In two previous articles—How Should I Vote and Will I be Counted?—I addressed some of the concerns about the expected surge in mail-in voting for the 2020 election.
My concerns in those articles related to the administration of mail-in votes and, even more so, the question of when mail-in ballots will be counted. The application for mail-in ballot that was sent to DuPage County voters, where I live, stated that these ballots, which must be presented or postmarked by Election Day, would be counted in the 14-day period following Election Day.
That could potentially lead to more national trauma on top of COVID-19 and confronting racism, as getting definitive election results could drag on for weeks. Additionally, wanting to know results before they are certified could lead news mediia to employ surveys to predict the results too early, despite the experience of botched exit polling in 2016.
An article in the Daily Herald, which focuses on suburban Chicago, added some clarification. It ran under the headline, "Hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots requested by suburban voters." I offer the following summary to indicate a bit more illumination on the topic. Remember, however, that voting procedures in the United States are administered at the state and local level, so you need to check your local election website or call your County Clerk to get details on the situation where you vote..
An expansion of Illinois' vote-by-mail program amid the coronavirus pandemic has prompted Cook and the collar counties to hire extra employees, install new equipment and increase the efficiency of printing, sorting and processing mail-in ballots.
But with the influx of ballots expected to roll in through the Postal Service, and uncertainty over when they'll be received, officials warn it could be days -- or even weeks -- after Election Day before winners can be definitively declared.
That influx includes 117,000 of 615,000 registered voters in DuPage County. Suburban Cook County (not including the city of Chicago) has seen nearly 240,000 out of roughly 1.6-million registered voters request mail-in ballots. The remaining "collar counties" have seen similar interest in mail-in ballots: Will at 82,000, Kane 77,000, Lake 60,350, and McHenry 36,600—all with more requests yet unopened.
My earlier concern was that it might be possible that this huge number of ballots—roughly one in every five—would not be counted on election night. That caused me to suggest reconsidering in-person voting on Election Day or early voting if offered in your area, and to suggest that if you do choose to use mail-in voting that you do it as early as possible to avoid any last-minute delays receiving or returning the ballot.
The updated information softens my concern somewhat, but far from completely. In Illinois, legislation was passed in June "ramping up vote-by-mail options and requiring agencies to send mail-in ballot applications to voters who participated in the last three elections, though some counties expanded that effort to all registered voters."
As the Daily Herald story indicated, most counties around me have purchased equipment to facilitate the validation and counting of all those mail-in ballots. "Emergency funding was distributed through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security [CARES] Act to ensure election officials could buy the machinery, hire the additional personnel and secure the extra space necessary to handle the expanded program."
While the actual tabulating of ballots cannot be done until the polls close on November 3, mail-in ballots received earlier can be sorted and signatures verified. This means that ballots received and pre-screened by Election Day can potentially be included in the count that day after polls close.
That still puts a tremendous amount of pressure on election officials on election evening. Even if initial counts from precinct polling places can be transferred electronically, the mail-in ballots have to be run through tabulating machines, which will take hours. The worst case would be far longer, due to machine breakdowns, glitches, or the lack of machinery that necessitates hand tabulation.
The main concern I expressed earlier—when will ballots be counted—persists to the extent that people who wait will force a delay in getting full and meaningful results. In Illinois, voters can request a mail-in ballot up to five days before the election. While ballots can be dropped off at polling places or secure drop boxes, "mailed ballots must be postmarked no later than Nov. 3 and received within 14 days to be counted in final tallies, which then must be certified."
As McHenry County (IL) Clerk Joe Trio said, "Election night isn't going to be the thing it was in the past." And, as I pointed out in the previous articles, a significant number of ballots left to be counted (some not even mailed until Election Day!), will tax the ability of news media to predict the outcome on election night or the morning after. There is a much higher likelihood in 2020 that we will not know the winners in many races until the final counting and certification is complete November 17 or later.
With this in mind, let me urge you again to consider voting in-person on Election Day or during early voting (only if proper COVID-19 protocols are followed), or requesting and then returning a mail-in ballot well before Election Day, whether mailing it or using a drop box. If you use a mail-in ballot and tracking is available, definitely take advantage of it.
This article also appeared on SeniorLifestyle, which Stu edits.
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