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Former Member of the Federal Election Commission Hans von Spakovsky Discusses Election Integrity and the Need for Reforms
January 13, 2021 Julie Carr
Live from Music Row Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Fellow at the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation Hans von Spakovsky to the show.
During the second hour, Spakovsky discussed his many years of experience in election oversight and the need for transparency in voting advocating the importance of in-person voting on Election Day. He also added that it was important to go forward with paper ballots that have an identifiable chain of custody and continued his warning about machine voting and the elimination of private funding.
Leahy: We are joined now by Hans von Spakovsky. He is the manager of the election law reform initiative and a senior legal fellow at The Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation. A native of Huntsville. A graduate of Vanderbilt law school. And the author of Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holders Justice Department published by HarperCollins-Broadside Books in June 2014. Welcome to The Tennessee Star Report Mr. Von Spakovsky.
Spakovsky: Michael, thanks for having me on.
Leahy: Always great. By the way, I think we have a mutual friend in 2012 I had a book published by HarperCollins Broadside book call The Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement. And the editor there was…Adam Bellow, I bet you know, Adam.
Spakovsky: Yes. The same editor I had. That’s exactly right.
Leahy: The greatest editor I’ve ever had. He’s just fabulous and really a great guy.
Spakovsky: He certainly was a pleasant surprise given some of the people you have to deal with in these publishing houses.
Leahy: He’s now with the Bombardier imprint of Post Hill press which as it turns out is based right here in Nashville, Tennessee. How about that?
Spakovsky: Well, I didn’t realize that.
Leahy: Yeah, he’s doing great work and has a lot of really good books coming out of that imprint. So, election integrity. I’m not going to go back and relitigate you know, all the five or six the problems with the unlawful nature of the election in these five or six states on November 3. But I do want to look forward. And I’d like to have you react to my view on this see if you think I’m going down the right track.
It seems to me that the potential for fraud is huge when you use a huge number of absentee ballots. We have these signature verification problems that and then you also have the drop boxes. This seems to be all sorts of chain of custody problems. All sorts of ballot harvesting problems. And it seems to me if we’re going to have any confidence in the electoral process in America state legislators around the country are going to have to fix the laws and make sure that unelected bureaucrats don’t change the rules. That’s my view. Am I on the right track or am I missing anything?
Spakovsky: Oh no, you’re absolutely right about that. Look people need to understand that absentee ballots are the only kind of ballots that are voted outside the supervision of election officials. Outside the observation of poll observers and poll watchers. And they’re the only kind of ballots that are then handled instead of being placed right into a ballot box in a polling place.
Then they go through some kind of process where they are handled by third parties before being delivered. All of that makes them extremely vulnerable not only to intentional fraud but to other problems like, you know getting lost in the mail on the way back and all kinds of other issues. And that’s why I agree.
You know we need to have absentee ballots for those who like our overseas military personnel and people who are too sick or disabled to make it to the polling place on Election Day. We should not be moving in the direction of encouraging everybody to use an absentee ballot if in fact, they have the ability to go to a polling place on Election Day and vote.
Leahy: Yeah, that seems to me to be the critical problem here in terms of integrity. You can’t be confident in the integrity of absentee ballots. Not only those by mail but particularly those placed in the drop boxes.
Spakovsky: That’s a big problem.
Leahy: I don’t know if you saw our reporting at The Georgia Star News one of our six outlets. You know, we own The Tennessee Star and several other state-based conservative news sites. But as you may know in Georgia in the November 3 presidential election there were about 1.3 million absentee ballots. The Secretary of State there didn’t know how many were delivered by mail or how many by drop boxes. But you probably know John McLaughlin the pollster, right?
Spakovsky: Oh, yeah.
Leahy: John did a poll and the polling results looked like about 600,000 of those 1.3 million absentee ballots were deposit and drop boxes. So we at The Georgia Star News asked the Secretary of State, hey, do you know how many of these absentee ballots were delivered by mail and how many by drop boxes? And the answer was, and you probably know this already…no, we don’t know. You have to ask the 159 counties.
Leahy: We went and asked the 159 counties. We’ve only got an account for like 150,000 of those 600,000 drop boxes still like two and a half months later. And of those, if you look at the ballot transfer forms that we got, you know, 80 percent of them were not delivered within one hour, which is what the rule said. You know there are all sorts of concerns there it seems to me. Will the state legislators that are back in session now, will they act in your view to appropriately constrain and control the proliferation of drop boxes and absentee ballots?
Spakovsky: Well, they’d better because if they don’t the public confidence and the integrity of the election process was extremely important and which was totally shaken by this past election is just going to get worse. And it’s going to affect elections for years. I think what I’ve seen is that a lot of state legislators are finally, finally aware of these problems.
And the public is finally aware of these problems. and I just saw that for example the governor of, Georgia is urging the state legislators to make a change which is the change that I’ve recommended for years, which is to remember Georgia like Tennessee has a voter ID law. Georgia passed its voter ID law and it was first effective in 2008. It’s a great law, but it’s got one big failing. It only applies to in-person voting. It doesn’t apply to absentee ballots too.
And that is a change that needs to be made in the law. If you look at Alabama, right? If you stay to yourself. We didn’t hear a lot of claims about problems in Alabama as opposed to Georgia. Well, the difference is Alabama actually passed a great voter ID law some years ago. But it applies to both in-person and absentee balloting. And while that can’t stop all problems are all fraud it certainly can minimize it when you have that kind of a legal requirement.
Leahy: Let me ask you this question and you’ve been at this for some time. Why is it that the Democrats are just so intensely focused on this? They spend so many resources and appear with a guy like Mark Elias and all those folks that they just have huge legal resources to advance absentee ballots and all these things that are I think in my view fraud-prone. Why on the Republican conservative side have we paid so little attention to it?
Spakovsky: You know how I hate to say this but my experience with this is that they think the end justifies the means. And they believe that they want to make it frankly easier to cheat and easier to manipulate election results. And that sounds harsh but I will tell you that I wrote a case study some years ago about this big voter fraud case that occurred in Alabama in the mid-1990s. And the fraud had clearly occurred.
It was in an overwhelmingly Black or Democratic county down in Alabama. And do you know that the NAACP and other civil rights groups did everything they could to prevent and stop the FBI from investigating this voter fraud? Which by the way has been reported to them by young African-American Democratic candidates.
But they did everything they could to try to stop the investigation. And you know in the end, almost a dozen individuals and local officials were convicted of fraud, and that fraud included stealing the votes of Black voters. But these civil rights groups did not want this investigation going forward. And that was so shocking to me. But that is unfortunately an attitude I see all the time.
Leahy: By the way, I have to say this. Are you an Alabama football fan?
Spakovsky: Well, I have to admit I was. As you know the whole state would come to a stop every year with Auburn and Alabama played each other. And I could still remember watching those pictures of the kids.
Leahy: Well, congratulations to you and all Alabamians because last night perhaps one of the best college football teams ever, the Alabama Crimson Tide stomped the Ohio State Buckeyes 52 to 24 to win the national championship. I bet you it’s a good day in the von Spakovsky household right?
Spakovsky: Well, it is. And I have a good friend in Ohio and I’m going to have to call and give a hard time to. (Laughter)
Leahy: So hey, I want to ask you this question. I noticed that you’re not just shall we say an academic. I’m looking at your background you have served on the board of advisors of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and on the Fulton County Georgia Board of Registrations and Elections in Fulton County which was the center of where all this was going on in Georgia. You’ve seen how these things work. Let me bring this question up to you. I’ve watched with great interest how Fulton County and many other counties in these Metro areas in swing states.
I don’t know surreptitiously or quietly accepted huge amounts of money from The Mark Zuckerberg funded Center for Technology and Civic Life which basically specified how they should run the elections down there and specified how many drop boxes they should have and centralized the counting systems and the tabulation areas in ways that made it difficult to observe. You and I haven’t talked about this, but when you look at what the Zuckerberg Center for Technology and Civic Life did, is this the kind of thing that we should be allowed going forward in American elections?
Spakovsky: The first thing the Georgia legislature should pass, the first bill is a bill barring any election officials or county or state governments from receiving private funding. Because if you look at the way this money was structured, you know it all so it all sounds like oh it’s well-intentioned. But this was simply a way of taking get-out-the-vote money that would normally have gone to a political campaign and using it to manipulate public election officials.
Because where did all this money go? It only went to democratically held urban areas and places where the votes would help Joe Biden and Democratic candidates. And the changes they made, for example, I can’t think of anything as you know, you mentioned drop boxes. I can’t think of anything more dangerous than putting unsecured and un-surveilled and unmonitored drop boxes for people to put their absentee ballots in. That is dangerous.
It is a way of making it easier to manipulate elections and for example, deposit fraudulent ballots in huge numbers when there’s no one there to see what’s happening. It’s like I said, this is something that every state needs their state legislators need to immediately change. It’s just such a conflict of interest. Election officials are taking that money.
Leahy: Do you in your capacity as the head of the Election Law Reform Institute of The Heritage Foundation, do you ever go and testify before state legislatures on these matters?
Spakovsky: I most certainly do. I’ve done it on numerous occasions. And I’ve been working on this. Look, one of the differences between me and other folks is as you’ve mentioned is there a lot of academics out there making all kinds of recommendations. None of whom have any actual experience administering elections. I spent five years in Georgia as a county election administrator in the biggest county in the state. And I did that for three years in Virginia.
Leahy: You were the Richard Baron of Fulton County before he was?
Spakovsky: No I was on the county election board, which was a five-member board that ran elections in Fulton County.
Leahy: So you supervised the guy who ran it.
Spakovsky: That’s exactly right.
Spakovsky: I for example was astonished when I heard the news of how they stopped counting ballots at the end of election day. We would never have done that. We had backup teams of people and we would count all of the ballots and we made sure when I was there which was 20 years ago that we had observers there from the parties and the candidates and we put them close enough so they could see what we were doing because we wanted that transparency.
Because we wanted them to be able to see that we were obeying the law and not doing anything wrong. And when you have election officials keeping observers out that, of course, leads to suspicions and they should lead suspicions because again transparency is the key to have a secure election that people can have confidence in.
Leahy: Have you been invited to testify before the Georgia state legislature? They opened the session yesterday. Have you been invited to go down and testify there?
Spakovsky: No, they have not brought me down. By the way, I should tell you that all the talk about electronic voting machines, I was in Georgia when they were trying to decide what kind of equipment to go to this is back after the 2000 election when people using punch-card equipment. And I testified against having the state go to electronic voting machines.
Leahy: And we have about 30 seconds left. In synopsis, what’s the argument against electronic voting machines?
Spakovsky: Well, the problem with them is that with most of them there is no audit trail. I think the best way is to have Opti-scan equipment where you have a paper ballot. Yes, it’s scanned by a computer to count but you have the paper ballot that you can then hand account to ensure that you’re not being somehow hit by software.
Leahy: You said the magic word. Hand count, paper ballots. That’s the way to make sure there is some integrity there. Hans von Spakovsky the Manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at The Heritage Foundation. Thanks for joining us and come back again, please.
Spakovsky: Sure. Anytime.
Listen to the full second hour here:
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