Anxious about the 2020 election? We know how you feel.
Regardless of which way you’re voting, you don’t need us to tell you we’re looking at an election unlike any other. With the country still in the grip of a pandemic, hospitalizations rising in 37 states (as of October 20), Americans are voting by mail and voting early in record numbers, with over 42 million having voted as of Thursday, October 22. To give that 42 million number context, that’s 89 percent of all early votes cast in 2016 with still a week and a half to go before Election Day.
But if early voting is headed for an all-time high, so too is misinformation about the election. Researchers found that online engagement with misleading information about the election roughly tripled from the third quarter of 2016 to the third quarter of 2020.
Meanwhile, recent reporting by the New York Times revealed political operatives have been working for years to spread a false narrative about voter fraud. The fact that voter fraud of any significance simply doesn’t exist is beside the point. If enough voters believe this myth, it lays the foundation for lawyers and talk radio hosts to challenge the results of any result that goes against their candidate. Which is exactly what they’re getting ready to do.
We don’t pretend to have a crystal ball for November 3 and the days or weeks after. But between millions of mail-in ballots stretching poll workers to the limit, cuts and breakdowns in the US Postal Service threatening timely ballot delivery, and the avalanche of lawsuits just waiting for polls to open on Election Day, the chance of some kind of mishap big enough to make the national news and a delayed or even contested result seems high.
So what can those of us who just want a free and fair election do?
First, breathe. Then get ready for the realities of Election 2020.
1. This Might Take a While
We’re used to Election Day and knowing the results of the race for president by the time polls close on the West Coast.
In 2020, many expect Election Day will become Election Week – or even Election Weeks – as election officials count absentee ballots. With states like Pennsylvania giving officials up to three days after Election Day to count the ballots they receive even before any legal challenges kick in, it means it may be a while before we finally know the final winners all the way from the White House down to state government.
No one likes to wait. No one likes uncertainty – it’s hard-wired into us as human beings. Despite claims to the contrary, waiting for the results of the election is entirely ok. Delays in vote count don’t mean fraud. They mean officials are doing their jobs counting votes. After all the work to get here and get out the vote, we need to give them this time to do it right.
After all, our democracy depends on it.
2. You Can Trust the Process
It’s worth repeating: real voter fraud doesn’t happen in real numbers. Not only are people not showing up to vote as other people or forging votes and getting away with it, non-citizens aren’t voting either. Oh, and UCLA researchers have shown that fraud by the much maligned mail-in ballot is virtually non-existent.
The other key part of the picture is that officials have learned from previous elections on the data security side and taken a whole host of steps to ensure that the 2020 election is perhaps the most secure ever.
The bottom line here is that we can trust the process. The vote counts could look very different at midnight on November 3 as workers report in-person votes than they do a day or days later as mail-in ballots get counted. But again, despite what some might claim who feel the results are going against them, that’s not a conspiracy or reason to distrust the count – that’s math.
When you see the final numbers reported on the news, that’s where hard-working election officials have arrived at. Just like in every election before.
3. We’re Going to Have to Fight to Count Every Vote
Again, we can’t forecast exactly what’s going to happen on November 3. But it doesn’t take much to stick your finger in the air and feel which way the wind is blowing.
Limits on ex-felons (who have served their sentences) voting. Black voters’ mail-in ballots rejected at more than four times the rate of White voters’ ballots in North Carolina. At least one lawsuit to limit use of ballot drop boxes. And a whole host of other voter suppression measures primarily targeting BIPOC voters.
The bad news is that all these measures to limit voting rights come before Election Day. And it seems safe to assume that starting on Election Day if not before, we’ll see a whole lot more of these efforts challenging ballots to silence American voices and limit whose vote counts. And if the vote count stretches on and on, we can expect to see more and more, with calls for artificial limits and deadlines that effectively cut millions out of the process.
Let’s be clear: this is America. It doesn’t matter which party you vote for, your voice and your vote must count. Especially after millions of us will have waited for hours in line, did whatever it took to find childcare, took time off work, and risked our health to vote.
It’s not just the White House or Congress at stake in this election. It’s our democracy. And to protect it, we have to ensure every vote gets counted in this election. We may not like the result, but in the end, that’s what being a democracy is about.
So as you’re watching the returns on Election Day, be ready to fight on November 4 to ensure every vote gets counted. Our country and our future depends on it.
Join us in the fight to protect our democracy. Sign up for our email activist list and we’ll keep you posted on any actions to ensure a free and fair election for all
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