The COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased discussion over mail-in ballots for the 2020 presidential election in November. With the possibility of a “second wave” of the virus in the fall, some politicians and media figures have shown support for expanding mail-in accessibility for the general American public.
Politicians and commentators who oppose such efforts have also offered their opinions.
The Daily Wire previously interviewed Catherine Engelbrecht of True the Vote on the topic, which you can read here.
On Thursday, we spoke with Tom Ridge, co-chair of VoteSafe, “a cross-partisan coalition of election administrators and organizations that endorse the simple principle that every American has the right to vote safely amidst the pandemic,” according to the official VoteSafe website.
The organization’s website adds that VoteSafe is “committed to ensuring voters have options: expanded access to absentee ballots as well as safe, sanitary, and accessible in-person voting locations.”
Tom Ridge, former Pennsylvania governor and former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, spoke with The Daily Wire about the current state of mail-in voting, as well as its benefits, the perception of large pitfalls, and what states can do to prepare for the possibility of dramatically expanded mail-in voting.
If you would rather listen to the interview, it can be played via the SoundCloud embed. The written version is below.
DW: What are the benefits of mail-in voting?
RIDGE: I think there are multiple benefits with mail-in voting that this country’s probably recognized since the Civil War. They certainly recognize their importance when people chose in 2016, had to go to the polls, and one out of four, 25%, liked the option of absentee ballots. Now, particularly in light of the COVID-19 challenge and the possible reoccurrence in the fall, and just the overall anxiety and the cautious nature that some people may take to any kind of gathering, making sure that voters have a safe and secure option to in-person balloting I think is a good thing.
The exclamation point I would put on that is, I personally think it is not a privilege to vote in America, I happen to think it’s a responsibility of citizenship. Likewise, I think it’s up to those who set policy to create safe and secure options for us to exercise that responsibility in a safe and secure way.
DW: On the flip side, what are the potential downsides for mail-in voting?
RIDGE: Well, it is clear that there’s much public discussion about potential fraud, and I’ve done a little research in that regard as well. You can’t say that there hasn’t been fraud, but I noted one particular study from the Heritage Foundation that reported there were slightly over 1,200 cases of voter fraud in the past 20 years where nearly a quarter of a billion votes had been cast, and resulted in over a thousand convictions. In that group only about, I think, 200-plus involved absentee ballots.
I also think it’s important and can be emphasized, particularly in November when I think the majority of Republicans and Democrats and Independents, at least now in June, want to make sure that this option is preserved for them on November 3rd, is that when they sign that absentee ballot, they are reminded that there’ll be some signature matching and there’ll be other ways to check it. But more importantly, there are both significant financial and potential imprisonment penalties for fraud. So it is nearly perfect, but one has to admit that there are some problems with it.
My friend, my co-chairman of this, is Governor Jennifer Granholm, and her state data showed that between the last ten years – from 2008 to 2018 – there were slightly under 300 election law offenses and a couple of dozen arrests. So again, is it absolutely, positively 100% fail safe perfect? No. But the record is that it’s minimal at worst, and neither party has historically been advantaged one way or the other by absentee ballots.
The Republican president won a race, by the way, where a quarter of the votes were absentee, but he’s now the incumbent president. He’s got a lot of smart people on his campaign staff already. He’s got this massive war chest and he has millions that follow him electronically. It’s almost counterintuitive, since he won an election where one out of four ballots were cast by absentee, with all the resources he has at his disposal, not to be encouraging those who can’t get to the polls by saying, “Look, you don’t have to choose between health and your civic responsibility. We’ll provide safe and secure options. So vote for me absentee if you’re not going to the polls.” It’s almost counterintuitive.
And I suspect when they get around to it, they probably will because they’ve gotta believe that a lot of Republican and Democrat incumbents and challengers are going to use this opportunity to encourage more absentee ballots rather than fewer.
DW: Could you take me through the process of what the most secure mail-in ballot operations are, from sending it out to the return, and what procedures are in place to maintain security? What are the most common security provisions for mail-in ballots?
RIDGE: Well, there are a couple of things that I understand. I think, again, I don’t know with granular detail exactly how it works, but I am familiar that some states do signature tracking. Some well-designed absentees systems have [that] the vote can be tracked through the postal service. Signatures in many states are verified against the voter file.
And I guess your question raises a very legitimate question. There are systems in place to track ballots and verify signatures, but they have five more months to embed other systems. In spite of the minimal fraud that’s existed historically, they now have five months, if they’re that concerned at the [state level], they have five months to correct it.
DW: On that, there’s a quote from Pew that did a study that found, “Approximately 24 million—one of every eight—voter registrations in the United States are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate, more than 1.8 million deceased individuals are listed as voters, [and] approximately 2.75 million people have registrations in more than one state.” Is this the type of concern when it comes to mail-in security that should be addressed in these upcoming five months?
RIDGE: I think certainly they can, and I think it’s incumbent upon the individual states. I mean, I know Nancy Pelosi would like to see nationalized elections, and I don’t think that’s a good thing. It’s up to the individual governors in the states where we have elected and appointed officials taking care of this. But those numbers would call on anything. Some states have done a better job than others in trying to reduce the potential for fraud.
And I guess even though those statistics are very significant in numbers, the reality is, is that when states have gone in to investigate voter fraud and the abuse of the system, the cases are minimal. They exist, but they’re minimal.
The concern about widespread fraud has never materialized, and I think, over the years, [states] … become more and more concerned about its abuse because most policymakers, Republicans or Democrats, want to see more people participate in elections rather than fewer, and one of the best ways of doing that is to further reduce the potential for misuse and abuse, but expand the use of absenteeism.
I voted absentee in the June 2 primary in Pennsylvania, and I want the option in November, and I expect my governor to make sure that the system is not abused.
DW: Advocates against mail-in voting will cite several cases, one of the most prominent being the North Carolina ballot harvesting case from 2018, as a reason that mail-in is susceptible to fraud versus in-person voting, and that there needs to be more security for this type of system. Can you speak about ballot harvesting?
RIDGE: Any time there’s an abuse, as it was pointed out in North Carolina, it’s up to the policymakers who recognize the abuse, who’ve seen the adverse impact on their particular systems, to effectively change it so it doesn’t happen again. But you don’t limit the options that other people have. I chair the National Organization on Disability. There’s a lot of men and women, disabled Americans, who voting by absentee is a very important opportunity for them to exercise their civic responsibility. The military does it. So I’m not going to quarrel with the fact that there have been instances – and they found it in North Carolina where they’re harvesting. It’s an abuse. I condemn the abuse. Then it’s up to the public officials not to eliminate the option, but to take the appropriate steps, remedial steps, to make sure that it can’t be abused in that fashion in the future, period.
DW: Going back to the Nancy Pelosi remark, you had said that she would like to see a federalized election system. Can you talk about what a federalized election system would look like and why that might not be a good idea?
RIDGE: You’re talking to a governor, a Republican governor. The federal system of government, it’s come into play and sometimes there’s a conflict in recent days where the President has thought about deploying of active duty troops in the streets to deal with the violence and unrest, and a lot of the governors have said, “Oh, wait a minute. We don’t think you’ve got the authority to do it because we didn’t ask you.”
So you always have this conflict between the states and the federal government. Across the board, there’s a lot of issues involved in that, and it’s not political. It’s just that there’s a built-in tension here [between] historically the elected officials and the appointed officials who run local, countywide, and statewide elections, and the federal government. It’s the responsibility of the governors in there to keep it that way. Pure and simple.
I think I know her perspective. It’s consistent with the broader philosophy she has about government being bigger and broader, and being more involved and potentially invasive, a lot of other things. But in our federal system of government, historically the system of the states overseeing statewide elections has proven, in my judgment, to be preferable than any kind of nationalized system, period.
DW: And what would be the dangers of a nationalized system for voting?
RIDGE: We’re talking about absentee ballots. If the federal government would like to set some guidelines around absentee ballots, but then again, the danger is disrupting a system that I think has worked pretty well, particularly since we’ve been using absentee ballots since the Civil War. And so I’m just, again, as a Republican governor, conservative Republican governor, we can take care of it in Pennsylvania. We don’t need the feds telling us how to run our election system.
DW: We have five months approximately. Do you think the states, broadly, have the will and ability to get to where they need to be if mail-in is to be expanded because of COVID-19?
RIDGE: Excellent question. One of the first outreach efforts that Governor Granholm and I made was to send letters to the Secretaries of State overseeing the elections in the states and the territories to talk specifically about providing safe and secure options, and encouraging them if they need additional support, and particularly financial support, to reach out to Congress. I mean, there’s a federal role here, and there’s a federal role here in a federal system to help states provide safe and secure options for voting. And one of it may just be dollars that can be expended if they’re needed in the individual states.
Now I happen to think there’s also a shared responsibility to absorb some of that cost because not every election on November 3 has to do with the federal government. There are a lot of local and county elections, and federal elections. So there’s a shared responsibility financially for that. We’ve had a couple of responses back from Republicans and Democrats who we think have responded very positively to it. So we’ve got five months. If you’ve identified potential abuses, and if you need more people, whatever it is, I’m not going to tell the governors and the Secretaries of States, but if you feel you need additional help, I think you ought to be calling on Congress to provide it.
And by the way, it’s not only that voter fraud in this regard that you’ve got to be worried about, [you’ve got to be worried about] cyber influence in the elections as well. Cyber security is a big issue. So put all of these issues together, if you need additional resources, that’s one area where I do think the federal government has a responsibility to help absorb some of the cost.
DW: My last question is an open-ended one. Is there anything that we haven’t touched on in this interview, on this topic, that you would want our readership, which is mostly conservative, to know about this topic?
RIDGE: I appreciate the open end question. I would say to the leadership, as we think in terms of our own political philosophy, it’s this whole notion of individual responsibility and individual accountability, I think is pretty much embedded in our approach toward government and the relationship between government and the individual. And I’d like to think, based on that philosophy, we would see the federal government potentially as a partner in supporting the financial needs of the states in the federal system of elections.
I’d also like to think that if you took a look at recent elections, there was a vote driven mostly by absentee ballot in California a couple of weeks ago, and that was won by a Republican who was smart enough in his campaign committee, who was thoughtful enough to maximize their ability to get voters out in support of their candidate. I think we saw the Republican governor in Nebraska, I believe maximized, he had the highest turnout in the primaries ever because he provided a way for additional safe and secure absentee ballots.
So I’d say if we believe in individual accountability and responsibility, and we also accept the norm that – maybe conservatives would disagree with me, I hope not – but I don’t think it’s a privilege. I think it’s a responsibility [once every two years] to cast a vote, and I think whether Republican or Democrat alike.
And by the way, in recent polling, Republicans and Democrats and Independents by a vast majority want this option, want the absentee option. I would think we would do everything we can as a group, not only to encourage maximum use, but to encourage the states to do it correctly and to minimize the potential for abuse.
The Daily Wire would like to thank Tom Ridge for taking the time to speak with us about this issue. For more information, you can visit the official VoteSafe website here.
The Daily Wire, headed by bestselling author and popular podcast host Ben Shapiro, is a leading provider of conservative news, cutting through the mainstream media’s rhetoric to provide readers the most important, relevant, and engaging stories of the day. Get inside access to The Daily Wire by becoming a member.