VBM and VBA
There’s a double specter haunting American politics: First, Vote by Mail and then, soon enough, Vote by App—as in, vote by an online application, as found, for instance, on one’s smart phone.
The sequence by which we get to Vote by Mail (VBM) and Vote by App (VBA) is going to be a bit complicated, but it’s worth anticipating this sequence, because the electoral stakes are high. As we shall see, VBM—also called CBM, for Cheat by Mail, a topic well-chronicled here at Breitbart News—will soon enough be replaced by VBA.
The distant early warning on VBA came on May 15, when the House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act, a $3 trillion grab-bag of Democrat wishes, responding to the coronavirus. Among its myriad provisions, the bill includes an item that would let representatives vote remotely; that is, they wouldn’t need to be on the floor of the House to vote. Here’s CNN’s explanation:
Under the rules change, lawmakers who cannot or do not want to travel during the pandemic will be allowed to designate proxies by sending letters to the House clerk. Proxies will be required to “receive exact written instruction” from the members who are using them as proxies, according to the House Rules Committee.
The effect of this proxy-voting provision would be to turn power over to the House leadership, since leaders would hold the proxies for absent lawmakers. For the Democrats, of course, that means concentrating even vaster power in the hands of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
This proxy plan has already kicked up a storm. On the night that the HEROES Act passed, May 15, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise denounced the proxy provision as “unconstitutional”:
If they pass any bill using these new rules … they are now creating this opportunity to have 20 people on the floor to constitute a quorum, and Nancy Pelosi literally will be able to hold the voting cards of so many of these people.
Scalise added, “If they pass anything significant using this, it will be challenged.” In fact, the HEROES legislation won’t just be challenged; it will be blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate. And in any case, President Trump would veto it.
Yet Republicans won’t control the Senate forever. And Trump won’t occupy the White House forever.
So it’s a safe bet that we haven’t heard the last of proxy voting. Indeed, it’s not clear that the House needs to pass a full law—that is, passed by both chambers, signed by the president—to allow itself to engage in proxy voting; instead, the House could simply change its rules for voting procedures.
To be sure, as Scalise suggests, any proxy plan would get a court challenge. And yet the courts, being part of the judicial branch of the federal government, are oftentimes reluctant to get into the business of how another branch—in this case, the legislative branch—conducts its business.
However, proxy voting isn’t the end of the story. That same CNN report added that proxy voting could be just the first step on the path to full-scale remote electronic voting:
The resolution also greenlights higher-tech options for remote voting in the future after a system is developed and certified, directing the chair of the House Administration Committee to study the feasibility of using technology to vote remotely in the House. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, has suggested members could one day utilize technologies like FaceTime to call House clerks to cast their votes.
If this high-tech approach were to come to pass, then lawmakers could stay in their districts and vote by e-mail, or app. Such ease would be tempting, too, for the U.S. Senate.
We can observe that plenty of lawmakers like to be in Washington; Powertown is, after all, where the action happens, from committee meetings to lobbyist fundraising to Georgetown partying. And yet at the same time, many solons would love to have at least the option of not having to travel to Washington; the coronavirus only adds to the burden of schlepping back and forth.
So it seems a safe bet that VBA is going to come to Congress soon enough. Yes, of course, it will be a radical shift, and all the many consequences of decentralized legislating have yet to be imagined, let alone fathomed. And yet if everything else is moving toward online-ness, from e-mail to e-commerce, then why not e-voting?
Moreover, when public servants get VBA for the sake of their convenience and safety, it’s a safe bet that the public will want the same; the folks, too, deserve the convenience and safety of online voting. After all, if it’s good enough for Congress, it’s good enough for Columbus, Cucamonga, and Colorado Springs.
We can also note that Estonia, that high-tech post-Soviet country sometimes called “e-stonia,” already conducts most of its public business online—including nearly half of its voting. So here in the U.S., VBA will come, just as surely as the next-gen tech operating system.
So we can see that if VBA is inevitable, then VBM—that low-tech, snail-mail approach currently being hotly debated across the country—will be remembered as just a way-station, a milestone on the path from “old-fashioned” voting to the digitally voting future.
Voting by Mail Today
As this author observed on May 9, in large measure, VBM is already here. VBM is the reality in parts or all of 12 states, including such big states as California and Florida. Indeed, in 2018, almost 40 percent of all ballots, nationwide, were cast in some fashion other than the traditional queuing up on Election Day. And in 2020, in the Covidean Era, as states and localities confront the difficulty—a cynic might say, as Democrats savor the opportunity—of non-traditional voting, the share is certain to increase.
To be sure, the rise of VBM outrages many on the right. For instance, on May 16, Breitbart News put this caustic headline atop a story detailing the pro-VBM efforts of the left-leaning Center for American Progress: “Soros-Funded Group: Vote-By-Mail ‘Must Become the Default Option.’”
Meanwhile, as reported by Breitbart News, Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) has proposed legislation to ban ballot harvesting, the tactic that helped the Democrats win a whopping seven House seats in California two years ago. Davis’s bill is an understandable reaction, and will no doubt make for a good campaign talking point, but it has no chance of passage in the the Democrat-dominated House. In other words, it’s a gesture, not a strategy.
Similarly, in late May, the Republican National Committee, joined by other GOP groups, filed suit against California’s Democrat governor, Gavin Newsom, over his executive order mandating VBM for the Golden State this November. Once again, Republican concern about the potential for fraud is perfectly understandable, and yet the lawsuit focuses on the unilateral nature of Newsom’s decision; that is, he didn’t get the approval of the state legislature. Well, okay, as a point of law, that might be correct, and Newsom’s order might be invalidated by a court.
But if Newsom has to, he’ll simply go to the legislature for approval—and get it. After all, both the California state Senate and state House are overwhelmingly in Democrat hands. So the most that can come from this RNC lawsuit is a delay, perhaps beyond the 2020 election. But then comes 2022.
The simple fact is that voting procedures are mostly a state and local option. So Republicans can block VBM, as well as ballot harvesting, if they wish, in Republican-controlled areas—unless, of course, they get overridden by the courts. And that’s what almost happened in Texas; on May 19, a federal judge in San Antonio, responding to a Texas Democrat Party motion, ruled that, in light of the virus crisis, all voters in the Lone Star State can VBM. On May 28, the Texas Supreme Court overturned the ruling, although more pro-VBM litigation is coming; for instance, just on June 4, a judge in Tennessee ruled that the Volunteer State must give all of its citizens the option of VBM. Once again, the ruling will likely be appealed, but it’s clear that Republicans are on the defensive on this issue.
In the meantime, of course, Republicans can’t do much of anything about what Democrats are doing in Democrat-controlled areas—except maybe take their case to court. In the meantime, on May 15, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced that the Garden State’s July 7 primary would be mostly VBM. And on May 20, President Trump tweeted attacks on the VBM plans in two more states with Democrat governors, Michigan and Nevada, threatening to withhold federal funds if they proceed with their plans. This pressure tactic will not prove to be effective.
Moreover, it’s not obvious that every Republican opposes expanded VBM; how many among the coronavirus-vulnerable elderly, for instance–as well as those who might be fearful of the current riotous unrest–would actually prefer a VBM system? Meanwhile, according to a May 31 Washington Post/ABC News poll, across the nation, 65 percent of Americans support making it easier to vote by mail or cast an absentee ballot.
None of what’s being noted here minimizes the very real danger of vote fraud. In fact, just on May 10, the Heritage Foundation updated its database on scam voting, tallying nearly 1,300 proven instances, just in the past few years. And on May 21, Breitbart News’s John Binder cited yet another case, in which a Democrat election judge pled guilty to ballot-box stuffing.
So in light of this cascade of events, what should Republicans and conservatives think, and do? How do they handle the coming era of VBM, and then VBA?
Fighting Fire with Fire, and Verification with Verification
First off, we can see: This is one of those cases where if the GOP is going to get stuck with lemons, then it had better figure out how to make lemonade. That is, if Vote By Mail is a fact in many places, with more places coming, then we’ll have to learn how to deal with VBM.
In the new era of VBM and VBA, the obvious answer is that the GOP is going to have to step up its electoral game. That is, Republicans must not only combat fraud, wherever it’s found—and new techniques, such as bar-coding ballots and tracking their movements through the mail, can help—but they must also better adapt to the use of these new voting mechanisms. And yes, that means fighting fire with fire. That is, if Democrats engage in vote-harvesting, then Republicans, too, are going to have to get good at it.
But the main thing, of course, is to get a handle on verification—that is, who is, and who isn’t, a legitimate voter. And in fact, many forces are coming together, across our society, converging to make verification more of a sure thing. For instance, in the wake of the current economic contraction, many more Americans are now getting money from the government. And in addition, many millions—perhaps hundreds of millions of Americans—will be, contacted and traced, as to their coronavirus status. In other words, Uncle Sam is coming to know a lot more about each of us.
Moreover, thanks to apps, granular information about people’s activities and movements is, for better or worse, becoming a standard part of life.
To illustrate just how fine-grained these data are becoming, the New York Times recently ran an article showing movements out of New York City in the wake of the pandemic. The article was based on data gathered by a geospatial analysis company, which had been able to track New Yorkers’ movements, based on information from their cell phones. And it’s not just New York City that’s being tracked; the Guardian ran a similar piece, using data supplied by a left-wing group, on the movements of people associated with anti-lockdown protests in five states.
The companies, groups, and media outlets say that the data being used has all been anonymized, and maybe that’s true—and yet still, it wouldn’t be hard to de-anonymize it.
To most people, it’s creepy and Orwellian to think that information about one’s precise movements is being gathered, and yet that horse seems to have left the barn—at least for everyone who has a cell phone. And did we mention monitoring by satellites and drones? And other surveillance techniques, from wiretaps to security cameras?
In other words, Big Brother is watching you. And not just Government Big Brother, but Corporate Big Brother.
Some people will react to this siege of surveillance by trying to go off the grid. Good luck with that, unless they wish to live as non-tech hermits. And in fact, even someone living in a teepee wouldn’t be hard to track; the eyes in the sky see all, everywhere.
Still others will wish to hide behind encryption, as well as other forms of digital camouflage. And that’s all fine, until they need to vote—and when they do, their cover is blown—and that’s as it should be, because we can’t fight vote fraud unless we know who is eligible to be voting.
So in truth, there’s only thing for the political right to do; it must master the same voting techniques that the left has mastered. As this author has argued, that’s the only way: Fight power with power. In other words, for whatever Democrats do, Republicans need a counterbalance.
As to VBA, that counterbalancing could start with a serious look at properly regulating Silicon Valley, as was argued here at Breitbart News back in 2018. In the meantime, just on May 19 came the news that Facebook was downgrading Prager U, a conservative outlet. Obviously, regulation to assure the right of fair treatment, online, is still much needed.
Indeed, if we’re worried about the potential for fraud in VBM, as overseen by old-line Democratic hacks, we should also be worried about the potential for fraud in VBA, as overseen by young Silicon Valley techies. So again, the fair fight must consist of our pols and techies squaring off against their pols and techies. And if conservatives need to enlist Uncle Sam to make sure it’s a fair match, well, that’s what they must do—they must establish a fair and protective legal framework
Of course, the result of all this pro-voting activity will likely be a lot more people voting. And as long as the new voters are eligible citizens, that’s not a bad thing, not only from a civic point of view, but also from a Republican point of view. After all, as a recent study from the Knight Foundation suggested, it’s at least arguable that if 100 percent of the voting-eligible population cast their ballots, Republicans would do just fine.
And that Knight study was released, of course, long before the recent nationwide upsurge in populist outrage over lockdowns, including in such liberal states as California, New Jersey, and New York. As we can see, popular sentiment is churning, and perhaps, too, are voter intentions. It was the GOP, after all, that won a special House election in California in May, picking up a Democrat-held seat for the first time in nearly a quarter-century.
Indeed, if Democrats want to be the smug, stand-pat party of Joe Biden and fatcat blue dots–plus, of course, riot-sympathizers, and maybe even advocates–then Republicans have a lot to look forward to in purple, as well as red, districts and states.
Yes, the arbitrary politics of lockdown provide Republicans with an opportunity to make their pitch to outright blue constituencies. And we can observe that if Republicans start making real inroads into Democrat turf, then Democrat incumbents will be thinking harder about vote integrity—because they don’t want to be swamped by some sudden populist squall. So Democrats, who have often been, shall we say, relaxed about voting rules, might yet find a reason to become vigilant.
Still not convinced? Still not a believer that Democrats will care about ballot integrity? Okay, to consider the matter further, we might look more closely at what Democrats have to lose from voting irregularities.
Why Democrats Will Worry About Vote Fraud
It’s a simple enough point: If you’re an incumbent politician—or a political party conscious of holding onto seats—then you have to know who’s voting—and who’s in the voter universe. After all, if the electorate is a mystery, then nobody can know what to expect in a given election.
This basic point applies to party primaries, as well as to general elections. As we have seen, Democrats might not mind a flood of voters, from any source, voting Democrat in general elections. And yet in primaries, if the electorate isn’t properly policed, it could be that the wrong Democrat wins.
To illustrate, we can recall some recent elections in which Democrat incumbents, and their fellow machine politicos, were shocked by an unwanted outcome.
For instance, in June 2018, an incumbent Democrat Member of Congress, Joseph Crowley, of the borough of Queens in New York City, was upset by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Having served ten terms, Crowley hadn’t had a primary challenge of any kind in more than a decade—and then, to his consternation, came AOC.
We might add that in this particular primary election, fewer than 30,000 votes were cast, even as the 14th Congressional District boasts a population of more than 700,000. Crowley, a longtime boss of the Queens political machine, was no doubt looking forward to a small primary turnout, because it eased the issue of keeping track of who was voting—and thereby getting himself reelected. Of course, Crowley didn’t want his turnout to be smaller than AOC’s; that was an unpleasant surprise.
In other words, the last thing that a machine Democrat wants is to be ambushed by a challenger’s turnout. Thus the lesson learned: A key part of throttling a challenger is keeping a grip on who votes; no incumbent wants to think that a challenger can simply bring unidentified strangers to the polls and win.
And of course, the same point applies to Democrat primary challengers; they have no desire to be overwhelmed by fake votes generated by the incumbent. So both incumbent and challenger Democrats agree: Vote fraud against Republicans might be okay, but it’s not okay among Democrats.
We can cite another example, which also disturbed Democrat higher-ups: the 2018 Democrat primary in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District. Former Rep. John Conyers had represented Detroit for more than half a century, 1965 to 2017. And when Conyers, an African American, was first elected, the district was mostly black. Indeed, the whole city of Detroit was seen as a citadel of black political power.
Yet over the decades, Detroit has seen a huge influx of Arab Americans, as well as the return of gentrifying yuppie whites. And it was these new voters who swung the ’18 primary to an Arab American, Rashida Tlaib, who now holds Conyers’ old seat in the House. One of the losers in that primary contest, we might note, was Ian Conyers, a grand-nephew of the 26-term representative. In other words, in the demographically shifting district, the legendary Conyers name didn’t mean much.
Indeed, the mayor of Detroit these days is a white man, Mike Duggan; elected in 2014, he broke a 40-year string of black mayors. Duggan is a Democrat, and yet it’s a cinch that not every African American in Motown is happy about the end of black power in city hall.
So we can see: Democrats don’t want just anyone to be able to vote. They want their friends to vote, but not strangers who might be foes. And yet they can’t keep out strangers without first establishing some system of voter-verification. And that could come, easily, with VBA, which is built on all the high-tech monitoring capabilities of Silicon Valley.
Admittedly, for the very near term, Democrats are so eager to get rid of Trump that they’ll happily take any voter, real or imagined, if they think it will help get rid of the Bad Orange Man.
Yet over the longer term, as Democrats think about how to preserve their own power, they will think hard about verifying voters—that is, hack-proof VBA.
And did we mention that while Rep. Maxine Waters’ 43rd Congressional District, in South-Central Los Angeles, is commonly seen as a “black district,” it is, in fact, predominantly Hispanic and barely more than a quarter black? That suggests a coming black vs. Hispanic showdown in the 43rd, in which contending Democrat factions will be paying very close attention to who’s eligible to vote.
In other words, even before VBA replaces VBM, Democrats, too, will be zealous to stamp out vote-fraud. And that newfound zeal should give Republicans plenty of hope that they will have new allies across the aisle, joined together in the cause of safeguarding honest elections.
Yet in the meantime, the GOP must figure out the nitty gritty of both vote-by-mail and vote-by-e-mail. And while that’s a hard task, it’s not an impossible task.