More than 50 million Americans have already voted by mail, and presumably another 100 million will do it physically the next day November 3 thus closing one of the highest participation figures in its history. The figure, representing the 65% of citizens with the right to vote, would be, if fulfilled, the highest since 1908. In the last elections, in 2016, a total of about 139 million Americans33 million of those votes were cast by correspondence.
Elections in the United States used to run smoother when the vast majority of people voted at a polling place on the same day and their preferences were automatically counted by a machine. But this year, the covid-19 pandemic It has implied an increase in voting by mail or early, which is a technical, human and also legal challenge in thousands of jurisdictions, which have their own procedures and rules.
This scenario of uncertainty opens up many possible scenarios. If the November 3 elections between the president Donald Trump and the democrat Joe Biden they are very close, the recount of the early vote could become really decisive. Polls show that many more Democrats than Republicans are inclined to vote by mail, and Trump’s party has launched several lawsuits to limit that possibility.
In the last elections, about 1% of the votes sent by correspondence were Rejected, a figure that is expected to rise with the increase in this modality. This could involve hundreds of thousands of disputed votes. The 2000 election was decided by 537 votes.
How does voting by mail work?
Nine states and the capital, Washington DC, ship automatically votes by correspondence to all voters. In others, it is the voter’s responsibility to ask for them. In the past this was restricted to “absentee” voting, but in this election cycle many, but not all, states made it possible for anyone to get an absentee or mail-in vote.
But every state has its own rules. Most require filling out the ballot, putting it in an envelope, signing it, and mailing it or placing it in special ballot boxes. But some states require a “cover” for privacy and others require witnesses, for example.
When are the votes counted?
Votes at polling places are automatically counted and in most cases the results are announced in hours or even minutes later that the polls close.
But voting by mail is a laborious process in which each state has its own rules. Some states only accept votes that arrive until Election Day, others continue to count votes for up to ten days later.
Due to the burden this places on the Postal Service, some states have lengthened the period in which they will accept votes. And the process of verifying signatures, Opening envelopes and removing and counting votes varies from state to state.
The first bottleneck in this process is the Postal Service, which has suffered budget and staff cuts, which some denounce as an attempt by Republicans to undermine voting by mail. Given the volume of postal votes, it may take days to count these votes. In Michigan, a final count is not expected until Nov. 5.
The second obstacle is the verification firm in the more than 30 states that require it. In some cases it is a process automated, but in others it is done manually. Difficulties occur here, as the Company of a person evolves over time. In the case of young voters who grew up in a digital world, they may not even have a signature or it may not be registered.
For votes challenged by the signature, some states provide a procedure for contact the voter and collate the data. But this takes time. Similarly, if a voter forgets to sign, the electoral authorities may attempt to contact them.
Another hurdle is what happens if the voter forgets the “privacy sleeve.” In Pennsylvania, following a Republican lawsuit, a court ruled that so-called “naked votes,” which could number in the tens of thousands, cannot be counted. But other states do.
Possible legal battle
In key states where the election could be decided, both parties have strengthened their legal teams. Trump has already warned that he does not trust votes sent by mail that are received after Election Day, indicating several looming legal battles.
There are more than 300 legal resources in 44 states regarding election changes related to the pandemic, according to the Healthy Elections Project at Stanford University and MIT.
As it happened in Florida in 2000, a close election may generate calls for a count questioning the validity of each vote. Both the postage stamp and the signature and address can be challenged, as well as the date of issue.