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What We Can Expect After Election Day


Election Day is a day on the calendar, but the 2020 election is going on now, and it may stretch past November 3. Early voting has started in Virginia. North Carolinians are already returning mail-in ballots. And state courts in Michigan and Pennsylvania have extended the number of days local officials can count ballots as long as they're postmarked by Election Day. So what may November 3 look like this year? For that, we turn to Myrna Perez. She's the director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan think tank in New York.

Thank you so much for joining us.

MYRNA PEREZ: Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At the moment, are you thinking Election Day will come and go and we won't know the numbers - who got more votes, more electoral votes - in short, who won?

PEREZ: I think it's very, very likely that we are not going to know who won on Election Day. But, Lulu, I have to tell you, we should not be stressed about that. There's actually some very pro-voter reasons why we might not find out who won on Election Day. For example, I think Americans would agree that we want all Americans to have as long as possible to return their absentee ballot because, historically, ballots have gotten rejected for coming in too late.

Another reason is that if we want voters to have the opportunity to cure what we call technical defects - they forgot to sign something, they didn't include any ID that was required, they didn't have a notary sign it if they're in one of the states that have it - we need to give voters some notice that they need to do this and an opportunity to fix it rather than just throwing away their ballot. If we're going to give that - those voters that notice and that opportunity to fix it, we're not going to find out on Election Day who won.

And finally, if we want to have confidence in the system that everything was recorded accurately and that our machines weren't flipping votes and that foreign cybercriminals weren't hacking the election, we need to do some audits.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you just detailed quite a few things there, and I'd like to sort of pick that apart a little bit. You say we shouldn't be concerned that we won't know on Election Day - that because of the pandemic and other issues, that we do need more time to sort of process these votes and make sure that every vote that is legitimate is counted. But we've seen reporting in The Atlantic and Slate magazine, The New York Times and elsewhere about how fragile the election system is and how partisans are prepping lawsuits that could delay the outcome. Do any of those reports or any of those legal maneuvers stand out to you as items of concern?

PEREZ: Yeah. I mean, I'm always going to be concerned about politicians trying to exploit our judicial system so that they get a job security plan. I think that's not what the purpose of our courts are. That's not what the purpose of court oversight of elections are. But I think that unfortunately is going to be a fact of life when we live in a system in which people that have power want to keep it and when we have some politicians that are just very concerned about what I would call changing demographics or the browning of America.

What I think we do need to do as Americans is make sure that our intentions are clear. I think if Americans speak in one voice, I think if Americans make clear to our politicians that we care about voting and we care about representative democracy, I think it's going to be really hard for politicians to try and manipulate the rules of the game and succeed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So briefly, what can voters do to ensure that their vote is counted?

PEREZ: The biggest one is to vote early. If you're going to vote by mail, make sure you get your application in for a mail ballot in early. Make sure that you complete the ballot when you get it early. Make sure you send it back early. Make sure you call early to make sure it got accepted. Show up to vote early on Election Day. You can help your neighbors. If you are an employer and you have people that need to wait in line, please be understanding. There's a lot we can do to make sure that we have each other's back and protect each other's right to vote.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you look at this election, as someone who studies this, as someone who is steeped in this, is this election in any way different - other than the pandemic - than any other election?

PEREZ: I think there's no question that we are in a really challenging time. All of the cracks in our election system are rising to the forefront because of the COVID crisis, and we do have some politicians that are trying to discredit and undermine the very act that we have elections. But I also think that Americans care about their right to vote. I think we have a lot of institutions that are built to withstand some challenges, and I really believe in the power of the American people.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Myrna Perez of the Brennan Center for Justice, thank you very much.

PEREZ: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.