COVID-19 creates unique hurdles for the United States’ electoral system. Whatever responses are developed, including expanding voting by mail, we should be careful that untested procedures, or signature verification issues, or other unexpected problems don’t become 2020’s hanging chad. A critical way to reduce risk is to make better use of the 77-day time period between election day and inauguration.
Under current, antiquated federal law, states have only 35 of those 77 days to process ballots and resolve any disputes or recounts. Electors meet December 14, and states must definitively determine results by December 8 to ensure “safe harbor” protection against a challenge to their electoral votes in Congress. Since the counting of Electoral votes wont take place until January 6th, there is ample room to move both the safe harbor and the Elector meeting back at least two weeks. Congress can and should make this change.
In 2000, Florida made it clear that 35 days is far too little time to resolve disputes in a close election. The outcome of 2020 turning on an incomplete process in another disputed state would be a disaster.