What States Can Learn from Tuesday’s Election Mishaps for November

Election workers, left, check in voters before they cast their ballots in the Pennsylvania primary in Philadelphia, Tuesday, June 2, 2020.

Election workers, left, check in voters before they cast their ballots in the Pennsylvania primary in Philadelphia, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. AP Photo/Matt Rourke

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Some states that tried to transition to primarily mail-in elections Tuesday saw problems, including long lines at polling places and requested absentee ballots that never made it to voters.

The primary elections held Tuesday in several states were seen as a critical test ahead of the presidential election of election officials’ ability to expand absentee and early voting in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

But problems that emerged Tuesday, including hours-long waits at polling places, requested mail-in ballots that were never delivered and botched ballots, underscore the difficulties that officials still face as they prepare for much larger turnout in November.

States shouldn’t expect that efforts to expand absentee voting will be a magic bullet, particularly in regions that have not historically seen much reliance on voting by mail, said John Fortier, the director of governmental studies at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“Each state has to think a little more realistically in what it’s been doing before and how much it is going to change,” he said. “As well as states try to plan for it, we still have to think about early voting and polling place voting during the election.”

Problems can arise when elections offices try to rely too much on absentee voting to avoid having to open up polls and don’t allocate the resources to support voters who opt for election-day voting, Fortier said.

In Washington, D.C., three times the number of people requested ballots to vote by mail than cast ballots in person—with around 33,000 voters showing up at the polls Tuesday. But the city’s 20 voting centers, down from more than 100 precincts that are normally staffed during an election, were overwhelmed. Some voters reported waiting in line as long as four hours.

“I know D.C. voters spent hours at the polls yesterday. That is nothing short of failed execution,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Wednesday.

The mayor said she hoped to be debriefed by the independent D.C. Board of Elections, which continued collecting and counting ballots on Wednesday, and expects election officials to have an “appropriate action plan” for November. Bowser stopped short of saying she’d ask for resignations from board members but said she “could not tolerate a continued failed leadership or execution.”

But in Maryland, that’s exactly what Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford did Wednesday after voters encountered multiple problems, ranging from delayed distribution of ballots to counting errors.

The state transitioned to a mostly mail-in primary election for the first time and automatically mailed all eligible voters a ballot. Problems began to surface in the weeks leading up to the election when state officials said hundreds of thousands of ballots had not yet been delivered to Baltimore-area residents. While trying to tally results Tuesday, election officials admitted that a printing error on some ballots for a Baltimore city council race meant they could not be scanned, the Baltimore Sun reported.

“I really think it’s time for the administrator at the Board of Elections to step down," said Rutherford, a Republican who serves under Gov. Larry Hogan.

Errors involving ballots and voting machines also created issues for some voters in Pennsylvania, where a record number of people sought absentee ballots. Some polling places in Philadelphia received the wrong voting machines, and elsewhere voters said they had to vote in person Tuesday because they did not receive mail-in ballots in time.

In Indianapolis, Indiana, only 22 of 270 polling places were open Tuesday and voters faced longer lines than is typical. But elections officials told the Associated Press they didn’t have the staff to open more polling places.

“It was impractical for us to have anything close to the normal number of locations during a pandemic,” said Russell Hollis, deputy director of the Marion County clerk’s office. “It has been very difficult for us to recruit enough poll workers during the pandemic.”

The problems encountered by election officials Tuesday highlight the need for states to have a holistic plan that incorporates all aspects of voting procedure, from requesting and counting ballots to recruiting poll workers and ensuring an appropriate number of polls are open, said Ellen Moorhouse, deputy communications director at RepresentUs, a nonprofit that supports election reforms.

“I think we learned a lot of lessons yesterday about having a plan,” she said.

Absentee and early voting has been on the rise over the last decade and states should expect to see an even larger jump in the upcoming November election, Fortier said.

To prepare for increased reliance on mail voting in the November elections, Moorhouse said states should examine absentee voting data from their primaries—including how many ballots were requested and returned, as well as the timeframe in which the ballots were sent out to voters.

“When were they requested? When were they mailed?” she said. “Was it a four-week process, was it six, was it eight? Do we need to start now?”

If the coronavirus still remains a threat and social distancing measures are in effect during the November elections, as health experts have warned will certainly be the case, elections officials may have to give more thought to their capacity at polling sites, Fortier said.

“There are challenges because of Covid-19 that make resource allocation tougher,” he said. “You can’t accommodate people in the same way or might not have as much capacity.”

The good news, Fortier said, is that states that experienced problems during Tuesday’s primary will have more time to learn from their mistakes before the presidential election.  

“As bad as yesterday may have been, the presidential election dwarfs every other election in terms of turnout,” he said. “There is a lot of pressure on it.”

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Corpus Christi Deploys COVID Management System to Improve Data & Eliminate Time-Consuming Tasks
Corpus Christi, TX, USA
Safer Holiday Celebrations Connect Residents and Support Local Business in Franklin, TN
Franklin, TN, USA
Mobile-first Crisis Communications in Dublin, OH
Dublin, OH, USA

NEXT STORY: Trump’s Attacks on Vote-by-Mail Worry Some Election Officials

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.