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How six key swing states handle voting by mail

The presidential election is likely to come down to six key swing states, all of which allow voters to request mail-in ballots without an excuse. 

Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where President TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE and Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida Supreme Court reinstates ban on curbside voting in Alabama MORE are fighting for every vote, all faces challenges in trying to ready mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Not all of them have the infrastructure or experience to handle the high volume of mail-in ballots they are expected, however. Issues include the lack of polls workers and the fact that the deadline on the books to submit a mail-in ballot doesn’t necessarily coincide with the postal service’s ability to get the ballot delivered on time.

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President Trump, who won all six states in 2016, has repeatedly criticized mail-in voting, suggesting it leads to more fraud. There is no evidence that voting by mail does increase fraud, but Trump’s repeated attacks have turned it into a more partisan issue.

Here is where the six swing states stand on mail-in voting.

Florida

Voters in Florida have been able to vote absentee without having to cite an excuse since 2002. Trump, who changed his residency from New York to Florida last year, has used Florida’s mail-in voting system.

Florida Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee (R) told reporters Tuesday that combined voter turnout was “higher than average” in the state’s primary this week. She said in-person voting was “light to medium” with an increase in mail-in ballots compared to previous elections. 

The increase in mail-in voting coincided with early preliminary results for most of the contested primary races. 

“Today was not the finish line,” Lee said. “We still have much work to do to prepare for November’s Presidential Election, to ensure that voters are registered and aware of their voting options.”

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Florida has more experience with mail-in voting than some other swing states. In 2018, 30.9 percent of Florida voters voted by mail, according to the Election Assistance Commission.

Election officials in Florida do not begin counting any ballots until polls close on Election Day. 

Trump narrowly won Florida’s 29 electoral votes in 2016 but recent polls show Biden slightly ahead. 

Arizona

The majority of voters in Arizona have already cast mail-in ballots in previous elections, making them used to the process, according to Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D).

She announced in March that the state is sending mail-in voting applications to every registered voter who is not already on the state’s permanent vote by mail list.  

“We’re fortunate in Arizona that we’ve had vote-by-mail for a longtime so the infrastructure to do mass vote-by-mail is already in place,” Hobbs said at a Tuesday webinar hosted by the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State. 

According to Hobbs, 78 percent of voters in the 2018 midterms chose to vote early. In the August primaries, 88 percent did so. She expects early voting and general turnout to increase in November as well. 

“We have to be really diligent about continuing to put out the information about how this system works,” Hobbs said. 

Like virtually every other state this election cycle, Arizona is facing a potential shortage of poll workers and volunteers. In previous years poll workers were only able to work polls in the county they reside in, though the state has tweaked their laws to allow poll workers to be deployed across the state.

Election officials in Arizona begin counting ballots two weeks before Election Day. 

Trump won Arizona’s 11 electoral votes by 4 percentage points in 2016, though Biden narrowly leads in recent polls.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s 3.4 million registered voters have been able to request a mail-in ballot without providing an excuse for years.

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In May, the Wisconsin Elections Commission approved a plan to send absentee ballot applications to more than 2.7 million registered voters. 

Turnout for presidential elections in Wisconsin hovers at around 3 million, election officials told The Hill. In 2016, 819,316 voters in Wisconsin voted absentee, but less than 18 percent of those absentee voters did so by mail.  

Most absentee ballots cast in previous years were done in the municipal clerk’s office in the weeks before the election, not by mail. 

In April, 1.1 million of the 1.55 million ballots cast in the state’s primary were by mail. As of this week there are already more than 800,000 absentee ballot requests on file for November.

Wisconsin election officials begin counting ballots after the polls open on Election Day. Having to process so mail-in ballots in a short period of time has led municipalities to rent or buy additional voting machines to feed the absentee ballots into while in-person voters still use the other machines, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.

Trump narrowly won Wisconsin’s 10 electoral college votes in 2016. 

Michigan

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Registered voters in Michigan have traditionally had to request mail-in ballot forms but this year Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) sent all registered voters applications ahead of the August primary and November general election. 

Benson said at a Tuesday webinar hosted by the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State that Michigan anticipates 1.5 million citizens will be voting by mail for the first time this November. 

Bensen said that in the August primary, more than 10,000 mail-in ballots were rejected, of which 6,000 were postmarked on the primary day but received the day after. Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes in 2016, she noted. 

For that reason, Bensen’s office has asked the state legislature to change the laws so the state could accept ballots postmarked on Election Day. In the meantime, she is urging voters to submit ballots early. 

“If that doesn’t change and nothing else changes we’re facing a scenario where we could have to reject a number of otherwise valid votes that are delayed through no fault of the voter … and that number could exceed the margin of victory in a number of races,” Bensen said. 

In 2018, 24.3 percent of Michigan’s voters voted by mail, according to the Election Assistance Commission. As of this week 2.5 million people in Michigan were registered to vote by mail, Bensen said.

Michigan election officials can begin counting ballots at any time on Election Day. 

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North Carolina

The North Carolina general assembly changed their laws this year to allow for only one witness signature instead of two in mail-in ballots.

North Carolina elections officials told The Hill they anticipate 30 to 40 percent of voters who cast ballots will vote by mail in 2020. In 2016, only 4.2 percent of voters cast ballots through mail. 

Like in Michigan, election officials are urging voters to mail their ballots in before the deadline that’s on the books. 

“The deadline set 40 years ago has been unrealistic for years,” Wake County Elections Board commissioner Gerry Cohen tweeted. “Voters will have best success if they get an absentee request to (their) county by Oct. 15.”

North Carolina ballots received by mail after Election Day will be counted only if they are received no later than 5 p.m. on the third day following the election and postmarked on or before Election Day. Election officials in North Carolina begin counting ballots two weeks before Election Day. 

Trump won North Carolina in 2016 by 3.6 percentage points and took the state’s 15 electoral college votes.

Pennsylvania

Most Pennsylvania voters who participated in the June 2 primary did so by mail, which led to delayed results, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. 

An analysis by the Inquirer found that thousands of ballots were not counted because they arrived too late. Only 76 percent of ballots mailed in the three weeks before the election were counted, the paper found.

The Pennsylvania Department of State released a report this month asking the Legislature to require counties to distribute mail-in ballots earlier. Elections officials are required to begin mailing ballots to voters no later than 14 days before an election, but the department has now recommended 28 days. 

Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar announced on July 31 that it would provide postage-paid envelopes for mail-in voters using money allocated by Congress in the CARES Act. 

Boockvar has said she expects as many as half of the state’s voters to vote by mail in November. In 2018, just 3.7 percent of the state’s voters voted by mail, according to the Election Assistance Commission.

Trump won Pennsylvania by less than one percentage point in 2016 and its 20 electoral votes were crucial to his victory.