The cumbersome and sometimes slow counting of an expected record number of mail-in ballots — especially in some crucial swing states — could delay results and open the door to challenges in this year’s elections.
In 13 states and the District of Columbia, including the closely contested battlegrounds of Pennsylvania and Michigan, election officials can’t start processing absentee ballots until Election Day, and in three more states they can’t start until the polls close. With millions of such ballots anticipated, that’s a daunting, if not impossible, task to perform quickly.
And with many more voters using mail-in ballots for the first time, mistakes such as failing to sign the envelope or sending it too late likely will lead to a larger share of rejected ballots.
The possible result: vote counts that aren’t complete for days or even weeks, creating an opportunity for candidates, parties, members of the media or others to sow doubts about the legitimacy of the process.
Election officials and lawmakers in some states, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, are trying to alter counting procedures to avoid that outcome. But time is running short to alter the rules, and changing election procedures on the fly may create confusion.