Voters beware: “Vote by mail” in key battleground states is a trap

To avoid a “red mirage” and safeguard the election, put on your mask and vote in-person

Steven Hill
9 min readOct 20, 2020


by Steven Hill

Joe Biden and the Democrats are walking into a trap in the key battleground states that will decide the upcoming presidential race, as well as key Senate elections. That trap is called “vote by mail/ absentee voting.”

Imagine this nightmare Election Night scenario: with so many more Biden supporters voting by mail, that means in a close election it is likely President Trump will be ahead on election night, based on partial returns in a number of battleground states (a scenario that has been called “a red mirage.”) President Trump already has furiously deployed his Twitter soap box to discredit mailed in ballots as fraudulent (even though he himself has often voted absentee); he also has hinted that he may not accept the election results. During Florida’s gubernatorial and senate elections in 2018, as absentee ballots were counted and the Democratic candidates narrowed the vote gap to a sliver, Trump tweeted that “large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged…Must go with Election Night!

Red mirage: How Trump can cheat the absentee vote count

Donald Trump already is signaling that he will attempt this anti-democratic ploy this election; his former White House advisor, Steve Bannon, recently announced that Trump is planning to claim victory around 11 pm on Election Night. In the key swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Iowa, election officials are not allowed to process or count any mail-in or absentee ballots before election day, so what happens in these key states if Trump declares victory on election night, and then tries to dispute any “late” uncounted ballots, both in the courts and in the free-for-all Twitter-verse of public opinion?

Suddenly the nation will be gripped in a replay of Bush v. Gore in the 2000 election — but in multiple battleground states. Recall the partisan clashes and low-intensity violence that occurred in 2000 on the picket lines outside the hand counts in Florida. During the course of a five-week legal war over hanging chads and the rules for ballot counting, protesters in combat fatigues held aloft signs saying things like “Bush or Revolution,” with “revolution” in bloody scrawl. Threatening letters were mailed to judges, including one with an illustration of a skull and crossbones. When George W. Bush was finally declared president, thousands of Floridians’ ballots still sat in piles across the state, not properly counted, because the US Supreme Court aborted the process.

Now imagine the unleashing of those toxic passions in multiple states. During the run up to this 2020 election, already an alarm­ing num­ber of pro­test­ers have been killed in the ten­sions swirling around the protests amid police over-reac­tion. This has all the makings of a constitutional crisis looming like a category 5 hurricane just offshore. Once the election is thrown into the hands of a conservative-majority Supreme Court, well — as the nation learned in Bush v. Gore — “five votes beats a reason any day.” The recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg tilts the court even more toward pro-Trump partisanship.

Will your vote-by-mail ballot be counted?

Even if there was no whiff of Trump’s election tricks in the air, vote by mail typically leads to a loss of millions of ballots due to frequent errors on the part of the voters, election administrators and the postal service. Democratic voters, especially minority voters and young people, are disproportionately hurt. The data is overwhelmingly clear on this.

For example, in the recent New York primary elections, tens of thousands of mailed ballots were never counted due to bureaucratic mistakes. Some ballots were postmarked after the election or never postmarked at all by the postal service, making them invalid under state law. Others were disqualified because voters didn’t sign on an easy-to-miss signature line on the back of the ballot envelope. Another 32,000 absentee ballots were mailed to voters so late that they couldn’t return them in time to be counted. Just in New York City’s Democratic presidential primary, over 400,000 mail-in ballots were received but election officials invalidated more than 84,000 — over a fifth of those ballots.

Across the country, in 24 primary elections this year, more than 500,000 mail-in ballots were rejected. In Pennsylvania alone, mail ballot problems prevented 92,000 people from casting a valid vote (Donald Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 by just 44,000 votes). A MIT study of the 2008 presidential election uncovered that nearly 4 million voters said they requested mail ballots but never received them. Another 2.9 million ballots that were sent out did not make it back to election officials, and about 800,000 were rejected due to voter, election official or postal service errors.

Voters in many polling stations benefit from technology like “error notification,” which alerts the voter if she has made a disqualifying mistake on her ballot. But you don’t have that with absentee voting. “The pipeline that moves mail ballots between voters and election officials is very leaky,” the study concluded.

With voting by mail surging for this election, the number of rejected mail-in ballots has been projected to easily surpass one million. And those will overwhelmingly be voters for Joe Biden and Democratic Senate candidates. Far more Biden voters are planning to vote by mail than Trump voters. One recent study found that a majority of Democrats said they intend to vote by mail, compared to just 28% of Republican and independent voters. Just as important, the negative impacts will hit minority voters and young people hardest. A study of Georgia’s 2018 midterm elections found that mail-in ballots of “younger, minority and first-time voters are most likely to be thrown out.” A study of Florida’s 2018 election determined that mail-in ballots “cast by Black, Hispanic, and other racial and ethnic minorities were more than twice as likely to be rejected as … ballots cast by White absentee mail voters.”

That means hundreds of thousands of more Democratic votes will be thrown out than Republican votes. The possibility of widespread disenfranchisement from mail-in ballots is real, yet the Democrats have been ignoring this and promoting vote by mail. That is a big mistake.

To be clear, most elections are won by large margins, such as those in heavily Democratic or Republican states or districts, so these voting failures will not overturn those election results. But in the hard-to-predict swing states, this could well be the deciding factor in a close presidential or Senate election. Add the potential for partisan interference by the U.S. Postal Service, since President Donald Trump’s recently appointed postmaster general is a big GOP campaign donor, or even partisan Secretaries of State or county election officials overseeing the elections, and you arrive at a disturbing picture of millions of mailed-in ballots potentially never being counted, and hundreds of thousands of voters being disenfranchised.

For months, the Democratic National Committee has been pushing vote by mail to the point that some activists have become nervous. “I do worry about some of the vote-by-mail push,” said Steve Schale, a Florida-based Democratic strategist who works with Unite the Country, a pro-Biden super PAC. “We should help people vote in the way they’re most comfortable voting. We shouldn’t force them into vote-by-mail.”

Preventing a constitutional crisis

How can this election theft be prevented? One important step is that voters in battleground states should forget mailing in your ballot. Just don’t do it. Instead, those voters need to put on their masks and go stand in line and vote, just like they wait at the grocery store, either before or on elec­tion day. That way, their vote will be tab­u­lat­ed imme­di­ate­ly by the vot­ing equip­ment. Yes, it’s riski­er for per­son­al health, but in the cur­rent cli­mate, voting by mail is riski­er for the health of our rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­ra­cy. It’s a ter­ri­ble choice to have to make in the mid­dle of a pan­dem­ic. But unless you have a com­pro­mised immune sys­tem, you should not mail in your bal­lot. Instead, you should refo­cus on mak­ing a plan to do the hero­ic act of show­ing up to vote.

Fortunately, some — but not all — battleground states allow you to vote in person BEFORE election day. Spreading out voting over many days and weeks will cut down considerably on long lines. Other states allow you to drop off your absentee vote with election officials before election day, which is preferable to mailing it in — but the problem with that strategy is that your absentee ballot may not get counted before the tally is released on election night, which would contribute to Trump’s “red mirage.” It all depends on the election procedures in each state, which vary widely.

For example, in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Iowa, the counting of dropped-off absentee ballots cannot begin before election day. By election night, many of those ballots will likely still lie uncounted. It depends on how overwhelmed the voting bureaucracy is, or even the whim of partisan election officials. In those states, Biden voters need to show up in person on Election Day, wearing their masks and vote. Don’t even drop off your ballot before election day, if that is allowed, because your ballot will not be counted until after the election, and that will contribute to the “red mirage.”

But in other battleground states — notably Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona — election officials are allowed to count early voted or absentee ballots before election day, and release those vote totals right after the closing of the polls on November 3. These states also open vote centers many days or weeks before the polls, where any voter can immediately vote. In these states, voters with vote-by-mail/absentee ballots should drop them off early at one of the official dropboxes or one of the vote centers, rather than mailing them. Even more secure would be to show up early with your mask on and vote at one of the vote centers.

Some leaders are starting to figure out the “mail ballot dead end” that Democrats have steered themselves into. Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.) recently tweeted that she will be “voting early and in person.” Georgia leader Stacy Abrams and her voter empowerment group Fair Fight are encouraging voters to “get your vote counted as soon as you can.” They emphasize voting early either in person, using an official drop-off box, or by mail. Also, the deal struck by NBA players with team owners to use their facilities as sites for early voting with enough room for social distancing is a step in the right direction.

But these efforts could well be ineffective for those voters who live in one of the swing states that will not count absentee ballots before election day. Those voters run the risk of their ballots not being included in the election night tally, which in turn will contribute to the “red mirage” of Trump falsely appearing to lead and immediately declaring victory. Cue constitutional crisis, 2020.

In sum, here are the rules for how voters in battleground states can best safeguard US democracy this November:

  • In those battleground states that allow early voting and/or allow your ballot to be counted before election day (Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona), utilize early voting at an official vote center by putting on your mask and voting in-person before election day.
  • In those same states, if you can’t vote in-person in a vote center, then drop off your absentee ballot at an official drop-box or a vote center. Do this well in advance of election day. In no cases should you actually mail in your ballot.

But in those battleground states that do not allow early voting and do not count vote-by-mail ballots before election day (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Iowa), your best strategy is:

  • Put on your mask, stand in line and vote in-person ON ELECTION DAY.
  • If for some reason you can’t do that — if you have a compromised immune system, or will be out of town — then drop off your ballot early at an official drop-box or vote center (if your state allows that). In no case should you actually put your ballot in the mail, unless you feel you have no other choice. If you do mail it, you should do so at least a week before election day to make sure it arrives on time.

The U.S. has reached such a perilous state that the simple act of voting in-person has become a heroic one. The fate of US democracy may depend on it.

[Steven Hill is the author of seven books, including“10 Steps to Repair American Democracy,” “Whose Vote Counts” and “Fixing Elections: The Failure of America’s Winner Take All Politics”. He is a co-founder of FairVote, though his opinions are his own.]



Steven Hill

fmr Center for Humane Tech, NewAmerica, FairVote, author:“RawDeal &Uber Economy” “EuropesPromise“ ”10Steps toRepairUS Democracy” @StevenHill1776