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Vote-by-mail worries: A ‘leaky pipeline’ in many states

By: AP | Washington |

Printed: August 8, 2020 10:19:18 pm

FILE – On this June 30, 2020, file picture, a field of absentee ballots wait to be counted on the Albany County Board of Elections in Albany, N.Y. By no means earlier than in U.S. historical past will so many individuals train the best on which their democracy hinges by marking a poll at house and entrusting a number of layers of principally unseen intermediaries to make sure their votes get precisely counted. (AP Picture/Hans Pennink)

Brace your self for what’s anticipated to be the primary U.S. presidential election carried out principally by mail. It’s prone to be a wild experience.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, voting by mail in a contactless and socially distant method looks like a no brainer. States have made the choice extensively out there — solely 10 now require voters to supply an excuse past concern of COVID-19 when requesting a poll by mail — and a few three in 4 People are anticipated to embrace the choice for the Nov. Three presidential election, up from one in 4 within the 2018 contest.

However operating a vote-by-mail election is surprisingly sophisticated, and there’s a whole lot of room for issues to go improper. Validating and counting a deluge of posted ballots in an open and accountable method presents a significant logistical problem, one which solely a couple of half dozen states are absolutely ready for.

It doesn’t assist that President Donald Trump has waged a vigorous offensive towards the thought through a barrage of baseless tweets alleging the imminence of large voting fraud. Turmoil within the U.S. Postal Service has solely heightened issues surrounding the flexibility of the nation’s myriad election programs to handle a presidential vote.

Oregon, Colorado and Washington have held profitable all-mail elections for years and others together with Florida and California expanded capability lengthy earlier than the pandemic. Almost in every single place else, the technical and logistical challenges loom giant for budget-squeezed election officers with restricted expertise.

Chaotic occasions throughout this 12 months’s primaries didn’t instill confidence. Untold 1000’s of absentee poll requests went unfulfilled, and tens of 1000’s of mailed ballots have been rejected for a number of causes together with arriving too late to be counted.

“The system is buckling beneath the load of the dramatic surge and demand for absentee mail ballots,” mentioned Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program on the Brennan Middle for Justice. “It hasn’t been constructed to face up to that prime of a quantity.”

Among the many main issues:

1. Though Congress has despatched $400 million to assist states cope with pandemic-related pressures on election programs, it’s nicely wanting the estimated $2 billion consultants say officers have to be prepared for November.
2. Not all states are equal on the subject of letting voters repair errors that result in rejection of their ballots, comparable to failure to signal the mail-in envelope. In a New Jersey particular election in Could, a whopping 10% of mailed ballots have been rejected.
3. The speedy introduction of recent applied sciences and processes in state voting programs heightens the chance of international interference and insider tampering. That’s true even when easy human error or native maneuvering for political benefit are extra possible threats.
4. The slower rely of mailed ballots may conflict with voter expectations of a transparent Election Evening winner. Election officers have already warned voters throughout the nation that it may take days after the polls near rely all of the votes.

To make sure success, all of the items of mail-in balloting programs need to be in place nicely earlier than Election Day. That’s as a result of processing absentee ballots is a fancy, multi-step course of in most states: Voter fills out software, mails it to native election workplace; native election workplace verifies voter’s eligibility, sends again poll; voter completes poll, indicators envelope, returns it. Election workplace verifies poll’s authenticity, counts it.

“The extra sophisticated we make the ballot-casting course of, the extra stuff goes to go improper,” mentioned Wisconsin activist Karen McKim.

Election administration in Wisconsin is as decentralized because it will get, relying because it does on 72 county clerks, 1,850 municipal clerks and 1000’s of ballot staff. McKim says it’s “unrealistic and unfair” to count on these staff to be prepared for a flood of absentee ballots in just some months.


Forward of a number of primaries this 12 months, some election directors have been buried beneath an unprecedented flurry of absentee poll requests. Some clean ballots acquired misaddressed; others have been misplaced.

In Georgia’s Fulton County, which incorporates Atlanta and is the state’s most populous, 1000’s of absentee ballots didn’t attain voters till after the polls had closed, based on native news studies. Washington, D.C., voters have been equally bothered.

In Wisconsin, requested absentee ballots by no means acquired to 1000’s of voters who requested. Jonas Zahn, a 46-year-old IBM government, risked his well being to vote in individual on April 7 after twice requesting absentee ballots. “They nonetheless haven’t come so they have to nonetheless be within the mail,” the Beaver Dam resident mentioned in late July.

In Milwaukee, almost 2,700 absentee ballots have been by no means mailed as a result of election employees goofed and halted a batch printing of mailing labels, the state election fee later reported. It was simply certainly one of a number of snafus.


Will the U.S. Postal Service be as much as processing and delivering an election-eve flood of tens of hundreds of thousands of ballots? Below a significant Trump donor named postmaster normal in June, cost-cutting plans are already triggering delays in bizarre mail. A surge of mailed ballots may put the system beneath extraordinary pressure.

Zahn, the Wisconsin voter, mentioned his native mail is now routed by Milwaukee 50 miles away, which means mail that reached a neighbor in a day or two a decade in the past now takes a couple of week.

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