pedro, Calif., received absentee ballots at the same small two-bedroom apartment. A neighbor in that election received absentee ballots for 87 registered voters. Authorities rarely pursue this type of case.

Concerns about what the Coronavirus means for in-person voting are understandable, but they’ve been blown way out of proportion.  Wisconsin serves as an example. Unlike the decision in more than a dozen other states, on April 7, Wisconsin had an in-person vote. Wisconsin Democrats tried and failed to change the election at the last minute into an exclusively mail-in affair, but the Republican state legislative majorities went to the state Supreme Court and kept the polls open. 

The vote didn’t have the disastrous outcome many predicted. A full 22 days after the vote, officials reported 52 people who had worked or voted in the Wisconsin election had COVID-19. But that doesn’t mean they all caught the virus at the polls. With the average incubation period for the disease being nearly six days, it is interesting to note that a different media outlet reported there were only 19such cases 14 days after the vote.

It’s clearly an exaggeration to say 52 voters were infected because they voted in person.

So the obvious question is: what is the infection rate? Over 1.55 million Wisconsinites voted in the presidential primaries, with 1 million using mail-in ballots and 550,000 voting in person. Those numbers exclude people who didn’t vote for one of the presidential candidates, but instead only voted in other races such as the hotly contested state Supreme Court race. Nor does 550,000 account for the roughly up to 80 to 100 poll workers and 30 National Guard members at each of the 4,050 polling places that day.

A conservative estimate puts the number of people at the polls April 7 at 750,000.  Even assuming all those 52 people DID get the virus at the polls, the infection rate was then at the very most 0.0069 percent. To put it differently, 6.9 out of every 1,000 people who participated got ill. Fortunately, none of these cases has been noted as particularly serious.

Nor was the turnout obviously depressed because of COVID-19 fears and the decision to go ahead with the election as scheduled.  Thirty-four percent of the state’s electorate voted. During the last presidential primary with an incumbent running for re-election in 2012, the turnout was only 26%

The average turnout in the 12 spring primaries from 2008 to 2019 was only 24%.

In 2005, former President Jimmy Carterand former Secretary of State James Baker issued a Commission on Federal Election Reform reportwarning: “Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.” They provided numerous examples of fraud, and noted that because of those concerns most countries don’t allow mail-in ballots for citizens who aren’t living abroad. In Europe, that applies to countries such as Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Norway, and the UK (though people who are blind or have another physical incapacity are allowed).

The health danger of in-person voting is a red herring. The standard refrain from Democrats has been to never let a crisis go to waste. But normal safety precautions that people took during the April 7 vote appears to have kept people safe. They are using people over the Coronavirus to push mail-in voting – ignoring concerns about vote-buying and fraud. There is a reason that most countries don’t allow mail-in voting for people not living abroad. 

The piece is available here.

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1 Response

  1. David Bealey says:

    I feel vote in person is necessary and one must have proper ID. Voting by mail is not secure, plus it cost a lot of money, that I do not want to be part of. VOTE IN PERSON

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