An American voter fills out his ballot on the last day of early voting on November 2, 2020, in Lansing, Michigan. Photo: John Moore / Getty Images / AFP

The problem with mass use of mail-in voting begins at the moment the vote is cast. It is not a matter of conscious malfeasance or simple corruption. The wrongfulness of allowing massive numbers of mailed-in ballots to sway the final results of an election is is well illustrated in the following fable.

Indifferent Miss Eileen, a legal voter, receives her blank ballot as a result of a mass mailing in her state. The ballot sits unopened on her kitchen table.

She answers a knock at her door and there discovers a neighbor, political activist Mr Victor Vote Harvester. He is admitted after Victor politely asks to come in in order to discuss the election.  

Eileen says she’s not really interested in the election and would much prefer to discuss her plans for an upcoming vacation, but being a polite person and since Victor is a neighbor, she agrees to hear him while he makes his pitch.  

A friendly discussion ensues, and at the end of it Eileen fills out the ballot in a way suggested by Victor, mainly to be a polite good neighbor and but also well motivated since Victor gave her some good advice on vacation deals.   

In a standard election, Eileen would have had to be interested enough to go to a polling place where she would receive no coaching and could in the privacy of the voting booth express her real feelings about the questions raised by the election. She would not be indifferent, she would not be coached, and she would have thought about election issues.

Because mail-in ballots allow those important factors to be absent, they are a bad idea even if a scenario like the once described above occurs only 5-6% of the time. It’s enough to twist the outcome in favor of enthusiastic Victor and his party. 

In other words, while it is true that mass mail-in voting creates an opportunity for an increased numbers of voters, it also allows the participation of indifferent voters who have little enthusiasm, scant knowledge, and too easy influence in civil affairs. 

Tom Velk is a libertarian-leaning American economist who teaches and lives in Montreal, Canada. He is the chairman of the North American Studies program at McGill University and a professor in that university’s Economics Department.