Monday, April 06, 2020

Coronavirus and Elections — Changes Increase Risk of Voter Fraud

The recent coronavirus relief package will provide $400 million to states for the 2020 elections. Beware: If this pile of money isn’t spent wisely, the integrity of the elections will be at risk.

Residents of some states may not be able to vote in person and may be forced to vote using absentee or mail-in ballots as long as the current emergency continues, with social distancing being the norm and schools, businesses, offices and government facilities closed.

But no one should forget that absentee-ballot voting is vulnerable to intimidation, fraud and chaos as all-mail elections move behind closed doors beyond the oversight of election officials. Not to mention prolonged counting and potentially lengthy delays in certifying questionable results.

Election officials should start taking steps now& to ensure that if a mailed ballot system is ordered, the election itself can be protected from the dangers that will otherwise result.

Georgia, for example, has declared that its June 2020 primary will be conducted by mail. Election officials have taken steps to avoid some of these concerns. Only registered, active (not inactive) voters will be sent an absentee-ballot request form. This will cut down on fraudulent voting, as unauthorized persons won’t be able to send in unsolicited ballots that show up in states that simply mail absentee ballots to all registered voters without receiving a request.

As an added benefit, by sending the request forms first class, election officials will receive valuable information from the U.S. Postal Service, such as whether a voter has moved or died. This will help confirm the accuracy of the voter-registration list.

All states and localities contemplating voting-by-mail should require voters to respond with a request for an absentee ballot in a written form — with a signature. That accomplishes two objectives: active voters are notified of the change in the process, and the signature will allow election officials (and interested citizens) to compare and authenticate voter identity.

For further protection, officials should require a photocopy of an ID or, for example, if they have a state driver’s license or ID card, the serial number of that identification on the absentee-ballot request form.

State voter-registration lists around the country are notoriously inaccurate and out-of-date, with many jurisdictions having duplicate or triplicate registrations, registrants who have died, and registrations lacking full address data. Some counties have more registered voters than voting-age citizens.

Not every new resident at an address will throw out a ballot automatically mailed to the old resident at that address, and where there are no safeguards, individuals may cast votes using ballots originally intended for other voters. It is further tempting to campaign workers and activists to canvas neighborhoods — often poor, minority neighborhoods — looking for those “extra” ballots.

Simply put, automatically mailing ballots to all registrants is an open invitation to fraud.

States should require voters to register prior to Election Day with sufficient time for election officials to validate and verify the information provided by voters of their identity, their residence, their citizenship status, and any other information relevant to their eligibility to vote. Same day or Election Day registration doesn’t allow for such verification.

States should only accept absentee ballots that are officially postmarked by the U.S. Postal Service on or before Election Day. This assures that ballots are not cast after Election Day and after preliminary election results are known, which would otherwise risk giving voters (or vote “harvesters”) the ability to manipulate close races after the polls have closed.

States should ban all ballot “harvesting” by third parties. Only the voter or close family members should be able to hand-deliver a completed absentee ballot. Candidates, political consultants, party activists and campaign guns-for-hire — all of whom have a stake in the outcome of the election — should not be allowed to collect absentee ballots from voters.

Anything else is a recipe for intimidation and fraud, as occurred in the 2018 election in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District, and in multiple other cases. Moreover, it is difficult to see how vote harvesting would comply with government orders requiring or recommending “social distancing.”

Election officials must also establish protocols and work with local U.S. postal authorities to ensure integrity in the mail system, to prevent the slow delivery of ballots.

When processing the returned absentee ballots from voters, states must have strong authentication standards. This includes allowing election officials and observers to compare signatures on the ballot envelopes to voter registration signatures.

If states insist on unwisely mailing out absentee ballots automatically, voter rolls must first be reviewed and cleaned. The Justice Department should swiftly file lawsuits under the Help America Vote Act against states with suspected inaccurate voter rolls.

Only accurate voter rolls should be used for mass mailings of absentee ballots, and proper voter-roll maintenance and clean-up ought to include comparisons with other databases. That includes state social service agencies, tax authorities, the DMV, and corrections departments, as well as federal databases at the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security to confirm voter information and eligibility.

The Department of Homeland Security must end the roadblocks states currently face in verifying the citizenship of registrants. States and localities should also utilize the National Change of Address system available from the U.S. Postal Service to update addresses of registered voters and remove those registrants who have relocated out of state.

As the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said in a 1998 report, absentee ballots are the “tools of choice” of vote thieves. Switching to mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus outbreak should only be a temporary measure that is not used for future elections. In the meantime, adequate safeguards to protect the integrity of an all-mail election must be implemented.

The coronavirus has taught us a valuable lesson: election officials should be ever-mindful and actively engaged in ongoing voter list maintenance, year-in and year-out. They should be complying with federal law and ensuring that only eligible voters are on the voter rolls, and that voters who die or relocate are removed in a timely manner.

By engaging in zealous voter roll maintenance, election administrators will be prepared for any changes in the system that might result from emergencies that may interfere with the voting process. Hopefully, the emergencies from the coronavirus will be long since lifted by Nov. 3 and there will be no need for changes in the process for the general election.

The fallout from the disease is a stark reminder, however, that the integrity of our elections can only be protected by the ongoing actions of conscientious election officials committed to ensuring that every eligible voter is able to cast a ballot, with the sure knowledge that it has not been diluted by error, fraud or mistakes that could have been corrected months or years beforehand.



How Would Free Market Health Care Respond To The Coronavirus?

John C. Goodman

Have you ever wondered how a free market for health care would handle the COVID-19 crisis?

Most patients would have a health kit in their home, with a temperature gauge, blood pressure cuffs and an oxygen sensor. Patients would have these because doctors, hospitals and health plans would encourage them. Patients with older models would call in the readings to their doctors. Newer models would send the doctor an automatic, electronic alert if there was reason to be concerned.

The initial doctor/patient contact would probably be by phone. If warranted, a virtual face-to-face examination by Skype or similar device would take place. If the services of a specialist were required, that connection would be made – again, remotely and electronically.

If the patient were suffering from a cold or a mild case of the flu (which would be the case more than 90% of the time), the doctor would order a prescription, which would be filled and delivered by a local pharmacy.

In the face of coronavirus indications, a doctor or nurse would arrive at the home (within an hour), take a swab sample and perform a COVID-19 test – with results in, say, 10 minutes.

In the serious cases, patients would go to the emergency room. But that would not be a scene of coronavirus roulette, as it is today. Hospitals would know in advance which patients had the virus. A special team would be there to greet these patients. They would be escorted to isolated rooms with appropriate equipment and safeguards to protect other patients and hospital personnel.

The demand for special masks (with better protection than the masks you see surgeons wearing on TV), ventilators and other equipment would rise dramatically. But it would be a targeted demand, informed by real data. You wouldn’t see hoarding and over-subscribing by providers who scramble to get more than they need “just in case.” The demand would be met by suppliers who would work nights and weekends to step up production because …. well …. because they would expect to get paid extra, just like in any other market.

So why aren’t these things being done now? They are being done. But not as often as they should. The reason: government.

Getting diagnosed in your own home. If you go to a doctor’s office or a hospital emergency room you risk infecting other patients or being infected yourself. So why not stay home? As I wrote last week, telemedicine is being used extensively in China to diagnose the coronavirus right now. Vice President Pence and major health insurance companies say it is “the first line of defense” against the virus. And more than 40 million Americans can currently get doctor consultations by phone, email or Skype. Yet federal and state laws have been major barriers.

Until recently, Congress outlawed telemedicine in Medicare, except for patients in rural areas, and even then they couldn’t be in their own homes. However, with President Trump’s approval, Seema Verma (who directs Medicare and Medicaid), began allowing all Medicare patients to have “virtual check-ins” from their homes to see if a doctor office visit is needed.

After the coronavirus struck, Verma used the president’s executive authority to give Medicare Advantage plans broad discretion with respect to remote diagnosis and treatment. Congress responded with legislation that now allows Medicare to pay for telemedicine in connection with coronavirus. But it imposed an onerous restriction: the doctor must have had a previous relationship with the patient within the past three years.

That requirement is a disastrous barrier to remote medical care. It would make every telemedicine company in the country ineligible. Fortunately, the administration is using its emergency powers to override the restriction in both Medicare and Medicaid.

Getting tested in your own home. The first known person with the COVID-19 virus was discovered in the United States and in South Korea at about the same time. Since then, South Korea has engaged in a massive testing campaign (including drive-through testing) to determine who has the virus and who doesn’t. Overall, that country has tested more than 5,000 people for every one million residents. By contrast, the number tested in our country is 125 for every million residents. In fact, the U.S. testing rate is about the lowest in the developed world!

US officials claim that the tests used in other countries are not as accurate as those approved by our government. Even so, the proof is in the pudding. As Alec Stapp writes in the Dispatch:

South Korea has effectively contained the coronavirus without shutting down its economy or quarantining tens of millions of people…. Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan have also managed to contain the virus via a combination of travel restrictions, social distancing, and heightened hygiene.

Until early February of this year, all testing for COVID-19 had to be done at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. Once the CDC recognized it was ill prepared to handle a pandemic, it sent out testing kits to about a hundred public health centers around the country. Unfortunately, about half of the kits were defective.

President Trump on numerous occasions has made clear his desire to wipe away regulatory obstacles. Along those lines, Alex Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services, declared a public-health emergency, on February 4. Since then any lab that wants to conduct its own tests for the new coronavirus can get authority under something called an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the F.D.A.

But although this was supposed to usher in deregulation, the EUA process bought with it a new set of bureaucratic obstacles. The entire process, which is described in great detail by Robert Baird in the New Yorker, reads like an episode of the Keystone Kops.

Meanwhile, the private sector has been responding. Biomerica has developed a test that involves little more than a finger prick. It can be performed by trained professionals almost anywhere – airports, schools, offices, homes, etc. The test sells for $10 per patient.

Another company, Kinsa Health, has developed smart thermometers which are Internet-connected. It has given away or sold a million of them to households in which two million people reside. The company, which can track the flu across the country in real time, says it can do the same for COVID-19 at a time when U.S. health officials have been flying blind.

Exercising the right to try. Another reform championed by the president is allowing patients to try drugs that have not been approved by the FDA if the patient is terminally ill. He now says the same principle should apply even if the patient is not terminally ill. Chloroquine, for example, is an 85-year old drug that is safe for use to prevent malaria and it apparently can work on COVID-19. (It has worked for other SARS viruses.) The president asks, “What have you got to lose?”

Continuing to enjoy the benefits of deregulation. One reason the country is doing as well as it is in defending against COVID-19 is that President Trump began deregulating the health care market early in his presidency. Those efforts have laid the groundwork for further deregulation.

Donald Trump is the first president in over a century who has understood that in health care, government is not the solution; it is the problem.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


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