Americans are voting early both in person and by mail in record numbers in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Providing citizens with more voting options presents some unique challenges, such as long lines at early voting centers and the need for more ballot collection boxes. One hotly-contested issue has been the question of when mail-in ballots should be received: should they be postmarked by Election Day, or received by Election Day? Here, Election Central takes a closer look at the debate.
This debate over whether official ballots should be postmarked-versus-received by Election Day is a large issue in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is a swing state that Donald Trump won by just over one percentage point in 2016. The Pennsylvania supreme court recently ruled that ballots will be counted up to three days after Election Day, as long as they are postmarked by November 3. In addition, ballots without a postmark will be counted as well, as long as there isn’t overwhelming evidence that the ballot was mailed after the deadline. Republicans fought this ruling, taking the case to the United States Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, meaning that the ruling by the lower court stands and late-arriving ballots can be counted in Pennsylvania as long as they are received by 5:00 pm on November 6.
In the past, Pennsylvania election law required that absentee ballots be received by Election Day. But with millions of votes being cast by mail, and potential delays and problems with the U.S. Postal Service, Democrats were concerned about the number of ballots that might not be counted under the old law. (Earlier this year, almost 16,000 primary ballots were thrown away for arriving after the deadline.)
Whether or not votes will be counted after Election Day varies from state to state. In Ohio, mail-in ballots must be postmarked the day before the election. In Wisconsin, Democrats tried to institute a law that would allow ballots postmarked by Election Day to be received up to six days after Election Day. But it was blocked by a federal appeals court.
Another federal appeals court also ruled recently that Michigan‘s mail-in ballots must be received by Election Day. This rejected the state’s request to extend the deadline by two weeks. In North Carolina, however, ballots postmarked by Election Day will be counted as late as November 12.
The unprecedented number of mail-in ballots might cause long delays in election returns. This is especially true in swing states, where the vote margin might make the result too close to call quickly. In Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, votes can’t be processed and counted until Election Day. In Michigan, officials can only start counting the day before. This all means that the results of this long election season might NOT be clear by the end of Election Night.