Democrats should be terrified about one number: 37 million. That’s the number of mail-in ballots that have not been received by election boards as of Thursday, as tabulated by the U.S. Elections Project – the last day that U.S. mail officials say it’s safe to post a ballot and reasonably expect that it will be delivered by Election Day. Most states will not count ballots received after 8 p.m. on Election Day. While some states have attempted to extend that – like the swing states Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin – the Supreme Court has issued a hodgepodge of rulings in the last week that leaves it ambiguous if votes received after Election Day will be permitted to be counted at all.
Trump appointee Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote a frightening opinion that seemed to echo Trump’s own odd and inaccurate words that election results must be finalized on election night in order for them to be legitimate. Does anyone think that newly installed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett will be friendlier towar voting rights?
In the Wisconsin case, the court struck down by a 5-3 vote a lower court’s ruling that ballots received up to six days after Election Day should be counted. In the Pennsylvania case, the court allowed a state decision that ballots could be counted that are received up to three days after Nov. 3 – but left open the possibility that it could revisit the issue after the election. The state has said that it will separate ballots received after Election Day in case the Supreme Court intervenes later and disallows those votes.
The COVID-19 lockdown was always going to pose a tremendous strain on voting and called for non-traditional techniques for getting out the vote. While Biden could win the national popular vote by as much as 10 million votes, that’s irrelevant. As Hillary Clinton learned the very hard way, this is entirely a game about the cruel and undemocratic Electoral College. With the last election decided by 70,000 votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, Trump still can be re-elected with an even narrower Electoral College win. Key to that would be not counting just a few thousand of those millions of unreturned ballots a few key states.
A New York Times poll recently showed that 70% of mail-in ballots are coming from Democrats. So stopping the count on Nov. 3 will disproportionately impact Biden. Much of Biden’s 8% national lead is tied up in those missing ballots. The margin is just a point or two in the states that will decide this election in the Electoral College.
Some states like California, Washington, Oregon and Colorado send ballots to all registered voters automatically, which accounts for a large part of the 37 million figure. Still, there are millions of requested mail-in ballots in the swing states that do send them automatically that remained unreturned. In Florida, for example, there are more than 685,000 outstanding mail-on ballots identified as being from Democrats as of Friday night. In a state that’s expected to be decided by a few thousand votes, that could be crucial.
Some people will undoubtedly walk their ballots in to elections offices. Some will bring their mail-in ballots when they vote in person. But many people – tens of thousand, hundreds of thousand or possibly even millions – will trust the U.S. Postal Service as they always have unaware of Trump appointee Postmaster General Louis DeJoy‘s efforts to gut its operations – and they will surely be disenfranchised.
Trump’s re-election strategy of wrecking the U.S. Postal Service, suppressing the vote and crashing in an anti-democracy Supreme Court nominee onto the bench just days before the election, sadly, just might work.