Montana Ballot Review Shows the Risks of Mail-in Vote Fraud | Opinion

House Democrats are intent on making mail-in voting permanent and widespread. They passed and sent to the Senate an election reform bill—the For the People Act—that would force states to move to mail-in ballots. Combined with President Biden's executive order on voting, Democrats want to make the pandemic voting rules permanent.

We constantly hear that there is no evidence of absentee ballot fraud in the 2020 election. But one state—Montana—has been reckoning with new evidence of how well its 2020 mail-in election went. If the results from Missoula County are any indication, it didn't go well.

State representative Brad Tschida reviewed the Missoula County votes with the assistance of the county's elections office. He found that 4,592 out of all 72,491 mail-in ballots—6.33 percent of the total—did not have envelopes. That is a real problem. It is against the law to count such ballots, as there would be no way to match up signatures to verify that the vote is from a registered voter.

These concerns were significant enough that Montana's governor, Greg Gianforte, announced on April 1 that he talked to Montana secretary of state Christi Jacobsen about investigating them. He also mentioned that he "repealed the prior governor's executive order that mandated all mail-in ballots. So we are going to go back to polling places. I think that it is easier to assure integrity when we do that."

What makes the Montana investigation so important is that it is the only one so far that has looked at all the envelopes in a county. That compares to the 100 envelopes examined in Maricopa County, Arizona, and the 10 percent of the envelopes examined in Cobb County, Georgia.

When asked about the ballots, Missoula County elections administrator Bradley Seaman had no explanation for the missing envelopes. He now claims those counting didn't have proper training or clear procedures. But counting envelopes isn't difficult. County election officials set up the process for the count and supervised it, and those doing the count did exactly as they were told.

Indeed, the only comment made to those counting ballots during the process was that they may have been given the same envelopes twice to count.

A random set of about 15,000 Missoula mail-in ballots were checked for other problems. According to volunteers working with Tschida, 55 did not have dates and 53 did not have their signatures checked. That equals a rate of 0.7 percent.

Extrapolating from this sub-sample, and in addition to the 6.33 percent of ballots with no envelopes, that would amount to more than 5,000 Missoula County votes—over 7 percent—with unexplained irregularities.

voting booths
Empty voting booths are seen in Flint, Michigan at the Berston Fieldhouse polling place on November 3, 2020. The US is voting Tuesday in an election amounting to a referendum on Donald Trump's uniquely brash and bruising presidency, which Democratic opponent and frontrunner Joe Biden urged Americans to end to restore "our democracy." Seth Herald/AFP/Getty Images

And there were other problems. Twenty-eight envelopes from one nursing home allegedly had the same signature. Many dozens of envelopes had identical signatures, but Tschida wasn't able to determine the precise number of them. Nor did election officials allow pictures of these identical signatures despite multiple requests.

Several close races in Missoula might have been affected by these problems. Only 190 votes determined the winner of House District 96. The margin in District 94 was 435 votes.

Vote fraud in Missoula County—the state's second most populous county—could determine some statewide elections. In 2012, the Democratic superintendent of public education won the race by 2,231 votes. Steve Bullock won the governorship by just 7,571 votes.

Concerns over fraud with absentee and mail-in ballots aren't limited to the United States. Indeed, almost all European countries have much stricter voting rules to prevent fraud. For example, 74 percent of European countries ban absentee voting altogether. Many countries previously allowed absentee ballots until they discovered massive fraud.

Another 21 percent either limit absentee voting to those in the military or to voters in the hospital, and that one present a photo voter ID to acquire a ballot. This pattern holds for developed countries around the world.

If concern about voter fraud with mail-in ballots is delusional, it is a delusion shared by most of the world. Almost all democracies require government-issued photo IDs to vote. Americans are frequently assured even this step is unnecessary.

Whether the 7 percent gap in Montana was due to incompetence or intentional fraud, it is not acceptable.

Montana will hopefully be a wakeup call before the Senate votes on election reforms. Without basic precautions such as photo IDs and getting rid of mail-in ballots, our elections are on course to become the laughing stock of the developed world.

John R. Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center. Up until January, Lott was the senior adviser for research and statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Legal Policy, and he worked on vote fraud issues.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

Update (4/6/21, 2:40 PM EST): The statements that election officials are required to record video of the opening of ballots, that Brad Tschida conducted an "audit" and that mail-in ballots would have postmarks have been removed.

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