Covid Election Policies Could Prove “Breakers” to GOP’s Big Red Wave

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Republicans seem poised for a mid-term shift of power. Economic woes together with a burgeoning coalition of suburban mothers, upset about Covid policies and radical school agendas, could be the key driving force behind a “red wave.” However, before Republicans start handing out committee chairmanships, they may want to consider legacy Covid-era policies which are still on the books that could wreak havoc on Tuesday’s results.

In 2020, the chaos of Covid fears led to a host of executive orders. State governors wielded their emergency powers with abandon;  leading to sweeping changes for elections across the country. From universal mail-in ballots to ad-hoc policy workarounds; from poll-watcher restrictions to reduced hurdles for ballot curing – 2020 changed the way some Americans will vote for the rest of their lives.

All in all, 17 states made significant changes to their voting procedures during the 2020 election and Covid pandemic – like universal mail-in ballots and new same-day registrations. Currently, only 8 states still conduct all elections by mail (California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington).

Take California. Governor Gavin Newsom declared by executive fiat universal mail-in ballots. Every registered voter would receive a ballot via mail. Some Republican legislators took Newsom to court and won – two days before the election. California’s Democrat-dominated legislature would later codify mail-in ballots for the next several elections. This procedure provided fortuitous protections for Governor Newsom who faced a Fall 2021 recall election – an election he might have lost had a visit to a poll location been the norm and not a vote cast from your dining room table.

In Wisconsin, where Republican Senator Ron Johnson currently leads his Democrat challenger, the 2020 election was particularly contentious. In numerous counties, election clerks allowed voters to claim a status of “infinitely confined” so they could receive an absentee ballot. Over 200,000 ballots were cast under this rubric claiming that Covid-19 pandemic measure qualified them for this exception. The court sided with Republicans that this procedure was suspect but refused to throw out the votes. Numerous lawsuits have been filed to loosen up the requirements for Wisconsin votes since that time but the waters are still muddied and ripe for more legal challenges.

The 2020 Senate vote recounts in Georgia were the center of the political universe well into the new year. Mail-in ballots came in at a volume 5-times that of previous years. The odd thing was the rejection rate. In 2016, 6.4% of all mail-in and absentee ballots were rejected for various reasons. In 2020, that number dropped by more than a factor – only 0.4% of mail-in ballots were rejected, raising many eyebrows. Governor Kemp and Republican legislators passed a host of election changes requiring ID, allowing for early voting, but limiting the universal mail-in ballot craziness of 2020. We expect things will be cleaner this time around for the gubernatorial races and the important Walker vs. Warnock senate race.

In Pennsylvania, the 2020 election gave witness to a range of election shenanigans. From missing USB drives to lax chain of custody laws; from mail-in ballot handling to post-dated ballots counted ad hoc; Pennsylvania was counting and recounting into January. Much of this was heralded in by executive orders from Covid emergency powers. Many of these orders are still on the books. If the balance of power in the Senate hangs on the Keystone State fight between Dr. Oz and John Fetterman – it’s going to be quite the ride.

Covid policies caused considerable consternations and numerous media accusations on election day and in recounts. The New York Times tweeted with much snark that Melania Trump voted “without a mask” despite a county mask mandate. A stand-off between voters with mask exemption and poll workers in New York City was caught on video which seemingly almost came to blows. During the lengthy Georgia senate recounts poll watchers were asked to keep significant distances between them and the recount election staff because of social distancing concerns.

In Wisconsin and other states, there was quite a controversy around the flow of vote tallies from the ballot box to poll watchers and finally to the network dashboards. A burst of ballots was pushed through the vote feeds in the early morning of November 4th (the day after the 2020 election) showing a massive surge of votes for Joe Biden to overtake the lead Trump held since 8:00 the night before. My colleagues and I produced a chart demonstrating this anomaly (which did not appear in almost all other state count feeds). President Trump would use this chart in his controversial contesting of the 2020 election results. While it is logical that this sudden wave of Biden votes came from Democrat-heavy Milwaukee districts, there was no clear stream of connection to tie this together properly. To date, it is unclear if the networks have changed their data flows at all.

These points of contention have been overshadowed by the events of January 6th. The problematic pinch points and procedure questions have yet to be addressed in many states.  These legacy issues might serve as storm breakers against any red wave tsunami predictions. If the election comes down to a tight recount race in Pennsylvania – we might not know Senate colors until 2023.

Stay tuned!

Justin Hart is the author of the new book “Gone Viral: How Covid Drove the World Insane

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