ALI Podcast on Absentee Balloting


Absentee Balloting: Preparing for the November Election

Podcast episode explores what can be done to mitigate the risks this November

With November’s election less than five months away, and the likelihood of larger-than-average numbers of citizens requesting absentee ballots, the latest episode of Reasonably Speaking brings together a panel of experts to discuss the merits and shortcomings of current vote-by-mail processes, including what went wrong in the primaries, and how the upcoming presidential election will likely face similar challenges unless changes are made. 

Led by Ohio State University Moritz College of Law Professor and Associate Reporter on The American Law Institute’s now completed Principles of the Law, Election Administration: Non-Precinct Voting and Resolution of Ballot-Counting Disputes, Steven F. Huefner, this episode features the following speakers:

– Edward B. Foley, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Reporter for The American Law Institute’s Principles of the Law, Election Administration: Non-Precinct Voting and Resolution of Ballot-Counting Disputes

– Justin Levitt, Loyola Marymount University Loyola Law School

– Lisa Marshall Manheim, University of Washington School of Law

The panelists discussed the importance of understanding and clearly defining the purpose of elections and how voting-by-mail complications may undermine that definition if not properly addressed. The panel also discussed effective absentee ballot administration and collection. Huefner addressed the reasons why absentee ballots often take inordinate amounts of time to process, but how as result of the pandemic more people are turning to mail-in voting than ever before:

“The primary reason that certifying the results takes some time is because the election officials are taking appropriate steps to make sure the count is accurate. And in particular, with respect to mail-in ballots, there is a process by which each individual ballot is verified to make sure that it is coming from an eligible voter. That is a more cumbersome process. Pre-COVID there were reasons to favor in-person voting over mail-in voting. We now live in a new world where voting in-person has risks. We did not anticipate that before.”

Other forms of alternative voting systems, such as the use of emergency backup ballots by military and overseas voters, were also discussed. The panel voiced concerns at how these kinds of ballots could be translated for use by the general public, and how individual limitations, particularly those resulting from COVID-19, could lead to greater issues and disenfranchisement among voters.

The discussion closed with all of the panelists stressing the extreme importance of voting, and making sure that process, whether in-person or vote-by-mail, is not only effective, but accessible to everyone. Ned Foley shared his hope that November’s election will not have to face the same issues as the primaries, “… if we fail to meet that standard of giving every eligible voter the opportunity to vote, then we have to honestly say we failed our own national commitment that we’ve made to ourselves since the adoption of the Voting Rights Act. And I hope we don’t have to say that about the election this year.”

In addition to the content explored in this episode, and in an effort to provide election officials with information regarding the implementation of proper procedures for absentee voting, ALI is making Part I of Principles of the Law, Election Administration available for free download. The principles apply to any type of elective office and are structured to be useful to multiple audiences, including state legislatures, state courts, and state officers such as secretaries of state and local election officials.


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