Days later, he suggested delaying the election entirely. Yet inexplicably on Tuesday, he encouraged Florida residents in a tweet to vote by mail — neither he nor the White House explained why Florida is okay by his standards when the rest of the country isn’t.
Trump is right on one thing. Election officials and experts say that in a number of states, we probably won’t know election results by the late hours of Election Day, as in a typical presidential race. We might not know for days, maybe even weeks.
There are a couple of reasons for that. Major states in the presidential race, such as Michigan, have laws that prevent them from even beginning to count mailed ballots before Election Day.
While mail-in voting is not new to any state, the volume of it is likely to be. Vote-by-mail advocates have urged states to buy sophisticated machines to count ballots in a timely manner, but not every state has had the bandwidth or money to do that. So they’re working on training employees to count carefully, slowly, with the emphasis on being accurate rather than fast.
Election officials say that rather than being a sign of wrongdoing, taking their time to announce mailed results is a sign that they’re getting the vote count right.
“This is not a speed game,” Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) told me in April. “This is going to be an integrity and safety game.”
There is a risk to the integrity of the election in that delay, but it’s not the one Trump makes it out to be.
Rather than open the door to fraud, delays open the door to confusion about who won. And Trump’s wholehearted willingness to raise suspicions about voting by mail suggests he would be a willing player in stirring up the confusion.
Imagine a scenario like this, Michael Morley, an election law expert at Florida State University’s law school, told me in an interview in May:
Mailed ballots tend to come in waves, and many jurisdictions allowed ballots to be postmarked by Election Day. So you could have a situation where tallies announced by in-person voting and ballots returned before the deadline show one candidate in the lead. “But you still have tens of thousands of uncounted ballots, and you are setting yourself up to potentially say: ‘Now that we finished counting the votes, actually the other candidate is the winner,’ ” he said. “In the context of a presidential election, that can contribute to mistrust.”
So when we talk about delays in results in November, we’re talking more about the perception of a well-run election being damaged, rather than the actual election being damaged.
That’s a distinction Trump refuses to make. He also bashes mail-in voting as somehow more helpful to Democrats than Republicans (evidence from past elections doesn’t support that) and as massively fraudulent (there is no evidence for that).
The predictable result of all of this is that polls show Republicans are much more skeptical of voting by mail than Democrats.
Some Michigan voters even burned their absentee ballot applications to protest having to vote by mail. That has Republican officials worried that their party just won’t vote if voting by mail is the primary option. (However, most states are expected to have in-person voting options in November, which could give Republicans another way to go vote.)
We’re getting a preview of what a long delay in results could look like in New York, where about six weeks later, we still don’t know the outcome of several congressional primaries. The problem there, reported The Washington Post’s Jada Yuan, seems to be that ballots are being thrown out because of errors in how voters filled them out, rather than fake ballots being thrown in as Trump likes to insinuate will happen.
Is what’s happening in New York extreme? Or is it likely to play out all over the country in overwhelmed election offices? We don’t know for sure, but state election officials say they are doing everything they can to make sure a delay that long doesn’t happen.
But we do know the Democratic congressional candidates caught in limbo in New York are urging patience and not trying to question the results. It’s a frustrating waiting game, but there are no major players alleging fraud or claiming without evidence they won.
It’s a different question come November when (not if) there’s a delay in results across the nation for the presidential election, and the president is using every day to fill the vacuum with allegations of fraud. That, more than the delay itself, is what election experts say is concerning.
This post has been updated.