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This week in wonky news!
We’re complete policy wonks, and we own that.

We talk about politics and polls and studies and data all the time. And we have a hunch that you’re keen on knowing what’s going on “in the weeds.” So we often share some news that wonky folks might find interesting…. 

And there’s one topic that seems to be on everyone’s mind: 
So… Should You Vote In Person?
TL;DR: If you’re a voter in a battleground state (especially in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania), and are at low personal risk, you should vote in person either on election day or via your early voting process. 

If you don’t feel comfortable voting in person, you should request your absentee ballot immediately and send it in as soon as possible (dropping off at your county election office is better than mailing if you can).

Okay, here’s the long version.

You’ve heard the nightmare scenario already, and Trump himself has teed it up in recent days: Imagine that it’s election night, and Trump is ahead in a few battleground states by a few thousand votes. The only totals available show a disproportionate amount of in-person early votes and the same-day vote totals, because absentee or mail-in votes haven’t all been counted. Experts anticipate that the slew of mail-in votes will deliver the election to Biden. But the sheer volume of mail-in votes is so great that election authorities can’t count them fast enough to provide preliminary results on election night. Never one to be held back by the truth or honor, on election night Trump announces victory, pointing to the same-day vote totals and claiming that any votes counted past election night are fraudulent. Although the election is ultimately called for Biden, Trump has cast enough doubt on the election to embroil his supporters, who never accept the outcome. 

There’s a greater than zero chance of it happening, and unfortunately there are a few reasons to be concerned it could become reality. Let’s talk about those briefly first, and then about what you can do about it.

First, delays by the US Postal Service (exacerbated by Democrats’ tendency to … err … procrastinate) mean that absentee ballots may not arrive at the state election authority in time to be both processed and counted by election night. You’ve heard about the changes the new Postmaster General (and Trump megadonor) Louis DeJoy has made that have slowed down postal service nationwide.

As a side note, it’s interesting to see where, exactly, those impacts are most deeply felt. It’s actually rural, red, America. Cities and more populated (read: blue) areas are still seeing some delays, but not nearly so much as rural America. Behold this map from the Upshot:



The darker the color in the map, the more delayed the mail. See all those dark blue splotches across middle America? 

Again, even though mail is more delayed in rural America, it’s still delayed by around three days nationwide, which means that no matter where you live, you need to send in your ballot as soon as possible. The US Postal Service has always recommended mailing your ballot seven days before an election – and they’re sticking that that advice this year. But there’s no reason to wait, so if you’re planning to vote by mail, you should go ahead and request your ballot and send it in as soon as possible. 

But, if you are able, it’s still going to be best to vote in person on election day especially in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Here’s why.

States differ on how they handle processing (called “pre-canvassing”) of absentee mail-in ballots. For some states like Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina (all battleground states in their own right), the election authority can open, verify, and scan the ballots they receive via the absentee process days or weeks before November 3 – they just can’t count them until election day.

For others (we’re looking at you, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan!) the verification process itself can’t start until election day. That means every absentee ballot that is sent in these states can’t even be opened until election day.  (See this link for a helpful list of when your state can start processing ballots, as well as any special 2020-only changes).

Normally that’s not such a huge deal, because election authorities can handle the amount of absentee ballots they typically receive. But due to COVID, more people will vote by mail this year than ever before.

For example, experts anticipate a whopping three million mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania this year. Logistically, it’s a Herculean (and impossible) task to open, scan, and count that many ballots in less than 24 hours.Bucks County, PA has purchased a $250k machine (nicknamed the Dragon) that can count 24k ballots an hour – but that machine can’t do anything until the ballots themselves are opened (both the external and internal envelopes) and verified. And that takes a lot of time.

Just to highlight the point: even if opening and verifying a ballot takes on average 30 seconds, it would still take 25,000 person hours to process 3 million ballots.  

In other words, don’t count on getting anything close to final results from Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan on election night. 

(Also, last week the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that election authorities must count absentee ballots postmarked on or before election day that arrive by 5pm EST the Friday after the election. It may be a long week…)So, to recap: how do we keep the Nightmare Election Night Scenario from happening? We make sure that the vote totals on election night show Biden ahead – even just barely. We help that become reality by voting in person on election day if our state’s election laws prohibit early processing of absentee ballots, and sending our absentee ballots in well in advance if they do allow pre-canvassing.

Of course, if it’s an option for you, you should use your state’s early voting process because those ballots are counted just as same-day votes are counted. Check to see if that’s an option for you here: https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/early-voting-in-state-elections.aspx

So, there we have it. Our best advice for who really does need to vote in person, and why sending your ballot in early is important if you don’t vote in person.

One final note: our founder, Jonathan Zucker (first COO and second CEO of ActBlue and founder of Democracy Engine) has fielded enough calls about what Senate races to invest in that we created a special project: 2020 Priorities.

In it, we lay out how and why you should prioritize certain races over others, and then make it easy for you to donate to that nominee right away. In other words, your donation won’t go to a PAC we’ve created to help that nominee – it will go right to the nominee to give them the resources they need to get over the finish line. 

If you have wondered recently what Senate races you should prioritize, this project is for you!

Check it out here, or at the button below. 


Stay wonky!
Jonathan Zucker & Michele Hornish
Check Out the IST 2020 Senate Priorities Project!P.S. Please share with friends! 

About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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