In a Medium piece on Thursday, Florida Senator Marco Rubio drew attention to the challenges of administering a national election in 2020. These include not only the continuing threat of foreign interference but also the unique challenges of voting in the middle of a pandemic.
“We cannot escape the pandemic-induced reality of increased mail-in voting,” Rubio notes, “and the logistical challenges associated with it will be difficult for some states to resolve in the next couple of months. This will almost certainly lead to confusion, uncertainty, and perhaps chaos on election night.”
There is no perfect way to prevent such chaos, but there are ways to prepare the public for it so that it doesn’t leave people thinking the election results are illegitimate because counting votes takes longer. And Rubio also proposes four kinds of steps that policymakers could take to be of further help:
First, we must clearly signal to foreign adversaries that meddling in our elections will be met with a commensurately harsh response. Congress should immediately pass and President Trump should sign my bipartisan Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act.
Second, we should give states the flexibility to provide local election officials additional time to count each and every vote by moving the federal safe harbor deadline for states from December 8 to January 1, an idea first proposed by Kevin Johnson and Yuval Levin. I introduced a bill to do exactly that, and urge my colleagues to join me in giving states more time to collect, verify, and count votes without fear of having the results challenged in Congress.
Third, the federal government should continue to provide funding and expertise to states, especially those that do not have established or efficient mail-in ballot systems in place. Funding to support enhanced health and safety measures may also be necessary.
Finally, we cannot ignore the fact that there are also subversive elements within our own country. The chaos of a contested election creates cover for everyone from radical anarchists like Antifa to white ethno-nationalists seeking to foment a second civil war. We must give them no quarter, as they look to undermine our country — albeit for different reasons — just like regimes based in Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran.
I’m not an impartial observer, since he attributes it to me and Kevin Johnson, but I do think the second of Rubio’s proposals is crucially important. Giving the states more time to count—without changing the date of the election—would be a vital step, as he suggests. The bill he has just introduced to do this is short and simple, and could make a real difference if the presidential race is close in key states. It doesn’t give either party an advantage, and so should appeal to both. And Congress should even consider tucking it into the pandemic relief bill now being negotiated.
Election-day chaos is a real danger this year. But preparation could make all the difference, and it’s great to see Rubio leading the charge to prepare.