If and when states receive the money, the supply chain will need to be activated: Companies that print bulk mail for existing vote-by-mail states like Colorado have said they will need financial commitments months in advance of November in order to expand their production capacity. A machine to automatically insert ballots into envelopes can cost up to $1 million, for instance, and vendors won’t purchase extras without guarantees that states will contract them to produce bulk mail. Vendors and officials will need to design and deploy systems to track, monitor, and sort the massive volumes of paper. “This three-month period, we’re really in a critical time,” said McReynolds.

  • Some states, like Colorado, have detailed guidance on how to examine a voter’s signature, based on scientific principles of forensic document examination. Other states do not.

There is also the question of whether the underfunded and overworked U.S. Postal Service can handle millions of additional pieces of election mail without errors; though it is not clear yet whether mail services or election administrators were responsible, there were problems this spring when people who requested mail-in ballots in Georgia and several other states did not receive them in time. In Wisconsin, for instance, boxes full of undelivered absentee ballots were discovered after the election, potentially thousands of voters did not receive their ballots in time to vote, and other ballots were mailed but never postmarked, thus potentially becoming invalid.

In an email, a spokesperson for the U.S. Postal services told The Intercept and Type Investigations that the agency will be ready in November. “The U.S. Mail serves as a secure, efficient and effective means for citizens and campaigns to participate in the electoral process, and the Postal Service is committed to delivering Election Mail in a timely manner,” she wrote. Knowing that Covid-19 will prompt more people to vote by mail, she added, “we are conducting … outreach with state and local election officials and Secretaries of State so that they can make informed decisions and educate the public about what they can expect when using the mail to vote.”

This fall will be a stress test of the U.S. election system, as administrators working with decimated budgets attempt to handle a massive increase in voting by mail while maintaining in-person voting options. With many state legislatures prohibiting officials from processing absentee ballots before Election Day, delays in generating results are likely. There is concern that irregularities and delays could undermine public confidence in the outcome of the election, a problem made worse by Trumpian allegations of widespread fraud.

Throwing out too many ballots may be just as dangerous as throwing out too few, experts said. As Marc Meredith noted in the New York lawsuit, “Making potential voters less certain that their ballots will count makes it less likely that they will vote.”