Concerns arise over voting by mail

Sourojit Mazumder, Staff Writer

As the race for the presidency draws to an end, major concerns lie with the execution of the vote by mail. Local governments across the country are trying to strengthen polling sites in preparation for the waves of mail-in ballots. A myriad of issues, however, await the thousands of sites across the US, who could expect a record amount of votes this election, up from 137.5 million in 2016 to almost 150 million on Nov. 3.

One of the first issues expected to plague these polling stations is a shortage of poll workers amidst a deadly pandemic. At a time when approximately 58% of the country’s poll workers are 60 or older, it remains a significant issue in finding younger people willing to work during Election Day. Indeed, as COVID-19 cases have spiked in the past few weeks, it remains very much uncertain as to the willingness of poll workers to come to a place that will take in an influx of people and germs. This is especially concerning in cities with large Black and Hispanic populations, which have routinely been understaffed and under equipped in previous elections. An outbreak among workers at small-town poll stations could cause mayhem, with no workers available to count those ballots.

Yet the worries about mail-in voting don’t stop with uncertain poll worker conditions: there are significant concerns that a large number of mail-in votes could be cancelled if they weren’t filled out correctly. In Michigan alone, there have already been more than 2,200 ballots that were rejected because they weren’t signed properly by the voter. Furthermore, legislation that only allows absentee ballots to be opened and counted on Election Day could put a tremendous amount of pressure on poll workers, who often work 18 hour shifts and could easily make mistakes. 

In an interview with The Atlantic, Kim Meltzer, a Republican clerk in Michigan, stated that she was worried about the strain of the long hours on poll workers. 

“It negatively impacts the quality of the work that any human being can do,” Meltzer said.

In battleground states, a few thousand votes miscounted or rejected count make a massive difference: President Trump only won the swing state of Pennsylvania by around 44,000 votes in 2016.

In addition, partisan politics have contributed to prevent reforming absentee voting laws: Republican-controlled legislatures have often chosen to vote against expanding the window of absentee voting, citing a greater opportunity for fraud. Yet despite Republican fears of widespread cheating, most election experts worry far less about fraud and instead about the possibility of a wide-scale rejection of ballots. 

In an interview with CBS News, David Becker, executive director at the Center for Election Innovation and Research, doesn’t believe that there will be widespread voting fraud and instead thinks it is likely that there could be many rejected ballots. 

“Hand-marked ballots have had higher rates of mismarks,” Becker said.

This could impact new or infrequent voters, who often don’t have the resources or time to understand the proper way in signing off the ballot.

Worries extend even beyond the execution of mail-in voting on Nov. 3rd: the president himself has openly questioned the reliability of the voting, despite using it himself, and has even threatened to denounce the election as fraudulent if Biden, the former vice-president, prevails over Trump. The president has used the post office to deliberately slow down the processing of mail-in ballots, the majority of which have been used by Democratic voters. Furthermore, because absentee ballots are counted after in-person votes, the election could span across several days. The possibility of the election slowly tilting to Biden as votes are counted could spark heated debate from Republicans as well as the incumbent president over the legitimacy of the election results. Democrats fear Trump could claim a premature victory on Nov. 3 in spite of the fact that it is extremely unlikely that votes will be counted that day.

An election too close to call could spark a Supreme Court debate, similar to the 2000 election results between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Although Democrats hope such a possibility would lead to a fair verdict, recently-appointed Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett could help sway the conservative-leaning court to grant Trump a victory.

There has been severe conflict over the use of mail-in ballots