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Finley: We're not ready for huge mail vote


Nolan Finley   | The Detroit News

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that 500,000 absentee ballot applications have been sent out so far. 

A check arrived in my mailbox last week that was postmarked July 3.

It had taken more than two months to make its way from Detroit to Livonia, and by the time it arrived the sender had canceled it and hand-delivered a replacement.

That's not a good sign for the upcoming election, when nearly 40% of voters are expected to cast ballots by mail and a heavy turnout is anticipated.

In Michigan, only ballots received by Election Day can be counted, so had my meandering check been a vote, it would have been tossed away. 

Other states accept ballots that are postmarked by Election Day, even if they arrive afterward. That's not good, since it sets up the possibility that in a close election the winner of the presidential race and other key contests won't be known for days. In Kentucky, for example, it took a week to declare a victor in the Democratic Senate primary as votes kept trickling in. 

The potential for a prolonged vote count is triggering a lot of hysteria and fear-mongering about what might happen in those intervening days.

Democrats are hyping a scenario that President Donald Trump will use the delayed vote counting and large percentage of mailed ballots to declare the election invalid and refuse to leave the White House.

Republicans are warning that if Trump wins the Election Day count, desperate Democrats will manipulate the tally of mailed ballots to steal the president's victory. They're bolstered by the advice to Joe Biden from Hillary Clinton and others that he should not concede a close election "under any circumstances."

The backdrop is the concern about the ability of the U.S. Postal Service to handle a massive mail-in vote, the capability of local clerks to count it accurately, and the incidents of fraud and incompetence already seen this year with mailed ballots.

In Patterson, N.J., two city officials and two residents were charged with mail-in ballot fraud. In Pendleton, W.Va., a postal carrier admitted he altered mailed voting documents. A Los Angeles man pleaded guilty to giving homeless people cash and cigarettes in exchange for forged and fraudulent signatures on voter registration forms.

And in Detroit, the absentee ballot count in the August primary did not match the recorded vote in 72% of the precincts.

Americans have good reason for doubting the election will be fair, as a Detroit News/WDIV poll revealed last week.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is currently mailing out 4.4 million postcards to registered Michigan voters telling them how to obtain an absentee ballot. 

She's doing so even knowing Michigan is not yet equipped to handle such a massive mail-in vote while still assuring the integrity of the election. 

Voting by mail is a terrific convenience — I cast an absentee ballot nearly every election.

Some states, notably Washington, Oregon and Colorado, have been doing mostly vote-by-mail for years and have built the systems to assure an accurate and timely count.

We haven't done that yet in Michigan, or in most other states. Benson acknowledged last week that 500,000 absentee ballot applications mailed out have been returned because the voters have moved, are dead or for other reasons. How many weren't returned, and will they be used to commit voter fraud?

The resources devoted to encouraging a huge mail-in vote would be better applied to cleaning up the voter rolls and making precincts safe for in-person voting in November.

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN

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