Election officials fear changes may confuse voters in November


A woman leaves her main ballot outside the Denver Elections Division voting center while voting in the June 30, 2020 primary election.

Michael Ciaglo | fake pictures

Voting officials are concerned that drastic changes in electoral procedures in response to the coronavirus will confuse voters in November.

Dozens of states have expanded voting access by mail to give people an alternative way to vote safely in November. Several states have also established more polling places, and some are considering expanding the voting period to distribute to people who choose to vote in person.

While election officials have stepped up communication efforts across the country to inform voters of all the changes, concerns remain that voters may have difficulty keeping up to date.

Multiple reports of electoral confusion have already been received during the primary elections. Voters told local media in New Jersey they were confused about where to cast their vote during the state’s presidential primaries last Tuesday. Others said they never received a ballot, despite an executive order from Governor Phil Murphy that ensures all voters will receive a ballot or application in the mail.

Pennsylvania voters, who held their presidential primary elections on June 2, noted that the long-standing voting centers had moved elsewhere on the day of the vote, leading to confusion and frustration.

Georgia, during its June 9 primary, chose to introduce a new voting system, causing confusion among poll workers, who were not adequately trained to use the machines. Voters suffered long lines and delays, as well as technical and logistical problems. Critics said the state primary was poorly executed and amounted to voter suppression.

Anticipating confusion in November

Many states fear that this type of confusion, where voters are unaware or misinformed about how to cast a vote, will also occur during the November 3 elections.

“In addition to the administrative problems of polling places, voting clerks, Covid-19 supplies, and absentee ballot processing, our ability to educate voters about the changes (or lack thereof) will play out. a key role in a successful November election, “said Chris Whitmire, director of public information for the South Carolina Election Commission.

The most obvious potential source of electoral confusion for South Carolina is the lack of new rules for the presidential election, Whitmire said.

Governor Henry McMaster signed a law authorizing any voter in South Carolina to request an absentee ballot for the primary and runoff elections. And a federal court ruling said that those who requested an absentee ballot did not need a witness. These rules have expired, leaving “no change in electoral procedures” at this time, according to Whitmire.

“If there are changes, we will work to educate voters about them. If there are no changes, we will have to work to ensure that voters understand that the current rules for primaries no longer apply,” Whitmire added.

South Carolina has emerged as a coronavirus hot spot in recent weeks, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are forecasting an acceleration of Covid-19 deaths in the state in the next two weeks.

A sign reminds voters in Baltimore to practice social distancing. Tuesday April 28, 2020.

Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

“We know that the number of Covid cases is expanding in the state to record levels and are more concerned today than ever about the impact in November,” said Whitmire. “We do not know if the General Assembly will expand the motives again or make any other changes, and if any of the several pending court cases will lead to any changes.”

In Missouri, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said he plans to mobilize his team in the coming weeks to “explain what has changed and what people’s options are for voting.”

The state legislature expanded the voting by mail provisions, adding voting by mail options, Ashcroft said. These options are similar to unexcused absentee voting, but are slightly different, according to Ashcroft.

Anyone in the state can request an absentee ballot this year, the state legislature determined. But the ballot envelope must be notarized unless the voter is immunocompromised or 65 or older or has another condition that could put their health at risk. The notarial requirement is what concerns Ashcroft, who suggested to CNBC that voters may not be aware of this distinction.

“It is against Missouri law for a notary to bill to notarize an absentee ballot,” said Ashcroft. “It is not against the law for a notary to charge for notarizing a ballot by mail.” His office has compiled a list of organizations that have agreed to provide free notary services for mail and absentee ballots.

Get ahead

Several state officials told CNBC that they are preparing to communicate too much with voters to lessen the potential for confusion before Election Day.

“Our office has been actively working to keep Alabamians informed in a timely and efficient manner,” said Grace Newcombe, press secretary for the Alabama secretary of state’s office.

In the weeks leading up to the second round of the state, “our office launched a multimedia campaign notifying Alabamians of the opportunity to vote absentee, as well as important election dates to consider. We have sent out weekly press releases reminding the Alabamians how many days are they allowed to request an absentee ballot and they even released a video that guides voters through the process of requesting and issuing an absentee ballot. “

An election official wears a mask and sits behind a plastic barrier while registering voters at McKinley Technology High School on Primary Election Day June 2, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Drew Angerer | fake pictures

Officials in Idaho have sought new ways to reach voters, said Chad Houck, chief undersecretary of state.

The office, as well as several Idaho counties, have been working to expand their presence on social media, particularly Facebook, to reach audiences that may not be as aware of the changes.

“They found a bigger audience there and a growing audience there, which will now give them a better voice as we move forward or change things in the future,” Houck said, adding that his office is looking for tools for communication for Election Day that we will probably try to test in November. ”

In an effort to facilitate the voting process, Michigan election officials are testing a ballot tracking service that allows voters to monitor their individual ballots, according to Jake Rollow, director of communications and external affairs for the secretary of state’s office. .

“It seems like a lot of the mail tracking services provided by companies that send orders to individuals,” Rollow said. “By using smart barcodes on the envelopes, the voter can see the status of the ballot as it passes from the clerk to them and then back to the clerk.”

The state will employ this monitoring program during its August primary, “with the expectation of expanding statewide by November,” Rollow added.

For its presidential primary elections, Indiana spent a portion of the allocated CARES funds on an election outreach campaign “that informed voters of the election changes and advised them to request a ballot in absentia,” said Ian Hauer , acting director of communications for the secretary of state. office.

“If changes are made in the general election, we are likely to use a similar outreach campaign (in addition to our regular outreach campaign),” added Hauer.

In March, Congress allocated $ 400 million to the Electoral Assistance Commission to provide grants to states “to prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus, nationally or internationally, for the 2020 federal election cycle.” But state and local officials have been urging Congress to appropriate more money, arguing that funds are rapidly running out.

“It appears that I spent about 60% of my CARES funds in the primary election,” said Jared Dearing, executive director of the Kentucky State Board of Elections, on Wednesday. “To put that in context, we expect turnout to go from 30%, which was a record for the primary election, to 70%.”

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