Record vote-by-mail numbers could mean delays for winner to be declared

Video: Record vote-by-mail numbers could mean delays for winner to be declared

ORLANDO, Fla. — With the nation still dealing with COVID-19, it’s expected that a record number of people will vote by mail, something that could mean days of waiting for a final count and a winner to be declared.

Right now 46 states allow some form of voting by mail, including Florida, where roughly one-third of all votes cast in the last four statewide elections have come from vote by mail.

In Florida it has traditionally been the Republican Party that has dominated voting by mail; however, this year Democrats as well as those with no party affiliation are expected to take advantage of this voting method rather than go to a physical polling location.

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“The good news is that many states allow election officials to start processing ballots ahead of Election Day so that will speed up the counting,” said Dr. Michael McDonald of the University of Florida. “But on the flip side there are many states that allow election officials to still count ballots as long as they’re postmarked by Election Day.”

That counting could mean that if the election is close, it may be days or even a week before a winner is declared in the presidential race.

“We have already seen problems in the primary election, and I would not be surprised if we see the courts step in and allow more time for ballots to be received and ballots to be counted,” McDonald said. “We could see an extended counting period of ballots and we may not know who the winner is, the winner of the Electoral College, until Monday after the election.”

But counting mail-in ballots is only one part of the system. Ballots must still be delivered to recipients in time for them to fill them out and mail them back, which raises questions about how prepared the United States Postal Service is for a sudden surge.

“The Postal Service is ready this year, they’ve made a lot of preparations and they have a lot of experience moving government mail,” said Nick Zaiac, an associate fellow at the R Street Institute. “They have a lot of excess capacity from all the letters that you and I aren’t sending anymore.”

While capacity might not be a problem, the USPS relies on its workforce to deliver the mail, and amid an outbreak there are concerns about what would happen if postal workers are unable to deliver due to COVID-19.

“If ballots do not get to people if there are delays with the letter carriers on the front end, then people are left with no choice, they either have to show up to polling location and cast a provisional ballot, or sit back and hope their ballot arrives on time,” Zaiac said.

Right now, Congress is debating allotting $3.5 billion to help states prepare for a surge in mail-in voting, but so far funding has not been passed.

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