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A unique Election Day: Be patient, be cautious, be accepting

Voters persevered during the 1918 pandemic, and our democracy thrives so long as we keep faith in and understand our electoral process.

voter parking only
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

2020 is unlike any year before, and this Election Day will be unlike any previous one. As responsible citizens, we have a duty to be patient, verify any claims about victory/defeat, and trust in the democratic process. Here’s what will change – and one key thing that will stay the same – this year.

The COVID-19 pandemic led many voters to vote early by mail or in-person. Some states proactively sent ballots to registered voters and applications to unregistered ones.

This will not affect the sanctity of the vote. Voter fraud is extremely rare in the U.S. Oregon, for example, established universal voting by mail in 2000. A recent nonpartisan report found only 38 convictions for fraud out of 60.9 million ballots cast over 19 years.

Here in Minnesota, the conservative Heritage Foundation identified only 131 instances of voter fraud in Minnesota since 1979, out of millions of ballots cast and thousands of offices. The Washington Post found just four examples of illegal voting in the 2016 election nationwide.

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But early voting and heightened turnout mean we may not know the winners on election night. More than 30 states, including neighboring Wisconsin, cannot begin tabulating mailed ballots until Election Day. Early turnout has already broken records. In-person voting is also expected to be high.

Simply sorting the 150 million ballots expected to be cast this year is a gargantuan task. It will take even longer to count them and determine winners. But delayed results have happened before. The 2000 presidential race only ended on Dec. 13. Congressional races occasionally, but regularly, take days or even weeks to resolve. In the 2008 election, Al Franken took his Senate seat after seven months of litigation and additional ballot counting.

Raymond Kuo
Raymond Kuo
Ultimately, the critical goal in our democracy is to obtain an accurate count of valid ballots. “Delays” are a sign that this process is working.

This will not be a normal election, but as responsible citizens, we can do three things to support the electoral process.

First, be patient: Vote counting will take time much longer than normal this year.

Second, be cautious: Disregard claims about “stolen ballots” or cheating. It is extremely hard to commit voter fraud, and it has never swung a federal election. Verify information with trustworthy, mainstream sources that have deep incentives to get the news right, not necessarily first.

Third, be accepting: Vote totals and projected winners will change as ballots are counted. Political scientists expect a blue shift/red mirage in many states. Counts on election night might initially favor a particular candidate. But that lead could legitimately change and even disappear once mail-in ballots – often tabulated later – are added to official totals. This is not vote fraud. This is simply the electoral process working as it should, counting the valid votes of our fellow citizens.

COVID-19 has upended our lives. But it doesn’t change the fundamental tenets of our elections. Those remain the same. Voters persevered during the 1918 pandemic, and our democracy thrives so long as we keep faith in and understand our electoral process. Let the votes be counted.

Raymond Kuo, Ph.D., is an independent political scientist based in Minneapolis.

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