Category Archives: absentee ballots

“How Colorado executes its signature-match requirement for ballots disenfranchises many voters, a lawsuit claims”

From Colorado Public Radio:

Lawful votes are unconstitutionally discarded in Colorado, often because a voter’s signature doesn’t match what’s on file, according to a lawsuit filed in Denver District Court late last week.

The signature match requirement is meant to prevent voter fraud, since mail or at-home voting takes place away from a polling site. But, the lawsuit said, fraud is extremely rare, and ballot rejections disproportionately impact diverse communities, disabled people and the youngest and oldest voters.

“For the vast majority of Colorado voters who vote by mail this fundamental right is contingent on an arbitrary, deeply flawed signature matching process,” read the lawsuit. “While ostensibly deployed to verify voter identity, signature matching is election integrity theater: it disenfranchises qualified voters by the tens of thousands, all for the appearance — but not the reality — of election integrity.”

The lawsuit notes that actual voter fraud is exceedingly rare.

A similar lawsuit was filed last month in Washington. Both were filed in state court, on state law grounds (to avoid federal questions that may tee up review in the United States Supreme Court). I’ll be watching these in the months ahead.

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“Turnout Was Strong in Georgia, but Mail Voting Plummets After New Law”

NYT:

While voter turnout remained strong, absentee voting in Georgia dropped off drastically in this year’s midterm election, the first major test of an expansive 2021 voting law that added restrictions for casting ballots by mail.

Data released by the Georgia secretary of state showed that mail voting in the state’s November general election plunged by 81 percent from the level of the 2020 contest. While a drop was expected after the height of the pandemic, Georgia had a far greater decrease than any other state with competitive statewide races, according to a New York Times analysis.

Turnout data suggests that a large majority of people who voted by mail in 2020 found another way to cast their ballots this year — turning to in-person voting, either early or on Election Day. Turnout in the state was 56 percent of all active voters, shy of the 2018 high-water mark for a midterm election.

The numbers are the first sign of how the 2021 law may have affected the election in Georgia, which has recently established itself as a battleground state. The law was signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, and backed by G.O.P. state lawmakers who said that the changes would make it “easier to vote, harder to cheat.” It significantly limited drop boxes, added voter identification requirements and prevented election officials from proactively mailing out absentee ballot applications.

But civil rights groups, voting rights advocates and Democrats noted that there was no evidence of widespread fraud in elections. They viewed the law, known as S.B. 202, as an attempt to suppress Democratic-leaning voters, especially people of color, who had just helped flip Georgia blue in a presidential election for the first time in decades.

President Biden called the law “Jim Crow in the 21st century.” Major League Baseball moved its All-Star game out of suburban Atlanta in protest.

This year, after a mostly smooth and high-turnout general election under the new rules, both sides saw validation in their arguments. Republicans pointed to the strong overall turnout as evidence that the law had not suppressed votes. Democrats and civil rights groups argued that their sprawling voter education and mobilization efforts had helped people overcome the new hurdles.

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“Pennsylvania Republicans reconsider their war on mail voting”

Politico:

For the past two years, Republican officials in the critical battleground state of Pennsylvania have blasted mail voting, firing off lawsuits and bills aimed at crippling the balloting method that has become increasingly popular post-pandemic.

In the wake of a midterm cycle that proved disastrous for them, they’re wondering if their antipathy to the idea cost them the election.

“There’s no question in my mind that Republicans have to have a different mail-in strategy,” said Andy Reilly, a Republican National Committeeman in Pennsylvania. “When one party votes for 30 days and one party votes for one, you’re definitely going to lose.”

Across the country, the GOP’s disappointing midterm results have kicked off hand-wringing about the party’s attitude toward early voting and mail ballots. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley — both potential 2024 GOP presidential candidates — have said recently that Republicans can’t simply ignore the voting mechanisms Democrats have taken advantage of.

But the about-face is particularly striking in Pennsylvania, where Republicans have adopted an especially uncompromising approach to mail-in voting.

Though nearly every Republican state legislator backed a 2019 law legalizing no-excuse mail voting, GOP officials changed their tune in the 2020 presidential election, when then-President Donald Trump repeatedly and forcefully bashed vote-by-mail.

Their criticism of the method continued from there. Pennsylvania Republicans attacked Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the state’s top election official for the way they implemented the 2019 mail voting law. They lambasted court rulings on the procedure, including those that enabled the use of drop boxes and allowed mail ballots to be received up to three days after the 2020 election as long as they were postmarked by Election Day.

The 2022 Pennsylvania GOP’s gubernatorial nominee, Doug Mastriano, pledged during his campaign to eliminate no-excuse mail-in voting and led the movement to overturn the 2020 presidential election in the state. Republican state lawmakers filed a lawsuit that attempted to toss out the very vote-by-mail law they helped pass. Republican Jake Corman, the retiring state Senate President Pro Tempore, said mail voting should be ended.

But the blue wave that hit Pennsylvania in 2022 — in which Republicans lost key races for governor, Senate, House and the state legislature — is forcing the GOP to reassess.

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[Equally Divided] “Pa. Supreme Court orders counties to set aside undated and wrongly dated mail ballots and not count them”

Philly Inquirer:

Pennsylvania counties must segregate and not count mail ballots with missing or incorrect dates, the state Supreme Court said Tuesday, in a ruling that could affect thousands of votes in November’s midterm elections.

“The Pennsylvania county boards of elections are hereby ordered to refrain from counting any absentee and mail-in ballots received for the November 8, 2022 general election that are contained in undated or incorrectly dated outer envelopes,” the court said in its order Tuesday afternoon.

The justices said they were deadlocked, 3-3, on whether rejecting undated and wrongly dated mail ballots violates federal civil rights law. They did not immediately issue any opinions that would explain the order and said they would come later. It was not immediately clear whether the court intended to have the ballots rejected altogether, since it ordered counties to set them aside and “refrain” from counting them.

“We hereby direct that the Pennsylvania county boards of elections segregate and preserve any ballots contained in undated or incorrectly dated outer envelopes,” the court said in the brief order.

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“The Pa. Supreme Court is taking on the issue of undated mail ballots just weeks before Election Day”

Philly Inquirer:

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is taking on the question of undated mail ballots.

The court on Friday accepted a lawsuit filed by a coalition of Republican groups, including the Republican National Committee and Pennsylvania GOP, that seeks to block undated mail ballots from being counted.

Friday’s move was an unusual one — the lawsuit was filed Sunday directly with the state’s high court, asking it to use a rare power to take up an issue before going through the normal court process. The justices’ acceptance of the lawsuit suggests they see the question of undated ballots as urgent and important.

And as they granted the request Friday, they fast-tracked the case, setting a deadline of Monday for the Republican groups to file their arguments and Tuesday for the Pennsylvania Department of State, Democratic groups, and all 67 county boards of elections to respond.

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“[NY Trial Court] rules part of N.Y. absentee voting law is unconstitutional; State Democratic officials expect to appeal the ruling before Election Day. COVID-19 exemption remains in place.”

Times-Union:

A state Supreme Court justice issued a split ruling Friday that found New York’s absentee ballot laws are partially unconstitutional, a decision that will hurl an element of disorder into the midterm election in which mail-in voting is already underway.

State Supreme Court Justice Dianne L. Freestone’s decision stopped short of overturning a change in Election Law that allows someone to vote by absentee ballot if they fear contracting COVID-19, a measure that she highly criticized but said could not be undone at this time.

Her ruling on the lawsuit filed by Republican and Conservative party leaders was immediately challenged by Democratic officials who filed a notice of appeal on Friday evening. The case, which may be resolved by the state Court of Appeals, is expected to move quickly as Election Day is less than three weeks away.

You can find the trial court’s opinion at this link.

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Supreme Court Vacates as Moot Third Circuit Decision About Counting Timely But Undated Absentee Ballots in Pennsylvania

Today’s order means the loss of a helpful precedent. Here’s how the cert. petition put the issue:

Pennsylvania requires voters to sign and date a declaration when they vote by mail. In a private lawsuit filed after a local election, the Third Circuit held that this dating requirement was preempted by the materiality provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 52 U.S.C. §10101(a)(2)(B). That decision “is very likely incorrect,” as three Justices have explained, and “could well affect the outcome of the fall elections.” Ritter v. Migliori, 2022 WL 2070669 (U.S. June 9), at *3, *1 (Alito, J., dissental). Though petitioner planned to ask this Court to review it, he couldn’t because the election ended and the results were certified. So the Third Circuit’s decision will continue wreaking havoc, but this Court cannot review it on the merits.

The question presented is:
Should this Court vacate the Third Circuit’s decision under United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., 340 U.S. 36 (1950)?

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“Judge upholds Georgia election laws on all counts in voting rights case”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Fair Fights Action has lost its 2018 challenge to Georgia’s election laws after four years. Georgia’s voter registration and absentee ballot practices, while not perfect, the Judge concluded, did not violate either the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act. The judge ruled in favor of Georgia on all counts. The full opinion is embedded in the article.

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What impact did policy changes, the political environment, and voter outreach have on mail ballot rejection rates in 2020?

In a concise new paper published by Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Tova Wang and Jose Altamirano analyze trends in mail ballot rejection rates in 2020. Were mail ballots rejected at a higher rate in 2020 compared to previous years? What impact did policy changes, the political environment, and voter outreach have on mail ballot rejection rates in such an extraordinary election year?

Key findings include:

• Mail ballot rejection rates decreased in most states in 2020 compared to 2018, and a number of states saw a consistent drop from 2016 through 2020.

• Certain states that adapted their voting laws to make mail voting more accessible in 2020, particularly in the South, saw especially pronounced changes in rejection rates.

• States that implemented mail ballot policies, including ballot curing, increased ease of access when returning mail ballots at Boards of Elections, early voting sites, drop boxes, and ballot tracking, saw lower rejection rates than those that didn’t.

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“Michigan lawmakers agree on early absentee ballot processing”

AP News reports that legislators in Michigan have reached a deal to permit the pre-processing of absentee ballots in municipalities with populations of at least 10,000, starting two days before the Nov. 8 election. The deal does not change existing law that precludes vote counting from starting before 7 a.m. on Election Day and many election officials argue it does not go far enough. Nevertheless, it is an important step toward reducing delays in counting the vote in a state that has allowed no-excuse mail in ballots since 2018.

“Ann Bollin, House Elections and Ethics Committee chair, announced the agreement on election bills after months of negotiations. The bills are expected to pass the Republican-controlled Legislature on Wednesday and go to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat.”

3.3 million Michigan voters cast absentee ballots in the 2020 presidential election, and “over half of all votes cast in the August primary were absentee.”

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The Impact of Missouri’s New Voting Law

From KQTV in St. Joseph, on the bill signed last month.

HB 1878 was signed by Governor Parsons just over three weeks ago, but concerns for voter accessibility continue to grow. 

The bill introduced many procedure changes for Missouri elections that will go into effect as early as August 28th.

The elimination of mail-in ballots in just one of these changes that could prevent eligible Missouri voters from doing their civic duty of participating in elections….

Along with the elimination of mail-in ballots, another area of concern within the bill in regards to accessibility is the addition of a photo ID requirement.

“In the November general election, you will have to present a government-issued photo ID instead of [something like] a bank statement or utility bill, or just your voter ID card. You actually now have a specific voter photo ID.” says Luke Campbell, Associate Professor of Political Science at NWMSU.

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