U.S. elections have been easier than ever before, when most people cast their ballots at the polls, their choices are automatically elevated by machine.
Because this year COVID-19 Epidemic, postal voting is on the rise, posing human power, technical and legal challenges across thousands of electoral jurisdictions, each with its own procedures and rules.
In the recent elections, one percent of postal votes were rejected, and that number is expected to rise as the number of postal votes increases.
This would mean hundreds of thousands of votes in the controversy. The 2000 election in Florida was determined by a mere 537 votes.
What is the overall voting picture?
In 2016, about 139 million Americans voted, 33 million of them by mail.
This year the researchers’ projected vote was more than 150 million, half of which were postal votes.
How does mail-in voting work?
Nine states and Washington D.C. automatically send postal ballots to all voters.
In other states, voters have to demand them. In the past it was restricted to “no” voters, but this year many states – if not all – have made it possible for anyone to get a no-vote or mail-in ballot.
Only a few states, including California and Nevada, have established worldwide Mail-in voting this year.
In some cases, ballots have been sent to the wrong address as a result of invalid or expired voter lists, or the deceased may be concerned about that ballot. Can be used fraudulently.
Each state has its own rules. Most voters must fill out the ballot paper, put it back in the envelope, sign the outer envelope and return the ballot, or leave it in designated drop boxes.
But some states include the privacy sleeve, which goes first on the ballot before it is placed in the envelope.
For some states a voter witness must sign the outer envelope and provide their contacts. In Alabama, which has the most restricted voting laws, the voter needs two witness signatures.
When are the ballots counted?
Direct ballots are scheduled automatically, and in most cases are ready to be announced within hours or minutes of the close of voting. But postal voting involves a laborious process and each state again has its own rules.
Some states will only count postal votes received on election day – others will accept them after 10 days if postmarked on election day.
Due to the burden of the postal service, some states have extended the period for accepting ballots.
The process for verifying signatures, opening envelopes, removing and counting ballots varies from state to state.
In Colorado, for example, ballots are opened on receipt. The counting – handled by the machine – starts 15 days before the election, but data cannot be released until 7pm on election day.
One hurdle is the postal service, which has seen some cuts as Republicans try to block mail-in votes.
On the other hand, according to its most recent annual report, the postal service delivers about 471 million mails a day – so it can handle extra loads reasonably.
As for the size of the postal votes, they all take days to count.
Another issue is signature verification. In some states, this is an automated process, but in others it is done manually, depending on the poll workers keeping the signatures on file with the state for viewing.
Many people’s signatures change over time, and some have more than one way to sign. Young people who have grown up digitally, especially first-time voters, may not even have a regular signature, or something on file.
For rejected ballots, some states try to find the voter and confirm their signature or “cure” the ballot. But this takes time.
After months of court battles, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled in October that voters would be given the opportunity to adjust their ballot.
Another hurdle – should the ballot be expelled if the voter does not use the privacy sleeve?
In Pennsylvania, following a Republican lawsuit, a court ruled that tens of thousands of “naked votes” could not be counted. But other states accept them.
Lawyers come here
In war-torn states, both parties have renewed their legal committees. Trump has already said he does not trust postal votes received by counters after election day.
The Stanford-MIT Healthy Electoral Program counted more than 300 cases in 44 states.
Like Florida in 2000, a close war would make calls for multiple counts, with both sides arguing over the validity of each ballot. Is the postmark correct? Is the signature correct? Is the address correct? Can it be cured legally? Is it too late?