Those officials rightly are seeking to reassure Americans that they can vote safely and securely through the mail, as millions do every year. They are stressing that they have been working with postal officials to ensure that election mail is given high priority and reminding voters that mail balloting is routine for the Postal Service, which faces a far larger challenge over the holiday season.
Beyond offering reassurance, though, there are specific measures states can adopt. First, while encouraging voters to cast their ballots with plenty of time to spare, they also should allow some leeway on when votes must arrive. States should require that all ballots be in the mail by Election Day, but not that they be received by then. Instead, voters should have a grace period to account for any unforeseen mail delays or other logistical issues. Massachusetts will accept ballots received three days after Election Day. Colorado, which conducts nearly all of its balloting by mail, gives ballots eight days after Election Day to arrive. California has expanded its usual three-day grace period to 17 days for this year’s general election. On the other hand, states such as Connecticut and Delaware require ballots to be received by Election Day. Leeway may lead to delay in knowing who has won, which is unfortunate, but failing to count legitimate ballots would be worse.
Second, states should allow some leeway for logistical mishaps. Do not automatically discard ballots that arrive without postmarks, when the Postal Service may be at fault. Thousands of ballots appear to have been thrown out for this and other minor issues in New York’s recent primary.
Third, states should give voters as many options as possible. Yes, they should be able to mail their ballots with confidence, but they also should be offered ballot drop boxes, which have proved effective and secure in many states. And even in a pandemic, it is possible to have safe in-person voting.
Much of this would be easier if Congress had approved extra funding for states to prepare for the election, as the House did in May, but the White House and congressional Republicans have blocked that so far. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) should bring back the Senate, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is summoning the House, and they should approve emergency election help for the states and the Postal Service. Meanwhile, though, state officials should be reassuring Americans that they will be able to vote safely — and exercising the authority they have to ensure it is so.