(CN) — Paul Pate has seen the incendiary posts on Facebook warning of civil unrest at polling places throughout the United States and his home state of Iowa.
While he isn’t entirely dismissive of the potential for violence in the streets on Election Day, Pate — Iowa’s secretary of state — said such alarmism is counterproductive, perhaps even disenfranchising a few voters through fear.
“These people are creating a problem that isn’t really there,” Pate said Tuesday.
Pate also frets because it will render his job — administering what some predict will be the most highly contentious election in modern U.S. history — more difficult.
He and his colleagues throughout the nation are grappling with a more intense interest in the minutia of the electoral process than ever before, partly as a response to President Donald Trump casting doubt on the integrity of the mail-in ballots combined with the various attempts to counter that narrative.
“Boy, it’s been an election year for all time,” said New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.
Toulouse Oliver and Pate appeared at a digital event hosted by the U.S. Election Assistance Council Tuesday, with secretaries of state appearing alongside journalists and scholars to preview what Americans might expect on Election Day just two weeks away.
“We are seeing so many changes to how people vote due to the coronavirus and because of the drastic increase in vote-by-mail,” said Toulouse Oliver.
Those changes will likely force an American electorate eager for outcomes to be more patient than in years past because counting mail-in ballots is a more cumbersome and time-consuming process.
Some states, like Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Maine, have already begun counting mail-in ballots. But many other states have regulations that prevent election officials from opening a single ballot until the polls close.
“We are going to have to be patient,” said Nate Persily, a law professor at Stanford University.
Persily stressed that just because many results will not be available on election night as in years past does not mean there will be a void of information where malicious actors attempt to wrest the narrative toward one side or the other.
“I think we will be able to get a sense of the trends,” he said.
But he acknowledged a spate of litigation related to the legitimacy of mail-in ballots is likely to occur both on and after Election Day.
“We’ve had a considerable amount of pre-election litigation, most of which focus on the absentee ballots,” he said.
However, many federal judges have declined to bar states from increasing the availability of mail-in ballots despite several lawsuits filed by the Republican Party around the nation.
In Nevada, Illinois and Pennsylvania, judges have tossed lawsuits about the expansion of mail-in voting saying the plaintiffs failed to show how the increase in absentee voting hurts one party over the other.
Brian Carovillano, vice president and managing editor of The Associated Press, said the news media may not be declaring races with the same rapidity and volume as in years past.
“We do not do projections, only declarations,” he said. “We only declare a race when it is clear that it’s impossible for the trailing candidate to catch the leading candidate.”
With a glut of absentee voting, those declarations will occur less frequently, Carovillano said.
For the perspective of the secretary of states, the media’s protocol for calling races is of little importance.
“Our job isn’t to call the race … we leave that to the media,” Pate said. “Our job is to get all the ballots counted and get them counted correctly.”
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