There are a panoply of problems with H.R. 1 and S.1 — the House and Senate companion bills that would effect a massive voter overhaul on the federal level on an unprecedented scale. A lot of them center on how the so-called “For the People Act” deals with mail-in voting.
The bills stipulate that no state can “require an individual to provide any form of identification as a condition of obtaining an absentee ballot,” nor can it “require notarization or witness signature or other formal authentication (other than voter attestation) as a condition of obtaining or casting an absentee ballot.”
The bills effectively make ballot harvesting legal nationwide, too; each state “shall permit a voter to designate any person to return a voted and sealed absentee ballot to the post office, a ballot drop-off location, tribally designated building, or election office so long as the person designated to return the ballot does not receive any form of compensation based on the number of ballots that the person has returned and no individual, group, or organization provides compensation on this basis.”
In other words, as long as the designees aren’t paid by the ballot, they can collect the ballot.
They can collect as many of them as they want, too: States “may not put any limit on how many voted and sealed absentee ballots any designated person can return to the post office, a ballot drop off location, tribally designated building, or election office.”
But as we’ve been told, mail-in voting and ballot-harvesting are perfectly safe and don’t tilt the electoral scales at all — right?
That’s not the conclusion from an audit of the mail-in votes in an overwhelmingly liberal part of Montana, an account of which was published by RealClearInvestigations last week. Not only did the audit find roughly 7 percent of counted mail-in ballots were invalid, there was evidence of fraud — particularly involving nursing homes.
The audit concerned Missoula County, Montana. The county seat is Missoula, a college town invariably described as “eclectic” or “weird in a good way” by your cousin who drives a 15-year-old Subaru, has considered buying a tiny house and who always warns you when you visit not to eat any of the brownies you might find stashed away in a kitchen cabinet because she’s saving them for, um, one of her neighbors.
Its 119,600 residents represent roughly one-tenth the state’s population and it’s one of the reasons why Montana can occasionally go blue for statewide offices. When Democrat Montana Gov. Steve Bullock declared that any county could conduct its elections entirely by mail during the 2020 cycle, Missoula opted in.
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Furthermore, in September, a court struck down a Montana law that prohibited ballot harvesting.
According to The Associated Press, the law had been passed in a public referendum in 2018 with 64 percent of the vote.
In late September of last year, Montana District Judge Jessica Fehr ruled the law disenfranchised Native Americans. So, just in time for the presidential election, ballot harvesting was made legal everywhere in the state, including Missoula County.
According to the report of the audit in RealClearInvestigations by author and researcher John R. Lott Jr. — president of the Crime Research Prevention Center and adviser to the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy under the Trump administration — the audit effort began when a group of Missoula County voters concerned about the integrity of mail-in balloting formed in October
In November, they approached Republican state Rep. Brad Tschida, who agreed to take on their cause. Together with lawyer Quentin Rhoades, they got Missoula County Elections Administrator Bradley Seaman, a Democrat, to agree to a volunteer-conducted audit of ballot envelopes legally counted in the 2020 election.
The first problem in counting the ballot envelopes? The number that were absent, for starters.
According to Lott, “4,592 out of the 72,491 mail-in ballots lacked envelopes — 6.33% of all votes.”
“Without an officially printed envelope with registration information, a voter’s signature, and a postmark indicating whether it was cast on time, election officials cannot verify that a ballot is legitimate. It is against the law to count such votes,” Lott noted.
The problem may have been even worse than the auditors found, given that county employees told auditors that some of the envelopes may have been double-counted. Ironically, Missoula County Elections Administrator Bradley Seaman tried to wave away the lack of ballot envelopes by saying that a “double-check process” had been part of the reason for the numerical discrepancy.
According to Lott, when Rhoades told Seaman that election staffers thought they had undercounted the number of missing envelopes — leading to the possibility of a larger discrepancy, not a smaller one — the lawyer said “Seaman appeared extremely nervous and had no explanation.”
There were further issues beyond the envelopes, too.
“Auditors also tested a smaller, random sub-sample of 15,455 mail-in envelopes for other defects,” Lott wrote. “Of these, 55 lacked postmark dates, and 53 never had their signatures checked — for a total of 0.7% of all ballots in the sample. No envelope had more than one irregularity.”
Another major issue was the fact “[d]ozens of ballot envelopes bore strikingly similar, distinctive handwriting styles in the signatures, suggesting that one or several persons may have filled out and submitted multiple ballots, an act of fraud.”
One auditor found that 28 of these ballots, with signatures that looked “exactly the same,” came from a single address — a nursing home, Lott wrote. Another auditor said she saw two different, distinct signatures that kept recurring on the envelopes she reviewed.
Nursing homes, it’s worth noting, have also been a popular target of ballot harvesters.
In an August report published in the New York Post, a Democratic operative who had decades of experience committing vote fraud in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania elections, said nursing homes were prime targets for fraudsters. In those cases, the insider said, paid operatives would “literally fill it [the ballot] out” for residents.
Montana elections can be close. Now-former Gov. Bullock himself won his first term in 2012 by just 7,571 votes out of over 500,000 cast. In 2020, House District 94 was decided by 435 votes out of more than 6,000 cast, and House District 96, 190 votes out of more than 7,000 cast.
As Lott wrote, discrepancies like those turned up in the audit that “could have easily swung local elections” this year alone.
That being said, that shouldn’t be the wider takeaway from the audit. Missoula County is just one example of how mail-in voting in the 2020 election was, if you want to be charitable, conducted haphazardly. (If you wanted to be less charitable, you could point out that the “haphazard” nature of whoever was driving election policy always seemed to veer toward the left.)
And yet, Democrats think this worked great, which is why they want to make mail-in voting contingent on nothing but a signature, with no ID, no witness and no notarization required. Also, nationwide ballot harvesting, since that’s worked out great, too.
Yes, it has. It’s worked out great for them. Any attempt at taking a close look at the process is usually thwarted, however — and the audit in Missoula County is an object lesson in why that is and why we need laws that aim to guarantee election integrity, not undermine it.
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