Fact-checking 5 claims about mail-in voting

FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, file photo, stacks of ballot envelopes waiting to be mailed are seen at the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh, N.C. Data obtained by The Associated Press shows Postal Service districts across the nation are missing the agencys own standards for on-time delivery as millions of Americans prepare to vote by mail. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File) (Gerry Broome, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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Election season is in full swing with early voting underway across the country, including in Michigan. Voters in Michigan approved a ballot proposal in 2018 to expand voting access, including no-reason absentee voting -- and a lot of people are using it, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. The huge influx in mail voting has led to countless myths, theories and other misleading opinions on the system. Let’s sort through it.

Claim: Voting by mail is rife with fraud ⛔

This claim is false. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in any capacity, but especially by mail.

Not True

After review, we've found this information is Not True.

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Claims of fraud have been a regular message from President Trump and members of the administration, including Attorney General Bill Barr, even though other Republican officials have embraced it. Trump has claimed that mail boxes will be robbed and ballots will be forged.

There are many different studies that have found little-to-no evidence of fraud or criminality in elections. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, analyzed more than 250 million ballots over 20 years and found 1,120 cases of alleged voter fraud. About 200 of those were mail ballots. Only 11 cases were in Michigan and all people were convicted of crimes.

In states like Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington -- who have universal mail-in elections -- just 44 instances of voter fraud were found out of nearly 45 million ballots cast. Only two cases of voter fraud by mail have actually resulted in convictions over the last 20 years. That is 0.000004 percent.

Additionally, U.S. officials said in August there has been no intelligence to suggest that foreign countries are working to undermine mail-in voting and no signs of any coordinated effort to commit widespread fraud through the vote-by-mail process.

There have also been claims about non-citizen voting in mass. Trump alleged thousands of illegal voters in the 2016 election. An analysis by the Brennan Center found about 30 incidents of suspected non-citizen voting out of nearly 24 million votes.

In 2019, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley announced that tens of thousands of non-citizens were on the state’s voter rolls and had cast a ballot. Trump amplified the claim on Twitter. The claim was debunked a few days later after it was found the secretary’s list failed to account for the fact that a large number of people become naturalized citizens and then lawfully register to vote.

A federal court intervened to stop voter purges premised on this discredited claim. And Secretary Whitley ultimately resigned. Penalties for a non-citizen voting includes potential imprisonment, $10,000 in fines and deportation.

Claim: Mail-in voting means people can vote twice ⛔

This claim is false. Voting twice is a felony.

Not True

After review, we've found this information is Not True.

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In September, President Trump was asked by a television reporter if he had confidence in the vote-by-mail system.

“They will vote and then they are going to have to check their vote by going to the poll and voting that way because if it tabulates then they won’t be able to do that,” Trump told WECT. “So, let them send it in and let them go vote. And if the system is as good as they say it is, then they obviously won’t be able to vote (at the poll). If it isn’t tabulated, they will be able to vote.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said voter fraud is typically prosecuted as a felony in the state of Michigan, and bipartisan legislation was introduced in the state legislature this summer that would codify it as a felony offense.

“Let me be perfectly clear: voting twice is illegal, no matter who tells you do to it. The president’s idea is a great one for people looking to go to jail,” said Nessel. “My office will prosecute to the fullest extend of the law anyone who intentionally flouts our election laws.”

Related: In Michigan, can you vote in person even if you applied for an absentee ballot?

“Our election system has been stress-tested by three successful elections already this year and in all of them proven that it is absolutely safe and secure,” said Benson. “We have protections in place to ensure election officials track and verify every ballot they send and receive and in every instance we ensure that each person gets only one vote.”

Claim: Mail-in voting is not secure ⛔

This claim is false. State and local clerks have strict protocols to ensure election security with mail-in ballots, including in Michigan.

Not True

After review, we've found this information is Not True.

What is the Trust Index?

In the Aug. 2020 primary election more than 10,000 mail-in ballots were rejected by the Michigan Secretary fo State. Most of them were because the ballot arrived too late. As it stands, late ballots will be counted in November as long as they are postmarked before polls close on Nov. 3.

According to the Secretary of State, “upon the receipt of a completed absentee ballot application, the signature appearing on the application must be checked against the signature on the applicant’s voter registration record to verify the applicant’s identity.”

You can read through the state’s absentee voting process right here, but some of the criminal penalties outlined include:

  • A person who is present while a voter is voting an absentee ballot who suggests how the voter should vote or attempts to influence the voter on how he or she should vote is guilty of a felony.
  • An unauthorized person who returns, solicits to return or agrees to return an absentee ballot is guilty of a felony.
  • A person in illegal possession of an absentee ballot (voted or unvoted) is guilty of a felony.
  • A person who plans or organizes a meeting at which absentee ballots are to be voted is guilty of a felony.
  • An absentee voter who knowingly makes a false statement on the absentee ballot return envelope is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Claim: Mail-in voting is not the same as absentee voting ⛔

This claim is false. Mail-in voting and absentee voting are the exact same thing. In Michigan, you don’t need a reason to vote-by-mail. You can become a permanent mail-in voter.

Not True

After review, we've found this information is Not True.

What is the Trust Index?

Claim: Mail-in voting benefits Democrats ⛔

Even though polls show Democratic voters are more likely to support mail-in voting, there is actually no evidence that shows it benefits either political party.

Not True

After review, we've found this information is Not True.

What is the Trust Index?

Research published by the Proceedings of the national Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), which looked at data from 1996 to 2018 in three U.S. states that implemented universal vote-by-mail elections, found no benefit to either party.

“We find that 1) universal vote-by-mail does not appear to affect either party’s share of turnout, 2) universal vote-by-mail does not appear to increase either party’s vote share, and 3) universal vote-by-mail modestly increases overall average turnout rates, in line with previous estimates.”

FiveThirtyEight had a similar conclusion, finding both parties had a small but equal increase in turnout, and that the gap of convenience in voting-by-mail appears to cancel out any partisan advantage.

Voter resources:

If you’re voting by mail, or would like to vote by mail, check out our voter guide right here for all of the important dates and links to get started.

Polls will be open on Nov. 3 for in-person voting, too. You can look up your precinct right here.

📱 Be your own fact-checker

Most people don’t want to share inaccurate information, but sometimes it happens. How can you play defense? Here are some tips:

  • Check your sources: Where are you reading it? Who is reporting it? Are they credible? Watch out for “pink slime” local news sites.
  • Social media origins: If you see something floating around social media, like a meme or a story, try to find the original source and check it yourself.
  • Go beyond the headline: Some headlines are purposely misleading and don’t tell a complete story.
  • Share the right information: Be a sharer of the correct news and information! Send accurate information to your friends and family, post it on your social feeds, forward this newsletter. It’s nice to be right. (And be nice about it, nobody wants to be called out on being wrong)

✅ What would you like us to fact-check?

The Trust Index team fact checks questionable information circulating on social media and in our communities. Use the form here to share claims you’d like checked out. You can also email me here, if you have any questions or comments. - Ken Haddad

Find more Trust Index stories right here on ClickOnDetroit.

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About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.