Mail balloting is fueling historic early voting in the 2020 election2 min read . Updated: 17 Oct 2020, 09:17 PM IST
- Some states have already received more early ballots than they did in the 2016 presidential vote
With less than three weeks until Election Day, many states are already seeing historic levels of early voting as people cast their ballots through the mail in the middle of a pandemic.
Many states have already received more early ballots than they did in the 2016 presidential election in total. Several have topped 2016 numbers for mail ballots returned, even as in-person early voting is opening up in much of the country.
The unprecedented influx of early balloting, in person and especially by mail, is presenting a challenge for local election officials. How they handle it is likely to figure into whether voters will see a protracted wait for results beyond Election Day in the presidential race, especially from closely fought battleground states.
Election officials already talk about “Election Week" rather than “Election Day" and urge voters to see a lengthy count in close contests as normal. States have raced to ramp up, buying extra machines to tabulate votes, adding extra staff to count ballots and in some cases extending deadlines. Those rule changes are setting off partisan court battles in key states that will determine which votes count and are adding uncertainty as voters cast ballots in droves.
Virginia, one of the first states to open early in-person voting sites, topped 2016 levels for both categories of advance voting in the first week it reported numbers.
Nationally, early voting is accelerating as mail-in voting deadlines and Election Day are approaching.
In the presidential battlegrounds of North Carolina and Florida, registered Democrats have cast more ballots than registered Republicans so far. In North Carolina, independent voters have also cast more early ballots than registered Republicans.
In Georgia, a record number of voters turned out on Oct. 12, the first day of early, in-person voting there. That day, voters reported waiting in line for hours in some locations.
Several battleground states are already seeing large numbers of requests for mail ballots. This could make for a long election night in states that prohibit the counting or processing of ballots before election day.
In Michigan, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has said she expects 3 million of the state’s estimated 5 million-5.5 million voters to vote early. Because Michigan doesn’t begin tabulating mail ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day, Ms. Benson said that her office projects that results could be announced as late as the following Friday.
In Pennsylvania, more early ballots have been cast than in either the 2016 or 2018 general elections.
And in Wisconsin, which starts counting on Election Day, polling places for early voting open Tuesday but already the state is nearing its 2016 early vote total due to a flood of mail-in ballots.
While ballots pour in, court battles are determining issues of how people vote and whether ballots are disqualified.
Mail balloting has produced fights over the use of special drop boxes and the need for witness signatures. Election officials also warn that first-time mail voters are likely to make mistakes, leading to large numbers of rejected ballots. Signatures that don’t match voting records frequently get ballots disqualified, according to federal government data.
Both parties are still wrangling in courts over election rules that could determine whether thousands of ballots, if not more, are counted as valid or tossed out. Legal battles are ongoing in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.