It’s just nine ballots. What’s the big deal?
NPR made sure you knew it wasn’t a big deal. “Feds, In Unusual Statement, Announce They’re Investigating A Few Discarded Ballots,” the outlet’s headline announced.
CNN implied that the White House was behind the amplification of the nine discarded military ballots, seven of which cast votes for President Donald Trump. (The other two were sealed, according to the Department of Justice.)
“US Attorney David Freed said a preliminary inquiry determined that nine ‘military ballots were discarded’ and that seven of them ‘were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump,'” the outlet reported Friday.
“The incident occurred in Luzerne County, a swing county in northeastern Pennsylvania that is home to Wilkes-Barre. Trump flipped the county in 2016 after years of narrow Democratic wins.
“The statement was highly unusual because it highlighted the fact that the ballots were marked for Trump — which immediately raised suspicions that the Justice Department was trying to furnish material that Trump could promote for political gain. Indeed, Trump and other White House aides used the information, even before it was made public, to attack mail-in voting.”
Mail-in voting is apparently so sacrosanct that we shouldn’t report on another strange case involving discarded ballots unless we automatically assume the DOJ is doing the Trump administration’s bidding.
Here are the basic facts, as per a revised DOJ news release issued Thursday via the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania:
“Since Monday, FBI personnel working together with the Pennsylvania State Police have conducted numerous interviews and recovered and reviewed certain physical evidence. Election officials in Luzerne County have been cooperative. At this point we can confirm that a small number of military ballots were discarded,” the news release read.
“Investigators have recovered nine ballots at this time. Some of those ballots can be attributed to specific voters and some cannot. Of the nine ballots that were discarded and then recovered, 7 were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump. Two of the discarded ballots had been resealed inside their appropriate envelopes by Luzerne elections staff prior to recovery by the FBI and the contents of those 2 ballots are unknown.
“Our inquiry remains ongoing and we expect later today to share our up to date findings with officials in Luzerne County. It is the vital duty of government to ensure that every properly cast vote is counted.”
If you find the statement unusual, consider that this election is, too — particularly to the degree that it’s happening via mail.
In Clark County, Nevada, home to Las Vegas, over 223,000 ballots were deemed “undeliverable” during the June primary. In Sussex County, New Jersey, 1,666 “mislabeled” ballots were found months after the state’s July primary. In New York City, roughly 84,000 mail-in ballots — over 20 percent — were deemed to be invalid in New York state’s June primary.
“These numbers show how vote by mail fails. New proponents of mail balloting don’t often understand how it actually works,” J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, an elections watchdog, said after the Nevada disaster.
“States like Oregon and Washington spent many years building their mail voting systems and are notably aggressive with voter list maintenance efforts. Pride in their own systems does not somehow transfer across state lines. Nevada, New York, and others are not and will not be ready for November.”
This is the macro stuff, evidence of the kind of systemic breakdown we’re potentially inviting. At the micro level, you have the ballots discarded in Luzerne County — as well as a similar case out of Wisconsin, where three trays of mail that included absentee ballots were found in a ditch near Appleton International Airport on Tuesday.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany referenced both the Wisconsin and Pennsylvania cases during her Thursday news briefing.
“The president wants to get rid of mass mail-out voting,” McEnany told reporters, according to The Hill. “He’s said clearly that could go either way, it could damage either candidate’s chances because it is a system that is subject to fraud.”
Whether or not mail-in voting is subject to rampant fraud — as is the White House’s claim — is a highly debated topic. What should be beyond question is that mass mail-in voting introduces a wild number of troubling variables to a system already under stress due to the unusual exigencies of 2020.
In the case of the military ballots, a letter from U.S. Attorney David Freed to the Luzerne County Board of Elections indicates they may have been opened because they looked like ballot request forms.
“It was explained to investigators the envelopes used for official overseas, military, absentee and mail-in ballot requests are so similar, that the staff believed that adhering to the protocol of preserving envelopes unopened would cause them to miss such ballot requests. Our interviews further revealed that this issue was a problem in the primary election — therefore a known issue — and that the problem has not been corrected,” Freed wrote.
“Even though your staff has made some attempts to reconstitute certain of the improperly opened ballots, there is no guarantee that any of these votes will be counted in the general election. In addition, our investigation has revealed that all or nearly all envelopes received in the elections office were opened as a matter of course,” he said.
Yes, it was just nine ballots. Inasmuch as this story is covered in the next few days, expect the establishment media to try and put extra emphasis on the word “just,” trying to make sure you know they’re putting it in verbal italics. Nine little ballots in a Pennsylvania county, in a state where over 6 million votes are cast.
How many Luzerne Counties are there, though?
Assuming Freed’s letter accurately spells out what happened with these ballots, how many boards of elections are going to have the same problem when they begin canvassing?
How many are going to have issues that, while not identical, will be similar? Will it be just nine ballots then?
Those of us who came of age before the 2000 election will forever have the two-word construct “hanging chad” burned into our neurons as a linguistic shortcut for how elections can go wrong. That election hinged on one swing state after a campaign marked by voter apathy and created a whirlwind furor no other recent election did — until 2016, of course.
We’re now in the midst of the most contentious election in our lifetimes held under circumstances no other election has been. We’ve set ourselves up for a situation that could well make hanging chads look quaint.
It’s nine ballots that should act as the proverbial canary in the coal mine. That’s the big deal.
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