Mail-in voting and key points to consider for Election Day
Students question their vote’s worthiness from overseas after President Trump’s misleading claims of electoral fraud in mail-in voting, according to survey
Photo by Tiffany Tertipes on Unsplash
By Caterina Fassina / Staff Writer
ROME—In response to containment measures against the spread of COVID-19, U.S citizens have the opportunity to cast mail-in ballots instead of showing up to the polls. This includes JCU students who will participate in the election by voting from overseas.
For many U.S. students at JCU this fall, this is their first presidential election with a legal age to vote. According to a student survey conducted by The Mathew (with 47 respondents: 14 U.S. citizens and 33 Non-U.S. citizens), 71.4% of American students are voting for the first time from abroad.
However, students expressed uncertainty as they have to vote from overseas.
“Voting from abroad is difficult and stressful, especially as a first-time voter,” said Caitlyn Davis, a junior Communications major from North Carolina and editor in chief of The Matthew. Yet, she said voting is a ”privilege that should not be taken for granted.”
The survey shows that 64.3% of the respondents are concerned that their mail-in vote won’t count during the tallying of the ballots. Moreover, 61.5% of these students agree absentee ballots increase the risk of electoral fraud because of the increased number of absentee ballots.
“The process is somewhat overwhelming, especially as a young new voter,” said Coby Hobbs, sophomore in Communications and Psychology major student from Arizona. Hobbs said that the online portals of his home state appeared indeed to discourage voting from overseas. Now, he said he hopes his vote will arrive on time to be counted.
“Even if I were home in Massachusetts, I would be worried my vote won’t count due to the corruption involved in the elections in the past years,” said Kaitlyn Adéle Barrett, senior Communications major. “It is stressful not to know how much the shipping process will take to bring her vote back to the U.S,” she added, “hopefully it will be okay.” She acknowledges the possibility that her ballot might get lost by the post office, or there could be random strikes caused by Trump’s claims.
For this same reason, other students decided instead not to take part in the election this year.
“I am aware of the political climate and the stakes at risk, but the U.S. voting system is already flawed,” said Em Cegielski, senior Communications major from Hawaii. She said she is not voting this year as she is not sure whether her mail-in ballot would count or not.
Although President Donald Trump has argued against mail-in votes, a poll conducted by Pew Research Center found 70% of Americans support this electoral mode. Moreover, experts say there should be no concern about casting ballots by mail since electoral fraud in the U.S. is extremely rare and difficult to realize without being noticed.
The Washington Post reported that 34 U.S. Federal States and the District of Columbia lowered the barrier for their citizens to obtain the mail-in voting option. Their residents won’t have to cite a reason to avoid attending in person to the poll stations.
By Oct. 25, about 56 million U.S. citizens have already cast their ballots for the upcoming presidential election on Nov. 3, USA Today reports. Moreover, Texas is the state with the highest number of early voters (6.3 million). The next day, The Associated Press reported that the early voters have already exceeded 2016 absentee ballots.
The Big Blue Shift: how Democrats could win the election
Mail-in voting could delay the announcement of the winning candidate. Bloomberg reports Trump could seem ahead during the ballot spur, and he could declare his victory even if the count is not complete yet.
An increase in absentee ballots could lead to the “Big Blue Shift,” a term coined by Ohio State Professor Edward B. Foley in a 2013 paper. This phenomenon occurs when Democratic candidates overthrow the advantage of Republicans during the tallying of the ballots as the great majority of provisional ballots are democratic, according to Foley.
Speaking to The Atlantic, Foley said: “Democratic candidates are more likely to make major gains during the canvass,” leading to an initial Republican head start that might be later undermined through the actual vote count.
Foley also told The Atlantic that the blue shift would undoubtedly happen during the tallying since a massive practice of mail-in voting inevitably leads to it. He said provisional voting and other forms of formal vices in the counting process are indeed more likely to occur during the tallying of mail-in votes rather than during the count of in-person ballots. However, he said he is not certain about the entity of this year’s shift.
In an opinion piece for The New York Times, Jesse Wegman said the big blue shift could trigger many disputes after the closing of the ballots. It could indeed serve to Trump the opportunity of framing the election as fraudulent when it is not.
Absentee ballots in key states where the absentee ballot count is permitted before Election Day already favored Biden early October, according to The New York Times. What has brought Democrats to vote early is the enthusiasm fomented by the presentation of the election as life-changing, and the extension of the population able to cast mail-in ballots. Furthermore, Democrats are winning among first-time voters and those who usually abstain, said TargetSmart political strategist Tom Bonier.
Electoral College Ballots: the burden of the 2016 presidential election
On Sept. 23, President Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transition in the case of Joe Biden conquering the polls. Many GOP (Republican Party) voters back him up and are sure Democrats will manipulate the results, according to The New York Times.
However, POLITICO reports some members of Trump’s party took distance from his position:
“This is how democracy dies,” said Rep. Adam Shiff, a president’s house impeachment manager.
Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also tweeted that the U.S. won’t be like the Belarusian dictatorship.
According to U.S. election praxis, Federal States must bring a winner of the popular vote by Dec. 8, resolving eventual provisional vote issues by that date. Then, the Electoral College for each state expresses its preference for a candidate, proclaiming the winner on Dec. 14. A presidential candidate must obtain 270 out of 538 Electoral College votes to win this ballot.
Nonetheless, electors nominated during the election year’s spring and summer are expected to side with their party’s presidential ticket. In 32 states, electors cannot contradict the popular vote. In some of these Federal States, they could even face criminal charges, according to State legislation.
In the case of a contested election, the electors become pivotal, according to journalist and bestselling author Barton Gellman. He writes on The Nation that Trump’s campaign advisors have already contacted three Pennsylvania electors to plan over a replacement of some members of the Electoral College to favor the incumbent president. This shift would take place after the November election, going against the popular vote.
“The worst case […] is not that Trump rejects the election outcome,” said Gellman. “The worst case is that he uses his power to prevent a decisive outcome against him.”
Poll projections show Biden leads the Electoral College vote in the battleground states except for Iowa and Ohio. Yet, Reuters said Biden’s supporters are indeed calling for early popular voting as only a ”decisive victory will prevent President Trump from contesting the results.”
Among the Federal States, 38 allow in-person early voting, including some swing states such as Michigan and Minnesota.
While American JCU students consider Biden to be winning the November election, non-U.S. students responded that they see the election outcome still extremely uncertain.
What is the worst-case scenario after Election Day?
New York Times’ opinion columnists Michelle Goldberg and Ross Douthat outlined three possible post-election scenarios during a conversation with political reporter David Brooks.
According to Douthat, Trump refusing to leave the White House following Biden’s undebatable victory is not the worst-case scenario.
Many Republicans wish indeed to get rid of the incumbent president, and they will pressure him to move back to his New York City residence.
Brooks said the most controversial situation would unfold if the election outcome presents the same scenario of 2016, when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College ballot of 77 votes. This year, Trump could lose the popular vote again while winning the Electoral College one. Yet, according to Brooks, he would outdistance Biden with a narrower gap than he did with Clinton.
To learn more about Electoral College vote vs. popular vote click here.
Brooks said this scenario will leave the United States divided during a moment of social uncertainty caused by the pandemic and of moral outrage due to the accusations of systemic institutional racism in the US.
In a third-case scenario, Douthat said a contested election will resemble what happened in Florida during the Al Gore v. George W. Bush election in 2000. According to Brooks, this outcome could break the U.S. into two opposing coalitions, increasing social outrage and damaging the U.S. economy and its prominence in international affairs.
Democrat congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortèz (AOC) told The New Yorker that Trump contesting the outcome would radicalize people and take them to the streets. During the same interview, Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Republicans should be held accountable for Trump’s open disrespect of the American Constitution.
The survey shows that 61.5% of American students believe the 2016 scenario is the worst-case post-election situation the U.S. might have to tackle.
Instead, the same question asked to non-U.S. JCU students showed the other two scenarios gaining points.
Senior International Affairs major, Alina Mubashir, said the fact the upcoming election has become a joke puts at risk the same meaning of democracy. Since the United States set the model role for politics around the world, she said that this presidential race “shows the instability it might generate in other parts of the world as well.”
Amy Coney Barrett and the Supreme Court
In the eventuality of a contested election, the Supreme Court will play a pivotal role, said The Washington Post. For this reason, the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett as Supreme Court Judge, after the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been contested by Democrats.
With Barrett’s confirmation, the GOP can rely on a Supreme Court with a conservative majority to decide the presidential election outcome in case of a contested ballot. Republicans confirmed her on Oct. 26 by a majority of 100 senators. She took the constitutional oath in the evening in the Rose Garden before Donald Trump.
Democrats called the confirmation “illegitimate” and urged for an expansion of the Judge numbers in the Supreme Court. Barrett could indeed vote against the extension of absentee votes deadlines in Pennsylvania, on which Republicans appealed.
Democrat Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf told The Associated Press that it seems the Supreme Court will not pronounce its decision until after Election Day. The matter is indeed controversial being Pennsylvania a crucial swing state for the upcoming presidential election.
The Democrats’ concern exceeds the possibility of Barrett to rule against precedents such as Obamacare and Roe v. Wade. The Elephants envision a post-election situation in which contested ballot make their way to a Supreme Court composition which favors Donald Trump.
According to The Washington Post, Barrett collaborated with the law firm Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin, which battled to elect G.W. Bush in the 2000 contested election against Democratic nominee Al Gore. The newspaper tried to reach her, but she refused to comment.
The student survey shows that 42.9 % of JCU students would have preferred Barrett’s election to be pushed back after the presidential one. However, 28.6% believe her confirmation as a Supreme Court Justice won’t influence the election outcome.
In fact, American students’ responses are equally split between the possibility for the Supreme Court to intervene in the election in the first place. A slim majority of 38.5% believe indeed that the Supreme Court won’t be involved, while 30.8% is sure of the opposite. However, another 30.8% of the answers shows JCU students are still unsure about the role the Supreme Court might play after Nov. 3.
There won’t be a winner on Nov. 3
Many states including some battleground ones, such as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, forbid counting mail-in votes until 7 a.m. on Election Day. Thus, the tallying takes longer than in-person voting.
The vote count will require days if not weeks due to the increase of U.S. citizens opting to cast absentee ballots. Hence, The Associated Press will not declare the winning candidate’s victory on Election Night as it traditionally happens.
CNN said the delay may be used by the incumbent president to accuse Democrats of election fraud and refuse to leave the Oval Office, and that Trump could ”insist from exile” that the Elephants rigged election thanks to the Postal Office’s aid.
On Oct. 19, Reuters said the Supreme Court ruled battleground state Pennsylvania will be able to accept mail-in ballots up to three days after the election. Republicans said this decision is “against the Federal law,” it increases the chaos and delays the proclamation of the winner. Moreover, the Supreme Court set a precedent that might be applied to other states as well.
JCU student Hobbs said ballot controversy is ”nothing new” in the presidential election, claiming such controversies are typical of conspiracy theorists. Hobbs said the pandemic and social unrest make the counting process crucial for the well-being of the country.
FBI Dallas Field Office warns against threats from far-right extremist groups
Willing to foment the belief that mail-in ballot will false the election during the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, the incumbent president urged his supporters to patrol their polling stations on Election Day.
The FBI Field Office in Dallas wrote a report warning against “threats by domestic extremists to election-related targets.” According to the intelligence document obtained by The Nation on Sep. 29, the FBI is focusing its attention on right-wing extremists as confirmed by Reuters. The Dallas Morning News also makes reference to FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memos saying these threats are likely to increase before Election Day (North Texas being one location mentioned).
“Our economy is struggling at the moment, and there has been a rise of far-right’ militias,” said student Davis. The Los Angeles Times reported statements of Trump’s supporters claiming they are indeed “preparing for the worst.” Even if violence will not unfold after the election, many U.S. citizens question how the nation will return to feeling united.
“These past months have revealed to the world America’s ugliest face, so now it is up to the coming president to put back the pieces and close the pandora box,” said Francesco Felici, JCU Senior majoring in International Affairs. He said Trump’s victory could indeed radicalize white supremacist groups. On the other hand, if Democrats win, Biden will have to deal with a form of hatred he has firmly criticized during the presidential campaign.
The survey was conducted by students Caterina Fassina and Ilenia Reale through Google Forms from Oct. 14 to Oct. 23, distributed by WhatsApp, The Matthew Instagram page (thematthewjcu), and the JCU undergrad Facebook.
We received 47 students’ responses (14 U.S. citizens and 33 Non-U.S. citizens). For more details, please contact Fassina on her email at email@example.com or on her Instagram at @caterinafassina and Reale on her email at firstname.lastname@example.org or her Instagram at @gnegna08.
Disclaimer: student comments in this article are from volunteers who were willing to be interviewed. The survey also invited students to contact us with further comments or interviews.
The Matthew suggests the following fact-checking resources: