This year, unlike any election year in memory, it’s possible that Election Night will end without us having the final results. But while it’s different, it isn’t anything to worry about. With many more Americans likely using mail-in voting because of the pandemic, the count will be slower. At the same time, there may be fewer poll workers available, both here in Nebraska and across the country, and that could make the count slower as well.
Why? Because it’s unlikely we’ll have a final tally of votes on election night. Nearly 75% of the electorate can vote remotely this year and many are more likely to do so because of the pandemic. This means the count will be slower. In some states, poll workers can’t begin to count ballots before election day regardless of when they’re received, while in others, ballots need only be mailed by election day and of course can’t be counted until they’re received. A slow count simply reflects our unusual times. It has nothing to do with the legitimacy of the process.
President Trump has falsely claimed that mail-in voting will produce “the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” but voting by mail is common, and voter fraud is very rare. In 2016, roughly one out of every four votes was mailed, including President Trump’s. Every member of the U.S. military and their families stationed overseas votes by mail. Some states, such as California, send a mail-in ballot to every registered voter. Five states conduct their elections entirely by mail.
As United States Attorney for Nebraska in the years 2009-2017, our office coordinated with the Nebraska Secretary of State’s office to ensure that there were no voting issues or snags during the voting process. We never had a problem with mail ballots or in-person voting.
Voting by mail is common because it is safe. States have extra security protocols for mail-in ballots — such as bar codes, audits and signature verification. These are paper ballots not susceptible to security flaws and hackers. Ballots are delivered through the U.S. Postal Service, the same entity we trust to deliver Social Security checks, passports, and prescription medications.
So what can we do? Make a plan to vote and do so early. Mail your ballot early or drop it off at the official ballot boxes. If you’d rather vote in person, be prepared to wait. The lines may be long for this election. If you have any worries about issues such as signature verification, consider voting in person if you can do so safely. Show up early, bring a mask and gloves, as well as water, food, folding chair and comfortable shoes. Lines this year may be long so be patient.
And finally, prepare to wait. Reported “results” on election night are often actually media projections based on exit polling, which will be less useful now with more people voting by mail. You won’t likely know anything before you go to bed. This year on election night find a good movie on Netflix and just relax.
Will it be frustrating? Will some call elections early, hoping that disappointed people in swing states like Colorado, Nevada, and Wisconsin won’t bother going to the polls? Will the delay provide an opportunity for some candidates to criticize the delay and claim the delay means there is fraud? The reality is the count this year will take time — don’t let it frustrate you, and don’t let it deter you. A slow count means a careful, accurate count. It also means that many, many citizens have chosen to exercise their right to vote in a way that’s safe for themselves and their communities. That’s exactly how we want our elections to work. Getting it right is more important than getting it fast.
If we vote, and if we’re patient, we will make a difference.
Deborah R. Gilg served as United States Attorney for Nebraska from 2009-2017. She is currently an adjunct law professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.
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