The polls have been unanimous in recent weeks — Joe Biden is well-positioned to defeat President Trump. Adding fuel to the optimism, Democratic social media accounts have been on fire recently with Allan Lichtman’s notoriously accurate election prediction model showing Biden meets all the necessary indicators for what Lichtman refers to as a “political earthquake” that results in a new administration. While I am energized by these data points, I believe it is imperative that we take care not to underestimate the impact of the mail-in ballot rejection rates by state and how this could disproportionately disenfranchise Democratic voters in key swing states including Pennsylvania and Michigan. Record turnout will be needed to win.
First, let me be clear. I support vote-by-mail elections. I believe this should be a 100% vote-by-mail year through emergency pandemic funding from the U.S. Congress that pays to send a mail-in ballot application to every registered voter and ensures the United States Postal Service is fully funded. Taking this approach would mitigate the problem I am about to underscore by encouraging equal vote-by-mail usage from both parties.
The 2020 primary saw a massive increase in the number of voters utilizing mail-in ballots to avoid the polls. Most notably, Democratic voters used mail-in ballots in far greater numbers than Republicans. While this is a positive public health development, it also means Democratic voters are more likely to have their votes thrown out as mail-in ballots are rejected at higher rates than in-person ballots. Initial data from NPR regarding late mail-in ballots in the 2020 primaries warrants considerable attention. Pennsylvania saw 1.07% of its mail-in ballots rejected for arriving late and Michigan threw out 0.56% of their vote-by-mail ballots. When looking at closed primaries this might not matter, but these differences are larger than the margins of victory in these states in the 2016 general election.
Four years ago, Trump bested Clinton in Pennsylvania by a margin of 0.7% with 48.6% of the vote. In the 2020 primaries, more than half of PA’s votes were by mail with approximately two-thirds of Democrats voting by mail while two-thirds of Republicans voted in person. Biden is up by several points in the state currently, but the mail-in ballot rejection rate of 1.07% compounded by the Democratic preference for voting by mail this cycle could spell trouble, particularly for close down-ballot races. The only way Democrats can combat this rejection rate is with high voter turnout.
The problem isn’t just in Pennsylvania. Trump took Michigan by a 0.2% margin in 2016. During the 2020 primaries, 0.56% of mail-in ballots were rejected and again Democratic voters had a preference for voting by mail at a rate nearly doubling that of Republicans. Only 44% of votes were by mail, but that was just before the COVID-19 shutdowns began. That proportion will likely be even higher come November, which means a similar uphill climb for downballot candidates if Joe Biden doesn’t manage to drum up high turnout.
As a final point, Trump’s Postmaster General has made recent cuts at the United States Postal Service resulting in inconsistent services in rural areas and cities, including Philadelphia. These developments make it clear that every vote will be needed for Joe Biden and down-ballot candidates to defeat Donald Trump and the enablers of him and his fascist secret police this November.
That is why now is the time to ask yourself: how will you help get out the vote before November 3rd?
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