by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Between 2012 and 2018, 28.3 million mail-in ballots remain unaccounted for, according to data from the federal Election Assistance Commission. The missing ballots amount to nearly one in five of all absentee ballots and ballots mailed to voters residing in states that do elections exclusively by mail.
States and local authorities simply have no idea what happened to these ballots since they were mailed – and the figure of 28 million missing ballots is likely even higher because some areas in the country, notably Chicago, did not respond to the federal agency’s survey questions. This figure does not include ballots that were spoiled, undeliverable, or came back for any reason.
Although there is no evidence that the millions of missing ballots were used fraudulently, the Public Interest Legal Foundation, which compiled the public data provided from the Election Assistance Commission, says that the sheer volume of them raises serious doubts about election security.
These questions are particularly relevant as the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing states across the country to rapidly expand vote-by-mail operations in an election year. Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Ron Wyden have proposed the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020, a bill that would allow every eligible voter the opportunity to vote by mail, regardless of state laws governing mail-in ballots.
A significant increase in mail-in voting this fall could greatly incentivize “ballot harvesting,” where third parties collect mail-in ballots on behalf of voters and deliver them to election officials. There’s long been a consensus that such a practice incentivizes fraud, and ballot harvesting is illegal in most of the country. Public debate over the issue has intensified in recent years after a GOP operative in North Carolina was indicted for crimes related to ballot harvesting in 2018.
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