Voters in Wisconsin formed long, socially distant queues and waited in masks and gloves while the state drove election day.
The unprecedented volume of postal ballot papers during the coronavirus pandemic has caused hiccups in some state primaries and worked smoothly in others.
However, one thing is constant: states have broken election records for the primaries due to the flood of postal ballot papers, forcing election officials to take days or even weeks to count all votes.
Fast forward to the November 3 presidential election, in which all 50 states and the District of Columbia will vote on the same day. Many states are expected to return to the mass election, this time for a presidential race that will have a significantly higher turnout than the primaries.
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A worker processes postal ballot papers in the Bucks County polling office prior to the Doylestown, Pennsylvania, primaries, on May 27. (Photo: Matt Slocum, AP)
In the race between President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden, to races for Congress and even local competitions, voting experts have a warning: if there is no clear and decisive winner, prepare for one or more weeks of the election, not on an election night.
“I think ‘weeks’ may be generous,” said Joe Burns, a Republican election lawyer for the Lawyers Democracy Fund.
Burns, a former New York State Board of Elections election official, said it could take weeks for postal ballot papers to be counted in states where only 5% of respondents are absent. “Well, if you increase the postal vote by a factor of 10, you’d think it would take so much longer.”
He added, “If you are a candidate, if you are an election lawyer, do not make too many plans after the election.”
Worries about a “post-election crisis”
The media are happy to crown the President’s winners as soon as a candidate crosses the threshold of 270 delegates. TV stations predicted Trump to be the 2016 election winner around 2:45 a.m.CET. Barack Obama was declared the winner on the election nights of his two victories at around 11 p.m. ET in 2008 and 11:20 p.m. ET in 2012.
The longest – and most controversial – election in US history took place in 2000 when television broadcaster George W. Bush declared the winner on election night and then got too “close” when voices from Florida arrived. The competition effectively ended five weeks later on December 12, when the US Supreme Court stopped counting votes in Florida.
Campaign experts fear that a longer result this year could set the stage for greater controversy – possibly attempts by candidates to invalidate the results – due to the fierce battle for email voting.
Trump has accused the Democrats of attempting to “manipulate” and “steal” the elections by supporting extended postal voting during the pandemic, which he has deemed to be fraudulent without evidence. An email with fundraisers for campaigns last week titled “Thieves” by the Democrats. Biden said he wondered if Trump would willingly leave the White House if he lost and that his “biggest concern” was that Trump would “steal the election” by restricting voters’ access.
“We are extremely unlikely to get final results on election night,” said Lawrence Norden, director of the New York School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice reform program. He called it “another kind of election this year” that could take at least several days to count all the votes.
President Donald Trump visits a section of the border wall in San Luis on June 23, 2020. (Photo: Evan Vucci / AP)
“This is a real problem because there is so much disinformation in the elections that people will use it to delegitimize the count. That is why I think it is so important that people know in advance that it is Will be a reality. It doesn’t. ” That doesn’t mean that something is wrong. It means that we are doing our job to ensure that the votes are counted accurately. “
Larry Diamond, a professor of political science at Stanford University and a fellow at the Hoover Institution, said a tight election – and the public does not understand that counting postal ballot papers could take days or more – could still lead to an election campaign like the United States never seen.
“We really have considerable scope for an unprecedented post-election crisis,” said Diamond.
How to deal with the burden like all mail-in electoral states
Thirty-four states and Washington, D.C., already allowed all registered voters to vote in advance of the COVID-19 pandemic by post without apology. Thirteen states have taken steps to send postal ballot applications in the primaries this year and in some cases for the November elections.
Coronavirus concerns are now a reason in several of the 16 countries where voters have to make an excuse to receive a postal vote – for example, over 65, out of town on election day, or with the military. Most states have made the change only for the primaries and are waiting to be extended until November.
Five states – Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington – conduct full postal voting by sending ballot papers to all registered voters. California will do the same for the November election.
“I am concerned that it will likely be all November for most states to count their postal ballot papers, and we may not know the results of the election until late November,” said Kim Wyman, Washington State Secretary, the has held elections by post since 1991.
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Under US state law, Washington can begin processing postal ballot papers 10 days before election day. This gives counties a head start to take several time-consuming steps to verify authenticity. Early postal ballot papers usually make up half of the total vote in Washington. The first results will be announced after the vote has ended. Since votes stamped on or near Election Day can arrive days later, it usually takes longer to vote by email.
Wyman said she was concerned about the additional burden on countries where postal voting is not so common. These states must continue to vote personally, while building capacity for mail-in voting with more equipment and personnel. This includes enough scanners, ballot sorter and signature checkers as well as space for counting the ballot papers.
“You need to speed this up,” said Wyman, calling on Congress to spend more money on elections. “And now we only have four months left.”
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, is coming to an affordable health care event at the Lancaster Recreation Center in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on June 25, 2020. (Photo: Joshua Roberts, Getty Images)
State law changes the key to timely results
Amber McReynolds, CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, said that having enough equipment can’t do much to get timely results unless states rewrite laws that allow them to process postal ballot papers before election day to start.
President’s battlefields such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan are among the states that are considering laws that would allow election officials to get a head start on postal ballot processing.
“By not allowing this processing in advance, you are also creating a backlog and personal voting burden that is really not necessary,” said McReynolds, who previously served as a polling officer in Denver, where the election is conducted exclusively by Mail. “If you want to make sure that your states are not waiting for results, you should make this adjustment as soon as possible.”
In Pennsylvania, 1.5 million people voted in the mail for the area code on June 2 – almost 18 times the 84,000 in 2016, which is more than half of the total vote. It was the first nationwide election of the state with an apologetic postal vote. Historically, only 4% of Pennsylvania citizens vote in the mail. A state exam race was only decided 10 days after the election because the districts grouped all postal ballot papers.
All voters in Pennsylvania can vote again in the mail in November.
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According to Wanda Murren, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Pennsylvania, six districts, including Philadelphia County, have been given an additional week due to protests to count mail-in votes and report police brutality.
The state also had an increase in the provisional ballot papers of voters who arrived at a polling station after previously requesting postal ballot papers.
“We look closely at where things went smoothly and where not and what the difference was,” said Murren. “We already know that the equipment makes a big difference, the number of employees makes a big difference.”
Public awareness is seen as crucial
In the coming months, supporters of voting via email want to raise public awareness of the potentially extended election schedule.
“I know that we like instant gratification, but we have to put up with the fact that on election day this year we won’t get results when the elections are imminent, and that’s fine,” said former Republican governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, who is now co-chair of SafeVote, a nonprofit that works to expand voting via email. “We should expect an election week rather than an election day.”
Others believe that at the national level, more help for voters’ confidence is needed if the outcome is questionable for days or weeks.
William Galston, senior fellow of the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program, said that in the “best of all possible worlds”, an election with a large proportion of postal ballot papers would have a significant gap between election day and the end results.
“What you need is not only better mechanics, but also a very substantial bipartisan leadership consensus that speaks out in advance against any effort to delegitimize the elections by either side.”
He suggested putting together a panel with Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, former Democratic majority leader Tom Daschle, and even former president.
“We need comprehensive legitimacy protection to prevent a worst-case scenario,” said Galston.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
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