Voting in Virginia already looks different this year, as officials encourage residents to cast their ballots through the mail to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Every state allows citizens to vote by absentee ballot if they cannot make it to the polling station on Election Day, but it is easier in some places than others. States like Oregon, Washington and Colorado already conduct their elections entirely by mail, but others, such as Alabama, New Hampshire, and Kentucky, allow absentee ballots only for citizens who have a “valid” excuse and get their ballots ahead of time. Virginia used to require voters submit an excuse to get an absentee ballot, but the General Assembly and Gov. Ralph Northam changed that this year.
But as more places embrace mail in-voting, especially during the pandemic when it can be unsafe to gather at a polling location, some politicians are trying to scare people about the validity of mail-in voting. Below we fact check some of those statements.
There is no widespread evidence of voter fraud
CLAIM: “The problem with the mail-in ballots, it’s subject to tremendous corruption. Tremendous corruption, cheating.” President Donald Trump told reporters in May.
FACT CHECK: Studies show that voter fraud is exceedingly rare. A study from the Scholars Strategy Network found that within 2,000 public records between the year 2000 and 2012 there were just six cases of voter impersonation.
The same study found that illegal registration is also rare. During the President George W. Bush administration, the Department of Justice looked for voter fraud, including fraud in mail-in voting. But after three years they convicted or got guilty pleas from only 26 people, out of the more than 197 million votes cast in the two federal elections held during the time period. That made the rate of voter fraud 0.00000132%.
There is no clear advantage to either party when it comes to voting by mail
CLAIM: “You really are going to create the conditions where the integrity of the system is put in peril,” Virginia House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) in 13NewsNow. “The more you loosen these restrictions, the more potential there is for abuse.”
FACT CHECK: This argument comes in three parts: voting by mail is easier than going to the polls and waiting in line; there will be a higher voter turnout if the process is easier; higher voter turnout means more people will vote for Democrats. But reports indicate this fear is basically unfounded.
According to FiveThirtyEight, there is no evidence of clear partisan advantage in states that have already switched to full vote-by-mail elections. In other words, Democrats did not get the upper hand when states made the switch, both parties saw a small but equal increase in voter turnout.
States have figured out how to successfully verify voter identities
CLAIM: “[Not requiring a witness to watch you sign your ballot] is just another attempt by the Democrats to make voter fraud easier,” said John March, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia, to WTOP News.
FACT CHECK: Many states have successfully found ways to verify voter identities. In Oregon, for example, where vote by mail has been in place for over 20 years, voters are required to sign their name when they register to vote, and then again on the ballot itself. When ballots are turned in, through the mail or a drop off location, the two signatures are compared to protect against voter fraud. If there are errors or any suspicions the county elections division will reach out to the voter to rectify the problem. Implementing a system like this one provides an additional layer of protection against voter fraud.