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Tag: voting and COVID (page 1 of 2)

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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Mississippi: Masks, Mandates, and Mail-In Voting

By Catrina Curtis

Mississippi finds itself in an odd position going into this important Election Day amidst the COVID-19 pandemic: it is the only state to have allowed its statewide mask mandate to expire and the only state that is not offering early or mail-in voting for all of its citizens. 

The Magnolia State is one of only five states that will not offer no-excuse absentee voting for this November’s election, even as the vast majority of states have expanded their mail-in voting options due to health and safety concerns. However, among the five states not offering no-excuse absentee voting, Mississippi is the only state also not offering early voting. Although the Mississippi Legislature passed an amendment this summer to allow for those quarantining due to COVID-19 or those caring for someone with COVID-19 to vote by mail, the Mississippi Supreme Court recently held that the amendment does not also allow for those with pre-existing conditions at a greater risk of COVID-19 to vote absentee, striking down a lower interpretation of the amendment that was appealed by the Secretary of State. 

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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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The Prepopulated Paper Chase: Joel Miller’s Battle Over Absentee Ballot Request Forms

By Zee Huff

This is part I on coverage of Iowa’s absentee ballot application dispute; see part 2 here.

Imagine: You’re the auditor for Linn County, Iowa. It’s a warm summer morning. After a June primary which saw record turnout— and a surge in absentee voting — you’re trying to figure out how best to serve the citizens of your county. Drop boxes outside your office and the Public Services Building were a hit, with citizens voting up until 9 p.m. on Election Day. There are ways to help your constituents, and you’ll find them.

Your name is Joel Miller, and you’re about to have a hell of a summer.

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U.S. District Court Changes South Carolina Absentee Ballot Witness Requirement

September was an eventful month for South Carolina’s absentee voting laws. On September 16, 2020, the Governor of South Carolina signed into law the state legislature’s bill H5305, which, in effect, permits all registered voters in South Carolina to vote by absentee ballot for the November 3, 2020 General Election. On September 18, 2020, the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, Columbia Division, issued a preliminary injunction against the South Carolina State Election Commission (“SCEC”) in Middleton v. Andino, No. 3:20-CV-01730-JMC (D.S.C. Sept. 18, 2020). The court enjoined the SCEC from enforcing South Carolina law requiring another person to witness an absentee voter’s signature on the absentee ballot envelope for the November 2020 general election. South Carolina law requires absentee voters to sign an oath on their absentee ballot envelope in the presence of a witness, who must also sign and provide their address on the ballot envelope. Additionally, Section 7-15-420 of the South Carolina Code provides that an absentee ballot “may not be counted unless the oath is properly signed and witnessed.” Section 6(a) of the recently passed H5305 bill provides that the absentee ballot envelopes will be examined “in accordance with the requirements of Section 7-15-420.”

There are three reasons that the district court in Middleton reached the right result in issuing the preliminary injunction.

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The Fifth Circuit Got it Wrong: Last-Second Burdens on Voting Should be Prohibited

The conjunction of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 election has wrecked legal and electoral chaos in the state of Texas. In July, in order to accommodate the large amount of individuals filing for mail-in-ballots, Governor Abbott issued several proclamations, permitting voters to turn in their mail-in-ballots in person not only on election day but for the entire early voting period. 

In response, several of Texas’s most populous and geographically dispersed counties set up multiple drop-off locations where voters could turn in their mail-in-ballots. This allowed voters to turn in their mail-in-ballots without having to travel far, wait in long lines, and risk exposure to COVID-19. In effect, the counties sought to realize the whole purpose of allowing mail-in-ballots: to avoid exposure to COVID-19. 

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No No-Excuse Absentee Voting in the Magnolia State

By Catrina Curtis

While the entire country will vote in an important presidential election in November, Mississippians will also vote on significant state ballot measures, such as legalizing medical marijuana, approving a newly designed state flag, and repealing a Jim Crow-era election law. However, because Mississippi has not fully relaxed its mail-in voting requirements, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there is fear that not enough has been done to protect Mississippians’ ability to vote in such a crucial election. 

One driving force behind the fear of strict absentee voting in Mississippi is the state’s large black population. Mississippi has the highest black population in the country, at 37.8%, and COVID-19 disproportionately affects minorities. Some believe the state is particularly failing to protect both its minorities’ health and voice in this year’s critical election. Late this summer, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law along with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, along with the Mississippi Center for Justice, filed separate lawsuits on behalf of Mississippi plaintiffs. Both suits, one at the state level and one at the federal level, allege that the state is failing to adequately protect Mississippians’ constitutional right to vote during the current pandemic. 

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Coming To A Stadium Near You: Ballot Drop Boxes Facilitate Early Voting In California’s 2020 General Election

By: Samuel Petto

Visitors to California’s Staples Center will soon be greeted by more than lines of cheering fans for the latest Lakers game. For the first time in its history, the Staples Center will serve as a vote center in the upcoming November election. It will also be a designated vote by mail drop box location for those who prefer to drop off their mail-in ballot provided by the L.A. County Registrar’s office.

The absentee ballot drop box is an increasingly popular option for voters hoping to cast completed mail-in ballots without using the mail. While some states have successfully used ballot drop boxes for years, the coronavirus pandemic has expanded the practice throughout the United States as election officials express concern about the U.S. Postal Service’s capacity to deliver ballots on time. Although some states still prohibit the use of ballot drop boxes due to the risk of voter fraud, localities across California–from Los Angeles to Sacramento–are preparing for voters to cast ballots in record numbers via this method.

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Postmark on Validity: Nevada’s Mail-in Ballots and the Constitution

By: Liz DePatie

On Monday, August 3rd, the Nevada governor signed Assembly Bill No.4 (AB4) into law. On Tuesday, August 4th, President Trump’s campaign filed a lawsuit claiming the law was unconstitutional. Thus, Donald J. Trump for President v. Cegavske was born.

AB4 was drafted and passed by the Nevada legislature in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The goal of the bill is to make mail-in and early voting easier and safer for Nevadans during times of crisis. Among other things, the bill validates and counts ballots with unclear postmark dates to be counted if received within three days of Election Day

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