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Critics of voting by mail have frequently plucked out one sentence from a 2005 bipartisan report written by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker III that stated, “Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.”
The 2005 report did not call for eliminating mail-in voting. It noted that absentee voting worked in some places and recommended ways to improve security. It called for further study.
In 2020 and 2021, Carter defended the use of voting by mail. He and his wife voted by mail for the current midterm elections, a spokesperson said.
Former President Donald Trump, who has long spread falsehoods about mail ballots, recently distorted what former President Jimmy Carter said about voting by mail.
During an Oct. 31 interview on Sebastian Gorka’s podcast, Trump said: "2020 was a really bad period because they used so many of the mail-in ballots. Mail-in ballots by (their) very nature, even Jimmy Carter said, don’t ever use them, that will be corrupt, they can be so easily corrupted."
Carter raised security concerns about mail ballots in a 2005 report that addressed mail and in-person voting. But the report, which he co-wrote with James Baker III, President George H.W. Bush’s secretary of state, did not state "don’t ever use" mail-in ballots.
An Instagram post by Gorka that included a clip of the interview was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.) The caption on the post said, "Are Elections Safe in America?"
Trump’s statement also omitted that nearly two decades later, voting experts and officials know far more about absentee voting security and how to improve it.
In 2020, Carter encouraged expansion of voting by mail during the coronavirus pandemic, and in 2021 he reiterated his belief in voting by mail. A spokesperson told us that Carter and his wife cast mail ballots for the current midterm elections. Trump himself has sometimes used a mail ballot.
Former President Jimmy Carter, left, and former Secretary of State James Baker, co-chairs of the Commission on Federal Election Reform, discuss their report to Congress during a news conference on Capitol Hill Monday, Sept. 19, 2005. (AP)
The American University Center for Democracy and Election Management organized a bipartisan commission to recommend ways to improve the electoral process following the 2000 presidential recount in Florida. Carter and Baker co-chaired the commission.
The report included 87 recommendations, on everything from voter registration to polling sites to post-election audits. At the time, it got the most attention for recommendations to add paper trails to electronic machines and to implement photo voter ID requirements.
Although the 2005 report generally communicated a dim view of absentee voting, it didn’t call for its elimination. Instead, it noted that absentee voting worked in some places and it recommended ways to improve security.
As an instance of breached mail-in voting security, the Carter-Baker report pointed to the 1997 Miami mayoral race. That election was overturned the following year after 55 people, including a Miami city commissioner and his chief of staff, were charged with voter fraud for manipulating mail-in ballots.
"Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud," the report stated. (That line referenced another report that year from independent think tank the Century Foundation, in which academics raised similar concerns.)
Absentee voting is vulnerable to abuse in several ways, the Carter-Baker report stated. Ballots sent to the wrong address could get intercepted, it said, and citizens might be subject to intimidation if they vote at home, in a nursing home or at work.
The report included tips for improving absentee voting security, such as prohibiting people from handling absentee ballots other than for themselves or family members. The report also recommended ways to improve access for absentee voting for people with disabilities and military and overseas voters.
The report said mail voting had succeeded in some places. "Oregon appears to have avoided significant fraud in its vote-by-mail elections by introducing safeguards to protect ballot integrity, including signature verification," it said.
The commission called for "further research on the pros and cons of voting by mail."
In May 2020, Carter urged political leaders to expand voting by mail amid concerns that COVID-19 would spread at in-person polling sites. The Carter Center acknowledged that the Carter-Baker commission had warned of security concerns, but said "since 2005, many states have gained substantial experience in vote-by-mail and have shown how key concerns can be effectively addressed through appropriate planning, resources, training, and messaging."
Carter said in September 2020, "I approve the use of absentee ballots and have been using them for more than five years."
In 2021, as Georgia lawmakers sought new rules for mail voting, Carter reaffirmed his belief in voting by mail’s merits. Carter said that since 2005 "vote-by-mail practices have progressed significantly as new technologies have been developed.
"In light of these advances, I believe that voting by mail can be conducted in a manner that ensures election integrity," he said.
Some voter fraud prosecutions related to mail ballots arise every election cycle, but they are a tiny speck of the total number of votes cast.
The most high-profile example of absentee ballot fraud in recent years was in a 2018 North Carolina congressional election after evidence surfaced that the Republican candidate benefited from an effort to collect absentee ballots from voters.
In 2020, there were sporadic prosecutions of mail ballot voter fraud, but none were enough to change the election’s outcome. Two women were convicted in Arizona related to the use of ballot drop boxes and a few people in Florida were prosecuted for casting ballots in two states. We also found a handful of people nationwide who cast ballots in the names of dead relatives.
Election experts point to multiple steps states and local jurisdictions have taken to improve the mail-in voting’s security. The majority of states are members of the nationwide Electronic Registration Information Center, which allows them access to data showing voters who have moved within their state or out of state, have died or have duplicate registrations.
One way election officials check to ensure that registered voters are the ones who cast mail ballots is to compare their signatures on the envelope with voter registration records
Trump said that Carter said "don’t ever use" mail-in ballots because "they can be so easily corrupted."
In 2005, Carter co-wrote a report that stated "absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud." But the report did not call for voters to never use mail voting. It called for further research on voting by mail and noted that such voting didn’t result in problems everywhere.
Trump omitted that the report was written nearly two decades ago and that in 2020 and 2021 Carter repeatedly praised the use of voting by mail — and uses it himself.
We rate this claim False.
Salem News Media, Sebastian Gorka interview with former President Donald Trump, Oct. 31, 2022
Email interview, Soyia Ellison, spokesperson at the Carter Center, Nov. 4, 2022
Federal Commission on Election Reform, Building confidence in
U.S. elections, September 2005
The Century Foundation, Balancing Access And Integrity, July 30, 2005
Carter Center, Carter Center Statement on Voting by Mail for 2020 U.S. Elections, May 6, 2020
Carter Center, Jimmy Carter on Absentee Ballots, Sept. 3, 2020
Carter Center, President Carter Statement on Efforts to Restrict Voting Access, March 9, 2021
Washington Secretary of State, Vote by mail timeline
Washington Post, Carter-Baker Panel to Call for Voting Fixes, Sept. 19, 2005
C-SPAN, Clip of Kayleigh McEnany, Sept. 3, 2020
Judicial Watch, Mail-In Ballot Fraud in New Jersey Signals National Trouble, July 2020
U.S. Supreme Court, Motion of President Donald Trump to intervene, Dec. 9, 2020
John Lott, Very Concerning Evidence of Vote Fraud in California Recall Election, Sept. 14, 2021
Sen. Lindsey Graham, Testimony, April 21, 2021
Texas State Rep. Jacey Jetton, Press release about State Bill 6, 2021
New York Times, Fraud Ruling Invalidates Miami Mayoral Election, March 5, 1998
Bloomberg, Sparse Voter-Fraud Cases Undercut Claims of Widespread Abuses, July 21, 2021
Associated Press, Disputing Trump, Barr says no widespread election fraud, Dec. 1, 2020
PolitiFact, Trump’s cascade of falsehoods about voting by mail, Nov. 1, 2020
Email interview, Soyia Ellison, spokesperson at the Carter Center, Sept. 14, 2021
Email statement, former Secretary of State James Baker III to PolitiFact, Sept. 15, 2021
Telephone interview, Kim Wyman, Washington Secretary of State, Sept. 15, 2021
Telephone interview, Justin Roebuck, Ottawa County Clerk in Michigan, Sept. 15, 2021
Email interview, Edward B. Foley, constitutional law professor and director of Election Law at Ohio State University, Sept. 17, 2021
Email and telephone interview, Spencer Overton, George Washington University law professor and member of the Federal Commission on Election Reform, Sept. 17-Sept. 20, 2021
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