New Report Claims Presidential Election Legitimacy in Jeopardy

August 3, 2020 by Reece Nations
A poll worker at the First Baptist Church voting site in Hollywood, Florida, wears a protective mask and gloves on March 17, 2020. (Susan Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS)

A new report from a political reform nonprofit has outlined major risks to the nation’s democratic election process. 

MapLight, a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) organization, examined the most significant risks to the 2020 presidential election in the report. Some of the issues highlighted were turnout decline due to coronavirus concerns, procedural delays due to an influx of mail-in ballots and the possibility of third-party votes preventing either major candidate from reaching the threshold of 270 electoral votes.

The unprecedented interest in mail ballots, pandemic induced last-minute changes to election procedures and close results forecasted in the Electoral College all pose major risks to the election’s credibility. Additionally, election laws and federal requirements of 17 states not considered “Solid Democrat or solid Republican” were explored in MapLight’s report.

“Public confidence in the integrity of our elections is crucial for the peaceful and democratic transfer of power,” the report’s executive summary read. “That confidence, however, is coming under siege from internal and external players, raising the specter of another election whose legitimacy is questioned.”

President Donald Trump’s vocal opposition to voting by mail is likely to make some Republican-controlled legislatures reluctant to ramp-up vote-by-mail systems, according to MapLight’s report. Ballots not received by Election Day are rejected in numerous states, forcing voters who do not obtain their ballot in a timely fashion to vote in-person. 

If two conflicting sets of electoral votes from the parties are sent to Congress, legal and political chaos would follow suit, the report warned. This could open the door for false claims of victory by the individual candidates, causing the election’s legitimacy to be scrutinized.

“We are playing with fire as a nation by failing to address the gaps and ambiguities in our election rules that could lead to a crisis in which both parties claim victory in the presidential election,” Daniel Newman, president and co-founder of MapLight, said in a statement. “Instead of waiting for disaster, Congress should act now to protect the long-term integrity of our elections by clearly outlining how to resolve disputes about the presidential election.”

Other significant issues, such as equipment failures and disinformation campaigns, were also touched on in the report. Although these issues each pose a substantial threat to election integrity, MapLight’s report did not examine them closely and was limited to reviewing the legal processes governing the presidential election.

Fears surrounding the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service have also arisen this election cycle, according to MapLight’s report. Due to a constrained budget and diminished revenues from the pandemic, USPS’ services might become overtaxed and lead to longer delivery times that increase the likelihood of a consequential number of ballots being delivered too late to be counted.

The scope of mail-in voting systems varies dramatically by state. While some states need only minimal changes to existing procedures for the 2020 election, others compel voters to request a mail ballot formally or otherwise restrict mail voting in some capacity.

“At the same time, protecting the legitimacy of the 2020 election also means we must quickly ramp-up vote-by-mail systems to make sure no one has to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote,” Newman said in a statement. “The Senate should pass the HEROES Act immediately to provide states with enough resources to properly conduct mail-in voting to respond to COVID-19.” 

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