State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Author: vebrankovic (page 2 of 2)

What’s in a Name?: Pennsylvania Requires Signatures For Mail-In Ballots To Be Counted And Decides Not To Throw Out Ballots For Signature Verification Issues

By Jessica Washington

Pennsylvania requires a signature for all mail-in ballots. The voter’s signature must match the voter’s permanent registration card.  If the signature matches, the voter’s ballot is counted. If the signature does not match, the voter’s ballot is discarded.

Prior to this year, signatures for mail-in ballots have been an issue. They are poised to become an even greater problem as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic taking the world by storm. As a result of the pandemic, many people have begun to work from home, had their groceries delivered to their door, and have limited their need to go out in accordance with health guidelines. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people than ever are expected to vote through mail-in ballots. This increases the chance that more ballots than ever will be discounted as a result of rejected signatures.

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What You Need to Know About Election Observers in California

By: Josh Turiel

For over a century, election observers, also called poll watchers, have been keeping a vigilant eye on Americans as they cast their ballots. These volunteers observe election processes, particularly in-person voting and absentee ballot counting, to detect fraud and other irregularities. Although often affiliated with impartial civic-minded organizations or government election entities, the two major political parties also routinely employ election observers. Partisan observers were thrust into the spotlight when President Trump rallied his supporters, during a September 2020 nationally televised debate, to descend on polling places to monitor the election. Donald Trump, Jr. used social media to draft an “Army for Trump’s election security operation.” Meanwhile, Joe Biden has recruited over 10,000 volunteer election observers. This year’s hyper-partisanship has stoked fears that inexperienced election observers will sow conflict and chaos at the polls. 

California counties establish their own policies for election observers (those who plan to observe a polling place should seek guidance from local election officials), but state law sets firm boundaries that provide voters with safe, unencumbered access to the voting booth (federal law is not discussed in this post). Most notably, it is a felony to use violence or coercion to intimidate or compel any person to vote, to not vote, or to vote for a particular candidate or ballot measure. This prohibition extends to hiring or arranging for someone else to engage in such behavior. Violators face up to three years imprisonment. 

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Lawsuit Filed Over New York State Ballot Postmark Requirements

By: Blake Vaisey

New York is once again facing issues with its mail-in ballot system. A lawsuit filed on September 11 by, among others, Emily Gallagher, a candidate running for the New York State Assembly’s 50th District, claims that potentially thousands of ballots are going to be thrown out in future elections do to New York State’s postmark requirements, a problem that is compounded by the slowdown that the United States Postal Service has been facing in recent months. 

The lawsuit is related to NY Elec. L. §8-412, which requires absentee ballots to have a postmark from the postal service showing the date on which the ballot was sent, and rejects ballots postmarked any time after the day of the election. 

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A Bumpy Road to Voting in Wisconsin: Absentee Ballot Issues

By: Brianna Mashel

This election cycle has been turned on its head by safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to recent reporting by the Pew Research Center, about four-in-ten registered voters (39%) say they plan to cast their vote by absentee or mail-in ballot this year (or already have done so), compared with 33% who say they plan to vote in person on November 3, and 21% who have voted in person or plan to vote in person at an early voting location before Election Day. In fact, even before the onset of the pandemic, voters casting mail-in ballots increased nearly threefold between 1996 and 2016 – from 7.8% to nearly 21% – and the Census Bureau’s voter supplement data found seven-in-ten adults favor allowing any voter to vote by mail. Nonetheless, there is significant variation from one state to another on the handling of absentee and mail-in voting.  A case in point is Wisconsin, which has opted to rely on its existing absentee voting system even though it is currently one of the nation’s hot spots for COVID-19, with hospitals treating a record high number of patients with the disease.

In Wisconsin, absentee voting is relatively easy. Any registered voter is eligible to request an absentee ballot and voters do not need a reason or excuse to vote absentee. A ballot request and a copy of an acceptable photo ID with the applicant’s request must be received by the clerk no later than 5:00 p.m. on the Thursday before Election Day. The completed absentee ballot must be delivered no later than 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. This year, as many as two-thirds of all ballots, or roughly 2 million, are projected to be cast absentee. Although this process seems simple, Wisconsin voters have already experienced bumps in the road – literally.

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Everything is Bigger: High Voter Turnout in Texas Leads to Long Lines and Concerns About COVID-19 Spread Without Mandatory Masks

By: Caitlin Turner-Lafving

Early voting in Texas began on Tuesday, October 13, and turnout rates have been “bonkers.” As of this writing, Texas leads the nation with more than 7 million people have already voted. On the first day of early voting, Harris, El Paso, and Travis counties broke records for single-day early voting turnout. Unsurprisingly, long lines in the state’s major urban areas have accompanied the high turnout. More than an hour after the lines were cut off on October 13, seven polling locations in Travis County, which includes Austin, reported wait times of more than 51 minutes.

Back in September, I wrote about Texas’s polling place closures and the dismissal of Mi Familia Vota v. Abbott. The plaintiffs filed suit in July, alleging that the state’s proposed election policies during the pandemic violate voters’ rights under the First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fifteenth Amendment, and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. 

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Question 4: Constitutionally Codifying Nevada’s Voters’ Bill of Rights

By Elizabeth DePatie

This year, Nevadans will have to answer “yes” or “no” to Question 4—a ballot initiative that seeks to enshrine specific voter protections in Nevada’s state constitution. Collectively, these rights are referred to as the Voters’ Bill of Rights, and they were added to Nevada state law in 2002. The amendment would add these rights to Nevada’s state constitution, thus preventing future legislatures from easily overturning or modifying Nevadans right to vote in the future.

Arguments against the amendment largely rest on the idea that the amendment is unnecessary and could be burdensome as voting technology improves. There are concerns that by codifying these rights in the state constitution, it will be harder to adapt laws going further as voting conditions continue to change. The right to vote in Nevada is protected by statute and by amendments to the United States Constitution; opponents argue this is “a solution in search of a problem.”

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Opinion: North Carolina Voter Suppression, the Trump Campaign and the North Carolina Republican Party

By Maxwell Weiss

We are two weeks away from a presidential election with once-in-a-century, massive turnout, and the North Carolina Republican Party is continuing their decades-long effort to suppress votes. In past years, the GOP has used voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, and in 2018, the first recorded instance of a federal election being called off over voter fraud in United States history. This year, the GOP weaponizes strict absentee voting laws as they try to suppress enough votes for President Trump to win the state.

President Trump himself is attempting to sow discord, specifically suggesting that North Carolina voters try to vote twice to “test” the system. In a September campaign rally, the President told voters to send in an absentee ballot and then go to the polls and vote again on election day. This is part of a larger pattern for Trump, who routinely spreads false information about widespread fraud despite clear evidence that there is absolutely no basis for conspiracy theories that absentee voting leads to election fraud.

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