Mail-in ballots: pro and con

Frank CagleFrank Talk

Once upon a time in a county far, far away, a campaign operative found the door to the election commission unlocked one Sunday morning. Inside he found an election official with all the absentee ballots spread out on the counter and a collection of blue and black ink pens of various hues.

Absentee ballots, many of them from servicemen and women, often just register votes for president and maybe a senator or governor. Often people far away are not knowledgeable or interested in “down ballot” candidates. If you find the right color pen you can vote on their behalf in local races.

Frank Cagle

Rather than report this irregularity the campaign operative just made sure that the corrupt election official cast all the absentee ballots for his candidate.

I’m sure such a thing couldn’t happen these days, our election officials have a well-deserved reputation for integrity. The days when vote buying and vote tampering were rampant have passed. Maybe no one cares enough to buy a Crown Vic trunk full of half-pint whiskey bottles any more. My point here is that most any type of voting process can be tampered with.

In North Carolina in 2018, a campaign operative had people pick up absentee ballots and bring them to him. He also had a collection of ink pens of various blue and black hues and filled out incomplete ballots. Then he took them to the election commission in batches. He got caught because his Republican candidate got 60 percent of the absentee vote and the county didn’t have that many registered Republicans seeking an absentee ballot. The district attorney said the scheme had been going on for years.

I have no problem with the Post Office delivering absentee ballots; it’s on each end of the transaction that trouble might occur. Like a family member filling in the ballot for an elderly person as well as their own.

Things to consider about everyone voting by mail:

Quick results: Media organizations scream bloody murder if they don’t get election results as soon as the polls close. What will be the reaction be when it takes a day or two to get a final number?

Oregon does statewide mail-in balloting. They had a primary election last Tuesday for secretary of state. On Friday afternoon one of the candidates finally conceded the Democratic nomination. The total vote was still not in as of Sunday.

If every state goes to mail-in ballots the cable news gabfests on election day where the anchors fill hours of prime time waiting for results will be no more. (I’ll miss them; isn’t that pathetic?) How can you discuss results if there are no results? What if they are sitting there five days later trying to find out the results in Montana? We could be in limbo for several days after election day before we find out who won.

Older voters: More likely to vote Republican. Given their susceptibility to the coronavirus, it seems prudent that old people vote mail-in. Republicans ought to be making it as easy as possible to vote by mail. But most oppose it.

Speaking of old people. Polling places are staffed mostly by retirees. Will they be willing to spend the day being exposed to hundreds of people, most of whom I’d be willing to bet won’t be wearing a mask?

Will a mask be required to enter a polling place? Will a large portion of the East Tennessee population go berserk as a result? If the unmasked scream at the idea of wearing a mask into an ice cream shop can you imagine them being told they can’t vote? Facebook will have a meltdown.

Timetable: Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats will be arguing about the method of voting. Mail-in ballots have to go out two to three weeks before the election. If Tennessee went to a mail system results likely couldn’t be counted for a week or even two. Counting the relatively few ballots in past elections has not been a major problem. But country election commission offices inundated with absentee ballots is another thing entirely.

For a serious mail-in effort to become reality it would take at least two years. And that’s without the hostility of the state legislature.

  • Take the money or else: You may have noticed that Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs got a $5,000 raise which he will donate to a scholarship fund. Under state law he can’t refuse the raise. The law requires that his salary be the highest in the county and that it must be five percent higher than the sheriff. How did that happen? There used to be a problem giving judges a raise. It was up to the whim of the legislature. And it was hard to get good lawyers to be judges. State Sen. Carl Koella, a powerful Blount County Republican, passed legislation that called for automatic raises tied to state employee raises in perpetuity, thus never having the legislature have to vote to raise salaries. To make it more politically palatable (among office holders) the legislation also required that a raise be awarded to the county executive (mayor) and the sheriff. If my memory is reliable, these automatic bumps have been in place for 20 years.
  • Aren’t you special? If you are lodged in a hell hole, otherwise known as a state prison, you are at the mercy of the coronavirus. If you are a crook, like Paul Manafort or Michael Cohen, you can go home for the remainder of your sentence. Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, was sentenced to seven years. Cohen was sentenced to three years. But since they might catch the virus in prison they have been allowed to go home. If you are sheltering in place, you are serving the same sentence as these two felons.
  • Movie tips: Every publication it seems is running lists of movies to watch on Netflix, Amazon or Hulu during sheltering in place. I don’t have a movie list but I do have some tips to enhance your viewing pleasure. Never watch a movie describes as “rollicking.” A “screwball” comedy? Uh-uh. And never watch a movie whose theme music features banjo music. (The only exception to this rule is Earl Scruggs in “Bonnie and Clyde.”)

Frank Cagle is a veteran newspaper editor and columnist.

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