All this provides an occasion to look at the numbers of mail ballots that are outstanding right now, and to talk a bit about what they mean. Relying on the latest data from the United States Elections Project, here’s the state of play:
In Pennsylvania, nearly 1 million mail ballots have been requested but not returned. In Michigan, that number is over 600,000. In Wisconsin, it’s over 200,000. In Arizona, it’s over 1 million. In Florida, it’s over 1.6 million. In Georgia, it’s over 600,000. And so forth.
Now, before you get too dismayed by these numbers, note that a lot of mail ballots have been requested, and in many of these states, large percentages have already been returned.
What’s more, Michael McDonald, who runs the United States Elections Project, notes that we need to treat the meaning of these numbers cautiously. For instance, he says, they could to some degree reflect ballots that already have been sent in and accepted but have not yet registered in official data.
“We know that there are processing delays out there, and ballots are sitting in elections offices,” McDonald told me. “There are ballots in transit.”
But clearly, there are still a lot more out there. And delays in the mail aren’t the only problem. There are also the courts.
If you’re living in Pennsylvania and you’re counting on the fact that the Supreme Court is allowing mail ballots that arrive up to and including three days after Election Day to be accepted, well, don’t count on that.
Remember, three conservative justices on the court also signaled that they may take this up again after the election, and they telegraphed real openness to invalidating those ballots at that point. True, they might not get two more conservative justices to join them. But they might. Do you really want to take a chance on this court to do the right thing?
Meanwhile, the court already refused to allow the acceptance of late-arriving ballots in Wisconsin. And in Minnesota, a federal appeals court abruptly ruled on Thursday that a weeklong period after Election Day for accepting late ballots is no longer valid.
As Rick Hasen notes, the Minnesota ruling is absurd, given that many voters have likely shaped their voting schedule around the expectation that ballots would be accepted for that additional week, and it has now been yanked out from under them. Minnesota Democrats loudly sounded the alarm, calling on voters with mail ballots to drop them off, as opposed to mailing them.
And in truth, that’s what all of those who still have outstanding mail ballots should make a plan to do right now.
“If you’ve got that ballot, get it in,” McDonald told me. “Don’t wait. The time for waiting is past.”
This is going to be an emotionally difficult few days for many people. President Trump has spent many months trying to hoodwink voters into believing that his dark schemes are terrifyingly formidable, that he wields wizard-like corrupting powers over the electoral process, that your participation is hopeless.
It isn’t. Participation is exactly what he doesn’t want from you (unless you’re voting for him, of course). Let’s get those ballots in, people! And let’s get as many people as possible to do the same.