General Question

crazyguy's avatar

Why are states forbidding counting of mail-in ballots until after in-person voting is complete?

Asked by crazyguy (995points) 2 weeks ago

With millions of mail-in ballots requiring special handling, you would think that state election commissions would do everything in their power to ease the burden. Instead, what most states have done is imposed a requirement that mail-in ballots cannot be counted until after polls have closed.

Do you see any reason why we have this requirement, other than the fear that the results would leak?

If we are truly worried about results leaking, should we disallow any ballots being received after counting begins?

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32 Answers

janbb's avatar

Each state is doing it differently. Some are counting as they come in. Some are starting as soon as the polls open. Most states is working on making the count as fair as possible with varying strategies. These are unique times we are living in and we will have to be patient until the counts are done..

stanleybmanly's avatar

The principal reason is almost certainly that since election day is officially 3 November, ballots should not be tabulated prior to election day.

zenvelo's avatar

What difference does it make when they are counted, as long as they are counted in time for the designation of electors?

chyna's avatar

^It would have been nice to wake up on November 4th knowing it was over. But that will not be the case.

Pandora's avatar

Yes, each state is different and has always been. Personally, I think it makes more sense to count them as they come in this way people can check and see that their vote was counted and come election day, it will show up on computers on their district that their vote was already counted. In case someone tries some funny business like Trump suggested to his voters. Also with mail in ballots there will be more room for error. I think if a vote is discounted they should notify the person and let them know and the only time that would be possible would be before election day. Not after when they can’t do anything.

janbb's avatar

@Pandora I’ve read that their are states like Wisconsin where if you mail in your ballot early enough, you can check online that it was verified and correct it if not.

crazyguy's avatar

@janbb This is a response to your first post. I realize that a few states will count the ballots when they are received; most will not. My question relates to the ones that are not allowed to do any counting before Election Day. In all states that allow early counting, it is illegal to extract vote counts until polling is closed. Why would any state want to delay counting?

@zenvelo Prolonging uncertainty is not good for anybody. Also, by allowing a delayed count, the chances of partial data being leaked are increased.

@chyna Yes. Like the good old days.

@Pandora I agree 100%. If a deficient mail-in vote cannot be fixed by Election Day, it should be discarded.

JLeslie's avatar

I don’t see any logical reason for it.

My guess is in my state the rule might be from when we didn’t have early voting. Meaning a really old rule. Again that’s my GUESS.

I plan on calling or emailing my elections office to ask a few questions. One question is, are early votes tabulated early? If they are then obviously mail-in could be also.

My state allows mail-in ballot voters to correct signatures or problems on mail-in ballots up to two days after the election. I have no idea if people actually have been able to do it. I don’t know if they call you, or if you have to make sure on your own your vote was counted. My mail-in didn’t show counted until a day after the election this past August. Although, it did show received right away, and any problems with signature would be evaluated when received I think.

Note: they can call the winner before the mail-in vote is complete. If there are 10,000 mail-in and one of the candidates is already ahead by 50,000 they don’t need to count to call it, but they do in the end count all votes for the official record.

zenvelo's avatar

”...by allowing a delayed count, the chances of partial data being leaked are increased.”

Sounds like you are opposed to reporting as predicts are tabulated. Remember, the Associated Press and other news outlets will often declare a winner with less than a percent or two of the votes counted.

JLeslie's avatar

They worry about leaks because they worry people won’t come out and vote if they think the vote won’t matter, but they can counter that by reinforcing not to go by early reports.

Mail-in ballots can be counted before Election Day in some states. Here’s a table: https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/vopp-table-16-when-absentee-mail-ballot-processing-and-counting-can-begin.aspx scroll down a little in the page.

Pandora's avatar

@JLeslie They always assume that but that can go the other way as well. People may feel more motivated to actually go vote. The ones that say they didn’t go because it looked like their choice wasn’t going to win are people who never intended to vote. It’s just an excuse because they were too lazy to vote on election day or they never vote and always have the same tired excuse. I know people like that. My choice wasn’t going to win. The race is rigged so why should I bother to vote. One vote isn’t going to make a difference. Listen to these people. They have the same excuse year after year. Then the one year they feel motivated to vote they find out they are no longer registered to vote because they moved and didn’t bother to register. That one is my favorite. And when I ask, when did you move and they say it’s been a few years then I know they haven’t voted for at least that long.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pandora I agree. I think part of it also is older people who have rigid thinking about Election Day. It’s like managers who have rigid thinking about what time everyone should be at work, even though a half hour later means 30 minutes less commuting time for the staff because of rush hour.

The only problem with early voting either by mail-in or in-person, is if something happens a few days before election day that changes your mind then you can’t change your vote.

crazyguy's avatar

@JLeslie I think the rule was put in place because they do not have much confidence in their ability to keep the count secret. Given the leaks from what would be considered highly protected place, perhaps the lack pf confidence is not misplaced.

So let’s look at an example state that does allow early counting: Colorado. Colorado allows counting to begin 15 days before Election Day. Note the differences between Colorado and Washington (both exclusively mail-in states). Colorado allows counting to begin 15 days before Election Day, Washington says not until the polls close. But they also make it a misdemeanor to report results before polls are closed!In California, which may see as many as 75% of all ballots by mail, will allow signature verification before the election, but no counting. They also allow ballots to be received by Nov 20, provided the postmark is by election day.

In another of your posts you talk about potential leaks and say they may keep potential voters away. You also say that this can be countered by stating clearly and repeatedly that people should not go by early reports. There is no need for that, because it is illegal to release any early results. To me the reasons are obvious. For instance if you knew before the polls close that your candidate is in trouble, you may cast your vote to try and help. It is like making your fantasy selections after the game has started.

crazyguy's avatar

@zenvelo You misunderstand. If possible, I would like final results released one minute after closing of polls. Since that is impossible, I’ll settle for the next best thing. To me, the next best thing is immediate release of the counts of all mail-in ballots received prior to Election Day. That can only happen if they were counted soon after receipt.

The last thing I want is an election that is dragged out for days, and may be weeks.

crazyguy's avatar

@Pandora I think there are laws in all states barring any release of results before the polls close. The purpose of these laws is to not allow any voter information on which way the races are going. Just like any sports fantasy game, you have to pick your team before the game starts.

JLeslie's avatar

@crazyguy They do polling and start estimating how the election is going throughout the day on Election Day, unless that has changed? Any leaks would be similar to polling reports. I think 99.9% of people working at polling places would keep their word and not leak information if that is the law. The same way people obey HIPPA laws, keeping their word not to release medical information. When I worked for a hospital I was not even allowed to say hello to a patient I ran into in a store or restaurant unless they approached me first.

An election, if someone decides not to vote because the vote is so far on one side that another vote wouldn’t matter, then it doesn’t matter, but I would stress no one should rely on reports of early voting numbers. That should be stressed anyway in all elections with or without leaks. Plus, are all categories of the ballot leaked? Some things I am voting for are for my county, some for my state, if one county has an employee that leaks, that probably is not a significant amount of information for parts of the ballot.

There will be huge turnouts for voting because people are afraid and uncomfortable. I always argue that America has low voter turnout, because mostly people are middle class, content and safe, but that is changing.

janbb's avatar

I think in some states, perhaps even mine, they will start counting mail-ins as soon as the polls open. But unfortunately, I also think we have to accept that this year the election will not be settled for some weeks.

crazyguy's avatar

@JLeslie All the major networks do what is called “exit polling” of people leaving polling stations. All through the day they talk about everything except how the results are stacking up. They are not allowed to until after the polls close. The moment they do the race is on to be the first network to announce the “result” which is nothing but a projection based on exit polling. As more and more voters switch to mail-in voting, the less the importance of exit polling.

0.1% of poll workers breaking the law is way too much. If the punishment for leaking results were increased (right now, some states just call it a misdemeanor), compliance would go way up. Especially after one lawbreaker receives his/her sentence.

crazyguy's avatar

@janbb The only reason the election will not be settled for weeks is that most states are not allowed to even start counting the mail-in ballots until election night. Heck, some states will not even allow processing of the mail-in ballots, which is simply matching the signature and removing the outer envelope.

JLeslie's avatar

@crazyguy A lot of states didn’t have early voting until recently. If they can process almost the entire population of their voting district in one day, most places will be able to process the mail-in ballots in a day or two. Most states will have already done the majority of the signature matches before election day.

They don’t need to process them all to call the election if it’s not a close vote. They don’t need all the states to report in to call the election if one of the two candidates already hit the electoral votes needed. If it takes a few days extra does it matter?

Are Fox News people going to be hysterical that it’s a fiasco and a scam? It is not a fiasco that it takes a few extra days to count because of the covid situation. The electors don’t vote until mid December. I’m just wondering what fox and right wing radio is saying about it taking an extra few days. Do you know?

crazyguy's avatar

@JLeslie The link you provided had two columns. The first one talked about the earliest date for “processing” mail-in ballots, The second column addressed counting the ballots. “processing” was defined as signature verification, removing the ballot from the outer envelope and prepping it for counting.

What was amazing to me when I looked at Column 1 was the number of states that will not allow even processing before the election. ou can imagine if you do not even start signature verification before Election Day, and you are required to give voters a chance to remedy their signatures before discarding the ballots, the process will drag on. If the President can be called on Election Night, I would have no issue with it. But, given the fact, that most states may have a substantial percentage of mail-in ballots, I doubt that can happen.

JLeslie's avatar

@crazyguy Did you mean to write you have no issue with the winner not being called on election night?

I agree not being able to even process the ballots before Election Day will slow things down. It’s ridiculous considering most states, maybe all because of covid, have early voting. Everyone who early votes has to be checked in, they are also signature matched if the state requires it. Why not for mail-in ballots?

Consider this, NY didn’t have early voting until 2019. NYC had everyone voting on Election Day until last year! Except for mail-in, but that’s still millions voting on one day in the city and they handled that.

I really believe most states will get it done Election Day or a day later. The one problem I can see is if there are fewer election workers this election because of covid.

crazyguy's avatar

@JLeslie No, I meant to say exactly what I wrote. I want the President race called on election night. The exact counts can wait a day or two longer, but there should be enough of a tally on election night to say affirmatively that so-and-so won.

stanleybmanly's avatar

What’s the hurry since the winner isn’t installed for better than 2 months later?

JLeslie's avatar

@crazyguy So, if it’s not known on Election night then what?

Let’s say Michigan and Pennsylvania are still counting? What’s going to be on my Facebook and Fox News? Will Republicans be saying the sky is falling and cause more angst, or will they say, “looks like it will be tomorrow,” and talk about something else.

Why would there be any reason to freak out if poll workers need another day to finish processing and counting? They need to sleep too. They need to stay safe from covid too.

Do you think it’s more likely Republicans or Democrats who are for or against laws about not counting ballots as they come in? So far it seems to me Republicans are the ones who want to make mail-in ballots more difficult.

Seems to me Republicans WANT the mail-in to be a disaster. Some sort of “I told you so.”

Too many people, both Democrats and Republicans in our country, feel excited when they can hate or be angry at the other group. They like it, it’s like a drug. It will destroy our society. It shows levels of insecurity and low self esteem that are very worrisome. That’s how hate groups take hold. They prey on those people. Those people feel better about themselves when they can feel superior to others.

A person doesn’t even need to be part of a group, it can be an individual attitude. I see it in my husband’s family. They hold onto grudges for years, they need to be hating someone. Once that relationship finally gets repaired they find someone else to be angry with or to snub.

crazyguy's avatar

@JLeslie So it’s not know one week after the election? How about one month or two? Where do you draw the line? The Bush-Gore fiasco in 2000 should have taught us something. Instead, we are doing everything in our power to further muddy the waters. Is there an agenda? You bet there is.

@stanleybmanly The reason the Gore-Bush fiasco ended in December was that there is a constitutionally scheduled electors’ meeting in mid-December. But I do not think the process should be stretched out to the limit.

JLeslie's avatar

@crazyguy The line definitely is not drawn when the poll workers just need a little more time to finish the initial count because they have to open ballots.

One week, would mean there are contested results because they are very close or some real foul play has been accused. Then that is time to have some worry.

Bush Gore was a really horrible voting ballot, and that was part of the fiasco. It wasn’t a simply not having enough time to finish the count.

crazyguy's avatar

@JLeslie In some states, the deadline for receiving mail-in ballots is arbitrarily set at 2 weeks or more after Election Day. Heaven forbid that one of these states is in play by just a few votes.

Why do we subject ourselves to this pain?

JLeslie's avatar

@crazyguy My state is 2 weeks for out of country ballots, but what are the chances it will be that close that we need to wait for those ballots?

Other states that give two weeks for any ballot, the ballot still needs to be postmarked by Election Day. The likelihood is the bulk of mail-in take only 2–3 days to travel through the mail. Most are mailed in county.

The state will know how many ballots are outstanding and whether they need to wait to call the election.

crazyguy's avatar

@JLeslie Just keep in mind how inconceivable the 2000 fiasco was. Strange things can and do happen. My point is why invite trouble? Simplify the process. Require all ballots to be received by Election Day, no matter where they are coming from. We encourage early voting, after all. Allow counting of ballots when they are received, so the load on Election Day is manageable. Throw the book at scofflaws who dare to release any early data.

JLeslie's avatar

@crazyguy My girlfriend in South Florida called me early morning before anything was being reported on the news that she hoped her 80 year old mother voted for the right person the ballot was so confusing. She tried to help her mom when they were at the polling center and the staff there wouldn’t let her. My friend was afraid her mom would vote for the wrong person, meaning not the person she intended.

I agree we should count mail-in as they arrive.

crazyguy's avatar

Ballots should be made as easy to understand as possible. You do have to assume a modicum of intelligence and comprehension skills on the part of the voter, otherwise the ballot will resemble a children’s illustrated book.

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