By Aaron Weinschenk, Reid Ribble and Tim Wirth
Given the massive technological advances in the last several decades, many of us have grown accustomed to getting the things we want quickly. Want a cup of coffee but don’t feel like waiting in line? Place your order ahead of time and it will be ready when you arrive. Want to have a conversation even though no one is home? Easy! Just hop on to social media and the whole world is at your fingertips.
Even so, there are some things we still have to wait for. And some of those things — as the saying goes — are worth the wait.
The 2020 election is shaping up to be an unprecedented one. After all, the election will occur in the midst of a global pandemic.
One of consequences of this development is an increase in early in-person voting and voting by mail across the United States. At this point, data from the United States Elections Project indicate that about 47 million votes have already been cast, 33 million of which were cast by mail, and at least 85 million mail ballots have been requested. In the Badger State, about 1.5 million people have requested mail ballots and thus far over 980,000 ballots have been returned. These numbers have led some political observers to speculate that we might see record levels of voter turnout in 2020.
Given the increase in voting by mail, one thing has become fairly clear — it’s likely that we won’t know the outcome of the presidential election on the evening of Election Day. In some states, including Wisconsin, laws prevent the processing of mail-in ballots until Election Day. Other states permit voters to return their ballots all the way up until Election Day. In short, it is going to take a bit of time before we learn who has won the presidential election.
This will be frustrating to many people who are used to learning the outcome on the night of the election. It is important that we adjust our expectations this year, though.
Although it is well known that the U.S. election system is highly decentralized and fairly complicated (it involves local, state and federal officials), research on election administration shows that electoral processes here are fair, accurate, well-supervised, and run by professionals who take their work and election regulations incredibly seriously.
We feel that is important to make it clear that delays that occur following the close of the polls on Election Day should not be taken as an indication that there are problems or that the system is somehow flawed. Processing the large number of absentee ballots that will be received this year will take time given the numerous steps involved, all of which are designed to ensure that all ballots are counted fairly and accurately.
It is also important to note that reporting delays should not be taken as evidence of fraud. The consensus from credible research on voter fraud, which has been done by conservative and liberal groups and academic researchers, is that fraud is exceedingly rare in this country.
Rather than viewing a delay in the reporting of the election winner as an inconvenience or as a signal of electoral problems, our perspective is that it should actually be taken as an indication that election officials are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing— working to make sure that whoever is ultimately declared as the winner of the election is truly who the people chose.
That, it seems to us, is something worth celebrating. Unlike some countries around the world, we live in place where election outcomes are not predetermined before people get a chance to vote. Tallying all of the votes this year will take some time. However, given that elections are a cornerstone of democracy, making sure that the results are accurate is something that is surely worth the wait.
Aaron Weinschenk is the Ben J. and Joyce Rosenberg professor of political science and department chair at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Reid Ribble is a Republican former member of the U.S. House who represented Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District. Tim Wirth is a Democratic former U.S. senator in Colorado.