Voting by Mail in 2020: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There was an article in today’s Oregonian that someone rated Oregon the easiest state to vote in. One of the factors in that ranking was how easy it is to register. Oregon not only has all-mail voting, but also motor voter registration. So if you get a driver’s license, you get registered to vote unless you opt out. If you change your address at the MVD (Motor Vehicles Division), it also changes in the voter registry. So that puts us a step above the other VbM states.

Anyway, ballots were mailed out on either Tuesday or Wednesday. Got mine on Friday. Still sitting on my desk unopened. I’ll probably drop it off at the County Elections Office this week. Or maybe at the library. The library has been closed since March, but they have a drop box outside.

U.S. Postal Service records show delivery delays have persisted across the country as millions of Americans are voting by mail, raising the possibility of ballots being rejected because they arrive too late.

Postal data through Oct. 9, released through a federal court order, show nearly all the agency’s delivery regions missing its target of having at least 95% of first-class mail arrive within five days. Parts of the presidential battleground states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio fell short of delivery goals by wide margins as the agency struggles to regain its footing after a tumultuous summer.

The districts that include the major urban areas and their suburbs in each of those states all performed below the national average for on-time delivery, with the area around Pittsburgh in western Pennsylvania the lone exception.

The delays are a worrisome sign for voters who still have not returned their absentee ballots. That is especially true in states such as Michigan, where ballots must be received by Election Day. Other states require a postmark by Nov. 3.

I believe Biden has the votes to win… IF all the ballots are counted and if all the ballots count. It looks like that is a big “if.”

As the Senate was voting to elevate Amy Coney Barrett to a lifetime position on the Supreme Court on Monday night, the immediate stakes for the entire country were made suddenly clear by a critical election ruling from the court she now joins. On Monday night, Justice Brett Kavanaugh released a radical and brazenly partisan opinion that dashed any hopes he, as the Supreme Court’s new median justice, might slow-walk the court’s impending conservative revolution, while also threatening the integrity of next week’s election. In an 18-page lecture, the justice cast doubt on the legitimacy of many mail ballots and endorsed the most sinister component of Bush v. Gore. America’s new median justice is not a friend to democracy and we may pay the price for Barrett’s confirmation in just eight days.

Monday’s order from the Supreme Court blocked a federal judge’s order that had tweaked Wisconsin’s voting laws in light of the pandemic. The judge directed election officials to count ballots that were postmarked by Election Day but received by Nov. 9, finding that the unprecedented demand for mail ballots combined with Postal Service delays could disenfranchise up to 100,000 voters. An appeals court blocked his decision on Oct. 8, and on Monday, SCOTUS kept it on hold by a 5–3 vote. …

Kavanaugh’s opinion is the most notable of the bunch because he is the new median justice and the opinion is frankly terrifying. In one passage, Kavanaugh attempted to defend the Wisconsin law disqualifying ballots received after Election Day. He pointed out that “most States” share this policy, explaining:

Those States want to avoid the chaos and suspicions of impropriety that can ensue if thousands of absentee ballots flow in after election day and potentially flip the results of an election. And those States also want to be able to definitively announce the results of the election on election night, or as soon as possible thereafter.

Kavanaugh then quoted New York University Law Professor Richard Pildes stating that the “longer after Election Day any significant changes in vote totals take place, the greater the risk that the losing side will cry that the election has been stolen.” (Kavanaugh was quoting an article in which Pildes encouraged states to extend their ballot deadlines, directly contradicting Kavanaugh’s argument.)

It is genuinely alarming that the justice cast these aspersions on late-arriving ballots. In at least 18 states and the District of Columbia, election officials do count ballots that arrive after Election Day. And, in these states, there is no result to “flip” because there is no result to overturn until all valid ballots are counted. Further, George W. Bush’s 2000 election legal team—which included Barrett, Kavanaugh, and Roberts—argued during that contested election that ballots arriving late and without postmarks, which were thought to benefit Bush, must be counted in Florida.

Finally, and most importantly, late-arriving ballots have handed the election to a candidate who was behind on election night on many occasions in the United States—most recently, in multiple California congressional races in 2018.

My bold.

Of course, THAT’S the big worry.

If DJT wins, this is how he will do it.

I’ve been following return rates here:

Does anybody have a handy cite for what a “good” return rate would be (either globally or for a particular party?). I’m still trying to dig it up, but as we sweat ballots getting returned on time (either due to voter apathy or USPS slowdowns) it would be nice to know what the target is.

Sorry to reply to myself, but I did find this for WI in the 2016 general: “That was a return rate of 91.4 percent.”

That seems high, but I guess if you go the trouble of requesting a ballot it’s likely you will return it. I would imagine for states that sent unsolicited ballots the return rate might be quite a bit lower.

my understanding on signatures is that your signature when you first register to vote is on file. this is what you see when you go to vote in person (pa here). for me that was my 18 year old signature.

when you request a mail in ballot, one of the lines asks for state photo id giving another signature possibility. for me that was a few years ago.

in pa it is my understanding that they look at voter roll and state id signature.

there are cases that are winding their way through the courts on this.

Ballot received on 9/28, filled out and mailed on 9/30, got email stating it had been received and would be counted on 10/3. Pretty simple and quick in my opinion.

Then the state needs a better way to collect a signature, at least in CA. When I last renewed my driver license (in person, not by mail), they collected my signature via one of those electronic touch-pads that one signs with a stylus, and the box I had to put my sig in was about the size of a postage stamp.

I had to write my sig so cramped that it’s utterly illegible. And that’s how it’s printed on my driver license to this day.