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What do early voting and vote-by-mail controversies mean for democracy in the US? Show more Show less
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Record numbers of Americans have cast their vote early before election day on 3rd November in person and by mail. Long queues outside polling stations and fears of voter fraud are the subject of great controversy. What do these controversies tell us about the state of democracy in the US?

The realities of early and postal votes show the US democratic system is at breaking point Show more Show less

The realities of early and postal votes reveal the US democratic system to be in disarray. Many claim they lead to voter suppression and fraud. .
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Fears that some votes might not get counted undermine confidence in the democratic process

An increase in the number of mail-in votes will lead to many not being counted. Additional funding has not been provided to the US Postal Service, meaning many postal votes will not arrive in time to be counted. If significant numbers of votes are not counted, the outcome could be disputed.

The Argument

With millions of voters expected to cast their vote by mail in this election, the US Postal Service is coming under increasing scrutiny. It is a government agency whose board is appointed by the Republican-controlled Senate. The USPS stalled on plans to cut services until after the election citing lack of funds, but the US Congress passed a bill to provide $25bn to the USPS, which Senate leader Mitch McConnell said would not pass.[1] There are reports from US media that 600 mail sorting machines are being decommissioned, which equates to around 10% of the service’s machines.[1] With an estimated 80 million ballots expected to be cast by mail in the lead up to this year’s election, there are concerns regarding the USPS’s ability to cope with this increased demand, and also whether these moves are politically motivated. In normal elections not held during a global pandemic, thousands of postal votes are rejected for formalities. In the 2016 election, there were over 300,000 rejected postal ballots - if 50% of Americans vote by mail it is projected that this could result in over 1 million postal vote rejections.[2] With so many voters voting by mail for the first time in this election, the rejection rate is likely to increase as mistakes are more likely to be made. Even if the USPS can cope with the greatly increased stress on its services as a result of the significant rise in postal voting, there remain questions around whether every vote will count. If rejection rates rise by 2%, over 2 million votes would be rejected - this is roughly the population of New Mexico.[2] The risk of having so many votes not included in the final count could have a significant impact on state and national results - it is crucial to a democracy that every vote is counted.

Counter arguments

The USPS has defended that it will be able to meet demand without any additional funding. USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said “the Postal Service has ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on-time in accordance with our delivery standards, and we will do so”.[3] Trump has also suggested that he blocked the provision of additional funds to the USPS because he opposes mail-in voting and would prefer voters to attend polling stations on election day.

Proponents

Premises

Rejecting the premises

References

  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-53809955
  2. https://eu.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/investigations/2020/10/08/rejected-mail-ballots-projected-major-factor-2020-election/3576714001/
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/aug/13/donald-trump-usps-post-office-election-funding
This page was last edited on Friday, 23 Oct 2020 at 10:22 UTC

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