Why I don't like voting by mail

Stephen W. Browne

There are proposals that we do our voting by mail in the upcoming election due to the COVID crisis. I believe this is a very bad idea and here's why.

To begin with, we don't trust each other. And by 'don't trust each other' I mean the right believes the left is attempting to impose tyranny on our country and the left believes the right wants to declare martial law and murder them, or failing that spread COVID around to do the job.

The lunatic fringe of both sides has always had beliefs of this sort, but they are becoming increasingly mainstream.

Each side believes the other cheats in elections. The left believes the right commits 'voter suppression.' The right believes the left engages in fraudulent voting by dead people, illegal residents, etc.

I have my own opinions about which is more likely. Consider the logistics of suppressing large numbers of voters versus simple ballot box stuffing for example.

But it doesn't matter! What's important is the confidence the public has in the electoral process. The concerns of both sides must be addressed, whether they are found to be valid or not. We have to find out one way or the other.

Hint to my friends on the left, it does not inspire confidence when you state, 'Your concerns are a fantasy so we don't have to address them.'

So now is not the time to be messing around with the electoral process when we're sitting on a powder keg.

A friend in the UK says they've done it there for years.

My question to him was, so did they put the system in place hurriedly in a few months?

And can anyone cite a government program of this magnitude that worked perfectly right away? Because in the case of national elections, 'works well enough' isn't good enough.

Another friend brought up the issues of privacy and veracity. We have a secret ballot for a reason, so your voting choice can never be known for sure and used against you.

But he pointed out, an anonymous system such as we have presents its own problems with potential fraud.

Mail in ballots have several points of failure. Chief among these being a sudden surge on the postal system. What about massive delays in delivery, of as much as weeks? What if delayed ballots affect the outcome? How long would it be before we knew the outcome of the election?

Cast your memory back to the recent mail out of stimulus checks.

And note, this does not require bad faith on anyone's part. It is likely to happen merely because of the complexity of the system.

The way it was explained to me was in terms of what engineers call 'coupling,' in which one component of a complex system implicitly depends on another. A consequence of this is failure at any one point in the system can cause catastrophic cascading failure.

Examples include Apollo 13 and the Great Blackouts of 1965 and 2003.

Coupling the post office and the voting systems of all 50 states could create the perfect storm of 2020.

Can all of these problems be solved in a way that reassure both sides of the integrity of the vote, and are not implemented by shoving it down the throats of people suspicious of the motives and intentions of the other side?

Perhaps eventually yes. But do you think it can be done in the three months we have until the election?