Some worried Democrats have 2nd thoughts on voting by mail
Ann Mintz and Clifford Wagner have been fighting the elections with indecision for weeks. Their fear isn't who to vote for - the Philadelphia couple are Democrats who support Joe Biden. It's about how exactly they should cast their ballots.
They voted without hesitation by mail in the state's June area code. But now there are new burdens. Will a slowdown in the U.S. Postal Service cause ballots to arrive late? Will technical glitches when filling out ballot papers result in votes not being counted? Or, in an even more complicated but possible scenario, would their letter votes count later than the face-to-face votes, and will the face-to-face votes be largely Republican, and will that allow Trump to declare victory early on election night?
“There is so much at stake. We think about it a lot, ”said 65-year-old Wagner.
Many voters who decided to cast their votes by mail at the start of the coronavirus pandemic have reconsidered their options as election day approaches. Nervousness about whether and when their ballots will be counted is causing some voters to increasingly strategize and analyze a decision that was once a breeze. All concerns quickly spread to election officials, who warn that this could lead to more chaos in election day.
When postal voters change their minds and try to vote on election day, they may be breaking a thicket of rules that vary from state to state. In many states, moving from absence to person requires a series of steps to cancel postal voting. Voters may be asked to cast preliminary ballot papers that will take longer to process. All of these last-minute changes require more resources, more time, and errors.
"It's putting a lot of pressure on already overworked election officials," said Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice.
Still, some democratic groups trying to become voters have switched their news from postal voting to personal voting. In Philadelphia, the result is an unhelpful "whiplash," said Al Schmidt, an election commissioner in the city concerned about the unexpected effects.
"It increases the number of lines and has more people in polling stations, which we want to avoid," he said.
Republicans have a parallel risk of the disorder. Trump has planted unfounded suspicions about postal voting among GOP voters and frustrated his party's strategists, who fear the embassy might squeeze voter turnout. Trump tried to change his message in North Carolina last month by asking supporters to vote by mail and also casting ballots on election day to see if the election was really safe.
This has brought severe warnings from state officials that voting twice is a crime. Trump switched to tell supporters to just check on election day to see if their postal ballot papers had arrived.
But it is some Democrats who are now considering postponing. During the first coronavirus outbreak that spring, which coincided with the busy season, it gained widespread popularity among the party's base. The party insisted it wants voters to cast their ballots the way it makes sense to them and is even suing the Nevada Republican Secretary of State to ensure there is more personal choice for that state's June primary.
Reports of changes in the postal service and delivery slowdowns raised new concerns. From the party's virtual convention in August, a few prominent Democrats began tweaking their recommendations. Barack and Michelle Obama urged supporters to vote in person at places with early voting if possible. Some groups organizing democratically oriented voters followed suit.
"We let voters know that you can vote by mail and still vote," said Marcus Bass of Advance Carolina, who organizes black voters on the North Carolina battlefield. "You just can't vote twice."
The collective PAC, which is focused on generating black voters, has postponed its $ 7 million campaign to encourage early personal voting rather than postal voting. Founder Quentin James said that while older, reliable black voters were happy to switch to mail voting, it was more difficult to convince younger, less frequent ones.
"You don't trust the government," said James. "You just want to vote and hand in the ballot personally."
The change comes as the number of coronavirus cases rose again in the fall, has grown rapidly in some battlefield states like Wisconsin, and polling day face-to-face voting may become riskier.
Jamie Perrapato of activist group Turn PA Blue says she “feels like a therapist” because so many people call her to discuss voting concerns and options.
Perrapato's advice: “Don't think you can play the system. You can't try to outdo him (Trump). "
Many states do not make it easy to change your mind. In North Carolina, voters who have requested a postal vote must have a witness signature if they want their vote to be counted. Pam Winton, a 73-year-old retired professor in Durham, plans to vote for Biden during the state's early personal vote. But she also asked for a postal vote if those lines were too long - without knowing that she would need a witness before sending it in.
"I haven't studied it that carefully," said Winton. "I'm still waiting to see what options there are and what seems to be the safest and most reliable way to go."
In Pennsylvania, voters who have requested a postal vote can only vote on election day if they bring the entire election package with them to vote in the election. Otherwise, their votes are preliminary.
John Fetterman, the Democratic lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, says he is concerned about whether some of the 2.5 million Pennsylvanians who have already called for a postal vote - three times as many Democrats as Republicans - will remember the correct documents to bring in person in case trying to vote instead.
"All of this is based on outright propaganda that they know has no basis in reality," Fetterman said of Democrats' concerns about the postal vote.
Associate press writers Bryan Anderson of Raleigh, NC and Christina A. Cassidy of Atlanta contributed to this report.
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