A number of secretaries of states warned on Sunday that voters may not see finalized results until weeks after Election Day.
Citing concerns over voting during the coronavirus pandemic, election officials across the country are making contingency plans should counting ballots accurately become difficult.
“We should be prepared for this to be closer to an Election Week, as opposed to an Election Day,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The bottom line is we are not going to have the full results and a counting of all of our ballots on election night.”
Michigan – a key battleground state – is adding more vote tabulators and ramping up its ability to more efficiently and securely count ballots, but Benson said the emphasis is on counting the ballots accurately, not quickly.
A lack of poll workers has also become a concern in many states.
The demographics of poll workers across the country tend to skew toward older Americans, but given the pandemic and the fact that the elderly and people with preexisting conditions are more susceptible to serious illness from COVID-19, many poll workers are pulling out.
“The thing that we’re thinking about more than anything right now is poll worker recruitment,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said on “Meet The Press.” “It takes 35,000 Ohioans to run in-person Election Day. And so we’re doing all we can to recruit those poll workers.”
LaRose also expressed his frustration that his state’s legislature did not act to cover the postage on mail-in or absentee ballots.
“I would love to see us provide postage-paid absentee ballots to every registered voter who requests one. Of course, that’s going to require a change in law by the state legislature or action by the State Controlling Board. And that’s exactly what I’m continuing to push them to do,” he said.
LaRose added: “We’ve expanded drop boxes in Ohio as well, but the law only allows me to place one at every County Board of Elections. We’ve done just that. That’s a good improvement for Ohioans. But I want to see those postage-paid envelopes because, effectively then, every mailbox in the state becomes a drop box for your ballot.”
The delay of results is just one of a number of issues that have election officials across the country concerned with less than 60 days to go until voters head to the polls.
Ongoing partisan litigation could dictate dramatic last-minute changes to rules and procedures in several states. Legislatures continue debating laws that could change how votes are processed. Meanwhile, money to pay for counting 150 million or more votes during the pandemic is stalled in Congress.
While many election officials in states likely to decide the presidential race — the frontline planners — say they believe they will be ready, they also have warned of a worrisome uncertainty that could undermine efforts to run a safe, fair and accurate election.
“I’ve got a growing list of things that I’d normally do, but I can’t,” said Forrest Lehman, elections director in central Pennsylvania’s Lycoming County.
At least 170 lawsuits have been filed across the country over voting procedures, many by groups tied to the two major political parties or by the parties themselves. Some still pending this year could have major consequences.
In Wisconsin, a judge has yet to rule on a Democratic lawsuit seeking several changes, including lifting the state’s requirement that voters provide identification to get absentee ballots. In Nevada and Montana, the Trump campaign is suing to prevent the states from sending out mail ballots to all voters.
Rulings can set off confusion. In Iowa, two judges last week invalidated 64,000 absentee ballot requests that they said were improperly filled out, after the Trump campaign sued. Democrats asked another judge to rule them valid.
It’s not just lawsuits. In several states, lawmakers have been unable to agree on new procedures, including recommendations from often-nonpartisan election officials.
Among the most pressing is when election officials can count the vote. In Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states that could determine the presidential race, election laws bar officials from processing mail ballots before Election Day.
Election officials in those states have warned for months that those laws will not only slow the tally of mailed ballots, but could fuel distrust in the outcome.
The laws ensure that the first publicly available numbers will be a count of in-person voters, who are more likely to be Republicans. The full number of Democratic votes — and the ultimate winner of each state — could come days later. That could leave Americans with a distorted impression of the results for days.
Republicans have resisted changes to those laws, arguing there’s no need to revise long-standing statutes and contending it could make the system vulnerable to fraud. In Pennsylvania, the legislature is debating a bill to allow earlier processing, but it’s unclear if the measure will pass and be signed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf before Election Day.
Trump has expressed distrust of mail voting, warning it could lead to massive fraud although that has not occurred in the five states that regularly mail ballots to all voters. On Wednesday, Trump encouraged voters in North Carolina to attempt to vote twice — both by mail and in-person — as a way to test the system. Voting twice is a felony in the state.
Later, Trump slightly walked back those comments, tweeting that people who vote early by mail should show up at polling places and vote again if their ballots haven’t been counted.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.