Sen. Rick Scott (R-Florida) proudly announced yesterday that, with 40 days to the 2020 election and record numbers of people planning fo vote bey mail because of the pandemic, he'd like to impose a single nationwide standard for tabulating absentee ballots: Only ballots that arrive at local election boards by the end of polling on Election Day would count, and the absentee ballots would all have to be counted within 24 hours in order to be valid. Those are among the provisions in Scott's brainchild, the Verifiable, Orderly, & Timely Election Results (VOTER) Act (GET IT?).

Now, you may scoff at the suggestion that Scott thinks this reeking turd could be passed and enforced before November 3, but his press release sure makes clear he's not just talking about future elections:

We can't wait weeks or months to find out the results of this election or any election in our future – a scenario made all the more likely by the Democrats' push to change laws late in the game and eliminate standards that protect against fraud. The VOTER Act will create uniform standards for voting-by-mail, provide important protections against fraud, and make sure we have a timely federal election result. We need to pass this bill now to ensure a smooth and secure election. [Emphasis added]

Good to see he has a clear, realistic grasp of what can be accomplished in 40 days. That aside, even if Scott were only proposing this for somewhere down the road, it's still a terrible idea that would restrict people from voting, so let's just focus on that, not the absurdity of trying to remake elections while voting is already underway. Though that's still really fuckin' stupid.

Scott's bill relies on Congress's power to set rules for federal elections, so it would probably be able to overrule state laws that treat absentee voting differently. States could still have different rules for state and local elections, but since having two different standards would be costly and confusing, the assumption is that the states would fall in line and change their laws to fit the federal standard.

The biggest changes Scott's bill demands would require all absentee ballots in federal elections to conform to these standards:

  • Mail-in ballots would have to be requested no later than 21 days before an election.
  • Ballots would have to be returned by the close of polling on Election Day.
  • All precincts would have to report the total number of votes, both in-person and by mail, one hour after polls close.
  • Counting of absentee ballots could only begin when polls open on election day.
  • All ballots would have to be counted and reported within 24 hours of the close of polling.
  • It would be illegal for anyone but an immediate relative or a caregiver to possess another person's absentee ballot. That would eliminate the specter of "ballot harvesting" that Republicans think is fraudy and terrible, but which is currently legal in several states.
In addition, the bill specifies a number of provisions that would be necessary to verify the identity of the voter filling out the ballot and preventing people from voting twice, although virtually all states already require that.

In his press release, Scott says these changes are desperately needed to prevent fraud and to ensure that votes are tabulated quickly and accurately, which all sounds very nice as long as you're one of the lucky duckies whose ballot wasn't caught in the mail even thought it was sent several days before the election.

And those changes would have a huge impact on elections, invalidating Crom only knows how many absentee ballots, which is after all the point. Nineteen states currently allow absentee ballots to be counted if they arrive after the close of polling, as long as they're postmarked either by Election Day or, in four states, the day before.

The absentee ballot counting provisions would really be where tons of votes would end up getting tossed. States currently have a wide variety of arrangements for processing absentee ballots, particularly for the labor-intensive work of verifying signatures on the ballot or security envelope. Several states allow for absentee ballot processing to begin well before Election Day, and some even allow the votes to be tabulated in advance, as long as the results aren't released prior to close of polling. With the expected increase in voting by mail, that advance processing is going to be especially important to get timely vote counts this year.

The text of Scott's bill doesn't appear to address when such processing can begin, but it wouldn't allow any advance tabulation of absentee votes. A lot counts on what he means by "counted" here:

Mail-in ballots received prior to the date of 10 the election shall be counted beginning at the time polls open on the date of the election.

An election law Scott signed when he was governor of Florida, for instance, allows early processing of absentee ballots up to 22 days before election day. if the intent here is to cram both processing and tabulation into Election Day plus 24 hours from the close of polling, that would be a clusterfuck of massive proportions. The five states that currently run their elections entirely by mail — and have done so without a hitch, for years — all allow ballots to be processed and tabulated in advance of Election Day.

A spokesperson for Scott's office told Slate that's tough: "Any conflicting state laws would be preempted," so let's take this thing that works and break it.

That 24-hour deadline for counting and reporting all ballots is clearly a reaction to the 2018 midterm, in which the full results of the election weren't known in some states until several days later, when all the votes were tallied. Scott's bill is designed to lock in incomplete results, and given that a full count of the vote swung a number of congressional seats from Republican to Democrat, we can see why Scott would want to impose that artificial deadline. Also not a surprise: Scott's bill doesn't include a penny of funding to help states meet the ridiculous new deadlines.

Despite Republican whining about slow vote tallies, there's just no evidence at all of fraud. It simply takes a while to count all the ballots. Scott's bill would literally result in possibly millions of votes simply being ignored. The possibilities for electoral fuckery are obvious, too — if the early returns look good for one party, that's a heck of an incentive to slow the count of absentee votes. Oops, sorry, didn't get to those, but the winner's been decided.

As for the new Republican battle cry that absentee votes are fraudulent (at least if they're not for Republicans), FBI Director Christopher Wray testified to Congress yesterday that the FBI has simply "not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it's by mail or otherwise."

Sure, there are some fraudy cheaters out there, but such fuckery tends to occur only on a small scale, like the Republican operative in North Carolina's 2018 election who submitted just enough fraudulent absentee ballots to change the outcome in a congressional race. And like that case, most attempts at fraud are so sloppy they're easily detected.

There's simply no reason to massively change how we do absentee voting. Apart, you know, from ensuring a Republican advantage, since full tabulation of the vote in recent elections has tended to result in a "blue shift" from early, incomplete election results. But Rick Scott knows all about fraud; never forget that the healthcare corporation he ran was guilty of massive Medicare fraud, although he himself avoided charges.

Definitely the guy you want setting the rules for elections. Is that an ad hominem argument? Maybe a little — but in this case, the hominid is pretty fucking awful.

[Rick Scott / VOTER Act / Slate / Atlantic / LAT / Axios]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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