Twitter is no longer willing to just let President Trump and his critics battle things out on their own. In response to a Tweet from the President on Tuesday morning, the social media giant posted a “What you need to know” disclaimer. It declared: “Trump falsely claimed that mail-in ballots would lead to ‘a Rigged Election.’ However, fact-checkers say there is no evidence that mail-in ballots are linked to voter fraud.”
It echoes Joe Biden’s claim last week that there is “no evidence whatsoever” of vote fraud with mail-in ballots.
Contrast Twitter’s claim with this statement: “Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.” That quote isn’t by President Trump. It was the conclusion of the bipartisan Jimmy Carter-James Baker 2005 “Building Confidence in U.S. Elections” report.
Twitter might not agree with Jimmy Carter and the commission, but to say that “there is no evidence” is wrong.
It is hard to see how Trump’s Tweet is false. He claims that mail-in ballots are “substantially fraudulent.” Whether something is “substantial" is in the eye of the beholder. Mail-in ballot fraud has clearly altered the outcome of elections, making it significant to some.
Courts have ruled that mail-in ballot fraud has changed the outcome of elections: Democrats gained control of the Pennsylvania state Senate in 1994 and the Miami 1998 mayoral election. But it isn’t just cases from a couple of decades ago. Other recent examples include the 2017 Dallas City Council and the 2018 North Carolina Congressional race.
Mail-in ballots aren’t secure. They surely are less secure than in-person voting, and that makes fraud more likely.
In Nevada this month, many mail-in ballots were sent to inactive voters. “They’re not secured at all and there are thousands of them just sitting here,” Jenny Trobiani, a postal worker in Clark County, told Fox News. Local residents were concerned that anyone could pick up the ballots and cast a fraudulent vote.
In West Virginia, one mail carrier currently faces charges of tampering mail-in ballots that had already been filled in by registered voters.
A case in New Jersey this spring illustrates how difficult it is to actually catch people who engage in large scale fraud. In Paterson and Haledon, New Jersey, vote fraud was only discovered because a perpetrator was foolish enough to send 600 mail-in ballots in bundles ranging in size from 13 to 40 letters. Fortunately, an observant mailman realized that something was wrong. But, as usual, the perpetrator was never caught. After all, it isn’t as though the criminal signed his name to the ballots.
Proponents of mail-in ballots like to point to the small number of convictions for vote fraud, but they overlook the difficulty of enforcing laws against mail-in ballot fraud when you can’t even figure out who did it. Even when cases are discovered, they are not always prosecuted. The Public Interest Legal Foundation is suing Allegheny County, Pennsylvania for allowing the same person to use the same name, same address, and same birthday to register to vote seven times. But few people committing fraud make the cases that obvious.
Vote buying is even more difficult to detect because both parties involved in the transaction have an incentive to hide it.
The concern over mail-in ballots isn’t limited to the United States. Western European countries such as Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, and Norway don’t allow mail-in ballots. The U.K. allows mail-in ballots for the blind or otherwise physically incapacitated. Mexico banned mail-in ballots altogether in 1991 because of rampant fraud. Since 2006, Mexico has allowed mail-in ballots only for those living outside the country.
Mail-in ballots can be intercepted, meaning that they are not truly secret. People completing a mail-in ballot at home may face extra pressure from family members or roommates.
The secret ballot was introduced in various states between 1888 and 1950, in large part to prevent vote-buying. Secret ballots made it much more difficult for vote-buyers to monitor which candidates that a person voted for. According to my own research with Larry Kenny at the University of Florida, voter turnout fell by about 8–12 percent after states adopted secret ballots.
Many Twitter accounts frequently claim that there is “no evidence” of mail-in vote fraud.
CNN misleading Tweeted “Republican National Committee sues California to halt vote-by-mail for November election.” In fact, the RNC just sued to stop the state from automatically sending mail-in ballots to everyone registered to vote.
But don’t expect Twitter to attach warning labels to these false and misleading posts. From shadow banning and locking conservative accounts, to now posting warning labels, Twitter is not letting the battle of ideas proceed without tipping the scale towards liberals.