State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Tag: Absentee ballots

The Cost of an Absentee Ballot

By Timmer McCroskey

Be honest, when was the last time you went to the post office? For me, it’s been at least six months since I physically went into any post office. With the ability to buy postage labels online and drop off packages in blue boxes located throughout my town, I rarely need to go into a physical location. Next question, do you have stamps on hand? I do, but only because I try to send my Grandma a card every month. For many people, especially in rural Wyoming, the post office isn’t a frequent stop on the errand list and not everybody has a reason (or funds) to purchase stamps. However, to mail in an absentee ballot in Wyoming, you are required to place the correct amount of postage on the envelope. Wyoming is one of 33 states that does not pay for the return postage of an absentee ballot.

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Supreme Court Overturns Lower Courts’ Rulings on South Carolina’s Absentee Ballot Witness Requirement

On October 5, 2020, the Supreme Court stayed the South Carolina Federal District Court’s September 18, 2020 order enjoining the South Carolina State Election Commission (“SCEC”) from enforcing the state’s witness requirement for absentee ballots. The witness requirement refers to South Carolina law that requires another person to witness an absentee voter’s signature on the absentee ballot envelope for the November 2020 general election. The law requires the witness to sign the absentee ballot envelop and provides that noncompliant absentee ballots “may not be counted.” However, the Supreme Court’s order granted a narrow exception for ballots if they were cast before the Court issued this stay and were “received within two days” of the order.

It would have been helpful if the Court’s majority had explained the rationale behind its order, given that it overturned both the district court and the Fourth Circuit, which had refused to stay the district court’s preliminary injunction when it considered the matter en banc. The only rationale in the Court’s opinion was provided by Justice Kavanaugh, who concurred with the majority based on “two alternative and independent reasons.” However, as shown below, Kavanaugh’s reasons alone do not seem to provide adequate justification for issuing the stay.

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To Vote or Die: How the Indigenous Peoples of Alaska Fought an Impossible Choice

By Sayo Ayeomoni and Cameron Newton

When a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that cloaks the world in uncertainty, upends the financial status of millions, and causes the death of roughly 239,000 Americans reaches an election cycle, it becomes a given that practices created for and enforced in times of normalcy be adapted for such extreme circumstances. Given that voting procedures are developed on a state-by-state basis, fifty different approaches to voting in a pandemic have necessarily been developed. Since thirty-four states are allowing voters to obtain an absentee ballot either due to coronavirus-related fears or without providing an excuse, rules about how those absentee ballots are filled out have naturally come into question. In Alaska, those questions have emerged with great focus centered on the Indigenous peoples who make up 15.6% of the state’s population.

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Uncertainty continues for voters as Iowa Supreme Court upholds invalidation of pre-filled ballot request forms

By Clara Ilkka

With less than two weeks to go until the election, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld a directive from Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate invalidating pre-filled absentee ballot application forms sent out by county auditors in three of Iowa’s most populous counties. Because of the directive, courts have invalidated forms mailed to more than 200,000 voters. Those who sent in a pre-filled form were required to fill out and send in a new, blank form to their county auditors in order to receive an absentee ballot. Iowa’s deadline to request an absentee ballot was October 24th, so voters had only ten days to get their new forms in.

Back on October 5th, a judge in Polk County, Iowa, sided with Democrats and ruled that Pate had exceeded his authority in issuing the directive requiring blank forms. The district judge stopped enforcement of Pate’s directive and said the prefilled ballots were valid. In a quick turnaround, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a stay keeping the directive in place on October 6th.

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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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Part II: Pre-filled absentee ballot applications cause pre-election headaches for Iowa voters

By Clara Ilkka

This is part II on coverage of Iowa’s absentee ballot application dispute; see part 1 here

When it comes to attention during presidential elections, Iowa is no stranger to hosting members of the press—usually in February, during its caucus. With all that has happened in 2020, the Iowa caucus may feel like it occurred eons ago, but the state is garnering attention later on, for more reasons than one. Along with having the potential to be a swing-state this year, Iowa has been at the center of a legal battle between Republicans and Democrats over absentee ballot applications. Despite the ongoing pandemic causing an increase in absentee ballot requests, the Iowa legislature passed into law an appropriations bill (HF 2643) that included new rules for how county auditors handle absentee ballot applications, which cannot be requested online through the Secretary of State’s website. This bill created its own set of challenges.

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No More Excuses: Virginia Rolls Back Outdated Absentee Ballot Laws

By: Kira Simon

Elections have consequences. After flipping both chambers of the state legislature, Democrats in Virginia got to work updating the state’s election laws. By the end of January, the state legislature passed laws that will make significant changes to how Virginians vote – especially how they vote absentee.

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2018 Elections: Controversy in Ohio

By: Emma McCarthy

For voters in the state of Ohio, the 2018 Election held in the balance the future of the state’s governance. With major state offices including the Governorship, Secretary of State, and Attorney General all up for grabs, every vote mattered as the next four years of state governance in Ohio was in question. That’s one of the reasons why, on November 6th, the Campaign Legal Center, MacArthur Justice Center, and think tank Demos filed an emergency lawsuit and temporary restraining order in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, asking the court to require state officials to inform individuals currently jailed about their right to case an absentee ballot. In Ohio, absentee ballot requests were due November 2nd, leaving any individual jailed after that time without ability to exercise their right to vote. Therefore, the suit was filed to in order to compel the state to deliver ballots to those individuals jailed, giving them the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.

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The White Rabbit of Pennsylvania: Absentee Ballots [Are] Late For a Very Important Date

By Allie Amado

So you want to use an absentee ballot in a Pennsylvania election? Here are a few tips to make it worth your trouble:

  1. Mail your absentee ballot request at least one week before the election. But I suggest much earlier.
  2. Once you receive your ballot, take care to mark it according to the instructions.
  3. Place your ballot in the mail as soon as possible.
  4. Cross your fingers and hope your ballot reached the county election office before 5 p.m. on the Friday before the election.

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Electoral Corruption: When to Set Aside the Results of an Election?

By: Carrie Mattingly

How much evidence of corruption should a court require before setting aside the results of an election? Most would say that any corruption is too much. But in a recent case, Kentucky’s highest court balanced the threat of corruption against the threat of destabilizing election results, concluding that there simply was not enough evidence of corruption to justify vacating the office pending another election.

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