Are the battleground states of Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania ready to promptly release election results with Election Day just around the corner? The Daily Caller spoke to election officials and analyzed how these states are going about their business in an election that is anything but business as usual.
Early and mail-in ballots are expected to be higher than ever before in Florida, which could cause problems for the state despite their extensive experience handling high levels of early voting over the past 20 years.
Florida election law dictates that election officials can send mail-in ballots to voters as late as eight days before the election, something Postal Service General Counsel Thomas Marshall said “creates a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted” in a July 29 letter to Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee.
In Florida, mail-in votes must be received by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3 to be counted.
In 2016, more than 2.7 million people voted by mail, and over 3.8 million voters voted early. Of the ballots provided for mail-in voting, 615,885 were never returned.
As of Nov. 1, more than 4.5 million voters have voted by mail and more than 4.1 million have voted early in Florida. Nearly another 1.5 million ballots have not been returned.
In Florida’s Aug. 18 primary races, News 4 Jax reported 2.1 million voters voted by mail and 554,814 voted early in-person. University of Florida political science professor Dan Smith analyzed the results of the Aug. 18 primary for POLITICO, and found that 35,500 mail-in ballots were rejected due to “missed deadlines or technical flaws.”
Nearly two-thirds of the ballots that were rejected were thrown out because they arrived after the deadline, the analysis showed.
Those 35,500 rejected ballots amounted to 1.5% of the total vote cast on Aug. 18, which, by percentage, is more than President Donald Trump’s 1.2% margin of victory in 2016 and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s 1.4% advantage per Real Clear Politics’ polling average as of Sunday.
Florida does have some important rules in place to alleviate the heavy lift being asked of poll workers and election officials, such as laws that allow absentee ballots to be processed before they are counted on Nov. 3, per FiveThirtyEight. Thus, early and mail-in ballots are expected to be counted early and quickly on Election Day.
— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) November 2, 2020
Results are expected to be almost complete just hours after polls close at 8 p.m. eastern time on Tuesday night, but if Florida is as close as it is expected to be, larger counties could still be counting ballots into Wednesday, or possibly even later. (RELATED: Here’s What North Carolina Is Doing To Provide Results On Election Night)
In 2016, Trump won the state of Michigan by .3%. Once again, Michigan’s 16 Electoral College votes are set to be one of the biggest determinants of who wins the 2020 election.
Tracy Wimmer, a Secretary of State spokeswoman, told the Daily Caller via email that she feels “confident and ready going into Election Day.” She pointed to the three elections Michigan has had this year, two of which were during the pandemic, as evidence that Michigan is ready for Nov. 3.
Wimmer told the Daily Caller in August that even with record turnout in the state’s Aug. 4 primary, Michigan was able to deliver the results promptly, even with 1.6 of the 2.5 million voters in the primary voting by mail.
Michigan has invested millions of dollars to prepare for Election Day.
Michigan’s Department of State has spent “$2 million on PPE and hygiene supplies, which has already been distributed to all jurisdictions to ensure all clerk offices, counting boards and polling places are clean and safe,” Wimmer said.
Beyond COVID-19 precautions, Michigan has invested in recruiting and training swaths of poll workers. According to Wimmer, the Democracy MVP Program, as it is called, has “recruited more than 30,000 individuals” to work in this election. However, a “majority” of these individuals are “first-time workers.”
These steps have helped Michigan receive the second-highest score in SecurityScorecard’s “State of the States” election security study.
However, Wimmer also told the Caller that, “Michigan is on track to receive more than 3 million absentee ballots this election.” Because these ballots cannot be counted until 7 a.m. on Nov. 3, Wimmer said the state does “not expect to have full unofficial results until Friday, Nov. 6 at the latest.”
It is an honor to campaign for my father in the great state of Michigan!
At this critical hour, with your voice and your vote, on November 3rd President Trump will win another historic victory and will Make America Greater than Ever Before! ???????? pic.twitter.com/lK3MeScGNc
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) November 1, 2020
Figures provided by Wimmer showed that as of Friday, Michigan had received nearly one million ballots, which is over 100,000 more at this point in 2016. Out of these nearly one million ballots, 37,975 have been either spoiled or rejected.
In Wisconsin, over 1.8 million voters have already voted by mail or early in person.
Reid Magney, a public information officer with the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC), told the Caller that the state cannot guarantee that the results of the election will be announced on election night. Magney said the last counties probably won’t finish counting until Wednesday morning, which he said should not concern voters. “It means they’re doing their jobs,” Magney said.
Magney pointed to Wisconsin elections in April and August as evidence for the state’s capability to properly handle Tuesday’s presidential election.
However, by the WEC’s own admission, the August primaries saw relatively low levels of turnout.
The same cannot be said for the April election, which saw a “relatively high turnout for a spring election,” according to a WEC report released after the April election.
While over half a million fewer votes were cast in the April 2020 election than in the April 2016 election, the report says “the April 2020 election produced several state records,” with “most by mail ballots ever cast” and “most absentee ballots ever cast in any Wisconsin election” among them.
The 964,433 absentee ballots cast in April 2020 is more than five times greater than the previous record, which was 170,614 in April 2016. More than 75% of the total votes cast were from absentee ballots. Sixty percent were delivered by mail.
This is a major deviation from typical Wisconsin voter behavior. “Historically, over 80% of ballots in Wisconsin are cast in person on election day and only 6% are cast as by mail absentee ballots,” the WEC April report said.
In April 2020, nearly 10% of ballots sent by mail were either never returned or returned and rejected. A ruling by U.S. District Judge William Conley extended the ballot return deadline to April 13, during which 6.68% of ballots (amounting to 79,054 votes) were returned and counted. Another 2,659 were received after the April 13 deadline, and thus not counted.
Judge Conley also ruled in September to extend Wisconsin’s deadline so that mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day could be counted up to six days after Nov. 3, according to the Associated Press. The decision was later blocked by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals as it considered the case, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Since then, a 5-3 U.S. Supreme Court decision determined it will not reinstate Conley’s ruling, per The Guardian.
Pennsylvania has been at the center of a national debate raging over how late mail-in ballots can be received and counted, as worries mount over the consequences of not declaring a winner election night.
A recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision will allow ballots received up to three days after Election Day to be counted, per WHYY.
The concerns over mail-in ballots going uncounted were raised long before the Pennsylvania court’s decision. In a July 29 letter addressed to Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania’s secretary of the commonwealth, Postal Service General Counsel Thomas Marshall expressed concern that mismatches in Pennsylvania election laws and U.S. Postal Service (USPS) policy could result in mail-in votes missing deadlines to be counted. One such area of concern was that Pennsylvania voters could request mail in ballots as late as Oct. 27—just seven days before the election. The USPS recommends this deadline to be 15 days before the election at the latest.
On Friday, Boockvar said more than 2.2 million mail or absentee ballots have been cast in Pennsylvania, 73% of the total requested. For comparison, Boockvar said 266,208 and 248,561 absentee ballots were cast in 2016 and 2012, respectively.
The 2.2 million mail-in and absentee ballots account for nearly 25% of the nine million plus registered voters in Pennsylvania. Boockvar claimed more than two-thirds of these ballots are from registered Democrats.
Boockvar also said election officials could still be counting votes on Friday and possibly after.
“I want to be clear that elections have never been called on election night,” Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said. “This is a process, and we want to make sure that every single vote of every valid voter is securely and accurately counted.” https://t.co/qGpRQeUs8X
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) November 1, 2020
Boockvar updated guidance on Nov. 1 that allows ballots segregated and received during the three day extension period to be counted. This changes the guidance issued by Boockvar on Oct. 28, which said that election officials should separate ballots received in the three days after the election and leave them uncounted—in compliance with the court’s ruling.
The U.S. Supreme Court has denied to expedite a legal challenge to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision, CNN reported. Part of that decision was on the basis that Boockvar’s guidance would instruct county election officials to “segregate ballots.”
Pennsylvania’s election laws allow counties to begin counting mail-in and absentee ballots on 7 a.m. on Election Day; however, counties are not required to do so. At least seven out of the state’s 67 counties have come out and said they will not begin counting these ballots until Wednesday, according to NBC News. Local election officials in the relatively small counties of Beaver, Cumberland, Franklin, Greene, Juniata, Mercer and Montour cited limited staff and resources as the reason for the delay. Data released by the state suggest that 150,000 voters have requested mail-in ballots in these counties.
Even for the counties that do begin counting early and mail-in votes Tuesday morning will have to wait until the Nov. 6 deadline established by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling to finish their tabulations.
If past experience has any bearing on how things might go this week, around half of Pennsylvania’s counties were still counting votes a week after the June 2 primaries.
Pennsylvania has a Nov. 23 deadline to stop counting votes, per The Philadelphia Inquirer.