The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump blames Democrats for late-counted mail ballots. He should blame the GOP.

President Trump addresses reporters at a July 21 news conference at the White House. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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In the two days since Election Day 2020, President Trump has repeatedly and dubiously suggested the influx of late-counted mail-in ballots for Joe Biden is some kind of sinister plot to rig the election.

“How come every time they count Mail-In ballot dumps they are so devastating in their percentage and power of destruction?” he said early Wednesday.

“We are winning Pennsylvania big, but the PA Secretary of State just announced that there are ‘Millions of ballots left to be counted,’ ” he added later.

And again: “Last night I was leading, often solidly, in many key States, in almost all instances Democrat run & controlled. Then, one by one, they started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted.”

It’s a big mystery to Trump, it seems. But if he’s really that concerned about it, he should be taking it up with the parties responsible: namely, the state Republican parties.

The reasons so many Biden-friendly mail ballots were counted so late in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are actually rather simple. One reason is that populous urban areas (which lean strongly blue) have more votes, which means it takes longer to count them. Another is that Trump spent months raising concerns about mail-in balloting, leading to an extraordinary partisan imbalance in which voters embraced them.

But the biggest reason for the lag is that Republicans allowed it to happen. Despite the urging of state election officials, the GOP-controlled legislatures in those three key states all declined to let mail ballots to be counted earlier — unlike the vast majority of states — despite knowing the number of mail ballots would dwarf any previous election.

Election officials in Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and North Carolina have held several news conferences as the election remained too close to call. (Video: The Washington Post)

In Pennsylvania, Republicans demanded certain concessions before they would allow mail ballots to be counted starting before Election Day. House Republicans passed a bill that would have allowed counting ballots starting three days before Election Day, but the bill also required Democrats to sign off on allowing partisan poll-watchers to work in counties in which they were not registered to vote, which Democrats argued could lead to a highly political effort to game the vote.

In Michigan, the GOP-controlled state legislature gave a little more than their Republican counterparts in Pennsylvania. They allowed for ballots in areas with at least 25,000 people to begin being processed but not actually counted for 10 hours on the day before Election Day. Democrats asked to process and count the ballots before then, but Republicans balked, saying an extended window would make it more difficult for volunteer election inspectors to monitor the ballots as they were being counted.

In Wisconsin, the GOP-controlled state assembly passed a bill early this year to allow for some absentee ballots to be counted before Election Day, but the GOP-controlled Senate didn’t act on it. Another proposal in the Senate also stalled. In the weeks before Election Day, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s editorial board and others urged a change, but their pleas went unheeded.

The practices in those three states are at-odds with how other swing states — and most states, period — handle the counting of mail ballots, including some that changed their rules in light of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Florida (which as it happens was called on election night) allows mail ballots to be processed 22 days before Election Day, Arizona allows them to be processed 14 days early and North Carolina allows them to be processed five weeks early. Nine states — Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island and South Carolina — all extended the window for the 2020 election even more than Michigan. Georgia and Nevada allow them to be processed upon receipt.

There are only 10 states that require this process to wait until the day before Election Day or later: Alabama, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Trump said his dissipating leads occurred in states that were “in almost all instances Democrat run & controlled.” In fact, the only three swing states with such late deadlines all have Democratic governors but they also have Republican-controlled legislatures, which were actually in charge of when mail ballots were counted.

If only such a thing could have been avoided.