Americans shattered records for voting by mail in many states in the 2020 presidential election, a phenomenon that tested existing election laws, new pandemic-related regulations, postal service capacity, voter education efforts and voters’ own resolve.
Some states had more wiggle room in accepting the mail-in votes than others, allowing ballots that were postmarked by election day to come in later, anywhere from the following day to nearly three weeks after. These grace periods became a highly contentious and politicized aspect of the election. The Trump campaign and its allies challenged them all the way up to the US supreme court as part of an overall campaign questioning the legitimacy of mail-in voting.
Grace periods for mail-in ballots also became more significant as it became clear that the vote’s results would not be even close to final on election day and that the country would indeed experience the “big blue shift” that experts predicted.
But what are the implications of letting ballots arrive late? A state-by-state look at the turnout data shows that the numbers weren’t large but were substantial enough to potentially sway a local race or a tighter election. It also shows a messy national picture, with chaotic regulations and poor record-keeping.