Will elections ever be the same? From coast to coast, there is a great deal of controversy over mail in ballots as well as absentee voting. According to some projections, as many as 50 percent of voters will cast mail in ballots. And these ballots take a long time to count. A number of states don’t even begin ballot counting until election day. The ballots have to be verified, including signature comparisons. It could be weeks before final results are known in a number of states.
And the ballot counting process gets worse. Tardy ballots can be counted up to eight days after the election in North Carolina and five other states. And get this, a state judge in Michigan has recently ruled that mail in ballots there must be counted if they arrive by mail as much as 14 days after election day. Even ballots without postmarks have to be counted. Early voting in Louisiana begins on October 16, and runs for two weeks. But the ballots are not tabulated until election day.
There is disturbing trend in a number of states to rewriting the election rules, causing havoc for election officials to conduct orderly and fair ballot counting. Whatever happened to just going to the polls on election day and casting your ballot? Oh I know some may feel that because of the virus, there is a danger voting in person at their local precinct. But is it any riskier than going out to the grocery store?
Remember in earlier times how we gathered up our families and drove to our local school or public building to vote? There were blown up copies of the ballot on an outside wall to look over all the choices. Many of us would take our kids or grandkids in to the polling location, legal in most states, to show them just how democracy works.
Let me share with you how difficult it used to be for me to vote in Louisiana when I served as Secretary of State, a job that included being the chief elections officer. My hometown was Ferriday, which is about a 2-hour drive from the state capital in Baton Rouge. The law at that time did not allow for absentee voting if the voter was in the state on election day. But my job required that my office be open and that I be present to oversee the elections that were scheduled throughout the state. What was a conflicted public servant to do?
Each election day, I would rise at 3:30 a.m. and head from my home in Baton Rouge to Ferriday. My first stop was the local donut shop in Ferriday to pick up several boxes of hot donuts for the polling commissioners who were all old friends. Then it was off to my polling location (ward 1, precinct 1) and I was waiting at the door at 6 a.m. when the polls opened. A quick visit, the casting of my vote, then hightailing it back to the state capitol to oversee the election day activities. Now that, I think you will agree, is a major effort to cast a vote.
As a former election official, I certainly understand that some people, due to health concerns or having to travel out of the state, cannot vote in person on election day. But those who do venture out to the polls to cast a vote in this consequential election will be doing election officials, the system and themselves a big favor by voting in person if it’s at all possible. Such an effort would go a long way to reduce the possible chaos that could keep the outcome uncertain for weeks after election day.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.