Mail-in Voting Ethics

Ann Althouse flagged this tweet by “Dilbert” cartoonist/Trump-whisperer Scott Adams, and as is her wont sometimes (unfortunately), uses it to get tangled up in the logical conundrums she finds amusing. I’m not sufficiently amused: Adams is wrong, but he did put his finger on one of the problems with mail voting that advocates for the process refuse to acknowledge.

There is only one way to complete a vote: the voter does something that directly registers his or her choice without any intervening agency or process. No voting procedure that permits voting with intervening agency or process is sufficiently secure and reliable. Those who advocate such systems are to be viewed with suspicion and presumptions of either bad intent or faulty reasoning.

Both Adams and Althouse seem to be laboring under the misconception that someone who accepts the responsibility of mailing someone’s vote has a choice. Such an individual is, under the law, a gratuitous bailee, meaning that they have accepted an obligation without compensation. That means that if they fail the obligation, the one whose task they defaulted on usually has no legal recourse, but it doesn’t change the ethical situation at all. The gratuitous bailee promised to do something for someone, that individual relied on their promise, and the “friend” engaged in betrayal.

Not mailing the vote isn’t an option, any more than kicking the voter in the face and burning down his home is an option.  Deciding to do the only honest and fair thing possible isn’t a “vote.” It’s mandatory, not a choice.

Now, it is entirely the responsibility of a voter to complete the process that results in a vote being registered and counted in his or her name. Just checking a box and leaving the ballot in the envelope without a stamp isn’t a vote. Neither is, in my view, handing off the potential vote to the post office. Letters aren’t always delivered, just like gratuitous bailees sometimes screw up. That fact alone should be enough to rule out voting by mail. However, the fact that someone might engage in an outright illegal or unethical act to block your vote does not equal an option to vote twice. If I trust someone to mail my water bill and they decide to harm me by not doing so, they have not exercised an “option.” Choosing to be a corrupt and untrustworthy member of society isn’t an option.

It’s a perversion.


30 thoughts on “Mail-in Voting Ethics

  1. My opinion on mail in voting is as follows…

    There have been scattered voter fraud cases across the USA over the years, voters voting twice, people who shouldn’t have voted that did and in these cases they were caught after the fact and the votes got into the system and could not be removed. Are these cases that have been identified overwhelming the voting system, not usually; however, the problem is that we really don’t know how many more illegal votes may be slipping through the cracks in the system. Saying voter fraud doesn’t exist is literally a lie, saying that voter fraud is not a big problem is intellectually dishonest, saying that known voter fraud is not changing the outcome of the elections is fair in most cases except where the difference between the candidates is very, very low.

    As for voting by mail, I’m wandering back and forth over the top of the fence.

    Here are the issues I’m currently aware of:
    1. Our local post office cant even get our regular mail delivered to the correct addresses, mail is being lost much more often, probably because they are delivering it to the wrong addresses.

    2. Mail that is being mailed from my home to the local clerks office used to be delivered the next day because the mail never left our town and we had competent carriers, now 100% of our mail (even if it’s going next door) is shipped to a big USPS sorting facility over 90 miles away in Milwaukee, WI and the mail get’s back to Oregon, WI somewhere between 3 and 5 days if it get’s back at all.

    3. In the United States of America we have enjoyed for many years that voting is private and no one knows who you vote for, voting by mail completely eliminates voting privacy.

    4. The laws of probability dictate that if it’s possible to take advantage of a voting system, any voting system, and cast an illegal vote then there will be illegal votes cast if there is no one there to stop the vote before it’s cast. Since ballots do not identify the voter who cast the vote, once an illegal vote has been cast it’s impossible to remove that vote from the count. It seems to me that completely removing the human-to-human contact for verification of identity when voting opens up a huge loophole in the voting system making it extremely vulnerable to fraud.

    My logical brain tells me that voting by mail is not a good idea; however, the suppressed side of my brain that chooses to unethically rationalize things is front and center with this one because of the pandemic, I’m aware that using the pandemic is a rationalization but it’s still tugging at me.

    I’ve been sharing that opinion with people across the board on Facebook and it’s interesting that the progressives I’ve shared it with have basically ignored it.

      • Tim wrote, “Receive your ballot by mail, then drop it off at your precinct or county building without involving USPS or any other 3rd party.”

        Honestly, doesn’t that completely defeat the purpose of mail-in voting during the pandemic?

        • Not really. It’s just an option. If you can drive up to the secure drop off box and deposit it without leaving your car, I would fail to see the problem. It would be contact-less but you’d have the time to complete your ballot at home on your schedule and then drop it off in an instant. Or for some, who want to hand it to USPS, they can do that too. If you’re in the other population who want to vote in person, then at least the Mail Ballots alleviate the pressure and population at the polls.

    • On top of that opinion of mine, I’d like to add this..

      Since November 2016 far too many prominent Democrats, Democrat leaning media, Democratic leaning bloggers, Democratic leaning online commenters, common every day Democrats in social media have shown us that they when it comes to removing President Trump from office they are all firmly in the “ends justify the means” camp. To allow the masses across the United States to participate in mail-in voting where there’s literally no one checking who’s actually filling out the ballots opens our voting system up to the possibility of voter fraud on a massive scale.

      I’m leaning towards not supporting mail-in voting for the masses in a nation-wide presidential election.

  2. We have had mail voting here in Colorado for many many years. Works great. We can mail back our ballots as long as they’re received by 7pm, Election Day, at the county office. Or, we can drop them off at County all on our own. They maintain giant lock boxes out front to deposit your ballot, or you can walk it further into the building and put it in a less secure box sitting on a counter.

    Whatever the method you choose, I’ve got my ballot set up with SMS Text Notifications. When my ballot leaves the County, they send me an SMS saying “Your Ballot is on the way. Keep an eye out for the next few days.” When I return my ballot, I get “Your Ballot has been received.” and eventually “Your Ballot has been processed.”

    We also have a system of counting the ballots that includes teams of 3 people to process each ballot. Each team has a registered Republican, registered Democrat, and a neutral Unaffiliated. This mail system takes a lot of pressure off of the precinct poll locations, which still operate. They obtain a new status to see if a ballot had already been received by mail. Through a system of back and forth checks, only the first method received of voting is counted, but if you do try to change your vote by racing to your precinct to get ahead of your mailed ballot, you’ll be charged with attempting to vote twice.

    For the rest of the population, if you don’t want to use the ballot that was mailed to you, or you didn’t receive one, you lost one, you destroyed it, made a mistake…you can just opt to vote in person. It’s a lovely system, honestly.

    With all of that said, it’s important to remember: Colorado has implemented this system with careful thought and oversight over many many years. I’m not sure I would trust a state that’s “throwing this together at the last second” to get it right. We have even more security than I’ve listed. Things like additional identification required under certain circumstances. They can try to mimic us…but they spent the better part of the past 20 years suppressing this method and option. I wouldn’t trust any new mail balloting states that didn’t do it out of a genuine desire to improve the voting process.

    • Tim,
      Since absolutely no one is checking that the person filling out the ballot is the same person that is supposed to be filling it out, the mail in system seems to be wide open for fraud especially in a highly contentious presidential election like the one will be in November.

      What prevents my elderly mothers in home caregiver, who get’s her mail every day, from intercepting her ballot, filling it out, and mailing it in?

      What prevents thieving porch pirates from stealing ballots from mail boxes and selling them?

      What prevents postal delivery people from collecting ballots instead of putting them in mail boxes and distributing them to like minded people?

      What prevents an abusive controlling narcissistic family member from filling it out for the family members they are controlling?

      Etc, etc…

      The possibility of wide spread voter fraud using a system that’s ignorantly designed to allow fraud in a highly contentious presidential election should throw up a lot of red flags, this should be a non-partisan issue because the opening for fraud is non-partisan.

      • The same thing that stops people from putting on disguises and assuming other people’s identity and showing up to vote as them at the polls.

        Voter registration has a signature card, ballots are returned with a signature. Officials look for similarities. They look for ballots dropped in bulk. They require affidavits if completed by a 3rd party. They require ID submission in certain circumstances.

        But most of all, if the villain wanted to get away with this, you know what they would need? They would need the apathy of the victimized voter. Someone who won’t ask about voting, who won’t follow up.

        I’d be talking to your mother’s in home caregiver and give her instructions on what to do with the received ballot and how you’ll assist your mother in taking care of her voting. But like I said, Wisconsin is new to the game, so I wouldn’t trust them.

    • Tim,

      Texas allows for mail-in voting, as well as early voting. The system seems to work well.

      Yet, I know of one instance where a person voted for her grandmother in the 2016 and 2018 elections. This person’s grandmother is a naturalized US citizen but spends large amounts of time in her home country. In November 2016 and 2018, the grandmother was still in her home country. The granddaughter took it upon herself to fill out her grandmother’s ballot, cast a vote for Hillary Clinton (2016) and straight democrat ticket in 2018, and mailed them in to be counted. The granddaughter’s reasoning? “I know what grannie wants and I am merely fulfilling her intentions. Yep. Granddaughter committed voter fraud because she knew what grannie intended.”


  3. Are P.O. errors any more frequent than polling place and tabulation errors? I just don’t know.

    Re: family intimidation: One cousin told me another cousin had refused to let a third cousin (in a nursing home) vote for anyone other than Trump on her mail-in ballot in 2016.

    • Other Bill asked, “Are P.O. errors any more frequent than polling place and tabulation errors? I just don’t know.”

      I don’t know the answer to your question, but I do know that our post office has been screwing up things so badly and so often over the last 5-10 years that I’ve now stopped contacting our local postmaster and I’m now writing directly to the Postmaster General in Washington DC. They can’t even get our work mail in the proper P.O. Box and they fail over and over and over again to give notice that there are packages to be picked up that won’t fit in P.O. Boxes. My mail is delivered all over town and I get mail for others all over town, it’s quite screwed up. My understanding is that the post offices are hiring part-time employees to replace long-term retiring employees and there is a lot of turnover. I’ve been in our post office and a couple in Madison, WI and the general lack of basic knowledge and/or simply giving a damn is clearly evident. I don’t trust the United States Postal System anymore.

      • My local post office delivered a package per their website, but I didn’t receive it. I called to check where they delivered it, and they insisted they had tracking showing it was delivered to my front door. It wasn’t, and I was confident because I work from home, and my security cameras showed no deliveries. After much arguing, we hung up, both insisting we were right.
        The next day, the mailman delivered the package to my door. No explanation, no call from the post office, just a casual delivery.
        That’s just one example of many why I don’t trust something as important to me as voting to the postal service.

  4. Judicial Watch has claimed that there are millions of more registered voters than adult US citizens. Since not everyone registers (or is eligible), there is even a higher number of extra registrations (if they are right). This is not surprising, since voter registration doesn’t expire like a driver’s license and there is no easy way to rescind your voter registration when you move, for instance. So, in a ‘vote by mail’ scheme, millions or tens of millions of ‘extra’ ballots will be mailed out into the country to be filled out by someone, returned, and counted.

    When canvassing for votes several years ago, I was struck by the high number of registrations with nonexistent addresses. We were working off the list of people who voted in every single election for the last 10 years. Every third or fourth name was registered at an address with no house (vacant lot) or had an impossible address (the addresses went from 305 to 323 on the block and this was 301 or 371). I marked them and we reported them, but nothing happened.

    I would expect fraud on a massive scale if done my mail. Voter registration needs to expire every 5 years or so.

  5. “No voting procedure that permits voting with intervening agency or process is sufficiently secure and reliable.”
    What would you call voting by machine?
    Is the code bug-free? No such thing.
    Is the machine secure and un-hackable? Type “voting machine hack” into Google. Kids at hacking conferences have breached voting machines, and if they can do it, do you think state-sponsored Russia/North Korea/China hackers can’t? If you’re going to go into a white rage over Hillary’s unsecured e-mails, why do you so hate vote-by-mail, where there is a *physical*, *hand-countable* record of your vote?
    (BTW, I live in Oregon, where we’ve been voting by mail for 22 years with no issues.)
    The conservative rage against vote-by-mail isn’t about voter fraud. It never was. It’s elimination of the poll tax, of literacy tests. It’s about the exhausted single mother working two jobs who might not have time to go to a polling place… but might have time to sit at her kitchen table and fill out a ballot. Trump and the GOP are now pulling out all the stops to keep exactly that from happening.

    • “The conservative rage against vote-by-mail isn’t about voter fraud. It never was. It’s elimination of the poll tax, of literacy tests.”

      Race-baiting. That’s all you got? Citizens should care enough about the duty of voting to be willing to take tiny chunk out of their year to do it. The less of a commitment required, the less the perceived value of the franchise. There is no rational reason not to make election day a national holiday. Have shuttles for voters who need them, but require in person voting, on a single day, with ID’s mandatory. If people don’t care enough to take the time to vote (and to endure the whole campaign to see what changes, if anything), they don’t participate in democracy, they dilute it.

      • If Election Day was a national holiday, you’d have a point… but it isn’t. It would take a massive, coordinated effort to commit any significant fraud via vote-by-mail, whereas a single hacker, foreign or domestic, could change the entire outcome of an election with a millisecond of computer time.

        • (Hit accidentally.) But for some reason you’re enraged by vote-by-mail. Like I said, Oregon has been voting by mail for 22 years… you’re welcome to list the incidents of fraud.

          • Show me where I say I am “enraged,” jerk. I have an opinion. Characterizing a rationally expressed and argued opinion as based on “rage” is a cheap shot and sub-category of ad hominem attack. When I’m enraged, I’ll say so. I don’t get enraged when policy matters don’t comport with my analysis. I do get a bit ticked off when commenters put words in my mouth or presume emotions I don’t have.

  6. I started mail-in voting four years ago when i was scheduled for surgery the Friday before voting day, and wasn’t going to be up and around to go to the garage up the hill. I’ve continued it because there’s more than just a single vote on that ballot and my short-term memory isn’t working that well, especially when it’s important. The mail-in ballot comes weeks early and I have lots of time to think about all the choices and understand some of the more (deliberately) convoluted language on some propositions. No meetings or speakers right now — this may continue or stop and start again in the Fall, we don’t know …. and that’s fine with me (not the flu, the speechifying) so i make sure the material i collect over the year(s) is concerned strictly about what the candidate has done, not what he’s said. I take the mail-in ballot to City Hall about two weeks before the election. one of the clerks in the Election Registrar’s office checks my ID, asks some demographic questions and compares my signature to the one on my ballot envelope and pushes it into a special slotted outsize mailbox with a shuttered chute (I can hear the envelope go down it and fall onto a pile at the bottom) and a chain to put over the whole, presumably nights and weekends, so nothing can be fished out again. I trust it.

    • So, who gets a ballot sent? Do I get ballots sent to my last address in the last 5 states I lived in? Do the people who live at those addresses now get 2 votes? Do people who live in apartments (with high turnover) get 4 or 5 votes because that many ballots get sent to their mailboxes?

  7. The real threat to honest elections is vote-by-mail combined with ballot harvesting, where a pushy or even thuggish stranger comes to your home, tells you how he or she wants you to vote and then stands over you until you fill out your ballot and deliver it to him or her (or fills it out for you). That’s the death of the secret ballot, and it made the difference in several important California elections in the last cycle. It also puts the harvester in the position of the faithless friend, who can throw away any ballots that he or she doesn’t like.

    This will certainly happen on a large scale. The reward is high and the risk is low, so dishonest people will take advantage of the situation. That’s what dishonest people do.

    • It doesn’t even have to be a thuggish stranger at the door. I’m thinking of union shops, schools, hospitals, etc., that gather employees together to “review” ballot initiatives or candidates. Then have everyone fill out and drop ballots in a mail box on their way out.

      In some professional associations I keep my more conservative views to myself at gatherings. I don’t care for the taste of tar. Peer pressure isn’t just for kids.

  8. I have several big problems with voting by mail, but let me say at the outset that I understand its attraction, and I know that in the vast majority of cases it works very well. If voter rolls are well-maintained and everyone does what they are supposed to do under the law and ethics, it’s as good as any system.

    Unfortunately, that’s not what happens. Unethical people bent on gaming the system do things like:

    1. looking for ballots incorrectly sent to persons no longer living there, deceased, or incapable of voting for reasons of age and infirmity.

    2. “Community leaders” make very sure that they collect the ballots on behalf of their “flock,” and by doing so ensure that the votes meet with their approval. If not, they are destroyed, “lost,” mailed without postage, or the people under their control threatened to ensure the “right” vote.

    3. Ballots are easily destroyed if anyone gets their hands on them. Unethical postal workers willing to “lose” ballots exist, as do mailbox thieves.

    4. There is no mechanism to control secrecy or integrity, because there is no enforced chain of custody. A politically active person can easily coerce his elderly parent into voting for whom he prefers, and enforce it by being right there while they mark their ballot.

    5. “Signature cards” are an insufficient and almost never used form of checking ballot integrity. Even banks, who have a much more vested interest in verifying signatures, are often duped by crude forgeries.

    6. The tendency of judges in too many jurisdictions is to count even obviously questionable ballots unless they are so flawed as to be obviously invalid.

    Most of these things are mitigated or eliminated by in-person voting. It is by far the most valid way of voting, and should be the only way permitted absent a military deployment or other absence required by law or regulation. Merely being “out of the country” should not entitle you to an absentee ballot. If you want to vote, come back home.

  9. Back at home (Mexico) my dad had a heart attack a few days before a national election. He fought his doctor to be allowed to leave the hospital so he could cast his vote. Anyone, absolutely anyone, not putting a minimum of effort to show up at the polling place – barring *very strong* mitigating circumstances (like serving in the military in a different continent) – is not someone whose right to vote I’m going to defend.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.