It’s not about fraud, where a person or group illegally tries to change the outcome of the election. The potential catastrophe is about incompetence on the part of state legislators around the country. They have put in place rules governing mail-in ballots that can drag out the count for weeks. This is idiotic during any election, but it could be particularly devastating for the country during the pandemic.
Consider that Georgia requires mail-in ballots to be received by the close of the polls on election day, but a federal judge recently ruled that ballots simply postmarked by election day must be counted, even if they don’t show up until three days later.
Ten states allow voters to request absentee ballots on November 2, the day before the election. The U.S. Postmaster Inspector General reported that during the primaries this year, more than one million ballots were sent to voters in the seven days leading up to the elections. It’s asking a lot for voters to receive those ballots, mail them in, and have the election officials receive them all by election day.
Ohio, a swing state, counts mail-in ballots for up to 10 days after the election, as long as they’re postmarked by election day. Unfortunately, not all ballots are postmarked.
NPR reports that during the primaries 558,000 absentee ballots were tossed out for various reasons, including 23,196 in Wisconsin, a state Trump won by 22,748.
And then there’s the question of when states begin to tally mail-in ballots. A dozen states, including the swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, don’t process absentee ballots until election day. That might not matter in a normal year, but with millions of more people expected to vote by mail, this could drag out counting for days, if not weeks.
A Wall Street Journal Poll found that 66% of Trump supporters plan to vote in person, while only 26% of Biden voters plan to do so. This implies a 3-to-1 imbalance of mail-in votes in favor of Biden. The longer the counts go, the more support we can expect for Joe Biden.
Again, this isn’t fraud, it’s just the way the numbers shake out. But that’s not going to stop people from being very frustrated with the system as the election potentially drags on.
There’s a way to fix all of this. State legislators could pass laws requiring all mail-in ballots to be requested at least two weeks before the election, postmarked at least one week before the election, and received at least two days before the election. They could also begin processing the ballots as soon as they arrived.
Some might see the deadlines as an unfair burden on those who want to vote by mail, but that’s not a fair critique. Requiring such votes to be cast early enough to be counted on or before election day is simply the trade-off for not having to vote in person.
While such a solution is simple, it will never happen. They are legislators, after all.