On Thursday, Hillary Clinton premiered a new campaign ad starring her most popular supporter, Michelle Obama. In the video, which is currently making the rounds on social media, Ms. Obama can be seen urging people to vote early for Ms. Clinton.
For those that have followed previous elections, the reason is clear: In 2012, some 30 percent of voters – mostly Democrats – took advantage of early voting, helping Barack Obama win his second term as president.
Early voting is possible in most states, either by mail or with a visit to the local election office. In some districts, voters need to provide a reason why they’re voting early. And in certain states, early voters can actually change their vote.
Donald Trump is betting that many swing voters who have already cast their ballot may want to exponge their “bad conscience” and change their vote following the FBI’s reopening of their investigation into Ms. Clinton’s use of a private email server.
You can change your vote in six states. So, now that you see that Hillary was a big mistake, change your vote to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 2, 2016
News sources report that there are up to six states where voters can change their ballot. Donald Trump can’t seem to settle on one number, but it is certainly possible in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.
The current discussion and the closeness of the race between Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump has seen a surge in Google searches for laws regarding vote changing – far more than in the 2008 race between Barack Obama and John McCain or the 2012 race between Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney. But the process to actually change your vote remains complicated.
In order to prevent people from casting two ballots, early voters who voted by mail receive two envelopes: one containing the ballot, and the other a form to be filled out with the voter’s information. Those interested in changing their vote need to search out a polling place and request the cancellation (“spoiling”) of their original ballot, which can only happen after they prove their identity by signature.
In Minnesota, the deadline to change votes has already expired. In Wisconsin, voters have until Friday, though until 2011 they had had until election day. While the election commission in Wisconsin has seen an increased interest in vote changing, they have also noted in a letter to local election offices that many of the inquiries are invalid: “The number of those interested in changing their vote is far greater than the number of those that have actually spoiled their mail-in ballots.”
But as previous U.S. presidential elections have shown, a few hundred votes can make a difference in the winner-take-all college voting system.
Television news reports have already begun speculating about whether the increased attention to vote changing – and the human error that comes along with it – could mean more challenges to the election results. Both Republicans and Democrats are on heightened alert regarding irregularities at polling places, and have vowed to send observers.
By law, partisan observers are forbidden from intervening in the actual voting process, with independent election observers from the federal government serving as the official safeguard against voter fraud.
Martin Dowideit is head of the newsroom at Handelsblatt’s finance section. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org