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Timeline, cost, politics, and logistical nightmares associated with an expansion of mail-in ballots are discussed by a range of experts, elected representatives, and columnists. Insights are provided on the economics of the ballot printing industry and the capacity costs/constraints faced by mailed-in ballot vendors. The surrounding debate is presented first, then the expected financial and economic costs to the industry.

The Debate

MAIL-IN BALLOTS

Timeline

  • The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), along with the Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council, and the Subsector Coordinating Council has formed the Joint COVID Working Group.
  • CISA’s Joint Working Group has developed a project timeline for voting by mail addressing tasks for the mail-in ballot applications, logistics for outbound and inbound ballots, fulfillment, security, signature verification and Cure Process, online ballot delivery, voter education, voter list maintenance, and ballot drop boxes.
  • The task requiring the most time to start ahead of the election day requires 210 days, while some tasks end the one day before the election.

Cost

MAIL-IN BALLOTS

Political Issues

  • Members of the Republican party, including the incumbent US President, have expressed concerns regarding voter fraud and lost ballots should there be an increase in mail-in ballots.
  • The President regards mail-in ballots as “corrupt,” while the Chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel has stated that a shift to an “all-mail election” is an attempt by the Democratic Party to use the COVID-19 pandemic for “political gain.” In light of this, legal challenges have been initiated by Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and Texas.
  • Secretary of State in Georgia, Brad Raffensperger announced that the Absentee Ballot Fraud Task Force had been formed to ensure moves to expanded mail-in ballots in Georgia, do not lead to more fraud.
  • The move to expand mail-in voting does have the support of some Republicans, with a letter from the Republican National Committee in Pennsylvania stating that the voting by mail is a secure, convenient, and easy way to vote. Further, Republican officials in 16 states have urged voters to do absentee voting during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
  • Republican governors in support mail of voting include Governor of Nebraska, Pete Ricketts, Maryland Governor, Larry Hogan, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, and Ohio Governor, Mike DeWine.

Logistical Nightmare

  • While acknowledging the legal and historical role of the states in administering elections in the US, the John S. Stone Chair at the University of Alabama School of Law, Ronald Krotoszynski, references a caveat from the Framers of the Constitution giving Congress the power to make or alter electoral regulations made by states, to make the case for congressional action to mandate “early voting by mail.”
  • Technology Review notes that there are three levels of complexity to be considered in a ramping up of mail-in balloting. The first is the varied provisions across the states. Secondly, regulatory variance among the over 5,000 local jurisdictions administering elections in the US will also need to be addressed. Third, the actual printing of the ballot is a complicated process, that requires individualization, and which differs both among states and among counties within states.
  • Tierney Sneed in Talking Points Memo went further, stating that the ease with which voters will be able to cast a mail-in ballot will depend on where they live. She noted that few states have the requisite infrastructure in place to seamlessly expand mail-in balloting, placing pressure on election officials in the rest of the US to address voting procedures that will limit person to person interactions, should COVID-19 remain an issue.
  • Benjamin Hovland, chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission indicated that the vendor community needed three to four months’ notice to be able to meet expected capacity demands.
  • Despite the logistical challenges, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez believes that the window of opportunity for states to act is rapidly closing to ensure preparedness for the November election, stating that states have to “get going.”

Financial/Economic Insights

Overall Industry Impact

  • Revenue generated by the mailing economy amounted to $1.58 trillion in 2019, or 4.4% of total output in the US. It employs 4.6% of the US workforce, approximately 7.3 million workers, of which 31% are in manufacturing. Print and package manufacturing is included in this figure.
  • Demand for mail-in ballots is estimated to increase to half of all presidential ballots, compared to the close to one-quarter of 136 million ballots that were cast via the mail in 2016.
  • Printing a ballot ranges in cost from 21.4 cents to 35 cents per ballot.
  • Due to COVID-19, International Paper faces an uncertain environment for the supply of paper, which will impact he supply chains for ballot printers such as Runbeck.
  • According to the Brennan Center for Justice, with an estimated 120% of voters needing to be covered to ensure sufficient ballots for all voters, the overall cost of printing ballots for the 2020 US Presidential elections is estimated at between $54 million and $89 million.

Meeting Capacity

MAIL-IN BALLOTS
  • Vendors of mail-in ballots are faced with additional capacity costs to ensure increased demand is met. Additional capacity required by the mail-in ballot printing industry include raw materials, equipment, and labor.
  • Mail-in ballot vendors are concerned that even with an increase in capacity, demand may not be met given production constraints internally and from the supply chain.
  • The Secretary of State for Washington, Kim Woman, notes that counties will require additional sorting machines and tabulation equipment to meet the increased demand. Vendors will have to source additional inputs to produce the extra machines.
  • Jeff Ellington, president and chief operating officer of Runbeck Election Services, a provider of mail-in ballots, stated that Runbeck has already ordered 11 more inserters to meet additional demand for the November elections. The additional machines is expected to triple capacity at the company.
  • Mr. Ellington also noted the extensive staffing and training that will be required to operate the additional equipment and stated that the company has also stocked its warehouse with 200,000 half-tons of paper.
TDM

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