With the number of mail-in ballots submitted this year expected to amount to more than double those sent in 2016, and with elections offices and voting locations especially understaffed—all due to the COVID-19 pandemic—it’s highly probable that we won’t know for certain whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden has won the election until several days after ballots are due.
Absentee ballots will keep flowing in after Election Day. Almost one-third of the United States merely require mail-in ballots to be postmarked, rather than received, by Election Day, and a handful more require postmarks from just one day prior to Election Day.
This year up to 80 million Americans will be voting by mail, and USPS slowdowns are making it very possible that even ballots postmarked and sent back well in advance won’t be counted until Nov. 3 or later.
Some states can’t start processing ballots until Election Day. Many states are expecting record-setting numbers of absentee ballots this year, so if poll workers can’t start processing them as they flood in, there will inevitably be a huge backlog of mailed ballots that will take several days after Nov. 3 to tally.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in about 20 percent of states, including Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, mailed ballots cannot begin to be processed until Election Day, and in some cases not until the physical polls have closed. The majority of states aren’t allowed to actually begin tabulating mailed-in votes until Election Day, even if they can start the processing and verification process well in advance.
According to the University of Florida’s U.S. Elections Project, with only about one week left to go until Election Day, more than 61 million Americans have already cast their ballots via mail-in or early voting, with registered Democrats nearly doubling Republicans.
As these numbers only continue to grow, there will surely be plenty of headlines touting what appears to be an early lead for Joe Biden. Keep in mind there is a well-documented party divide when it comes to early voting, with Trump supporters expressing a significantly higher preference for in-person voting and more distrust in mail-in voting than Biden supporters, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. That means the election will probably seem to be swinging back and forth between the two candidates for a while before a winner is announced—first leaning toward Biden with early voting numbers, then toward Trump with the first in-person numbers, and then the process goes crazy as in-person polls close and mailed votes are officially tabulated.
One internet news source reports the outcome could take as many as 36 days after Election Day to determine.
Here in Franklin where I live there has been an increase in registered voters of 2,492 between August 19 (the day after the August Partisan Primary and October 25. In-person absentee voting started last Tuesday, October 20, 2020, in Franklin. In a four-day period 2,467 voters appeared in person. In addition to the in-person voters, Franklin has processed applications of 11,215 voters who requested to have their ballots mailed to them, of which 2,401 have not yet been returned. In-person absentee voting will continue through Friday, October 30, from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, and voters can still request that an absentee ballot be mailed to them through Thursday, October 29 with indefinitely confined voters and military voters allowed to request they be mailed through October 30.
It would seem to make sense that Franklin and other areas of the country should be allowed to begin counting votes NOW.
Mail in ballots are problematic. The process essentially works like this. A clerk takes an envelope from a bin. It’s checked to see if it was signed by the voter, if it was witnessed, and if the witness signed and gave his/her address. The voter is checked against a list for prior vote(s).A barcode on the envelope is checked. Then the ballot is run into the machine. This takes about three (3) minutes a ballot. That’s a lot of time depending on how many machines you’ve got.
Consider this. If the clerks could merely put the ballot into a poll machine when it came in (or a voter who was voting absentee in person shoved it in like they usually want to do, the city would ultimately be far ahead of the game.
It’s rare I concur with a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial, but I do this time. The newspaper writes:
Wisconsin should let clerks get a head start on counting at least some absentee ballots, a change in the law that clerks from both parties have wanted for years.
It makes sense to let clerks start counting early. The vast majority of ballots are likely to be received by Election Day, and it would be in the best interest of our democracy to have the most complete results possible on election night, which is what people have come to expect.
Wisconsin’s clerks have pushed for a change in state law that would allow them to open and place ballots into tabulator machines as they arrive in the mail. The tally would not be counted or disclosed until Election Day. Wisconsin law now requires them to wait until Election Day to begin counting.
Wisconsin legislators have debated the issue but haven’t acted. Long delays in counting ballots can fuel partisan emotions, give the combatants an excuse to challenge the results, and cause voters to question them.
We need to give clerks of both parties what they are asking for. They run our elections; let’s listen to them. Allow them to count ballots early.