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Make no mistake: the Republicans lost the presidential election because they nominated a candidate so awful he couldn't even beat an enfeebled hack who had "defund the police," socialism, and a fracking ban hung around his neck.

We wouldn't be talking about fraud at this point because, however much actually occurred, it wouldn't have been enough if a normal person had been at the top of the Republican ticket.

But when 80 percent of the members of one of our major political parties say they believe an election was "stolen," as one opinion poll indicates, both the winners and the losers suddenly acquire an interest in restoring faith in the ballot box. And that restoration will require tightening up (rather than further loosening) voter registration requirements, strengthening the integrity of ballot-counting and ensuring that the vast majority of people who vote do so in person on Election Day, under the supervision of election officials.

There is, in short, no reason the process of voting or what constitutes a legal vote should be any different now than it was in 1976 or 1992, when accusations of fraud were rare and faith in the integrity of our elections was shared by the vast majority of the citizenry. Our electoral system wasn't remotely broken, but we've now broken it by trying to fix it.

The source of that grievous error was the misguided notion that we had to find ways to get more people to register and then vote by making it easier to do both; that our democracy wasn't democratic enough if people had to go to a little trouble to participate in it.

But maintaining perceptions of election integrity are far more important to democracy than making voting effort-free. Far better that a tiny percentage of votes be tossed for failing to meet a clear standard than have the nation as a whole left to suspect that the results of voting were tainted.

The perfect became the enemy of the good, and many of the measures that have been adopted in recent years to fix a problem that didn't exist (insufficient turnout) were also measures that opened the door to fraud, or at least increased perceptions thereof, which amount in some ways to the same thing.

We should want voters who cherish the right so much that they would be willing to crawl through broken glass to exercise it, not those who will bother only if it is made more convenient.

In the short term we should begin the process of rebuilding confidence by getting rid of mail-in voting which, by removing the oversight of election officials, practically invites both fraud and the suspicion that lots of it is going on.

Fraud is difficult to prove and even more difficult to assess the impact of, but as long as we have mail-in ballots, losers will be able to depict themselves as victims of it in close elections, and their supporters will echo those claims while feeling they have little means of redress.

Within this context, perhaps the most startling aspect of the election data analyzed thus far was the low disqualification rate for mail-in ballots, which dwarfed in number those in previous elections and overwhelmingly favored Joe Biden, allowing him to overtake Trump in the final counts of key swing states.

It is widely believed that there is somewhere around a 1-2 percent disqualification rate for mail-in ballots due to voter error (absent signatures, wrong addresses, late postmarks, etc.) and many predicted that the rate would be even higher this year because so many were engaging in it for the first time. But according to an analysis by Daniel Payne (drawing from data from the University of Florida's U.S. Election Project) the opposite actually happened, with the disqualification rate for mail-in ballots dropping in Georgia from 6.4 percent in 2016 to just 0.2 percent this year and in Pennsylvania from 1.0 percent to 0.03 percent (the percentage disqualified was also five times lower in Michigan and almost four times lower in North Carolina).

Ironically, and contrary to Trump claims, this wasn't so much the result of fraud (counting what should have been illegal Biden ballots) as the consequence of a concerted effort by Democrats to encourage mail-in voting and loosen the requirements for acceptance of such ballots.

As Kimberley Strassel notes in a Wall Street Journal column, Democratic interest groups, lawyers, and elected officials, with the concurrence of sympathetic judges, used the virus as an excuse to "get rules in place that would allow them to flood the zone with additional mail-in ballots." Key swing states consequently made sure that ballots were mailed out to everyone, curbside voting and dropoff boxes were set up, extra efforts to "cure" defective ballots were allowed, and ballot harvesting permitted.

This isn't the way elections should work in America, and certainly no way to bolster confidence in the results they produce.

Although voting in-person on Nov. 3, with suitable precautions, was no riskier than dropping by the grocery or hardware store, Democrats used the pandemic and the dubious euphemism of "voter access" to dramatically loosen voting requirements and ballot integrity.

They didn't "steal" the election; they just managed to get the rules changed beforehand to their advantage.


Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.


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