In times of physical distancing, postal voting is obviously a good option. That is precisely why a bitter dispute is raging in the United States. In the states, rules are changed, adjusted or tightened, with correspondingly loud accompanying noises. Donald Trump tweeted in advance about the “most corrupt election in the history of our nation.”
The first legal battles took place in April and May. The Republican Party in particular warns of postal vote fraud, with both parties and some minority groups fearing that votes will not be counted. In addition, post offices should soon be closed.
Pre-election and postal voting
The accusation of election manipulation is generously expressed from all sides in advance. From a Swiss point of view, this is somewhat incomprehensible. Those who cannot or want to stay for hours in a polling station can also vote “in absentia” in the USA, but not everywhere and not on every condition. That is precisely the point of contention.
On the one hand, there is the possibility for US voters to vote in advance. Early voting is currently possible in at least 40 of the 50 states, either at a polling station or by letter. Pre-election usually requires an application, partly on the grounds.
Then there is the actual postal vote. Seventeen states are asking for an explanation as to why personal voting is not possible, for example due to illness, travel or physical restriction. In 28 countries, it is sufficient to apply for mail-in ballots, and again there is an age limit elsewhere. Some states always vote by postal ballot.
In the last presidential election in 2016, a quarter of the votes were cast by postal ballot. This time it will probably be a lot more. Some US states, however, are unprepared for a mass of postal voters, and some do not have the legal requirements to allow the majority of voters to vote by postal ballot.
Federal patchwork carpet
Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington, where postal ballots are already being held, are unlikely to have much problems with postal voters. In Arizona, Montana, and New Mexico, postal ballots are conducted primarily, and in some small districts, voters also always vote by letter. In many key states, however, postal voting has so far played little role. However, the Corona crisis may change conditions in the short term.
In addition, the state postal service USPS (United States Postal Service) has to cut services due to lack of money. According to “ABC” the Post Office has a deficit of seven billion US dollars. Up to 1,000 post offices are to be closed in the near future, and more than 3,000 will be checked.
In a country where many pay their bills by sending cheques, this is unfavourable. Before an election with an unprecedented number of postal voters. Initial closures are not expected until the beginning of the fiscal year in October at the earliest. States that are not prepared for this could have problems delivering and evaluating postal ballot papers on time.
U.S. elections between battle and show
US presidential elections have traditionally been turbulent to chaotic. Part of it has structural reasons, another has federal reasons, a third part is part of the show. The bottom line, of course, is who wins the election.
Since there is no reporting system comparable to European countries in the UNITED States, voting in the United States is much more complicated. Voters must register in advance in a voter register. For the individual, this is usually not particularly expensive. The type of registration and the documents required for this vary from state to state. Registration is currently possible online in 40 out of 50 countries.
There is a clear East-West fall in the US postal vote. Dark: few postal voters, bright: many, star: all voters will receive postal ballot papers in 2020. (Data US Election Commission, Visualization: Mother Jones)
The election traditionally takes place on a Tuesday in November, and the voter must go to a specific polling station. Many employees do not receive any leave to do so. Those who do not live where they are entitled to vote may have a longer way to do so.
A great deal of effort is put into the election campaign to get as many voters as possible to register – preferably those in their own camp. Corona, on the one hand, made conditions worse, as there were fewer opportunities to target potential voters in person. On the other hand, movements such as Black Lives Matter may have mobilized many first-time voters.
Every change, however small, has potential for conflict
Every small change in the design of the election is observed with argus eyes, right up to the opening hours of the polling stations. Within the limits of legal possibilities, parties before and in every election campaign try to make it as easy as possible for the voters of their own party to vote and to make it as difficult as possible for those of the opposing party to vote. Voter deterrence is not illegal.
Both parties are spending millions on lawsuits and lawsuits, which are then used. The battle over the boundary conditions of the election has long since begun in court. A Wisconsin appeals court, for example, significantly ruled in early July that restricts early voting.
One argument to be made right now was that each party should interpret the right to vote in its own right, and that the opponent should do the same. In Texas, there was a ruling in April 2020 that would allow all Texans to vote by letter because of the pandemic. On the first of May, another judge revoked it, arguing that COVID-19 was “an emotional state, not a physical one,” and thus no reason not to go to the polls in person.
The currency is also called attention
The opponent, on the other hand, can take a rhetorical advantage from any judgment, change or facilitation. President Trump threw himself into the fray early on, accused the Democratic Party of using Corona as a “trick” to get more votes, and previously called the election “rigged.” This is drastic, but it is in line with the fears of the Conservatives. But the same applies to the Democratic Party: what is vulnerable is being attacked. The more people talk about voter fraud, the more attention both parties get from potential voters.
Democrats tend to try to make the election easier, Republicans tend to make it harder. Nevada, for example, was planning to send the election records to all active registered voters, and the conservative organization True The Vote has already raised objections about the risk of fraud. However, it was rejected as “speculative”. Wisconsin requires a witness to be present in absentia in absentia, but a Democratic objection is now open. In Virginia, the witness code is supposed to fall, while the Republicans have appealed, among other things, listed “npr”.
“A lot of things have always gone wrong
In fact, there are always problems with US elections. For example, cases where the voter is not on the registration list of the polling station in which he or she intends to vote. Whether it is because of relocation, redistribution of constituencies or a deliberate or wronged adjustment of voter lists. Perhaps the person in question simply caught the wrong polling station or the wrong ID document with it. The solutions vary depending on the location. They range from “fast and easy” to “not feasible”. In the worst case, the elector cannot cast his or her vote or it is invalid.
If capacity is insufficient, there may be delays, which has happened many times before. Voters had to queue long because there were too few polling stations or too few voting machines, or if some of them did not work. This deters many voters. In the last presidential election of 2016, there were also reports of voting machines that did not count the votes correctly. Security experts were concerned about the integrity of the devices.
If the primaries are a foretaste, this time it will be really exhausting
Minority representatives often draw attention to unfavourable laws and circumstances, bureaucratic errors and breakdowns, or, in short, to voter suppression, i.e. supposed or actual disadvantage. This applies above all to non-white voters. What is unfavorable circumstances and what is intentional or tolerated is difficult to comprehend.
It is even more complicated in the primaries, some of which had to be postponed because of the Corona pandemic this year. The parties thus determine their presidential candidates directly or through intermediaries.
In some states, the “primaries” in 2020 were rather chaotic. In Iowa, for example, IT went on strike in the Democratic primaries; in Georgia, there were problems with postal registration, then voting machines failed. However, there were too few paper ballot papers, which led to long queues. In New York and Kentucky, it took more than a week for all votes to be counted. Allegations of election manipulation have been made. A possible foretaste of the course of the elections in November, according to the New York Times. In addition to the organizational problems that have plagued the US election, there is now the pandemic.
An organizational challenge even without a dispute
So it could really be a little bit different this year. There are fears that there are not enough election workers to vote in November because they fear the risk of infection. There is less work to be done in polling stations with more postal ballot papers, but more to do when counting. The hygiene measures ordered because of the Corona virus also pose an organisational challenge.
The postal ballot could invalidate more votes than usual for formal reasons, such as because a signature comparison fails or because a form is filled out incorrectly. Voters in 26 out of 50 states do not know about it.
The Troubled Children in the Rust Belt
Observers are particularly concerned about Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, three states in the Rust Belt that have contributed significantly to Trump’s victory in recent presidential elections. Together with Florida, they could decide the election. All three states currently do not allow votes to be counted before Election Day. In Pennsylvania, the rules have also been relaxed for the first time to allow all voters to vote by postal ballot. The number of applications has already increased tenfold in the primaries.
There is also a dispute about the latest date on which election documents can still be submitted. If that happens on Election Day in November, the count could take weeks, predicts Brian Corley, Pasco County’s election manager in the Swing State of Florida. What, according to previous experience, would be more likely for Democrats to benefit. Fast, accurate projections and a quick winner are not to be expected. But possibly with more complaints about voter fraud.
Months, as Trump claims, will not take months for the US to have a new president. The accusation that more people are being deceived in the postal vote is nonsense, writes “CNN” in a fact check. Trump’s prediction of “20 percent wrong votes” in both the upcoming and past elections is completely absurd. There is no evidence of this.