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Why voting by mail in US swing states could go wrong

Why voting by mail in US swing states could go wrong

Last week, Democrats made the case for Joe Biden to become the next occupant of the White House. Now it's the Republicans' turn to convince the US electorate to give President Trump a second term.

With Biden still leading in national polls, Trump has to win a handful of the key battleground states that swept him to electoral college victory in 2016. The twist is that he'll need to do that in an election where the proportion of mail-in ballots is expected to soar amid the coronavirus pandemic. How might that play out?


Swing states are in the mail. In 2016, Trump beat Hillary Clinton by less than 2 percent of the vote in four swing states: Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Residents in all of those states say they are much more likely to vote by mail this year due to COVID-19.

For an idea of how that could go, consider that in the primaries this year, officials in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — where Trump's razor-thin margin was roughly a total 80,000 votes — discarded more than 60,000 ballots due to missed deadlines or other violations, according to the Washington Post.

Voting by mail has become a deeply polarized issue. While absentee or mail-in voters are traditionally Republican, this year it's the Democrats (the majority of which tend to vote on Election Day) who are pushing for states to allow mass voting by mail. Much of the GOP — following Trump's own unsubstantiated claims — now say mail-in voting would encourage fraud. (Never mind that Trump himself is voting by mail after the lifelong New Yorker became a Florida resident last year).

Meanwhile, the US Postal Service, which must deliver mail-in ballots before the myriad different state deadlines, is stuck in a partisan tug-of-war over funding to ensure the envelopes arrive in time. Democrats – who proposed the funds — are particularly concerned, especially since Trump hinted that he'd be happy to see the USPS starved of the resources it needs to make mail-in voting doable if Democrats continue to hold up the next coronavirus stimulus bill.

Both sides worry about a worst-case scenario in which one candidate looks like he's won on election night, only to lose as mail-in votes are counted in swing states with slim margins. If that loser is Trump — who has railed against mail-in voting and already hinted that he won't accept a loss — a deep political crisis could be at hand.

All of this means that an election whose outcome and basic legitimacy will likely be more bitterly contested than that of any other vote in modern American history, is hinging in many ways on the mail. And with even standard election infrastructure looking creaky in the battleground states, it's possible that a close election won't get decided for days, weeks, or even months, fueling mistrust in the credibility of the election itself.

Of course, it wouldn't be the first time that a modern US presidential election is contested. But what happened in Florida in 2000 — when the Supreme Court controversially decided the election in George W. Bush's favor after several weeks of pondering "hanging chads" — will look like child's play by comparison.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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"There needs to be a dramatic and deep reduction in the amount of debt on the poorest countries. That's clear." As the world's poorest nations struggle to recover from a devastating pandemic, World Bank President David Malpass argues that freeing them of much of their debt will be key. His conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Listen: Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that social media companies bear responsibility for the January 6th pro-Trump riots at the Capitol and will likely be complicit in the civil unrest that may continue well into Biden's presidency. It's no surprise, she argues, that the online rage that platforms like Facebook and Twitter intentionally foment translated into real-life violence. But if Silicon Valley's current role in our national discourse is untenable, how can the US government rein it in? That, it turns out, is a bit more complicated. Swisher joins Ian Bremmer on our podcast.

Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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