Mail-in Voting Does Not Increase Chance of Election Fraud—Study

A new study has concluded that the increase of mail-in voting during the last election due to the COVID-19 pandemic did not result a bigger risk of the results being disputed.

According to the study, published in the scientific journal Risk Analysis, the rise of mail-in ballots in 2020 did not jeopardize the safety of the U.S. election process, despite what has been claimed for more than a year by Donald Trump and his allies while pushing false crimes of widespread voter fraud.

In order to come to the conclusion, Natalie Scala, associate professor at Towson University and an expert in elections security, looked into the risks involved with mail-based voting, along with colleagues from the Towson and the U.S. Military Academy.

The findings are based on a data analysis of the potential risks with mail voting known as the "attack tree," generated in 2009 by the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) and the University of South Alabama.

The "attack tree" format was established to determine an inventory of potential threats for ways to such vote, such as by mail, which are then split into organized branches of threats: insider threats, external threats, and voter error.

The study notes the "attack tree" can outline dozens of potential problematic scenarios related to mail-in voting, including dead people casting ballots to "coercion of voters via advertisements."

The state of Maryland was used as a case study for the research and the "attack tree" was updated to include changes which were forced at the last election due the pandemic, such as the existence of more drop boxes, extra time for returning ballots, and an increase of reasons to request absentee ballots.

The study then identified 30 "new" threats related to mail-in ballots which arose from the 2020 Election, based on discussions with Board of Elections officials, media reports and information from bipartisan think tanks and organizations.

These include "insider threats" of manipulating a return envelope, "external" threats such as stealing blank ballots from mailboxes, and "voter error" such as expired voter ID.

However, none of the 30 "new" threats were identified by the analysis as of high concern.

"What we found in our study is that the dramatic scale-up of mail voting in the 2020 election did not increase risk," Scala said in a statement. "We argue that expanding mail voting is safe and should be used moving forward because it increases voter access and reduces the likelihood of adversarial interference."

Overall, the study identified 73 potential threat scenarios associated with mail-based voting—40 insider, 23 external, and 10 voter error—which were then assessed to determine the likelihood of each scenario.

The results indicate that the top three most likely threat scenarios to have occurred in the updated attack tree were: losing a ballot in the destination mailroom (insider threat), organizing coercion through debate and vote parties (external threat), and failing to sign a ballot correctly (voter error).

All three of the most likely scenarios that could occur were found in the original "attack tree" which had not been updated for the 2020 Election, with along with five other "higher-than-average" potential threats.

"To fully secure the integrity of mail-based votes, these scenarios should have the attention of election officials and policy makers," Scala said, adding most states and localities already had mitigations in place before 2020 to look out for these potential risks.

mail in vote
Mail-in ballots in their envelopes await processing at the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorders' mail-in ballot processing center at the Pomona Fairplex in Pomona, California, October 28, 2020. A study has found that the recent increase in mail-based voting due to COVID-19 has not jeopardized the safety of the U.S. elections process. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images