The expanded Early Voting period has begun here in Texas and questions persist—is this the safest way to vote? That depends on your criteria for safe voting. Is it the ability to vote without the threat of COVID-19? Or is it ensuring that your vote counts in what has already been a contentious election season?
Social distancing practices that have enabled Texans to shop for groceries and return to a semblance of normalcy, while still seeing the active case rate drop in Texas. This suggests that it is safe to vote in person. As for the question on your vote counting, that’s a little more difficult to pin down.
On the morning of Nov. 4, Americans expect to know who the president of the United States will be. But 2020 may have other plans. Many states will not have complete results until up to 14 days after Election Day due to mail-in ballots. Between a massive increase in ballot requests, a rush to expand to mail-in ballots for all in certain states, and the inevitable lawsuits, America isn’t likely to learn who the winner is until weeks or even months after the election.
According to the New York Times, swing states like Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have seen increases in mail-in ballot requests of 67%, 133%, 2,313%, and 648% respectively. Michigan and Wisconsin currently allow for ballots to be accepted as late as 14 days and three days after Election Day. These ballots are required to be postmarked no later than Election Day, but often the USPS doesn’t postmark ballots. With such a huge increase in mail-in ballot requests, the inevitable delay in vote counts, and the narrow margin of victory in these states by President Trump in 2016, we could see these important states swing in favor of a different candidate days or weeks after the election.
In a time when our nation is on edge, this is a recipe for civil unrest, not to mention for a storm of litigation.
We had a small snapshot of this during the 2000 Presidential Election between then-Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore. It came down to confusion in the state of Florida and challenges eventually made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Now, because 2020 is already one for the record books, we would see this same scenario but orders of magnitude worse.
Now, setting aside the likelihood of delayed election results, mail-in ballots are far less likely than voting in person to result in a vote as intended. According to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study published in the Harvard Data Science Review, as many as 4.9% of mail-in ballots fail to convert to a vote. This could happen because the signature on the ballot doesn’t match the signature on record, the ballot arrived late, or even because ballots are lost in the mail. During the presidential primary elections, more than 550,000 mail-in ballots were rejected due to various issues.
Not only do mail-in ballots have a higher potential for being lost or rejected, they are particularly susceptible to fraud. Right here in the Lone Star State, a mayoral candidate in Carrollton was caught red handed fraudulently stuffing ballots.
When we answer the question of the safest way to vote in 2020, we must consider which way will ensure your vote counts. The facts show that mail-in ballots have a much higher potential for fraud and disenfranchisement, and that voting in-person is safe—and the most certain way to ensure your vote is counted on time.