States Must Adapt Their Absentee Ballot Process to Avoid What’s Happening in New York Right Now

We are now two weeks out since New York held its primary elections. As this WSJ story reported, officials this week just began opening nearly 400,000 absentee ballots cast in that election. In one closely contested Congressional primary, for CD 12, there were 50% more absentee ballots cast than in-person votes. A lawyer for one of the candidates says that the counting could take “weeks and weeks.”

This situation is a product of three factors and the surge in absentee voting that is now entirely predictable:

  1. NY permits absentees to be postmarked on or before Election Day.
  2. NY treats these ballots as valid if received by June 30, seven days after the election.
  3. NY does not begin the process of validating and counting these ballots until nearly two weeks after the election — regardless of when those ballots come in.

The story concludes with this quote from one county election commissioner: “If [this process is] carried through to the presidential election, it’s going to be pure chaos.”

Were this to occur in one or more states that could determine the election’s outcome, it would be extremely dangerous in our current political climate. I have identified measures (e.g., here and here) states can take to get on top of this situation. A key step, which should be uncontroversial, is to change state laws to permit absentee ballots that come in before Election Day to be processed in advance, so they are ready to be counted immediately once polls close.

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