American elections are a mess. Well more than a week after Election Day, lawsuits abound, lawyers are everywhere, and facts, myths, and partisan propaganda clog our airwaves.
While President Donald Trump’s team of lawyers appear to be playing for keeps, there is a growing feeling among conservatives from the top to the bottom, both inside and outside the administration, that while this fight is crucial it won’t materially alter the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Further, these increasingly open conversations continuously suggest more could have been done earlier about big-city voting machines, vote tracking and accountability, and the Democratic Party’s long-sought unlimited mail-in voting rules. So what are those things?
Rage Against the Machine
Big-city political machines don’t work the way most might think they do. While phone calls, bribes, and secret handshakes do take place, much of the hard work is done far more naturally.
Learned cultural behavior, self-interest, and ambition, and the human propensities to help out your team and to do what you’re told, combine into an effective and reliable operation. As The Federalist reported in a series of interviews with Philadelphia political insiders and observers, the “machine” is less like a machine than “a living organism” that doesn’t need instructions “to know how to breathe.”
So how to take this apart? It would take time, money, effort, and lawyers who are both empowered and professionally above the city or state’s politics, but according to a host of Philadelphia political operatives, it’s a surprisingly attainable goal.
Just over the past two years, an investigation by U.S. Attorney William McSwain indicted an elections judge, as well as a longtime Democratic operative and former congressman for bribery and voter fraud. The thing is, McSwain’s wasn’t even a voter fraud investigation, but a thus-far successful hunt to get Johnny “Dock” Dougherty, the powerful union boss who helped put his own brother on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Investigators don’t even need to worry about running into some kind of criminal code when looking into big-city electioneering: For the workers on the ground, a job, housing, and even defense lawyers through the party stack up more to self-interest than some omertà.
“Someone just needs to do it,” one longtime political insider explained to The Federalist. “Knock on doors, haul in witnesses. ‘Guess what: You’re talking to the feds. You lie to me, you’re going away for five years.’ See who wants to talk, then push them aside and move up and through the operation.”
An important characteristic for any prosecutor is who has power to put the screws on them. Does that prosecutor intend to run for office or the state bench someday? If so, he or she is not the right one to take on a case like this. But get the right people on the bus and a Department of Justice determined to root it out, and you’re off to a strong start.
Pennsylvania is getting picked on and they deserve it — their boxes of ballots, either lost or found, have become a well-earned bogeyman of the 2020 elections. But to cut them just a bit of slack, the Keystone State didn’t have an electronic voter registration system in place when COVID extended further into the year than initially predicted. This meant there was no way to know who’d already voted absentee, which meant they couldn’t start counting absentees until Election Day.
So install one, right? Absolutely. And if the state and county governments are not currently preparing for the sizable logistical task of acquiring, setting up, and thoroughly testing and debugging an electronic voter registration system for 2022, they should start.
So which state has a good system for keeping track of its ballots from start to finish? Somewhat surprisingly, Florida — ground zero for the 2000 recount battle.
“I’d put Florida’s election laws up against anyone in the nation,” one Florida Republican lawyer who worked in both Florida and Pennsylvania told The Federalist. The lawyer and others interviewed requested to speak on background so they could frankly explain the systems and they work with and the problems they confront.
In short, Florida’s is a barcode/electronic poll book system, and unlike a lot of other states, the lion’s share of it, all the way down to the nitty-gritty, is governed by legislative statutes — not department rules. Why? In large part, a number of deeply embarrassing national episodes that motivated the Florida legislature to conduct a post-mortem review after elections of what went right and wrong — and then tweak statewide for both efficiency and transparency.
At the base of the system, there’s the poll book. When voters request absentee ballots up to 22 days prior to Election Day, the envelope with their ballot has a barcode that is scanned when received. If there is a problem with, say, a signature, voters have the opportunity to fix, or “cure,” their ballot.
Additionally, if a ballot is not received in time, voters know and can try to come in and vote in person. Similarly, if a voter has requested his absentee ballot but decided to vote in person, he can cancel the mailed ballot on-site, get a new one, and it’s all reflected on the voter roll. Abroad and unable? Sounds rough, yes, but it doesn’t always shake out like that: Cast your ballot early but then die before Election Day? You’re still good to go, and one of the few legally dead voters in the country.
Voters aren’t the only ones who can track this process: If you’re a state party or another organization, you can request access from the Department of State and see what’s been received and tallied, updated every 1-5 minutes, depending on the county.
There can be problems, as in 2018, but most of those were isolated to Broward and Palm Beach counties. When those two supervisors were removed in the aftermath, those problems cleared up.
“We have extremely tight election law,” the lawyer told The Federalist. “You can’t stop counting until you’re done Election Night, and you need to be reporting every hour… It’s constantly being updated, it’s constantly being tweaked to make it more transparent and a better process.”
“If every state had the Florida model, you’d know if dead people were voting, you’d know if 30 people voted out of an abandoned car repair shop,” another Republican operative with Florida and Pennsylvania 2020 experience added. “You’d know that before Election Day.”
End Mass Mail-In Voting (And Require ID)
Of the lengthy and growing list of long-sought Democratic dreams that COVID-19 has fulfilled, mass mail-in voting might prove the most intractable. The latest election offers more proof that week- and month-long elections through the Post Office are a dangerous system for ballot integrity — and one the GOP hopefully has the will to quickly restrain.
American elections, once wisely confined to Election Day, have slowly gone off the rails. This derailment has been justified with excuse after excuse for why — in an age of mass transportation, and where state-issued identification is readily available to all who request it — neither having an ID nor coming to the polling station are doable things. “Disenfranchisement!” rings the partisan chorus.
Many of the above suggestions will take time, resources, and even control of different federal agencies. Of all the initiatives, however, a roll-back of unaccountable voting is the most attainable for a large and growing host of GOP-controlled states.
While Pennsylvania might have difficulty under its Democratic governor, states where Republicans are solidly in power such as Arizona and South Carolina should have less. The GOP-controlled state of Georgia, for example, need not go through this process again in less than two months when it holds run-off elections to select its two next U.S. senators. An emergency session of the legislature in the Peach State could roll back multiple levels of leftist “COVID” changes, mandating in-person voting for most, and proof-of-ID requirements for those voters who are abroad or in the military.
None of these steps alone will secure American elections, but all go a ways toward it. When elections can’t be trusted, faith in American democracy rightfully plunges. If there’s any good to the year at all, let 2020 be a much-needed call to action.