Category Archives: absentee ballots

“Appeals court: Postage for absentee ballots isn’t a poll tax”

AP:

A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a lower court’s ruling that said requiring voters to provide their own stamps for mail-in ballots and ballot applications does not amount to an unconstitutional poll tax.

The American Civil Liberties Union and its Georgia chapter filed a lawsuit in April 2020 saying that Georgia’s postage requirement for absentee ballots and ballot applications effectively imposes a poll tax and is therefore unconstitutional. The challenge was brought on behalf of voters and a group seeking to empower communities of color, the Black Voters Matter Fund.

“We hold that the fact that absentee voters in Georgia who decide to vote by mail must pay their own postage is not a ‘tax’ or unconstitutional fee on voting,” Circuit Judge Elizabeth Branch wrote in the opinion for a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

That affirmed an August 2020 ruling by U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg in Atlanta.

You can find the unanimous opinion of the 11th Circuit panel here. The opinion ends with the footnote: “We note that the Plaintiffs’ claims border on the frivolous. At this time, however, we
are not imposing sanctions.”

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“All-mail voting in Colorado increases turnout and reduces turnout inequality”

New article from Adam Bonica, Jacob M. Grumbach, Charlotte Hill, & Hakeem Jefferson in Electoral Studies:

The COVID-19 crisis has generated interest in all-mail voting (AMV) as a potential policy solution for avoiding in-person elections. However, the quality of AMV implementation has varied greatly across states, leading to mixed results in previous research. We exploit the understudied 2014 implementation of AMV in Colorado to estimate the effect on turnout for all registered voters, along with age, racial, education, income and wealth, and occupational subgroups. Using large voter file data and a difference-in-differences design within individuals, we find a positive overall turnout effect of approximately 8 percentage points—translating into an additional 900,000 ballots being cast between 2014 and 2018. Effects are significantly larger among lower-propensity voting groups, such as young people, blue-collar workers, voters with less educational attainment, and voters of color. The results suggest that researchers and policymakers should look to Colorado’s AMV approach as an effective model for boosting aggregate turnout and reducing voting disparities across subgroups.

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The effect of Brnovich v. DNC on the intentional discrimination lawsuit against Georgia

Over at RealClearPolitics, I have this piece looking at the potential effect of Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee on intentional discrimination claims, including the lawsuit recently filed by the Justice Department against portions of Georgia’s SB 202. Much of the commentary after Brnovich has focused on the disparate impact components of the opinion, but I wanted to tease out some of the implications from the intentional discrimination side. Additionally, I try to puzzle out Justice Elena Kagan’s footnote in her dissenting opinion in which she concludes she “need not pass” on the intentional discrimination holding of the Ninth Circuit’s opinion.

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“Texas Republicans Reveal Bills of Far-Reaching Voting Restrictions”

NYT:

Republicans in the Texas Legislature on Thursday fully unveiled their plans to overhaul the state’s election apparatus, outlining a raft of proposed new restrictions on voting access that would be among the most far-reaching election laws passed this year….

Among many new changes and restrictions to the state’s electoral process, both bills would ban 24-hour voting and drive-through voting; prohibit election officials from proactively sending out absentee ballot applications to voters who have not requested them; add new voter identification requirements for voting by mail; limit third-party ballot collection; increase the criminal penalties for election workers who run afoul of regulations; limit what assistance can be provided to voters; and greatly expand the authority and autonomy of partisan poll watchers.

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“Arizona Cites High Court Win to Back Another Voting Restriction”

Bloomberg:

Arizona urged a federal appeals court to reverse a 2020 ruling that forces the state to give voters who forget to sign envelopes for their mail-in ballots as long as five days after Election Day to sign them.

At a hearing Wednesday before a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, a lawyer for the Republican National Committee, which intervened in the case to support the state, cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent upholding of two other restrictive Arizona election laws to argue the state is on the right track in its effort to handle voting fairly.

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Brnovich on Brnovich v. DNC

Mark Brnovich’s WSJ op-ed:

The court’s ruling is a win for election integrity at a time when the far left conducts propaganda campaigns to trick people into believing any election law that protects against voter fraud is “Jim Crow 2.0.”

The irony is that the DNC chose to attack Arizona, a state that offers some of the most convenient ways to vote. You can vote early in-person, vote on Election Day, or request a no-excuse absentee ballot. Don’t want to get out of the car? We also have drive-through ballot drop-off sites. Contrast that with other jurisdictions such as Delaware, Connecticut and New York, which require bureaucrats to approve your reason for absentee voting. 

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“Judge rejects attempt to stop parts of Georgia voting law”

Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

A federal judge denied an effort to invalidate parts of Georgia’s voting law Wednesday, the first court ruling upholding new rules passed after last year’s elections.

U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee wrote in his order that he wouldn’t “change the law in the ninth inning” amid ongoing runoffs for the state House. Boulee reserved judgment about future elections.

The lawsuit by the Coalition for Good Governance, an election security organization, opposed new requirements that voters request absentee ballots at least 11 days before election day, a deadline that left voters with little time to vote by mail in the runoffs. 

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Divided Sixth Circuit Rejects Preliminary Injunction That Allowed First-Time Tennessee Voters to Vote by Mail During the Pandemic; Judge Readler’s Troubling Concurrence

Three opinions, including a troubling concurrence by Judge Readler that says that states don’t need to make accommodations to assure people can vote in the face of natural disasters: “And even when the law is viewed
through the unique lens of 2020, voting laws need not be put aside due to issues not of the State’s making.”

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“Florida Republicans rushed to curb mail voting after Trump’s attacks on the practice. Now some fear it could lower GOP turnout.”

Amy Gardner for WaPo:

Virtually every narrow Republican victor of the past generation — and there have been many, including two of the state’s current top officeholders, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott — owes their victory, at least in part, to mail voting.

Now, some Florida Republicans are reacting with alarm after the GOP-dominated state legislature, with DeSantis’s support, passed a far-reaching bill Thursday night that puts new restrictions on the use of mail ballots.

Not only are GOP lawmakers reversing statutes that their own predecessors put in place, but they are also curtailing a practice that millions of state Republicans use, despite former president Donald Trump’s relentless and baseless claims that it invites fraud.

Even as Democrats and voting rights advocates accuse the proponents of Senate Bill 90 of attempting to suppress the votes of people of color, these Republicans say their own political fortunes are in peril, too….

As Gruters’s Senate Bill 90 was debated in the legislature this year, some Republicans privately expressed worry that it could further undercut the party’s ability to encourage mail voting — particularly among military voters and the elderly, who overwhelmingly use that method to cast their ballots.

One former state party official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to relay private conversations said some Republicans briefly discussed whether lawmakers could exempt those two groups from the provision requiring voters to request mail ballots every election cycle. “Key lawmakers said, ‘You can’t do that,’ ” the former official said. “It would raise equal protection problems.”

Now, the damage is done, he added. “Now, you’ll have military personnel who might not think they have to request a ballot who won’t get it. And we’ve got senior voters who have health concerns or just don’t want to go out. They might not know the law has changed, and they might not get a ballot, because they’re not engaged.”

Several state Republican operatives said they have spoken directly to lawmakers in their party who did not like Senate Bill 90 — but were unwilling to speak up for fear of incurring the wrath of party leaders and their own supporters.

Greg Sargent column:

Republicans are responding to their 2020 losses by doing everything they can to restrict the size of the electorate wherever possible, in ways they think will advantage them. To disguise this ugly game, they’ve rolled out all sorts of disingenuous talking points, claiming they want to restore “confidence” in our elections or, even more absurdly, to ensure “election integrity.”

But every now and then the mask slips, making the truth about these efforts even harder to deny.

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Eric McGhee, Jennifer Paluch, and Mindy Romero: Did mail voting reforms in 2020 raise turnout or help Democrats?

The following is a guest post from  Eric McGhee, Jennifer Paluch, and Mindy Romero:

The pandemic forced a lot of states to consider expanding access to voting by mail (VBM) in a way they hadn’t before to lower the risk of viral transmission at in-person voting sites. But President Trump charged that the practice was rife with fraud and designed to hurt Republicans, and criticized it at every opportunity. The result was a profound polarization over VBM among elected officials and voters alike and a crisis of confidence in our elections.  In the wake of this election, state legislatures across the country have considered scaling back VBM or have already done it.

What are the effects of increasing VBM access? Before the 2020 pandemic election, research generally showed it increased turnout at least a little, and did not favor one party or the other. But the pandemic election might have been different for a whole host of reasons, not least because a wider range of states experimented with these reforms than ever before. Some approaches were even tried that had rarely been used. Were the results any different?

Jennifer Paluch, Mindy Romero, and I have a new working paper that explores just this question. We look at the effect on turnout and partisan outcomes from three VBM reforms—opening VBM to anyone who wants it (no-excuse VBM), mailing all voters a VBM application (VBM applications), and mailing every voter a ballot (universal VBM)—and extend the research to the pandemic election itself.  In the process, we account for the complex mix of factors at work in the election:  including COVID, competitiveness, and other election reforms.

As was true in the research before 2020, universal VBM increased turnout in the 2020 election about 4 percentage points, while the other reforms had smaller and more contingent effects (turnout was actually lower in states that adopted no-excuse VBM).  The reforms didn’t help Democrats, either—in fact, if anything we found a modest effect in favor of Republicans.

There are caveats, of course. States and counties adopting these reforms were shifting strongly Democratic before the reform, and we accounted for that in our analysis. So these “pro-Republican” effects were measured against a baseline of steadily increasing Democratic support. In fact, almost all the results were at least a little sensitive to the exact way we sliced and diced the data. The big exception is mailing every voter a ballot:  the turnout boost from this reform seemed consistent across a wide range of approaches.

On balance, then, we think the effect of mailing a ballot on turnout is clear, but otherwise these reforms do not produce substantial increases in turnout or Democratic support, and in 2020 there is some evidence of the opposite in each case. Policymakers should change the lens through which they view this issue:  the question is not who gets an advantage from reform, but whether one wants more people to participate or not.

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Michigan: “Judge rules Benson’s ballot signature verification guidance ‘invalid'”

Detroit News:

State Court of Claims Judge Christopher Murray has ruled invalid Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s guidance issued to Michigan clerks in early October that instructed them to presume the accuracy of absentee ballot signatures.

Because Benson did not go through the proper rule-making process when issuing the guidance, clerks do not need to comply with it for future elections, Murray ruled last week.

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“Iowa governor signs controversial law shortening early and Election Day voting”

CNN:

Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday signed into law a controversial bill aimed at limiting voting and making it harder for voters to return absentee ballots, her office announced Monday.

The legislation, which passed both Republican-controlled chambers of the state legislature last month, will reduce the number of early voting days from 29 days to 20 days. It will also close polling places an hour earlier on Election Day (at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m.).

The bill additionally places new restrictions on absentee voting including banning officials from sending applications without a voter first requesting one and requiring ballots be received by the county before polls close on Election Day.

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