Signature errors could disenfranchise a record number of voters in the election

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

A record number of Americans are expected to vote by mail in the November general election because of the pandemic — and a record number may have their ballots rejected over signature issues.

In nearly 40 states, election officials check the signatures on the ballot envelopes that voters send back against the ones on file — usually from voter registration forms or motor vehicle departments. A handful of states require voters to fill out their ballot in front of a witness, who must also sign.

If a signature doesn’t appear to match, or the necessary signatures are missing, what happens next depends on the state — and even the county — a voter lives in. Some states require county election officials to give the voter a chance to verify their identity or fix a mistake; others don’t, and their ballots are tossed out.

“There are more opportunities to get tripped up and to have your ballot not counted in mail voting than in in-person voting, said Wendy Weiser, the vice president for democracy at the Brennan Center for Justice. “That said, it’s not going to happen to most people.”

Nearly 1% of absentee ballots cast — 318,000 of 33 million — were rejected in the 2016 general election, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Of those, nearly half weren’t counted because of a missing signature or a mismatch.

This election, 74 million mail ballots have already been requested by voters in 37 states and the District of Columbia, with deadlines for requesting ballots still weeks away in most states, according to a count by Michael McDonald, an elections specialist at the University of Florida, of states that have reported those data.

The risk of voter disenfranchisement has led to a flurry of legal challenges. Democrats argue there’s a larger than usual chance that valid ballots won’t count because of voter laws that haven’t adjusted to the circumstances of the pandemic. Republicans accuse Democrats of using the coronavirus crisis to rewrite election rules.

The outcome of those legal cases — over whether or not election officials need to help voters fix signature issues, how long voters have, and whether they need witness signatures — could affect thousands of ballots.

Read the complete article here.

SCOTUS takes up Arizona voting rights law that will be heard after the election

From today’s CNN Online:

The Supreme Court said Friday it will review two provisions of an Arizona voting rights law that a federal appeals court said could have a discriminatory impact for American Indian, Hispanic and African Americans in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

One provision concerns an “out of precinct policy” that does not count provisional ballots cast in person on Election Day outside of the voter’s designated precinct. Another concerns the “ballot collection law” which permits only certain persons — family and household members, caregivers, mail carriers and elections officials — to handle another person’s completed ballot.

The dispute will not be resolved before the election because the argument calendar is already full through December.In January, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the state’s policy of “wholly discarding” rather than counting or partially counting out of precinct ballots and the criminalization of the collection of another person’s ballot has a “discriminatory impact on American Indian, Hispanic and African American voters in the state in violation of the Voting Rights Act.”

The court also held that the ballot collection provision was enacted with discriminatory intent. The court agreed to put its decision on hold pending appeal. Mark Brnovich, Arizona’s attorney general, called the provisions “commonplace election administration provisions” used by Arizona and “dozens of states.” Over the dissent of four judges, the majority invalidated two commonplace election administration provisions used by Arizona and dozens of other states to prevent multiple voting, protect against voter intimidation, preserve the secrecy of the ballot, and safeguard election integrity.

But Marc Elias, a lawyer for the Democratic National Committee, argued that Supreme Court precedents and the law compelled the lower court to conclude that Arizona’s wholesale rejection of ballots cast out of precinct and its criminalization of ballot collection violated Voting Rights Act.

Read the complete article here.

Florida fight over felon voting rights playing out at US Supreme Court

From the South Florida Sun-Sentiel:

A battle over voting rights in Florida is playing out at the U.S. Supreme Court, with the ability of hundreds of thousands of felons to cast ballots in this year’s elections at stake.

Attorneys for the state and voting-rights groups filed briefs this week at the Supreme Court as they continue wrangling over a challenge to a 2019 state law requiring felons to pay “legal financial obligations” — fees, fines, costs and restitution — to be eligible to vote. Voting-rights groups argue that linking voting rights and finances amounts to an unconstitutional “poll tax.”

The state law was aimed at carrying out a 2018 constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to felons “upon completion of all terms of sentence, including parole or probation.”

The voting-rights groups went to the Supreme Court last week after an Atlanta-based appeals court put on hold a ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, who said the state cannot deny voting rights to felons who cannot afford to pay court-ordered financial obligations associated with their convictions.

The plaintiffs are challenging the hold, saying it would block felons from voting in the August primary elections and could prevent them from casting ballots in November.

But in a response filed Tuesday at the Supreme Court, lawyers for Gov. Ron DeSantis said the stay on Hinkle’s decision issued July 1 by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals should remain intact.

Hinkle’s May decision, which said that depriving poor felons of the right to vote is unconstitutional wealth-based discrimination, laid out a process for state elections officials to use to determine voters’ eligibility. Under the procedure, hundreds of thousands of felons who have served their time behind bars would be able to register and vote in the Aug. 18 and Nov. 3 elections without taking any additional action.

Read the complete article here.

The Supreme Court just handed down some truly awful news for voting rights

From today’s Vox News Online:

The Supreme Court handed down two briefunsigned orders on Friday concerning what restrictions states may place on absentee voting during the coronavirus pandemic. Though neither order is a final judgment — one grants a temporary stay of a lower court decision, the other denies expedited review of an important voting rights case — the practical impact of both orders is that voters in Alabama and Texas will find it harder to cast a ballot during the pandemic.

The Texas order is particularly ominous because it suggests that Texas will be able to apply election rules that ensure older, Republican-leaning voters have an easy time casting a ballot — while younger voters could be forced to risk infection in order to vote.

The Alabama case

The Alabama case is Merrill v. People First of Alabama. Alabama law allows anyone to cast an absentee ballot during the pandemic, but it also imposes certain restrictions on those voters. Among other things, absentee voters must provide a copy of their photo ID, and their ballot must be signed by either two witnesses or one notary public.

A lower court blocked these restrictions “for voters who cannot safely obtain the signatures of two witnesses or a notary public due to the COVID-19 pandemic” and “for absentee voters who are over the age of 65 or disabled and who cannot safely obtain a copy of their photo ID due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” But the Supreme Court stayed that lower court decision — ensuring that, at the very least, the restrictions will be in place for Alabama’s July 14 runoff primary election.

Notably, the Supreme Court’s order in Merrill was joined only by the Court’s five Republicans. All four Democratic appointees dissented. Neither side explained why they voted the way they did.

The Texas case

The Texas case, meanwhile, is Texas Democratic Party v. Abbott, and the stakes in that case are simply enormous.

Texas law permits voters over the age of 65 to request absentee ballots without difficulty. But most voters under the age of 65 are not allowed to vote absentee. During a pandemic election, that means older voters — a demographic that has historically favored Republicans over Democrats — will have a fairly easy time participating in the November election. But younger voters will likely have to risk infection at an in-person polling site if they wish to cast a ballot.

This arrangement is difficult to square with the 26th Amendment, which provides that “the right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age.”

The Court’s order in Texas Democratic Party is subtle, but it most likely means that Texas will be able to deny or abridge the right to vote on account of age, at least during the November election.

Last month, the conservative United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit blocked a trial judge’s order that would have allowed younger Texans to vote absentee. Although this Fifth Circuit order is not the appeals court’s last word on this case, it is quite unlikely that the plaintiffs in Texas Democratic Party will prevail before the Fifth Circuit, which is among the most conservative courts in the country.

So those plaintiffs asked the Supreme Court to hear their case on an expedited basis. On Friday, the Supreme Court denied that request. As a practical matter, writes SCOTUSBlog’s Amy Howe, this refusal to expedite the Texas Democratic Party case “all but eliminated the prospect that the justices will weigh in on the merits of that dispute before the 2020 election in November.”

Thus, even if the Supreme Court ultimately does decide that Texas’s age discrimination violates the 26th Amendment, that decision will almost certainly come too late to benefit anyone in November.

Read the complete article here.

Iowa’s GOP governor pledges to restore voting rights to some felons

From today’s Reuters News Service:

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has committed to restoring voting rights to those with past felony convictions, according to a Radio Iowa report, potentially expanding the electorate in a state that could be competitive in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Most U.S. states restrict voting for some people with felony convictions, but Iowa is the last state where felons are barred from voting even after serving their sentences, unless they successfully apply to the governor for restoration.

The rule disenfranchised 2.2% of Iowa’s voting-age population and 9.8% of African Americans in 2016, according to The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization that works on criminal justice.

Reynolds, a Republican, made the pledge on Tuesday, a day after she met with Black Lives Matter activists, who have held demonstrations in several Iowa cities since the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis last month.

Reynolds told reporters she was consulting with “various groups,” but would issue an executive order on voting rights for felons before the November election, Radio Iowa reported.

She did not go into detail about the terms of the order, and her office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Earlier this month, Reynolds signed a bill that would require felons to pay financial damages owed as part of their sentence, as well as serving their prison time, before regaining the right to vote.

A similar rule on financial obligations in Florida was struck down by a federal court last month, after voting rights groups argued it constituted a poll tax. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has appealed the ruling.

Read the complete article here.

LeBron James to Push Voting Rights in Historically Significant Athlete-Led Political Campaign

From today’s Forbes Magazine:

It is fair to say LeBron James is launching one of the most important athlete political campaign in history. As Georgia’s primary elections this week turned into a voting meltdown, it’s become even more apparent one of the biggest unknowns heading into Election Day is if U.S. citizens will actually be able to vote. Those who are unable to vote cannot enact change at the ballot box, destroying our democracy.

Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020

James is forming a voting rights organization along with several other prominent Black athletes and entertainers. The group, called More Than a Vote, will go beyond traditional get-out-the-vote campaigns. It will combat voter suppression, with James using his gigantic presence on social media to shed light on attempts to restrict voting access for minorities.

“Because of everything that’s going on, people are finally starting to listen to us — we feel like we’re finally getting a foot in the door,” James told the New York Timesin an interview. “How long is up to us. We don’t know. But we feel like we’re getting some ears and some attention, and this is the time for us to finally make a difference.”

James and his longtime business partner, Maverick Carter, are putting up the initial funding for the group. Multiple former and current pro basketball players, including Trae Young, Draymond Green, Jalen Rose and WNBA guard Skylar Diggins-Smith. Comedian Kevin Hart and Saints running back Alvin Kamara have reportedly committed to the group as well.

With a nation outraged over the killing of George Floyd and police violence against Black people, athletes are filling the leadership void. They are also being rewarded for their activism, with Converse signing Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud to a lucrative endorsement contract because of her outspokenness. Cloud, who is openly gay, published a poignant essay about white complicity in systemic racism, titled “Your Silence is a Knee on My Neck.”

Trump threatens funds for states that make it easier to vote in pandemic

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

President Trump on Wednesday threatened to hold up federal funds for two election battleground states that are trying to make it easier and safer to vote during the coronavirus pandemic.

The president’s tweets targeting Michigan and Nevada marked an escalation in his campaign against voting by mail, a practice that he has publicly worried will lead so many people to vote that Republicans will lose in November. Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends mail voting as a safe option during the pandemic, Trump has opposed the spread of the practice.

Wednesday marked the first time he has tried to use federal dollars to beat it back. Trump began by targeting Michigan, with a false description of Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s announcement Tuesday that she would send applications for absentee ballots to every voter in the state and branding it as an invitation to voter fraud.ADVERTISING

“Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning, That brought strong criticism from Michigan and elsewhere, pointing out that the state was sending applications, not actual ballots.

About six hours after his original tweet, Trump corrected it to say “absentee ballot applications.” He kept the rest intact: “This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!”

Trump later made a similar threat against Nevada, which has sent ballots to voters for its June 9 state primary. A federal judge recently cleared Nevada’s decision to mail ballots, which were sent by the Republican secretary of state.

Read the complete article here.

I’m the Judge Who Won in Wisc. This Principle Is More Important Than Winning.

From today’s New York Times:

On April 7, I was on the ballot in an election that should not have happened.

I was running for a 10-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court against an appointed incumbent. I came to find out after the election that incumbents in Wisconsin have lost Supreme Court elections only twice in the last half-century — had I known that when I started, I might never have run.

The central theme of our campaign was a message of restoring the public’s trust in the judicial system. It was a winning message: We pulled in a resounding 55 percent of the vote.

And it will guide me as a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice. I will make decisions based on the law — we must get away from a partisan view of the law.

The election was a good example of what should not happen. Gov. Tony Evers had formally called on the Legislature to postpone it. Deadlines for returning ballots were extended.

But in a mad flurry of activity the day before the election — probably never seen before and hopefully never to be seen again — partisan court majorities in cases at the Wisconsin and U.S. Supreme Courts reinstated the election and removed the deadline extension for absentee ballots to be returned.

Scant hours before the polls opened, the people of Wisconsin were confused and worried: On one hand, their government was telling them clearly to stay away from one another. On the other, they were being told that if they wanted to continue having a democracy, they had to show up in person, stand in long lines and vote.

Read the complete article here.

Seven Wisconsin coronavirus cases linked to in-person voting

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Health officials in Wisconsin said they have identified at least seven people who appear to have contracted the coronavirus from participating in the April 7 election, the first such cases detected following in-person voting that was held despite widespread concern about the public health risks.

The cases involve six voters and one poll worker in Milwaukee, where a shortage of poll workers forced the city to pare nearly 200 voting locations back to just five, and voters — some in masks, some with no protection — were forced to wait in long lines for hours.

The conditions of the seven weren’t immediately available. City health commissioner Jeanette Kowalik told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that she hopes to have more information later in the week. Kowalik’s office didn’t immediately respond to a question from the Associated Press asking how city health officials were able to trace the infections to the election.

The election, which included a presidential primary as well as races for a state Supreme Court seat and local offices, took place after a legal struggle between Democrats and Republicans. The day before the election, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers ordered that it be delayed and shifted to all-mail voting, only to be overturned when Republican legislative leaders won an appeal in the state’s conservative-controlled Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court’s five Republican appointees also blocked a judge’s order that would have given voters an extra week to submit their ballots by mail.

Read the complete article here.

Coronavirus Will Supercharge Election-Year Lawsuits Over Voting Rights

From today’s NPR News Online:

Election-year legal battles over voting procedures are nothing new. But their scope and intensity are growing this year amid deep partisan polarization and the logistical challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic. The legal fights are expected to heat up in the coming weeks.

Exhibit A is a lawsuit filed by Democrats in Nevada on Thursday challenging the state’s plans to conduct a mostly all-mail primary on June 2 and to drastically limit in-person polling sites. Democrats say the moves — including automatically sending ballots only to voters who have taken part in recent elections, but not all registered ones — are an infringement of voter rights.

Republicans counter that Democrats want to overturn rules intended to protect the integrity of the state’s elections and would unnecessarily put voters’ health at risk.

Both Democrats and Republicans are turning to the courts to try to ensure that rules governing this year’s election don’t disadvantage their side. The litigation campaign has taken on a new urgency with the pandemic and its impact on people’s willingness and ability to go to the polls in person.

“I can assure you that we will not sit by and let Republican election officials, or the Republican Party, disenfranchise voters in a cynical effort to win elections at all costs,” said Marc Elias, the lead attorney for the Democratic Party effort. “I expect several additional voting rights cases to be filed in the coming weeks and months, all aimed at protecting the right of voters to participate in elections and have their votes counted.”

Read the complete article here.