By, Lowman S. Henry
Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal
The ballrooms were rented, the stages festooned with red, white and blue, hundreds of supporters gathered anxiously awaiting results and hoping their candidate would take to the podium to give a victory speech.
But there were no victory speeches – or concession speeches – because there were no results. The much-touted new technology used by the Iowa Democrat Party to tabulate caucus results failed, and “inconsistencies” were found as numbers were checked against a paper trail.
So began the 2020 Presidential Election.
The chaos that engulfed the Iowa Caucus may be a preview of what Pennsylvanians can expect as most counties roll out new voting machines and a wide range of election “reforms” are implemented in a high turn-out, high-profile election year.
Kathy Boockvar is Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State. That department oversees voter registration and elections in Pennsylvania. She spoke recently to the Pennsylvania Press Club explaining the election changes approved by the General Assembly last year. During her remarks, she admitted the obvious: state and county election officials face a difficult task implementing the new rules.
All of this is made more difficult due to the fact presidential elections generate the highest voter turn-out in the four-year cycle. Rather than phase in new procedures and new technology in an off-year election, everything will now happen at one time in a high turn-out election.
The Wolf Administration was heavy-handed in forcing most counties to replace their voting machines mandating that all systems must have a paper trail in addition to any electronic component. Donald Trump’s 2016 victory in Pennsylvania, which Democrats are convinced is illegitimate, has caused them to fixate on election security.
While we all want our elections to be secure and free of fraud, virtually every “reform” being implemented actually increases the opportunity for tampering. The handful of counties that rolled out new voting systems in last November’s elections had problems that resulted in delays, late counts, and a likely under-vote as voters walked away from polls when equipment malfunctioned.
York County was the poster child for what could – and did – go wrong. Officials there then further eroded voter confidence in the system by hiring a new elections director who has zero experience in the field. He managed to accomplish the unique feat of unifying Republicans and Democrats – who all blasted his appointment.
Setting aside the already proven problems of implementing new voting systems, process changes designed to improve voter participation open new avenues for fraud.
Among the changes is no-excuse absentee balloting. In years past a voter had to be out of town, or ill to qualify to cast an absentee ballot. Now there is “no excuse” absentee balloting which is a defacto vote by mail process. Adding administrative complexity to the process those ballots will now be accepted up until the polls close on Election Day.
County election bureaus will also have to deal with a new voter registration deadline. Previously, new voters had to register by 30 days prior to the election. That window has been shortened to 15 days prior to the election. Thus the administrative process of updating the voter rolls in time for materials to be packaged and sent to the precincts is significantly less.
Having more eligible voters actually voting is a noble goal, and the election law changes may ultimately accomplish that goal. But, every change brings with it not only administrative challenges but also vote security challenges. Doing this in a high turn-out election year is folly.
Although the genesis of these changes and the mandate for new machines came from the Left, even Left-leaning interest groups have voiced concerns over the implementation of these changes. Their concern is valid and proves fears over election chaos and fraud is not just some Right-wing conspiracy theory.
The good news is elections are implemented by 67 county election bureaus which are largely staffed by highly competent, hard-working individuals. But, they have been given a tremendously difficult task to accomplish and a set of tight deadlines in which to do so.
They will do their best, but if the Iowa Caucus was prologue the voters of Penn’s Woods may also face long election counts in April and November.