• Friday, Apr 23, 2021
  • Last Update : 09:59 pm

Why Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are taking so long

  • Published at 05:07 pm November 4th, 2020
US Election 2020
People fill out their ballots at a polling station during the 2020 U.S. presidential election, in Lansing, Michigan on November 3, 2020 Reuters

On election night, keep in mind mailed votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan expected to favour Democrats will be counted more slowly -- and that’s by design

We are still waiting for Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin to tally their votes. Why is it taking so long in these states?

Granted that the pandemic and historic levels of mail-in voting have made the counting process slower this year than in previous elections cycles, however key swing states such as Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona have successfully counted most of their votes on election night or will complete the count soon afterward. 

On the other hand, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan — the trio of states that clinched Trump’s victory in 2016 — are a different story. 

Republican legislatures in each have almost totally refused to update antiquated policies on how mailed ballots will be processed and counted, meaning these states will likely take days to finish their counts. 

And if the in-person vote is more pro-Trump than the mail vote in these states, the slow mail count could leave the impression Trump is ahead on election night, even if that is incorrect.

The way the electoral math works, Trump almost certainly cannot win the presidency without winning at least two of those three slow-counting states. 

His path to victory goes through the slow states.

A person watches the US presidential election early results from a bar in San Diego, California, US, on Wednesday, November 3, 2020, | Reuters

Mail-in ballots take longer to process

In the year of Covid-19, there is one issue that has been looming above all others: “How election officials will handle an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots.”

Also Read - US election on knife edge in key states

The challenge is that mailed ballots are time-consuming to process since they must be verified against registration information to make sure the vote was properly cast.

For mailed ballots, that verification process still happens, to prevent fraud — but it happens after a ballot has been returned, and the voter does not get to see it.

Local election officials have to verify that each mail-in ballot was properly cast. Most notably, the voter’s signature must be verified — and some states have further requirements, such as like Pennsylvania’s secrecy envelopes, that if not properly completed can also lead ballots to be rejected. 

At the same time, there is also the physical process of opening all those envelopes, sorting them based on precinct, and preparing the physical ballots for counting. 

Doing this for hundreds of thousands of mailed-in votes takes quite a while.

However, there was a simple solution to this mammoth task where officials can start processing or even counting mailed ballots before Election Day arrives, as is done in most states. 

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks at a drive-in election night event as Dr. Jill Biden looks on at the Chase Center in the early morning hours of November 04, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware | AFP

Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, however, refused to take this basic, common-sense step of beginning ballot processing early. 

Also Read - Trump falsely claims victory, after rival Biden voices confidence

More specifically, Republican legislatures in these states refused to change state law to allow this, despite Democrats’ pleadings. As a result, the time-consuming process of determining whether each mail-in ballot was properly cast cannot start until Election Day itself.

President Trump has polarized the issue of mail-in voting in an unusual way, such that Republicans have told pollsters they are more likely to vote in-person. 

By slowing the count of mail-in votes, Republicans in these states evidently hope the in-person votes will be counted first and show Trump ahead. 

Then, when those mail votes are slowly counted for Democrats, Trump can baselessly disparage their gains as illegitimate and based on fraud. This is precisely what has happened.

On election night, keep in mind mailed votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan expected to favour Democrats will be counted more slowly -- and that’s by design.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about early results from the 2020 U.S. presidential election in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., November 4, 2020 | Reuters

Also Read - What happens if Trump, Biden tie in the Electoral College?

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