Elections officials across the country agree that voters should have confidence in the integrity of the 2020 election.
Elections officials across the country agree that voters should have confidence in the integrity of the 2020 election. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

COURIER and its sister sites spoke with officials running the 2020 election from North Carolina to Wisconsin. Here’s how they’re keeping this year’s election safe.

Elections officials across the country are confident that mail-in voting is as secure as voting in person—and that concerns over voting by mail misinformation is nothing more than a tactic by Republicans to try to suppress votes. 

“The reason you hear so much about this issue, notwithstanding evidence that mail voting is safe and secure, is that fear is powerful justification for voter suppression measures: barriers to the vote like notary requirements on mail ballots, limited dropbox locations, strict photo ID, and aggressive voter purges,” Chiraag Bains, who serves as the director of legal strategies at the think tank Demos, said in an email interview with COURIER. “It’s deceptive, and it’s anti-democratic.”

Millions of Americans have already cast their ballots in the 2020 election—shattering turnout records for early voting in the process. According to the Washington Post, “With less than three weeks to go before Nov. 3, roughly 15 million Americans have already voted in the fall election.” 

That number will only climb higher in the weeks to come.

So what to make of Trump’s lies about the integrity of the election? The easiest way to answer those false claims is to understand exactly how votes are conducted and counted around the country. 

Voting at the Polls May Take Some Time, But the Results Are Secure

The huge lines and record turnout for early voting across the country suggest that many Americans are opting to vote in person this year, despite the raging coronavirus pandemic. Those numbers could very well continue into Election Day, as many experts are anticipating voter participation records to fall this year. 

Ballots cast in person—like any ballots, really—are secure. Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe told UpNorthNews that counting the vote in the crucial swing state is “a very controlled, deliberate process.” Wolfe also told UpNorthNews that 1,850 election officials and about 30,000 election workers help make the election happen, and that the state had made “incredible strides” with its cybersecurity protections to offset threats of vote hacking.

Mail-In Voting Has Been Happening for Decades—Because It’s Safe

Much of the misinformation being spread by President Trump and other Republicans centers on the integrity of mail-in voting and absentee voting. Trump himself went so far as to refuse additional funding for the US Postal Service and connected that refusal to preventing universal mail-in voting

After settling a lawsuit brought by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Louis DeJoy, Trump’s Postmaster General, has been forced to roll back every service change that resulted in delays to mail delivery. The settlement makes specific that DeJoy’s USPS must prioritize official election mail.

Despite concerns over the Postal Service, elections officials across the country are confident that mail-in voting is as secure as voting in person—and that concerns over voting by mail is nothing more than a tactic by Republicans to try to suppress votes. 

In Arizona—one of five states that had widespread mail-in voting before the pandemic—casting your ballot by mail has been the norm for nearly three decades. The Republican-led state also has one of the highest vote-by-mail turnout numbers—around 80% of the state’s total voters on average—and has taken significant steps since the early aughts to expand early voting access.

“We are expecting our early ballots to increase significantly for the general election, so we’ve made preparations with hiring some temporary workers and getting them trained and ready so when those early ballots come back in we can start processing them right away and tabulating once were able to do that per statute,” Tiffany Anderson, a management analyst helping Yuma County with their election told Copper Courier, sister site of COURIER. “We’re also preparing by increasing our drop-box locations from the four to the eight throughout the county.” 

In Wisconsin, Wolfe told UpNorthNews that mail-in ballots are reviewed closely by local election clerks and are measured against a statewide database to ensure against possible fraud, she said, Barcodes on those ballots also are used as a safeguard, she said, and voters can track each step of the progress of their absentee ballots on the myvote.wi.gov website. 

Once received by election clerks, ballots are stored in a secure location. Then, on Election Day, they are transported to the polling places where voters live and are counted there.

In Maricopa County, Arizona, ballots are picked up by bipartisan couriers and required to be counted in public view. To that end, live feeds are set up in county ballot-counting locations and voters can tune in to watch the process.

In Michigan, another crucial state in this year’s election, Ingham County Clerk Barbra Byrum told The ‘Gander that local clerks in and around Lansing are braced for an influx of mail-in ballots as well. Her office is offering support to those local clerks, particularly with absentee ballot preparation and counting. 

“We are going to have a very high turnout,” Byrum said. “It’s going to be high, especially in absentee ballots.” 

In Kalamazoo’s County Clerk’s office, election official Sarah Josi is also confident, and says that staffing has been increased to handle the influx of absentee ballots this year. 

“It’s just volume,” she told The ‘Gander. “It’s just more work for these absentee voter counting boards. They’ve had to beef up their staff in the local jurisdictions.”

Results May Take Time to Get—It Doesn’t Mean Something Is Wrong

With more ways to vote than ever before in the United States—and the election complicated by a global pandemic—results may not be available on election night. This is not a reason to panic. 

Elections officials around the country are warning that delays in counting votes this year are inevitable. Additionally, the time frames in which absentee and mail-in ballots are counted vary from state to state. 

“It means the process is working. We count everyone’s vote,” Gerry Cohen, who serves on the Wake County Board of Elections in North Carolina, told Cardinal & Pine, COURIER’s local sister property in the state. 

As Cardinal & Pine reported, the final tally on election night will not include absentee ballots that came in on the final days but postmarked by Nov. 3, such as those from service members overseas and provisional ballots. Provisional ballots require a review before being tallied. Often, this includes ballots cast in the wrong precinct. 

However, North Carolina is among the states that allow ballots cast early to be tabulated in real time. That means that, this year, a majority of ballots in the state may already be tallied by election night. 

Data compiled by The New York Times shows that only four states wait until Election Day to begin processing mail-in and absentee ballots: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Alabama, and Mississippi. Notably, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are both keys to either candidate in their bid for the White House. Additionally, several swing states or states that are crucial to control of the Senate—like Michigan, Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Texas—do not start processing ballots until very close to Election Day, or don’t start tabulating them until Election Day.

So, while most of the country will likely have a majority of their ballots tabulated on Election Day, if the race is close, the winner of the White House and knowing which party controls the Senate may take some time to be announced. That is a good thing—it means that states are doing their jobs, taking their time, and making sure that each ballot is counted.