The coronavirus pandemic will likely necessitate mail-in voting on an unprecedented scale in the United States.
At least 4.8 million Americans have been infected with the disease. Almost 160,000 have died. America has 4 percent of the world’s population but so far suffered 23 percent of the world’s COVID-19 fatalities.
With the virus showing no sign of abating, requiring 100+ million Americans to vote in person, indoors, would be hugely irresponsible.
Yet President Donald Trump disparages the best alternative.
33 states and the District of Columbia allow postal voting for any reason. Eighteen states have changed their rules this year to make it either possible to easier to vote by mail. The holdouts are Indiana, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, New York, South Carolina and Texas.
Trump predicts this will make the election “the most inaccurate and fraudulent” election in American history. Yet he draws a distinction between universal postal voting and absentee voting, “which is good.”
Which only makes a little sense.
Both are done by mail. Universal postal voting isn’t inherently riskier than absentee postal voting. Trump himself voted by mail in the 2018 midterm elections. (He is a resident of Florida.) An investigation of American elections between 2000 and 2012 found a mere 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud.
It’s the expected volume that could cause problems.
In 2016, nearly a quarter of all votes were mailed in. California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington plan to hold “all-mail” elections in November. Those six states alone have 26 million registered voters, or 15 percent of the total.
If Trump worries that large-scale postal voting might overwhelm the Postal Service, causing delays in the vote count and uncertainty about the result, he should raise its budget, so it can hire and train more workers.
Instead, Trump’s postmaster general, Louis DeJoy — who donated more than $2 million to Republican causes before he was appointed — has cut business hours and barred postal workers from working overtime to deliver the mail in time.
The American Postal Workers Union has accused DeJoy of “undermining” the postal service “without consultation or input from any of the postal unions, postal customers or mailing community.”
The changes are already having an effect. In Pennsylvania, one of the states Trump flipped in 2016, and which could decide the outcome of the presidential election in November, neighborhoods in the region around Philadelphia — which is not coincidentally more Democratic than Republican — are experiencing significant delays in receiving their mail. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that some residents are “going upwards of three weeks without packages and letters, leaving them without medication, paychecks and bills.”
Judd Legum, a former Democratic Party activist who now blogs at Popular Information, points out 34 states require absentee ballots to be received by election day in order to be counted. (States will still count votes received after election day if they are postmarked before election day.)
So if the mail is delayed by several days, valid ballots could be trashed.
This has already happened in primary elections in California and Wisconsin.
In New York, which held primaries on June 23, several elections have yet to be called because it’s taking so long so count tens of thousands of mailed-in ballots.
In 2016, some 23,000 absentee ballots were returned and validated in New York. This year, there were more than 400,000.
The nightmare scenario, Sarah Isgur writes in her newsletter, The Sweep, is that Americans wake up on November 4 without knowing who won:
Trump is ahead based on in-person votes cast. There’s something like 50 million absentee ballots that have been returned to precincts across the country, which are expected to favor Biden by a wide margin, but nobody knows for sure.
Voting could take days or weeks, during which Trump will insist the outcome is being rigged. Already 78 percent of Republicans believe postal voting is “vulnerable to significant levels of fraud” against 28 percent of Democrats. If Joe Biden is declared the winner midway through November, will Trump and his supporters accept the result?