In three battleground states, there have been efforts to begin counting absentee ballots before the end of Election Day. Almost all states do not start counting absentee ballots until the polls close in their states. But with the expected crush of mail-in ballots, the odds of counting all of them in a single night are close to zero.
That means that Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania will be many days—perhaps weeks—counting the ballots.
There have been efforts to speed up the process by allowing officials to begin counting before election day. In Michigan, the Republican legislature wrestled with the problem and decided to give election officials a 10-hour head start. Most observers say that isn’t nearly enough.
In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, similar efforts met with no success. So election officials are facing the daunting task of having to open absentee ballot envelopes, verify the signature—a process that will be challenged in court—and verify the bar code. In many states, there is another safeguard for the ballot—a secrecy envelope that also must be opened before the ballot can officially be tallied.
This is going to happen a million or two million times in some states starting on election day.
How many people are opening the ballots? How many are verifying the information? How many people are actually tabulating the ballots? And it’s crazy to be concerned about fraud?
In Wisconsin, municipal clerks have long sought the ability to count at least some ballots before Election Day, but Republicans who control the legislature have been unable to reach an agreement on the issue. Legislative leaders have no plans to come back into session before Election Day, even though Wisconsin’s top Republican, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, has argued the ballot-counting law should be changed.
More than 1.2 million Wisconsin voters have requested mail ballots for the election. Democrats and nonpartisan entities who sued over a number of the state’s election laws have sought to allow absentee ballots to be counted before Election Day.
Republicans have seen this nightmare coming. That, along with depending on the USPS to deliver the ballots on time, have been the biggest concerns. But at this point, it appears nothing can be done.
Local election officials have pleaded for state lawmakers to grant them at least the ability to open envelopes and verify signatures in advance. Pennsylvania officials expect more than 3 million ballots to be cast during the election after 1.5 million people voted absentee during the primary.
But Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled legislature have not reached an agreement. Wolf wants counties to be able to process ballots 15 days before Nov. 3 and Republicans have offered three days.
In the past, states could afford to hand count absentee ballots because there just weren’t that many of them. But with millions of people frightened into voting by mail by Democrats, and lawyers lining up to challenge every rejected ballot, we may not get a decision in the presidential election before the legal deadline to resolve all election disputes by December 6.