Brow Beat

John Oliver Explains the Mundane Reasons Your Ballot Could Be Discounted (and How to Avoid Them)

John Oliver turned his attention to the Trump campaign’s attempts to destabilize the upcoming election. But while Trump “is turbocharging efforts to mess with the vote,” as Oliver said on Sunday night’s episode of Last Week Tonight, there’s nothing new about Republican efforts to depress Democratic voter turnout, going so far as to hire off-duty policemen in 1981 to patrol largely Black and Hispanic precincts while wearing armbands and revolvers under the guise of ballot security. “Revolvers and armbands at a polling site is never a great look considering that the literal definition of an actual Nazi is someone with guns and armbands who threatens the safety of the Poles,” Oliver said.

But it’s not just Trump encouraging his supporters to do much the same thing, or the looming likelihood of long lines due to poll site understaffing caused by the pandemic, that threatens to undermine the 2020 election. The president, the attorney general, and other elected officials have cast often unfounded doubts on the security of mail-in voting, which 39 percent of registered voters plan to do. “The fact is fears over mail-in ballot fraud have been wildly overblown,” Oliver said. “To the extent that there is any danger with them, it’s actually a far more mundane one, and that’s that you could end up having your ballot rejected for technical reasons.” Ballots can be rejected for mismatched signatures or for missing secrecy envelopes, warns Oliver, and he advises voters to read the instructions carefully.

But assuming everything goes well and there aren’t roving bands of armed Trump supporters watching over poll sites and that everyone’s signature matches, there’s still the fact that mail-in ballots won’t be counted in time to be included in election night results. “It might help to stop thinking of it as election night and more as an election month, which is a lot like when someone says it’s their birthday month in that the concept makes every decent American want to vomit,” said Oliver.

To make sure your ballot is counted, check out Slate’s guide to the best way to vote in every state.