Last week’s problems in New York City were part of a series of widespread problems, both systemic and targeted, that are only becoming fully apparent now, activists say.
When Celia Rodriguez visited the post office on September 28, she brought with her two stamped envelopes containing herself and her daughter’s ballots for the November election.
âWe wanted to bring in our ballots,â said Rodriguez, who lives in Manhattan. “You know there’s all this talk about the ballots not getting where they belong and don’t count.”
So the two filled out the ballots and put a stamp on the corner of each envelope. But upon arriving at the post office, Rodriguez found that the postage for mailing his ballot was 15 cents. There was no indication on the envelope that additional postage was required.
This was no problem for Rodriguez, a retired teacher with a master’s degree in early childhood education. In the end, 30 cents was enough in total for the two ballots to be mailed. But the experience shook her enough that she alerted her local representative, New York State Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou, to the situation.
âWhy don’t we know this? Rodriguez asked, referring to the need for additional postage. “This is important information.”
Complaints to Niou about shipping costs weren’t limited to the Rodriguez family that Monday, and as the day dragged on, it became clear that the issues weren’t unique to his district. In addition to confusing postage requirements, ballots across town were being delivered to the wrong address.
âI’m just very worried that there are different things for different people,â Niou said. âI think people just really can’t trust mail-in ballots, which is terrible because, you know, other states have had really good postal voting systems. We are really late and we are not diligent.
Advance and postal voting problems are emerging across the country, in major states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia. Although the Post has promised to deliver the ballots regardless of the postage, such as the the agency told Reuters in August, the persistence of problems around the vote causes headaches and concerns for people like Rodriguez.
A Midwestern postal worker and shop steward told The Appeal that much of the responsibility for postal voting irregularities rests with electoral boards, not the Postal Service. If postage is a problem, the employee said, voters need to recognize what it really means.
âThe ballots are pretty unwieldy, so the automated system might try to pretend you need postage,â said the employee, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity out of concern for his job. âBut as far as the vote is concerned, it would be a voting tax. “
According to Kat Calvin, executive director of Spread the Vote, the real problems with postal voting are just beginning as ballots start to be mailed out. âIt will probably only get worse,â Calvin said.
While New York is experiencing an inordinate number of problems, other states will experience complications as well.
âWe still have states that change the laws every day,â Calvin said. âThere are dozens of lawsuits in every state. So I think people just feel confused and worried and the whole system is hopeless. “
Some Republican lawmakers, like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, have taken deliberate steps that make it difficult for people to vote. A rule change Abbott put into effect on October 2 limits the number of drop-off points for mail-in ballots to one per county. Critics of the movement say it will almost certainly have a deleterious effect on voting in the state, where some counties are thousands of square kilometers wide.
In Iowa, more than 100,000 requests to vote are in limbo after the Trump campaign and Republican Party groups sought to invalidate application forms with pre-filled voter information. Indiana voters are report problems with incorrectly initialed ballots. Narrow limitations on the request for a postal vote are make trouble for Mississippi voters. And in Philadelphia, the voters waited hours queued up last week at one of the city’s first one-stop shops to register, fill out and vote by mail. The delays have called into question the state’s ability to manage the elections.
Sarah Brannon, lawyer in charge of the ACLU’s voting rights project, focuses on Pennsylvania during this election cycle. She told The Appeal that concerns about the Philadelphia election were a bit overblown, in her opinion. She said the state is doing its best to make sure it respects Act 77, a 2019 law passed by a broad coalition of bipartisan states that allows people to vote by post for any reason up to 50 days before election day. The law is now the centerpiece of efforts to combat the effects of COVID-19 on the ballot.
âI think that’s part of something you’re going to see in other places as well,â Brannon said. “They’re implementing processes that they haven’t had before or haven’t used before in such a large volume for people who need them because of COVID – and that contributes to things like the unexpected long lines at Pennsylvania City Hall. â
Brannon told The Appeal that the rules and regulations for postal voting vary widely across the country, and even within states. Additionally, many electoral councils are not set up to handle the operational challenges of a large number of voters who choose to send their ballots by mail.
âIn most places in the United States – not all, as some states have been voting by mail for many years without problems, issues or incidents – but in many places across the country, mail voting has not always was the most common way to vote, âsaid Brannon.
Brannon said his advice to voters was, first of all, that they call their local elected officials and ask them if postage is required and be sure to follow the instructions on the ballot envelope itself. .
âA lot of people will put their ballot in the mail without worrying about the postage,â Brannon said.
While there is a concerted nation-wide effort to cover the shipping costs, it is still not clear if that will happen in time to tackle the November election, Brannon said. As for the technology the post office uses to manage the ballots, it is largely automated and shouldn’t be a problem, she said.
Even after the ballots are returned, concerns remain about their acceptance. Problems with “bare ballots” – votes sent to polling centers without a necessary second envelope inside the mailing envelope – and other technical issues could lead to widespread invalidation.
Noting that half a million ballots were rejected in the primaries, Spread the Vote’s Calvin pointed to the increased turnout and varied rules in the general election and warned that there was a high likelihood that even more votes were cast. be challenged and ultimately rejected.
âI don’t think anybody’s going to fix these issues in the next few weeks – we have, what, four weeks before the election? – which they haven’t resolved in the past seven months, âCalvin said.