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July 30, 2020, 10:08 a.m. EDT

Here’s the truth about mail-in voting: fair, safe and honest

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By Edie Goldenberg

As millions of Americans prepare to vote in November — and in many cases, primaries and state and local elections through the summer as well — lots of people are talking about  voting by mail . It is a way to  protect the integrity of the country’s voting system and to limit potential exposure to the coronavirus, which  continues to spread widely  in the U.S.

I am a political scientist and part of a National Academy of Public Administration working group offering recommendations to  ensure voter participation as well as public confidence  in the election process and the outcome during this coronavirus pandemic. To meet that goal, our work has found that state and local governments will need to make significant adjustments to their voting systems this year – changes that will likely require new federal funding.

Our recommendations — which include ways to reduce health risks from in-person voting as well as  to expand access to, and ease the process of, mail-in voting  — are based on a thorough review of the evidence.

Some critics, including President Donald Trump on several ocaasions, have  cast doubt on the integrity of mail-in voting , even though some of them have  voted by mail  in the past.

Conservative groups are  suing to limit mail-in voting , and some  federal judges seem reluctant  to defend voters’ rights if it means intervening in state-level decisions. The president’s reelection campaign is suing to block mail-in voting at the same time it  pushes his backers to be ready  to vote by mail.

The evidence we reviewed finds that voting by mail is rarely subject to fraud, does not give an advantage to one political party over another and can in fact inspire public confidence in the voting process, if done properly.

When fraud does occur, election administrators identify it and take action, correcting election returns and prosecuting those responsible. That’s what happened  in North Carolina in 2018 , when a Republican political activist paid others to collect incomplete absentee ballots so they could be filled out to vote for the Republican candidate. The activist was arrested, charged and convicted — and the entire election was invalidated and run again.

But overall  election fraud is rare .

database of election fraud reports  maintained by the conservative Heritage Foundation reports approximately  1,200 allegations of voter fraud  — for which there were 1,100 criminal convictions — for voter fraud since 2000.

Of those, only 204 allegations, and 143 convictions, involved mail-in ballots. That is a tiny fraction of the roughly 250 million mail-in ballots cast over those two decades. In addition,  problems are extremely rare  in states that rely primarily on vote by mail.

Of course, any voting system must be protected against fraud. Election officials are already doing that, including prosecuting fraud attempts.

Allowing people to vote by mail does not give one party an advantage over the other — either in terms of party members who turn out to vote, or the outcome of the election.

That’s the finding from  several   recent   studies , which confirm what earlier research had found.

As far back as 2001, Oregon’s vote-by-mail system was found  not to disproportionately mobilize or discourage  voting by Democrats or Republicans. In 2008, a study found  little difference between Democratic and Republican voters  in Los Angeles County in terms of who voted by absentee ballot or whose ballots were disqualified.

A recent survey has found that people of all political stripes who are concerned about the coronavirus pandemic  support letting everyone vote  by mail.

There is one problem with mail-in voting, but it’s a problem with voting overall: A 2019 Gallup poll found that  59% of Americans lack confidence  in the honesty of elections for a range of reasons, including concerns about interference from foreign powers or domestic political elites, security worries and general frustration.

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