Wisconsin voters formed long, socially mindful lines, waited with masks and gloves as the state pushed ahead on election day.
The unprecedented volume of mail-order votes during the coronavirus pandemic produced hiccups in some state primaries and worked smoothly in others.
But one thing is constant: states have broken records of turnout in the primaries due to the deluge of mail-order votes, forcing election officials to take days, even weeks, to count all the votes.
Fast forward to the presidential election on November 3, when all 50 states and the District of Columbia vote on the same day. Many states are expected to return to vote by mass mail, but this time for a presidential race that will attract significantly more turnout than the primaries.
More: “A substantial challenge”: what Kentucky, New York tells us about the vote in a pandemic in November
A worker processes mail-order votes at the Bucks County Electoral Council office before the primary election in Doylestown, Pennsylvania on May 27. (Photo: Matt Slocum, AP)
In the contest between President Donald Trump and the alleged Democratic candidate Joe Biden, right up to the contests for Congress and even local contests, voting experts have a warning: unless there is a clear and determined winner, prepare for an election week or weeks, not an election night.
“I think the” weeks “are potentially generous,” said Joe Burns, Republican attorney for the Lawyers Democracy Fund.
Burns, a former electoral officer at the New York State Board of Elections, said it may already take weeks to count correspondence votes in states where only 5% of the vote is absent. “Well, if you go on to increase the absence ratings by a factor of 10, you would think it would take much longer.”
He added: “If you are a candidate, if you are an electoral lawyer, don’t make too many plans after the election.”
Concerned about a “post-election crisis”
The media likes to crown presidential winners as soon as a candidate passes the 270 delegate threshold. Television networks project Trump the winner of the 2016 election around 02.45 ET. Barack Obama was declared winner on election nights in both of his victories, around 11pm. ET in 2008 and at 11:20 pm ET in 2012.
The most drawn out – and controversial – election in US history was in 2000, when television networks declared George W. Bush the winner on election night, only to return to “too close to call” as the votes came from the Florida. The contest actually ended five weeks later, on December 12th, when the United States Supreme Court stopped a new vote count in Florida.
Election experts fear that a sustained outcome this year could pave the way for more controversy – potentially attempts by candidates to invalidate the results – due to the furious fight for voting in the mail.
Trump accused the Democrats of trying to “rig” and “steal” the elections by supporting the enlarged mail vote during the pandemic, which he denounced as evidence of fraudulent evidence. Last week, a fundraising email for the campaign called Democrat thieves. Biden said he wondered if Trump would willingly leave the White House if he lost and that his “biggest concern” is that Trump will “steal the election” by limiting voter access.
“It is extremely unlikely that we will have final results on election night,” said Lawrence Norden, director of the Electoral Reform Program for the Brennan Justice Center at the New York School of Law. He called it a “different kind of election this year” which could mean at least several days to count all the votes.
President Donald Trump circles a section of the border wall on June 23, 2020, in San Luis. (Photo: Evan Vucci / AP)
“This is a real concern because there is so much misinformation around the election that people will use it to delegitimize the count. That’s why I think it is so important for people to know in advance that it will be reality. It means that there is something wrong. It means that we are doing our job to make sure that the votes are counted accurately. “
Larry Diamond, a professor of political science at Stanford University and a colleague at the Hoover Institution, said that a close election – and public opinion not realizing that it could take days or more to count correspondence votes – could lead to an election fight like the United States has never seen.
“We really had ample room for an unprecedented post-election crisis in the United States,” said Diamond.
Like all e-mail states, they handle the load
Thirty-four states and Washington, D.C. have already allowed all registered voters to vote in the mail without an excuse before the COVID-19 pandemic. Thirteen states have taken steps to send mail voting questions in the primaries this year and in some cases for the November elections.
In many of the 16 states where voters must provide an excuse to receive an absentee ballot – being over 65, out of town on election day or in the army, for example – concerns about coronavirus now qualify as a reason. Most states have made the change only for the primary elections and are waiting to see if it will extend in November.
Five states – Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington – conduct elections entirely by mail by sending ballot papers to all registered voters. California will do the same for the November elections.
“My concern is that it will probably take the entire month of November for most states to have their votes cast by mail or absent, and we may not know the election results until the end of November,” said Kim Wyman, Republican secretary of Washington state, who has conducted the election by mail since 1991.
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Under state law, Washington can begin processing correspondence votes 10 days before election day, giving counties an initial advantage to go through several passages that take time to verify authenticity. Advance mail order votes typically account for half of the overall vote in Washington. The first results are announced at the end of the vote. But since postal stamp votes arriving or near Election Day can arrive days later, it is normal for elections by ballot to take longer.
Wyman said she was concerned about the additional burden on states where absentee ballots are not so widespread historically. However, these States will be required to maintain the vote in person while developing the ability to vote by mail with more equipment and staff. This includes having enough scanners, grading machines and signature verification machines, as well as space for counting cards.
“They will need to increase this,” said Wyman, inviting Congress to allocate more money for the election. “And now we’re down to four months.”
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, arrives to speak at an affordable health care event at the Lancaster Recreation Center on June 25, 2020 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Joshua Roberts, Getty Images)
State law changes key for timely results
Amber McReynolds, CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, said that having enough equipment won’t help produce timely results unless states rewrite the laws that allow them to start processing mail-order votes before election day .
Presidential battlefields such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan are among the states that are considering legislation that would allow election officials to gain an edge over the treatment of absentee ballots.
“By not allowing this processing in advance, they are also creating a backlog and stress on the voting in person which is actually not necessary,” said McReynolds, who previously had been director of the elections in Denver, where the elections are conducted entirely the mail. “If they want to make sure their states aren’t what they expected for the results, they should make that adjustment as soon as possible.”
In Pennsylvania, 1.5 million people voted in the mail for his June 2 primary, nearly 18 times the 84,000 they did in 2016, representing more than half of the overall vote. It was the first state election in the world with an absent vote without apology. Historically, only 4% of Pennsylvanians vote in the mail. A race of state auditors was not decided until 10 days after the elections, as the counties counted all postal votes.
All Pennsylvania voters will again be allowed to vote in the mail in November.
More: Trump trail Biden in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona, the survey results
Complicating Pennsylvania’s ability to finish counting in the primaries, according to Wanda Murren, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Secretary of State’s office, six counties, including Philadelphia County, were given an extra week to count and report postal votes due to protests for police brutality.
The state also had a spike in interim voting by voters who arrived at a polling station after previously requesting votes by mail.
“We are watching closely where things went smoothly and where not, and what was the difference,” said Murren. “We already know that equipment makes a huge difference, the amount of staff makes a huge difference.”
Audience awareness viewed as crucial
In the coming months, voting by post advocates want to raise public awareness of the potential elongated election calendar.
“I know we like instant gratification, but we have to deal with the fact that if the election closes, we won’t have results on this year’s election day and that’s fine,” said Tom Ridge, a former Pennsylvania Republican. , which now co-chairs SafeVote, a nonprofit organization that is promoting vote expansion by mail. “We should expect an election week rather than election day.”
Others believe that more national aid for voter confidence is needed if the outcome is in doubt for days or weeks.
William Galston, a senior member of the Brookings Institution’s governance study program, said that in the “best of all possible worlds” an election with a large percentage of mail-order votes will have a substantial gap between election day and final results.
“What you need is not only better mechanics, but also a substantial bipartisan leadership consensus that declares itself in advance contrary to any effort to delegitimize the elections on both sides.”
He suggested that a panel be brought together with the likes of the Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, former Democratic majority leader Tom Daschle and even former presidents.
“We will need a general legitimacy canopy in order to prevent a worse scenario,” said Galston.
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