Sens. Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar released a joint statement Wednesday in response to two recent developments that have amplified fears about next week's general election: President Donald Trump's false suggestion that counting votes after Election Day is unlawful and an ominous concurring opinion from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
"Despite the incorrect assertions from President Trump and Justice Kavanaugh, election officials across the country accept ballots well after Election Day every year."
—Sens. Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar
Trump, who has repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses reelection, said Tuesday that "it would be very, very proper and very nice if a winner were declared on November 3rd, instead of counting ballots for two weeks, which is totally inappropriate and I don't believe that that's by our laws. I don't believe that. So we'll see what happens."
Those widely rebuked remarks came a day after Kavanaugh, a Trump appointee, issued an opinion parroting the president's lies about mail-in voting fraud. In a 5-3 decision along ideological lines, the high court rejected an attempt by Wisconsin Democrats and rights groups to extend the state's deadline for receiving mailed ballots that are postmarked by Election Day.
"In America, we count the votes to determine who wins an election," declared Sanders (I-Vt.) and Klobuchar (D-Minn.), both ex-Democratic presidential primary candidates who have since endorsed the party's nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden.
"Despite the incorrect assertions from President Trump and Justice Kavanaugh, election officials across the country accept ballots well after Election Day every year, and results are not certified until the votes are counted and a canvas to confirm the results is conducted," the senators said. "Absentee ballots counted after Election Day do not 'flip the results of an election,' as Justice Kavanaugh claimed. They are the results of the election."
Absentee ballots counted after election day do not ‘flip the results of an election,’ as Justice Kavanaugh claimed. They are the results of the election. Period. pic.twitter.com/jgnHZCxoSw
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) October 28, 2020
"More than 20 states, including states like Mississippi, Kansas, and Utah, require ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted even if they are received after Election Day," the pair pointed out. "This is critical to ensuring that those who may face hardships in voting, including members of our military serving abroad and those affected by Covid-19, are not disenfranchised by things like mail delays."
Noting that "these are not new rules and they do not serve any political party," the lawmakers said, "It is on all of us to reject misinformation and to tell the truth."
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"Our election systems span 50 states, five territories, and thousands of jurisdictions," they added. "State and local election officials are working around the clock, and experts have concluded that the integrity of our election system is strong. The best defense against those trying to undermine our democracy is the resolve of the American people, who are voting by the millions as we speak. Keep voting."
That message to vote was a crucial piece of a report (pdf) published last week by Sanders, Klobuchar, and handful of other senators that set out to not only reinforce Democrats' call to encourage Americans to vote but also summarize what they should expect on Election Day. The report's main messages are:
- Vote, and vote early.
- In some states, we may not know the winner on election night. That's OK.
- Voter intimidation is illegal.
Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)—the chamber's minority leader—joined Sanders and Klobuchar in releasing the report, which also features a section on election procedures in presidential and Senate battleground states.
"The American people must be prepared for an election that is unprecedented in our history due to the enormous increase in mail-in ballots that have been, and will be, cast as a result of the pandemic," Sanders said in a statement last week. "No one should have to risk their health or their lives in order to vote, and that is why many millions are voting through mail-in ballots."
"One of the worst lies that Donald Trump is spreading is that there is a massive amount of voter fraud in this country," he added. "That is a total lie which no election official, Republican or Democrat, can support. What we are doing with this effort is ensuring that the American people understand that if American democracy means anything, it means that every vote must be counted—no matter how long it takes."
As of Wednesday, an estimated 75 million Americans had already voted, according to Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida who runs the U.S. Elections Project. The number of ballots cast early by mail or in person this year so far exceeds 50% of the number of votes cast in 2016 presidential election.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic rages on. The United States alone had nearly 8.85 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and over 227,600 related deaths as of Wednesday evening, according to Johns Hopkins University's global tracker.
Despite the public health crisis, "we're looking at a very high-turnout election," McDonald told PBS NewsHour Tuesday. "Perhaps 150 million people or so will vote, and that could be the highest turnout that we will see in a modern election since 1908, so truly remarkable numbers in terms of the people voting."