Voting by Mail Likely to Result in an Unprecedented Election Cycle

It has often been said this year that we are living in unprecedented times, and this
election will almost assuredly be a testament to that. While every election has its challenges,
this year they loom especially large. One of the biggest potential issues is the fact that it is
almost certain that this year we will have an election month (or months) rather than an election
day. Many states have official deadlines in place for when the results of an election must be
certified. On December 19th, states are required by federal law to hold a “meeting of electors,”
at which they officially select their states’ choice for President and Vice President of the United
States. Additionally, many states, such as Wyoming (November 16th), have significantly earlier
deadlines. This year, due to the extremely high number of mail-in ballots that are expected to be
received, it is possible that many states will not be able to meet these deadlines. It is
reasonable to expect most of the election policy to be fought out in the courts this election cycle.
A huge proportion of Americans plan to vote by mail/drop boxes in 2020. According to
The State of the Nation, a research project being conducted by major universities attempting to
dig into how Americans are feeling about COVID-19 and the upcoming election, 41% of voters
say that they are “very likely” to cast their ballots by mail this year. Additionally, another 23%
said they are “somewhat likely” to vote by mail. For context, only 21% of Americans in 2016 cast
their ballots by mail, which was a record high. (While these numbers do not necessarily reflect
voter choices due to some elections being held only by mail, it is still important to note for
While mail-in ballots are a great way to reduce wait times at polls and increase voter
turnout, they have also shown to be hard to manage for local elections officials. In many places,
the sheer number of mail-in ballots could overwhelm the system, leading to massive delays in
vote-counting. In a July 2020 election in New York City, officials distributed mail-in ballots to
every eligible voter, hoping to make voting easier and increase turnout. Voters overwhelmingly
embraced the new system, and they received ten times the number of mail-in ballots that they
did in the last election cycle. However, New York was wholly unprepared to actually count the
votes, and the race is still undecided six weeks later.
However frightening it may be, it is easy to imagine a world in which a similar
thing happens during the November election, leading to a chaotic post-election political
landscape. Furthermore, like almost everything else in this country right now, the demographics
of the people who are voting by mail are split along party lines. While only 11% of those who
back president Donald Trump say that they will definitely be voting by mail this year, 44% of
those who back former Vice President Joe Biden say that they will. Thus, it is entirely possible
that at the end of election day Trump is winning, but after all of the mail-in ballots are counted,
Biden takes the lead, raising the question of whether or not states should release any results
until after mail-in votes have been counted. The following months could be filled with a myriad of
lawsuits and attempts to overturn the results of the election, and nobody really knows what long-
lasting effects it could have on our democracy. No matter what happens, the upcoming election
is sure to be the most complex and unpredictable election of our time.

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