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?
More people casting early and postal votes strengthens democracy in the US
Expanding early and postal voting opportunities enables Covid-secure voting. And ensures those unable to attend a polling station on election day are not excluded from the electoral process. Giving voters more control over how they vote means more Americans can vote, strengthening democracy in the US.
Early voting and vote-by-mail allows more people to vote
More options on how to vote increases voter turnout. This is essential for a strong democracy.
Allowing more people to cast early votes or vote-by-mail is a good way to make voting Covid-secure
Public health concerns over social distancing in polling stations led to new forms of voting. The expansion of early and postal votes limits the impact of the pandemic on people's ability to participate in democracy.
The realities of early and postal votes show the US democratic system is at breaking point
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. .
Long queues outside early voting stations should not happen and are a form of voter suppression
Long queues outside early voting stations are evidence of a failure of planning, which disproportionately affects groups that have had to battle for their right to vote. Staff shortages and sparse early voting centres mean that for many, early voting is much harder than it should be.
Fears of voter fraud undermine confidence in the democratic process
There are concerns that fraudulent ballots may contaminate the election outcome, following reports that foreign nations can interfere, that voters may be able to vote twice and that some ballots may be stolen in the post. Whether true or not, these claims undermine trust in the democratic system.
Early votes and votes-by-mail take longer to count, and could leave the US in electoral limbo
Mail-in votes take longer to process and count, so the election may not have a final outcome for weeks after election day - both parties are rumoured to be preparing for post-election legal battles. This puts US democracy in a precarious position.
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.
Having more early and postal votes weakens US democracy
Elections should take place on a single day, and wider use of early and postal votes introduces unnecessary and undesirable room for error in elections. Voting in person on election day leads to the most democratically legitimate outcome.
It is important to have a one-day election and have results announced on election night
Elections should be conducted in a short space of time but early and postal voting means that the election is taking place over a number of weeks. The expected delays in counting and announcement of the results is also a problem - we should know who the next president will be on election night.