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Democrats urge swing-state voters to turn in mail ballots, consider bypassing Postal Service

Jon Ward
·Senior Political Correspondent
·6-min read

Prominent Democrats told voters on Monday that if they have yet to send in their mail or absentee ballot, it might be better to take that ballot and cast it in person, if possible.

“Send your ballot in the fastest way possible,” said Stacey Abrams, founder of Fair Fight Action, on a conference call hosted by her and two Democratic governors.

“We’ve still got time, so we’re not panicked, but we know that time is running out,” Abrams said.

Stacey Abrams, Gretchen Whitmer and Kate Brown
Stacey Abrams, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. (Butch Dill/AP, Jeff Kowalski/AFP via Getty Images, Gillian Flaccus/AP)

She and the two governors — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon — noted that in many swing states, there are still significant numbers of mail ballots that were requested that have yet to be returned to election offices where they can be counted.

In Michigan, Whitmer said, 2 million mail ballots have been returned, but another 1 million haven’t been yet. In Wisconsin, about 659,000 mail ballots are outstanding, out of 1.7 million requested. And in Pennsylvania, there are 1.5 million mail ballots outstanding, out of 3 million requested.

These are the three Rust Belt states that decided the 2016 election, narrowly going for President Trump. If the 2020 election is close, these states could once again choose the winner.

In other key swing states, the return rates vary. In Florida, about two-thirds of mail ballots are in, with just over 2 million ballots outstanding out of 6 million requested. In North Carolina, just over half of the 1.4 million mail ballots requested are in. And in Arizona, it’s the same, though the data from that state is incomplete: about half of the 2.5 million mail ballots requested are in.

The biggest group that has yet to turn in at least half of its mail ballots in Georgia, Abrams said, is voters between ages 18 and 24. Their return rate on mail ballots in that one state so far is only 35 percent, she said.

The message from the Democratic leaders, coming eight days before the election, is that voters are now bumping up against an unofficial deadline. If they put it in the mail now, it might arrive too late to be counted, in part because of delays in U.S. Postal Service delivery.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that it is tracking mail delivery through millions of letters, and has seen delays of more than a week in some states, including Michigan.

This is where a key distinction comes into play for those who cannot get to a drop box or a local election office to deliver their mail or absentee ballot in person.

A man drops off his ballot
Dropping off a ballot in West Chester, Pa. (Matt Slocum/AP)

Drop boxes are similar to the blue Postal Service receptacles on a street corner, only they’re operated by county or local election officials and not by the post office. They offer an option for voters who don’t want to vote in person but are worried about the Postal Service losing their ballot, mishandling it or turning it in too late to be counted.

Some states count votes as long as they are postmarked by Election Day. But others, like Abrams’s home state of Georgia, require mail ballots to arrive at the election office by Election Day.

It’s in the latter case, Abrams said, that voters should think about finding a drop box, if their state offers them, or about dropping their mail ballot off themselves at their local clerk’s office.

In Michigan, officials have placed a high number of drop boxes around the state, and Whitmer called drop boxes “the best option” for voters who still have a mail ballot in their possession. Michigan encourages voters to contact their local election office for locations of drop boxes.

Yahoo News has published a list of locations where voters can find a drop box in all states that offer them, as well as links to where voters can track their mail and absentee ballots. There are also links for finding your local election office. Rules for when ballots must be received are also listed for each state.

Swing states that require mail and absentee ballots to arrive by Election Day — which this year falls on Tuesday, Nov. 3 — include Arizona, Florida and Wisconsin. Three other swing states — Michigan, Ohio and Texas — require ballots to be postmarked by Nov. 2, though in Michigan a voter can drop off their mail ballot in person on Nov. 3.

And two swing states — North Carolina and Pennsylvania — will accept ballots as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3.

An elections worker
Election workers in Renton, Wash., processing ballots on Friday. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

The Republican Party is trying to stop ballots from being counted in Pennsylvania if they arrive after Election Day. The U.S. Supreme Court has already deadlocked once when that issue came before it a week ago, which kept the current rules in place.

However, with conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett set to be confirmed on Monday, the Supreme Court could rule that ballots arriving in Pennsylvania after Election Day won’t be counted. As such, Democrats are urging voters in the state to cast their ballots as soon as possible.

Eric Holder, the former Attorney General under President Obama, was even more forceful on Tuesday in calling on voters to bypass the Postal Service.

“It’s too late to use the mails,” Holder tweeted. “Given Supreme Court rulings I urge everyone to now vote in person; early vote or use drop boxes. Protect your health but don’t let the Court and the deliberately crippled Postal Service deprive you of your most precious civil right. Plan your vote.”

The ruling Holder referred to was the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday evening to reject requests to allow Wisconsin to count mail and absentee ballots received after Election Day, as long as they were postmarked by Nov. 3. Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s written opinion made clear he does not favor doing so in general, and Republicans are now pushing for the Supreme Court to hear their challenge to the Pennsylvania law, hoping that Barrett will rule in their favor.

Wisconsin Democrats are mounting an aggressive campaign to find voters who have not yet turned in mail ballots and to ask them to vote the ballot in person at a drop box or clerk’s office.

The Democrats on the call Monday directed voters to IWillVote.com, a service paid for by the Democratic National Committee, to find out the best option for them to turn in their mail ballot or to vote in person.

Over 40 million Americans have already voted by mail in this election, already surpassing the 33 million ballots that were cast by mail in the 2016 election, which made up about one-fourth of the 140 million total votes that year.

Another 20 million Americans voted early in person, bringing the early vote this year to 44 percent of all the votes cast four years ago.

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