By: Evelyn Bond
Evelyn is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences; majoring in Political Science and minoring in Spanish.
As November 3rd quickly approaches, a record number of ballots have already been cast in the 2020 election by voters across the country . Driven by a commitment to democracy, and in response to recent incidents of social injustices and the grossly negligent mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 election is nothing short of highly contentious. In the battleground state of Pennsylvania, nearly 9 million residents have registered to vote, and 3 million ballot applications have already been approved . With its 20 electoral votes, the Keystone State is crucial in determining the election’s outcome . While an unprecedented turnout of voters is guaranteed, there is litigation in place hindering the voting process. Electoral challenges plague the country as the voting-by-mail option is made available to everyone for the first time and the pandemic ravages the world. In Pennsylvania alone, legal disputes over voting rules, illegal poll watchers, and an abundance of misinformation have added to the normal challenges of a presidential election.
Ongoing legal discourse has prompted last-minute changes to election rules, such as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s controversial decision to extend the deadline for ballot acceptance until three days after the election. . Despite Pennsylvania Republicans’ appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to block the resolution, on Monday, October 19 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to allow the extended deadline to remain in place . Additionally, a Pennsylvania judge has allowed ballot collection through the use of drop boxes and has rejected a push for the disqualification of mail-in ballots should the voter signatures not match . Since the President called for his supporters to “poll watch” during the first presidential debate on September 29, Philadelphia officials have been forced to develop anti-voter intimidation procedures . Trump supporters entering Philadelphia satellite election offices have claimed to be poll watchers hired by the campaign; neither the Trump campaign nor the Republican National Committee have had any certified poll watchers in the city . These various legal disputes pose many questions, but perhaps most importantly, whether the resolutions will be settled in time and if Pennsylvania voters will have the proper information to navigate the voting process.
First-time and absentee voters across the country have encountered innumerable challenges, such as difficulty registering to vote and logistical problems with requesting mail-in ballots . The resulting confusion has only added to the inherent chaos of the election. Many college students have found that after submitting voter registrations, their applications have been rejected without a clear explanation . Additionally, the “secrecy envelope,” a second sleeve to protect privacy, is implemented in only 16 states, Pennsylvania being one of them . The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled that election officials can reject ballots without the additional envelope. In the 2019 General Election, 6.4% of PA absentee ballots were “naked,” without the second envelope, a rate that when applied to the 2020 election could mean that 100,000 Pennsylvania ballots could be disqualified . These cases of misinformation have exacerbated the disarray of the upcoming vote.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened these electoral issues. In an effort to adhere to public health safety protocols and avoid the virus, many voters have opted to register online and vote by mail. 2020 is the first year that all Americans have been able to vote by mail, and this new feature has presented its own problems. The Trump administration has regularly denounced mail-in ballots, citing their “fraudulency,” despite the fact that incident rates of voter fraud are between .0003% and .0025% . The President has been accused of hypocrisy, as he and many of his colleagues have used absentee and mail-in ballots over the past decades . Additionally, mail-in ballots are not a new feature of federal elections; Americans in the military have been sending their ballots by mail since the Civil War, and the service has long been reliable .
More typical election challenges have arisen in Pennsylvania as well, in the form of technical issues. The Pennsylvania voter registration database has crashed multiple times, blocking new voters from registering and current voters from checking their application or their ballot’s status .
To maintain democracy, it is imperative that the confusion and misinformation regarding the election is minimized. To ensure a fair and free vote, the ballots and the integrity of the election must be protected. Given the “battleground” nature of the state of Pennsylvania, these protections are absolutely necessary. The state has been predicted as the “single most important state of the 2020 election,” as the likeliest state to provide either candidate with a decisive Electoral College vote . FiveThirtyEight has posited that Trump has an 84% chance of winning the presidency if he carries the state, and Biden a 96% chance if Pennsylvania goes blue . It is imperative that Pennsylvanian voters are provided with the proper information in regards to voting; the Keystone State is undoubtedly crucial in deciding the next president.