Trump is pushing a dubious and implausible theory that foreign countries will interfere in the 2020 election by mass producing counterfeit ballots
Trump is pushing an implausible theory, which there is no evidence to support, that foreign adversaries will try to interfere in the 2020 election by making and sending out counterfeit ballots to voters. The theory that foreign adversaries would print out fake ballots and send them out in batches to election offices, which Attorney General Bill Barr first floated in early June, is very unlikely for several reasons. Election administration in the United States is highly decentralized down to the state and local level, meaning there is no single national ballot a foreign adversary could mass print out and mail to voters. Most ballots and the envelopes they come in have barcodes and extremely specific information, like precinct numbers and voter identification numbers, that are very hard to replicate.
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President Donald Trump echoed a highly implausible and dubious theory that foreign adversaries will try to interfere in the 2020 election by making and sending out "counterfeit ballots" to voters. "RIGGED 2020 ELECTION: MILLIONS OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS WILL BE PRINTED BY FOREIGN COUNTRIES, AND OTHERS. IT WILL BE THE SCANDAL OF OUR TIMES!," Trump wrote in a Monday morning all-caps tweet. Attorney General William Barr first floated the idea in an interview with The New York Times magazine published on June 1, and continued to cast doubt on the security of an expansion of mail-in ballots an interview with Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo aired on Sunday. Barr told The New York Times the idea was "one of the issues that I'm real worried about," claiming that "there are a number of foreign countries that could easily make counterfeit ballots, put names on them, send them in. And it'd be very hard to sort out what's happening." As states have moved over the past few months to increase absentee and mail-in voting, Trump — who voted by mail himself in Florida earlier this year – has falsely claimed that an expansion of absentee and mail-in voting will lead to massive fraud and corruption (rates of absentee ballot fraud are very low), that expanding mail-in ballot hurts Republicans (it confers no partisan advantage to either side), and even raised a baseless conspiracy that children in California will go around stealing ballots out of mailboxes and forging them. While Barr indicated that the Department of Justice would take a hands-off stance on election administration this year, the department has already taken steps to defend voting restrictions. Last week, for example, the DOJ filed a brief in a lawsuit over Alabama's requirement that voters obtain either two witness signatures or a signature from a notary for their absentee ballot to count, arguing that the law is not a violation of the Voting Rights Act. But the theory that foreign adversaries would print out fake ballots and send them out in batches to election offices — which neither Barr nor Trump have cited any evidence to back up — is highly unlikely for three main reasons. First, election administration in the United States is highly decentralized down to the state and local level, meaning there is no single national ballot a foreign adversary could mass print out and mail to voters. Every single locality in the United States sends out a different ballot to voters not just with federal elections like the presidential race, but with that town or city's specific elections. This means that it would take a significant amount of work and effort for a foreign actor or another malefactor to replicate a specific ballot for enough localities to actually make a noticeable difference in interfering with the election. Second, every state and municipality uses a different and very specific ballot design from everything to how offices are ordered on the ballot, a series of specific codes used to track the ballot, down to the ink, font, and type of paper used on the ballots. This means election officials would likely be able to very easily be able to spot the signs of a fake or counterfeit ballot almost immediately. As the University of Florida elections scholar Michael McDonald and Brennan Center for Justice election and redistricting lawyer Michael Li both pointed out in early June, even sending out mass fake ballots to even one precinct in one town would require a foreign actor to perfectly reprint both the ballot itself — many of which have specific barcodes that are scanned upon receipt — the envelope it comes in, and the two return envelopes, all sent to voters at a mass scale. As Li explained, absentee and mail-in ballots often include not only a barcode unique to every voter but also a series of very specific numbers of codes referring to the ballot type, the voter's precinct number, a voter identification number, an envelope number, and a barcode number corresponding to the voter identification number — all of which would be very difficult for a bad actor to perfectly recreate.
Also, in most states, your signature on the mail-ballot envelope is compared to the signature on file before a ballot is counted. Here’s 👇how it works in Arizona. 3/ pic.twitter.com/jx6lQsW9fC — Michael Li 李之樸 (@mcpli) June 1, 2020
Third, even in the highly unlikely scenario that a bad actor could recreate not just the ballot but perfectly match the barcode and all the voter's identifying information, they'd also have to both find a large enough database of registered voters and their addresses and go through the time-consuming process of individually signing ballots in order for them to be counted. As both McDonald and Li pointed out, every state requires a voter to sign their absentee ballot, meaning that a possible fraudster would need to the step of forging signatures. The vast majority of states further ensure the integrity and veracity of every ballot by signature verification, in which election officials match the signature on the ballot to a recorded signature on file.
Which ballot is the real ballot? There is a signature on the outside return envelope to compare against. Election officials will figure out something is afoot pretty quickly. This is why it is easy for election officials to detect ham-handed attempts like making ballot copies — Michael McDonald (@ElectProject) June 1, 2020
McDonald also noted that the US Postal Service, which works closely with election officials on absentee voting in many jurisdictions, could also spot a suspiciously large delivery of ballots with mismatched or incorrect envelope design, stopping a fraudulent ballot effort in its tracks. Experts have expressed some legitimate concerns about the security and integrity of the election as states and localities move to massively scale up their capacity to administer elections with high rates of mail-in ballots, and worries about the role foreign interference could play in US elections more broadly. But for all the reasons listed above, trying to commit interference through sending out fake mail-in ballots — which unlike electronic voting systems, cannot be hacked or subject to massive cyberattacks — is possibly the least efficient and effective way for a bad actor to influence an election. SEE ALSO: Twitter tried to correct Trump's falsehoods about vote by mail, but the platform's first fact-check on the president's tweets was itself misleading Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why thoroughbred horse semen is the world's most expensive liquid
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Summary List PlacementJust weeks before the November 3 presidential election, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a...Summary List PlacementJust weeks before the November 3 presidential election, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a ruling on an obscure provision of state law, requiring voters to place mail ballots in not just one but two envelopes in order to be accepted and counted. Pennsylvania, a critical battleground state worth 20 votes in the electoral college, is permitting all voters to vote by mail without an excuse for the first time in 2020. It is also the site of multiple key congressional and state legislative races. The state has also seen a flurry of litigation over its election rules from both sides of the aisle. On September 17, the state handed down a number of rulings in a major lawsuit filed by the state's Democratic party and other plaintiffs against state election officials. The court sided with Democrats, allowing for the use of secure ballot dropboxes, establishing a county residency requirement for poll watchers, and requiring that officials accept ballots that are mailed by November 3 and arrive by November 6, a move that could prevent thousands of ballots from being rejected. But the Supreme Court ruled against Democrats in mandating that officials reject ballots without secrecy envelopes, sometimes referred to as "naked ballots," a new change that could potentially result in thousands of votes tossed out because voters don't know the rule about including the ballot in the secrecy sleeve. Pennsylvania is one of 16 states that requires both an outer envelope and an inner secrecy envelope for voters to return their ballots, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But it will be one of few states to fully enforce the requirement in order for the ballot to be counted — and it has no uniform process by which voters can fix an error with their ballot. "I think that the decision was overall pretty favorable for voters and really making sure that there are much fewer obstacles to casting a ballot this year. The thing that we were less excited about were the naked ballots, which used to be a dorky term of art among us voting people, and are now something suddenly everyone is aware of," Sara Mullen, the Advocacy and Policy Director for the Pennsylvania Civil Liberties Union, told Insider. Shortly after the ruling, Philadelphia City Commissioner and election official Lisa Deeley warned state lawmakers in a letter that, in her estimation, 30,000 to 40,000 naked ballots could be rejected in Philadelphia County alone this November and up to 100,000 statewide for the minor technical error. In the 2016 presidential election when the state required an excuse to vote by mail, less than 4% of Pennsylvanians voted with an absentee ballot. So far, 1.8 million, about 20% of Pennsylvania's 8.8 million registered voters, have requested a mail ballot for this year's presidential election, according to data compiled by the US Elections Project. Because of the partisan divides in mail ballot requests so far, the rejection of naked ballots could disproportionately affect Democratic voters and candidates. Over 70% of Pennsylvania voters who have requested ballots so far are registered Democrats, according to state data from early August, while 29% are registered Republicans. Deeley's letter prompted headlines from outlets including the Philadelphia Inquirer and Politico suggesting that the naked ballot issue could cost Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden a victory in the state or worse, trigger a major dispute over the results that could rival the 2000 election catastrophe in Florida. But Pennsylvania's limited experience with high levels of mail voting, a lack of data on rejection rates for naked ballots, and the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic make it difficult to know how, exactly, naked ballots will factor into this election. States currently use a number of measures to verify that the voter that received a mail ballot is the one who sent it back, including requiring a voter signature on the outer envelope, signature verification, and requiring that ballots be postmarked or received by a certain date. A secrecy envelope, however, doesn't serve any purpose in ensuring the integrity of mail ballots. As Deeley pointed out, the requirement was meant to add another layer of privacy when mail ballots were processed at precincts, but is no longer relevant now that ballots in Pennsylvania are counted through an automated process at a central location. "The presence of a secrecy sleeve has nothing to do with the eligibility of the voter, the accuracy, or casting of the ballot," Amber McReynolds, the CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute told Insider. "No state should reject a ballot for lack of a secrecy sleeve." A lack of data sends Pennsylvania into uncharted waters Deeley's assessment that up to 100,00 ballots statewide could be rejected is mainly an extrapolation of a small sample of just 197 ballots, or 6.4% of the total that arrived without secrecy envelopes in Philadelphia's 2019 local elections, which took place before the pandemic and before Pennsylvania's law expanding mail voting went into effect. "I don't think the numbers lie, and the difference now is that the state has gone through almost 10 months of public communication on how to securely submit a mail-in ballot," Scott Seeborg, the Pennsylvania State Director of advocacy group All Voting is Local, told Insider of Deeley's estimations. "Extensive public education will move the needle downwards on the number of 'naked ballots' even as the total volume increases to more than 20 times the 2019 levels, as we saw in the primary." Because few states use secrecy envelopes and how few counties track how many they receive, there isn't comprehensive data either in Pennsylvania or nationwide of how many naked ballots arrive at election offices every year. "The only hard data the public has on this is scattered reporting from a couple of counties in the 2020 primary and data from Philadelphia in their pre-COVID municipal election in 2019. Data quality on this issue has long been a concern and not one that is easily overcome," Jonathan Robinson, the lead research scientist at political data firm Catalist, told Insider. Forrest Lehman, the director of elections in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, told Insider that Pennsylvania's Department of State, which oversees elections, gave official guidance urging counties to accept ballots that did not come in a secrecy envelope for the state's June 2 primary. Lehman said that guidance meant that many counties, including his own, did not track precisely how many naked ballots arrived in their county, making it challenging to know what to expect in the general election. In addition to the lack of data from Pennsylvania, there aren't any nationwide statistics on how many naked ballots arrive at election offices in other states. Neither the 2016 nor 2018 Election Administration and Voting Surveys from the US Election Assistance Commission, which collects data from county officials, contain concrete statistics on how many ballots that arrived at election offices were rejected for lacking a secrecy envelope, or even mention the topic at all. 'Eating, sleeping, and breathing voter education' Suzanne Almeida, the interim executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, told Insider that while she's concerned over rule changes that increase the chances of ballots being rejected for avoidable mistakes, "the silver lining" of the court's decision was providing necessary clarity over the law. "This is only the second election where all Pennsylvania voters who want to are eligible to vote by mail. So this is a learning curve for everyone, and that actually provides us an opportunity: we're not changing an established practice, we're teaching people how to do something for the first time," she said. "I certainly think there are actionable steps we can take including voter education, and including not sounding the alarm of disenfranchisement when really, this is about teaching folks about the rules." Groups including All Voting Is Local, Common Cause, and the ACLU said that state and local election officials and other community-based organizations in Pennsylvania are already hard at work both with direct voter outreach and putting out PSAs on television and social media about secrecy envelopes, like this ad from the Democratic National Committee. Sometimes it's ok to be naked. This is not one of those times. Cover up those ballots, PA. pic.twitter.com/0ZIdhJW4vi — David Bergstein (@DavidABergstein) September 24, 2020 "There is a broad coalition eating, sleeping, and breathing voter education in the state to ensure voters understand the importance of the secrecy envelope," Seeborg said. In another wrinkle that could lead to more ballots being disqualified, Pennsylvania, unlike many other states, does not have a uniform process by which election officials are required to notify voters of problems with their ballots and give them an opportunity to cure their ballot so it can be properly counted. Lehman told Insider that it's currently up to individual counties to devise their own cure processes. But even if the state legislature did implement a statewide cure requirement, there are still hurdles. Pennsylvania's state law doesn't allow election officials to open any ballot envelopes or begin processing mail ballots until 7 am on Election Day, a rule that Lehman and other officials have been lobbying the state legislature to change to give officials more time to process ballots. Because Pennsylvania officials can't open up ballots until Election Day itself, they can only alert voters to fix the problem of failing to sign the affidavit on the outer envelope before processing starts on November 3. Making things more complicated, the state does not require that voters provide a phone number or email for election officials to easily contact voters and alert them to a problem. "The bigger problem that counties are going to have is that for many voters, you simply don't have a means to get in touch with them. You've got an address, but you don't have anything faster, like a phone number or an email address right now," Lehman said. Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why babies can't eat honey
Summary List Placement Many employers are making it easier than ever to work remotely due...Summary List Placement Many employers are making it easier than ever to work remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting millions of Americans to temporarily relocate to be with family or permanently move to a city or state with lower cost of living. While there isn't comprehensive data yet on exactly how many Americans have moved due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a Pew Research survey conducted in early June found that 22% of Americans have either moved due to the pandemic or know someone else who has. Moving can be stressful, especially during a pandemic, and updating your voter registration and making a plan to vote might seem like the least urgent thing to do during move, or for someone going off to college. But with the 2020 presidential election coming up on November 3, and deadlines to register to vote and request a ballot fast-approaching in many states, it's a good time to sort out your voting status and plan so you won't be scrambling at the last minute. "Any time you move or you have a change, don't make voting less of a priority," Amber McReynolds, the CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute and the former Director of Elections in Denver, Colorado told Insider. "That should be on your list for your change of address or that kind of thing. And it's critical to update that regularly...so do it today." How to vote if you've temporarily relocated If you've relocated within your state or to another state, you'll need to vote by absentee ballot. All 50 states allow voters who will be away from the town or county where they're registered to vote on Election Day to vote absentee. This year, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, the District of Columbia, and many counties in Montana will be sending all or most registered voters a mail-in ballot. In the remainder of the states, you must affirmatively request a mail ballot. You can find the deadlines to request an absentee ballot and whether you can do so online or by mail here. Many people who have temporarily relocated to stay with family, at a vacation home, or who have gone off to college have signed up for temporary mail forwarding with the US Postal Service, which allows your mail to be forwarded to another address for a period of two weeks up to a year. Keep in mind, however, that most states have laws prohibiting mail ballots from being forwarded by the Postal Service through permanent or temporary mail forwarding, McReynolds explained, to prevent people who have permanently moved from getting the wrong ballot. "We don't want the ballot going outside of the jurisdiction if the voter no longer lives there because they'd be voting on the wrong ballot style," she said. "If they're moving within state, or if they're moving out of state, they'd be getting a ballot from a jurisdiction they no longer live in, so it's really a security risk to forward. And if the voter is no longer there, it comes back to the election office, and the election officials can reach out and send a forwardable notice to the voter encouraging them to update their address." If you're registered to vote in one of the states or counties automatically sending registered voters a ballot, your election offices will send your ballot to the address where you're registered to vote. Because ballots cannot be forwarded, you must submit a separate absentee ballot application form to get your ballot directly sent to the address you'll be voting from. Election officials and the Postal Service are urging voters to request and return their mail ballots as soon as possible, especially for voters voting absentee from another state. Voters can now request their November absentee ballot in every US state. The Postal Service encourages domestic absentee voters to send their ballots back through the mail at least seven days before the election. You'll also want to familiarize yourself with your state's deadlines for when ballots must be received: 28 states currently require ballots be received by Election Day in order to count, while 23 states and the District of Columbia require ballots to be postmarked by Election Day or by the day before. How to vote if you've permanently moved Congratulations on the move! If you're moving within your state, you may need to update your voter registration to your new address. You can do this online in many states, and if not, you can submit a new voter registration application in your new county by mail. And if you moved to a different state, you should cancel your voter registration in your old state and re-register in your new one. While it's not illegal to be registered to vote in multiple states at once, updating your address and re-registering will help election officials maintain up-to-date voter rolls. Some states now have automatic voter registration, where voters will be registered to vote or asked if they want to register when they get a driver's license or do other business at the DMV. Most but not all states now offer online voter registration. If you recently moved to Arkansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, or Wyoming, you must register to vote either in-person at your local elections office or with a paper application mailed to your election office by your state's deadline. In some states, you may not be able to use the online registration portal if you haven't gotten a driver's license or state ID card in your new state yet, so be sure to double-check with your state's rules in case you have to register by mail. You can find the deadlines to register to vote, which states allow voters to register on Election Day, and what ways you can register in all fifty states and Washington, DC here. You must be 18 years of age and a US citizen to vote anywhere in the United States, but each state has slightly different rules to register. Some states require a person to be a resident of the state or county for a certain period of time in order to vote, and others restrict voting for some people with felony convictions. Thirty-four states will require voters to present a government-issued photo ID or an official document, like a bank statement, paystub, or utility bill showing their name and address, in order to vote in-person this year. Kathleen Unger, the founder and board chairwoman of voter protection group VoteRiders, told Insider that the organization is partnering with other advocacy groups and big law firms to give personalized assistance to voters to understand the ID laws in their state, get the required ID, and be confident in their ability to vote. Twenty-five states have non-strict photo ID laws, meaning that voters who lack the required documentation can sign an affidavit or reasonable impediment declaration under penalty of perjury in order to vote. Nine states, however, have strict voter ID laws in which voters who lack the required ID must cast a provisional ballot and later present proof of residency to have their vote counted. "People often don't think about it," Unger said of obtaining an ID. "It never ceases to amaze me that people have voter registration so ingrained in their thinking that the idea that voter ID is different from and in addition to voter registration is hard to penetrate. They hear the words voter ID, but they think voter registration. And there are a number of states where it's not enough to register to vote." If you need assistance figuring out the voter ID laws in your state, affording the costs of obtaining a photo ID, or making a photocopy of your ID to send in with your mail ballot, as required in some states, nonprofit organizations like VoteRiders can help. Some states have further restrictions on first-time voters. In Louisiana, Michigan, Tennessee, and Virginia, first-time voters who registered by mail must vote in-person in their first election, and other states require first-time voters to submit a photocopy of an ID with their ballot. Expanded Coverage Module: insider-voter-guideSEE ALSO: College campuses are closed and students don't know where they'll be on Election Day. That's a problem for the Biden campaign Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why Pikes Peak is the most dangerous racetrack in America
This new report from the US Postal Service's internal watchdog warns that late ballots, bad envelope designs, and outdated registries could jeopardize voting in November
The US Postal Service's inspector general released a report this week laying out vote-by-mail problems as...The US Postal Service's inspector general released a report this week laying out vote-by-mail problems as the November election approaches. The watchdog warns that ballots will be mailed too close to the election. It also details problems with ballot designs and outdated voter registries. 'Mailers, election boards, and voters are likely to mail Election and Political Mail too close to an election,' the report says. The audit comes as Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a longtime GOP megadonor, has been under fire for proposed cost-cutting measures at the agency. This audit doesn't account for DeJoy's proposed changes, which he said he would postpone. The IG's office is investigating those changes separately. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. A new report from the US Postal Service's internal watchdog spells out several potential problems with mail-in-voting, including a warning that voters could send ballots too close to Election Day and they won't be delivered in time to get officially counted. Other concerns in the 33-page report from USPS Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb's office include problems with ballot envelope designs, outdated voter registries and struggles with tracking ballots. The stakes are high for the post office, which has been drawn into the national political debate between President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden amid its own financial strains and an expectation that the coronavirus pandemic will spur more Americans than ever to avoid the polls and choose to vote by mail. "Timely delivery of Election and Political Mail is necessary to ensure the integrity of the U.S. election process," the USPS inspector general's office wrote. In addition to the presidential election, all 435 seats in the US House and 35 of the 100 seats in the US Senate are up for grabs around the country in November. Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines The inspector general office's findings come as mail-in-ballots and the Postal Service have emerged as flashpoints heading into the election. Louis DeJoy, a longtime GOP megadonor, has been criticized for announcing major cost-cutting structural changes at USPS shortly after he took over as postmaster general in June. After critics complained that DeJoy's changes were aimed at limiting mail-in voting, he changed course and said he'd suspend the planned overhaul until after the election. Under DeJoy's direction, the USPS deactivated mail-sorting machines at processing centers across the US. DeJoy had also announced changes to overtime policy and mail collection boxes were removed. Those efforts were blamed for additional mail slowdowns around the country. The new report from the post office's inspector general notes that it does not examine the recent operational changes at USPS or "the significant increases in delayed mail at delivery units experienced this summer." The watchdog office is separately investigating how those planned changes will impact mail service. Still, the report lays out several concerns that might slow down political and election mail this fall, including the late arrival of ballots back to the local government officials tasked with tabulating the results. "Mailers, election boards, and voters are likely to mail Election and Political Mail too close to an election," the report says. During the primary election season from June 2 through Aug. 13 of this year, election boards mailed more than 1 million ballots to voters late (within seven days of an election), according to Postal Service management. Election boards in Kentucky and New York accounted for 60% — more than 628,000 — of the ballots sent out late to voters, the Postal Service inspector general found. In 11 states, more than 44,000 ballots were sent from the election boards to voters the day of or day before the state's primary election. And in Pennsylvania, 500 ballots were sent from the election board to voters the day after the election. More red flags: Barcodes, envelope design and outdated registration lists Another problem could be a lack of barcodes on some ballots. There's no requirement for ballots to have barcodes, but the Postal Service and election board can't track the ballot envelopes that don't have them, the report says. Data analyzed from the 2018 midterm election showed that only 13% of election mail used barcodes. Voters might also get their ballots returned to them if their ballot envelopes are designed in a way that confuses sorting machines, the report says. For example, if an envelope contains more than two addresses or doesn't have the election office address included on the envelope, it might be returned to the sender. Outdated voter registration lists can also cause absentee ballots to be returned to election officials as undeliverable. "Some states only update voter address information every two years and run the risk of using outdated addresses for their registered residents who have moved," the audit found. That can cause absentee ballots to be returned to election officials as undeliverable. For its part, the Postal Service has "frequently communicated to state election officials the importance of ballot mailpiece tracking and design, the required timeframes for processing and delivering mail, and the importance of updating voter addresses," according to the audit. Looking beyond 2020, the IG report concludes that there's a need to develop a mail product that better addresses the requirements associated with voting by mail for future election cycles. Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why electric planes haven't taken off yet