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On the day after Election Day, Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West joined conservative talk radio host Rick Roberts on the air to express concerns about Joe Biden’s lead over President Donald Trump after mail-in ballots in several battleground states were tallied.
West’s grievances over absentee ballots were similar to the claims made by some Republicans since Election Day — that the record numbers of mail-in ballots led to widespread voter fraud that allowed Democrats to steal the election from Trump. (No evidence has yet been uncovered proving these claims.)
But West takes the claims of fraud further by not just casting aspersions on mail-in voting. He goes on to say, without citing evidence, that early in-person voting also invites fraud.
"We don’t need to have this early voting. The election day should be a national holiday, but when you hear people talk about we can extend (the early voting period by) two days, seven days, two weeks after Election Day," West said, apparently misspeaking about when early voting occurs relative to Election Day. "It just opens it up for this chicanery and this fraud that we’re seeing."
"There’s no doubt," replied Roberts, who hosts his show on WBAP 820 in Dallas-Fort Worth. "I agree with absolutely everything you’ve just said."
It’s not the first time West attacked early voting. In September, West and a handful of Republican officials sued Gov. Greg Abbott over his decision to extend early voting by six days amid the coronavirus pandemic.
West and the other Republicans argued that Abbott’s move defied the Texas Election Code, which states that "early voting by personal appearance begins on the 17th day before election day and continues through the fourth day before election day."
The suit, which was later rejected by the state Supreme Court, did not suggest that extending early voting would open the voting process to fraud, as West claimed last week.
Claims that voting by mail has led to widespread voter fraud have been widely scrutinized and repeatedly debunked. Let’s take a look at how often fraud has occurred during the early in-person voting period.
It’s unclear what West means by his use of the word "chicanery." Neither his office nor the Republican Party of Texas responded to inquiries asking for clarification. We can be more certain that his use of the term "fraud" implies illegally manipulating the electoral process by voting illegally, exploiting the mail ballot system or the voter assistance process intended for voters who cannot read or mark their own ballots.
Experts say that among the rare cases of voter fraud across the country, most are done via mail-in voting rather than during in-person early voting.
"Of the minuscule level of voter fraud cases that have been documented, more are associated with absentee/voting by mail than with early in-person voting and with precinct place voting," said Paul Gronke, a professor and the director of the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College. "But I have to stress that the overall level is minuscule, and nearly all the documented cases have to deal with tens of ballots and in local elections."
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, maintains an Election Fraud Database — a compendium of voter fraud cases that have resulted in convictions. Although the list is not exhaustive, the foundation says it is "intended to demonstrate the vulnerabilities in the election system and the many ways in which fraud is committed."
Between 1982 and 2020, the foundation has recorded 1,298 instances of voter fraud that have resulted in 1,121 criminal convictions. Fewer than 100 were reported in Texas. The category with the most cases is ineligible voting with 269 cases recorded, followed by 208 cases involving absentee ballots. Around 10 cases, or about 1% of all cases documented in the database, were directly tied to the exploitation of early in-person voting.
Two common ways people attempted fraud via early voting was by crossing state lines to submit duplicate ballots, or by mailing an absentee ballot then voting again in person.
For instance, in 2017, a man in North Carolina was convicted for sending a mail-in ballot during a primary election where he was running for a local office then voting again during the first day of early in-person voting, according to the Heritage Foundation’s database.
But there are safeguards against such measures, Gronke said. Modern election systems assign absentee ballots with a unique identifier and barcode tying the ballot to a voter. If that voter attempted to vote again in person, their name would be flagged. In Texas, each county is responsible for securing mail ballots this way.
States can also secure elections against interstate duplicative voting by joining the Electronic Voter Registration Information Center, a consortium of states that share and cross reference voter registration information. Texas became the 30th state to join the consortium earlier this year.
"ERIC does very sophisticated matching," Gronke said. "It checks death records, it checks national change-of-address records from the Postal Service, then it compares (voter information) across states."
In the years after the founding of the U.S., voting was held over several days to give rural citizens time to travel to the polls. But in 1845, the federal government restricted presidential voting to a single day to prevent people from crossing state lines to vote more than once, according to University of Florida political scientist Michael McDonald.
Early voting returned during the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln extended absentee voting to soldiers in his 1864 race against George McClellan. Absentee voting practices expanded during the 20th century as states adopted mail-in voting laws.
Texas became one of the pioneering states for early in-person voting when the Legislature allowed it in 1987 in addition to absentee voting. In the 1988 presidential election, about 20% of votes in Texas were cast early. Its popularity has grown steadily since. This year a record 57% of registered voters cast early ballots.
The rhetoric around voting fraud did not arise until after the 2000 presidential election, when the Miami-Dade canvassing board stopped a recount in response to accusations of fraud, according to a New York Times investigation.
The fraud rhetoric gained further prominence on the eve of the 2008 presidential election, when the FBI launched an investigation into the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now — or ACORN, a nationwide voter registration group — for submitting fraudulent voter registrations.
The Times reported that the investigation led to no major federal indictments, but the headlines gave the voter fraud narrative enough momentum to carry into the Trump era.
Allen West suggested during a radio appearance that early voting should be eliminated because it makes the voting process vulnerable to "this chicanery and this fraud that we’re seeing."
There’s no evidence indicating that early voting is any more or less risky than Election Day voting.
A database of documented voter fraud cases maintained by the right-leaning Heritage Foundation shows that fraud tied to in-person early voting is exceedingly rare. Among the 1,298 instances of fraud recorded since 1982, 208 cases involved absentee ballots and around 10 cases were directly tied to early in-person voting.
We rate this claim False.
WBAP, Rick Roberts: Is America A Banana Republic?, Nov. 4, 2020
Texas Tribune, Texas Republicans sue to stop Gov. Greg Abbott's extension of early voting period during the pandemic, Sept. 23, 2020
Austin American-Statesman, Top Texas court rejects GOP leaders’ bid to limit early voting time, Oct. 7, 2020
Texas Attorney General’s Office, Election Integrity, accessed Nov. 10, 2020
Interview with Professor Paul Gronke, Reed College, Nov. 12, 2020
The Heritage Foundation, Heritage Leads the Way to Protect the Integrity of Elections, Nov. 8, 2020
The Heritage Foundation, A Sampling of Recent Election Fraud Cases from Across the United States, accessed Nov. 11, 2020
Austin Community College, Early Voting in Texas: What Are the Effects?, accessed Nov. 10, 2020
Ryan Data and Research, 2020 General Election Early Voting Analysis Statewide, Nov. 3, 2020
Huffington Post, A Brief History of Early Voting, Sept. 28, 2016
New York Times Magazine, The Attack on Voting, Sept. 30, 2020
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