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AP Interview: Disinformation concerns mail voting expert

ATLANTA (AP) — Amber McReynolds, CEO of The National Vote at Home Institute, helped state and local election officials prepare for the record number of mailed ballots cast during last year’s presidential election. She also was recently confirmed by the Senate to serve on the Board of Governors of the U.S. Postal Service.

Former President Donald Trump and his allies complained that mail voting rules were eased during the pandemic by governors, state election officials and judges without the involvement of state lawmakers. That was true in a few cases, while lawmakers in nine states opted to expand eligibility requirements for mail voting and in two others agreed to mail ballots automatically to registered voters, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Associated Press interviewed McReynolds, who lives in Denver, about an election held amid the coronavirus outbreak, the attacks on election officials, the efforts in some states to enact new limits on mail voting and her views on the future of the Postal Service. The interview, held May 14, has been condensed.

AP: Tell us what you did to help state and local election officials prepare for holding a presidential election amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

McREYNOLDS: We worked with a lot of state legislatures last year as they were enacting emergency legislation. And then we worked directly with local and state officials on implementing new communication methods to educate voters about vote-by-mail, new processes, new procedures within the offices. We helped advise on how to do ballot box installation and what vendors to use. … And I just continue to commend the election officials for getting this done in the way that they did.

AP: You helped both Republican and Democratic states, correct?

McREYNOLDS: We did.

AP: Fast forward to today and we are seeing several Republican-led states overhauling voting rules, citing a lack of public confidence in the 2020 election. Do you believe that lack of confidence is warranted?

McREYNOLDS: The 2020 election was the most secure election that we’ve ever had. … The biggest challenge in 2020 was the disinformation and misinformation that occurred and frankly, the lies about the election process that were pervasive and planned all throughout the year. … . It’s not truthful that there was massive fraud or voting system conspiracies or irregularities. … I think the public’s lack of understanding of the elections process is really how these bad actors were able to take advantage of the public, create this distrust — and now after they’ve created all this distrust, go back and make the case for restrictions on voting access and point to the lack of trust that was created by a certain set of bad actors. It’s sort of this vicious cycle that has happened, and we really need to break that.

AP: What are the consequences of these various proposals, these new limits on mail voting?

McREYNOLDS: A lot of these laws are aimed at restricting election officials from doing their jobs. … Ultimately voters are hurt the most. Our democracy, by extension, suffers and is weakened. And frankly, the disinformation bad-actor types are the ones that win because this is what they want. They want less people to be able to participate and the disinformation to continue to spread.

AP: You mentioned the challenges facing local election officials. How concerned are you that the personal attacks and threats that surfaced after the election will drive people from the profession?

McREYNOLDS: Well, I’m very concerned about that. And I think we’ve already even seen indicators of that. We’ve seen a lot more retirements or moves to other fields. … Many of my friends around the country experienced death threats and have had security challenges and have had their families harassed and attacked.

AP: Are you concerned partisan actors could see these positions of county clerks and election supervisors as an opportunity to potentially put their thumb on the scale? Do you think these positions, secretaries of state for that matter, should be nonpartisan?

McREYNOLDS: I am concerned that those positions are now going to be targeted by partisan actors to, frankly, play games and try to tip the scale in the election process. … I get concerned if we have a system that kind of relies on people doing the right thing. So I do think we have to build some additional accountability measures or ethical standards around some of these positions to protect and insulate the conduct of elections from partisan actors that could try to use those positions in a negative way.

AP: Let’s talk about your new role with the USPS Board of Governors. Do you think the postmaster general is taking the Postal Service in the right direction with the current 10-year plan and the easing of existing delivery standards?

McREYNOLDS: I have not been in a board meeting yet, so I have not had access to the data and the performance measures and things like that for the postmaster general. So I have no judgment about his performance at this point in time. … What I would say is, as I’ve reviewed the 10-year plan, the postmaster general and the board laid out many of the very important issues facing the Postal Service and, I think, put a plan out that includes many positive reform suggestions and recommendations. … The one area of the plan that I have concerns about is the service aspect of things, the service standards and even some of the plans around consolidation. … I want to know more about the impacts on service, because I truly believe we have to restore service. We have to restore confidence in the Postal Service.

AP: Finally, various election officials have raised concerns about the health of our democracy. Do you share those concerns? And if so, what are some steps that we should be taking to strengthen our democracy?

McREYNOLDS: I do share that concern. As I mentioned earlier, I think that disinformation is the biggest threat that we face with regards to the security of our elections. It is just not true that the election was fraudulent in any way. It is not true that there were issues with the Dominion voting system. It is not true that there was massive vote-by-mail fraud or activities that were nefarious. … And so I think we need to confront disinformation in a very big way and we need to protect our infrastructure. … The second piece is we have to protect election officials. And I do think lawmakers at the federal level need to step in and make it a federal crime to interfere with the conduct of an election, an election official and their official duties. … And then I think on the policy front, part of the reason the disinformation spreads as it does around this country is that there are not many federal standards, if you will, where there’s consistency by state for how the election occurs. And so in one state, you might have a 30-day registration deadline. In another state, you might be able to go in and register to vote on Election Day and vote right there. … We need to think about some federal standards because it’s easy for bad actors to spread the wrong information because the rules vary so much by state.

By CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY
Associated Press

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