Electionland 2020: Accessibility Lawsuits, Mail Voting Expansion, USPS Woes and More

This article is part of Electionland, ProPublica’s collaborative reporting project covering problems that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots during the 2020 elections. Sign up to receive updates about our voting coverage and more each week.

Voting During a Pandemic

  • There are a host of anticipated problems ahead of the general election, including poll worker shortages, mail ballot rejections, dislocated voters and funding shortfalls. (The Guardian, Politico)

  • A voter registration project launched by a Massachusetts doctor is being adopted by health care providers around the country to register their patients to vote. (The New York Times)

  • Maryland is short nearly 14,000 election judges and election boards are struggling to fill the vacancies, which may lead to polling place closures. (Baltimore Sun)

  • The Detroit Pistons are partnering with the Michigan’s secretary of state’s office to provide employees to work as poll workers and to promote voter education. The Pistons’ arena will also serve as a polling site. (MLive)

  • Missouri’s St. Louis County is requiring voters to wear masks to the polls; if they cannot, the county offers curbside voting. (Fox 2 Now)

  • Last week marked 30 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Three decades later, voters with disabilities still face barriers to casting a ballot, and the pandemic has raised more challenges. (USA Today)

  • Ballotpedia is tracking state-by-state changes to voting procedures, legislation, and litigation. (Ballotpedia)

Vote by Mail News

  • Nine states, home to nearly a quarter of U.S. voters, are keeping tight restrictions on vote by mail ahead of the general election. (The Washington Post)

  • Pennsylvania expects a huge increase in mail ballots in the fall, though without changes to the process, election officials could be overwhelmed. (NPR)

  • Wisconsin officials will use intelligent barcodes on absentee ballots in the fall to allow voters to track their ballots. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

  • Some Iowa county auditors are sending pre-filled absentee ballot applications to voters, going against the secretary of state’s directive. (CBS 2 Iowa)

  • The Kentucky secretary of state says he doesn’t want to make vote by mail universal in the fall, given concerns about local officials’ ability to handle the volume of requests. (WFPL)

  • Election clerks in Montana asked the governor to give voters the option to vote by mail for the general election. (The Independent Record)

  • Rhode Island is considering calling the National Guard to assist with mail ballots in the fall. (The Boston Globe)

  • Donors on the left and right are pouring tens of millions of dollars into vote by mail ― promoting it or fighting it. (Associated Press)

Trump’s Crusade Against Mail Voting

  • Ramping up his continued attacks on mail voting, President Donald Trump floated postponing the election. He does not have the legal power to do so. (Politico)

  • Trump’s anti-mail ballot rhetoric may be hampering GOP get-out-the-vote efforts. (Los Angeles Times)

  • While Trump continues to decry mail voting, the GOP in North Carolina is promoting the voting method to Republican voters. (The Daily Beast)

  • Trump keeps using New Jersey to attack vote by mail, but those familiar with the fraud case there say there’s more to the story than the president’s oversimplified tweets. (The Washington Post)

  • Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge criticized the president’s attacks on mail voting, saying: “Sometimes I wonder if he is more worried about losing than he is about fraud.” (Palm Beach Post)

  • Attorney General Bill Barr testified before Congress this week, and he was questioned about mail voting fraud (or lack thereof), about the president accepting foreign assistance in an election, and the possibility that the president will refuse to leave office. (CNN)

Mail Voting Problems

  • In Wisconsin, 23,000 absentee ballots were thrown out during the April primary, largely because voters or witnesses missed a line on the form. State law does not require officials to notify absentee voters about problems with their ballots. (Wisconsin Watch and APM Reports)

  • The Postal Workers Union raised concerns about the upcoming election given the USPS budget crisis and slower delivery. “If there’s not good access to vote by mail, tens of millions of people will be denied the right to vote,” said the union president. (KPIX)

  • USPS is considering closing post offices around the country, causing concern about the agency’s ability to handle mail ballots. (AP)

  • In Michigan, officials urged absentee voters to drop off their ballots ahead of the August 4 state primary, since mail could be delayed. USPS recommends sending in a mail ballot at least a week before Election Day. (MLive, Sam Levine)

  • Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor and elections researcher, said New Jersey’s absentee ballot file from the July primary shows the majority of ballots received are marked as not having been processed yet. He added that the current rejection rate stands at 7.3%. (Michael McDonald)

  • In Tennessee’s Shelby County, voters filling out absentee ballots for the state primary were confused by ballot instructions that said they could only use black ink. An administrator clarified that voters could also use blue pens. (WMC5)

  • A group dedicated to getting out the vote conducted a survey that found more than half of voters under 35 say they lack the knowledge or resources to vote by mail. (NPR)

  • It took more than a month for the New York Board of Election to finish counting absentee ballots from the primary. (CBS New York)

Election Law News

  • Connecticut: Legislators passed a bill to allow no-excuse absentee voting in the fall. (The Day)

  • District of Columbia: The mayor signed a bill to allow incarcerated citizens to vote. (The Appeal)

  • Maryland: The state’s federal delegation called on the governor to send absentee ballots to all registered voters in the fall; the current plan is to send applications. (Montgomery Community Media)

  • New York: Legislators reached a deal on a bill to allow local election boards to start processing absentee ballot applications as soon as they are received. A bill was introduced to expand absentee voting for the general election. (New York Daily News, Bronx Times)

  • Ohio: The secretary of state wrote a column asking the state legislature to change the deadline for voters to request an absentee ballot. (Columbus Dispatch)

  • South Carolina: The state’s election commission wrote to lawmakers asking them to take up legislation ahead of the general election to make absentee voting easier. (WISTV)

  • Texas: Because of the pandemic, the governor added an extra six days of early voting ahead of the general election. (Texas Tribune)

  • National: Republicans did not include funding for elections in the latest stimulus bill, resulting in alarm from election administrators and voting rights advocates. Senators renamed voting rights legislation for the late Rep. John Lewis. A bill was introduced to facilitate voting access for voters with disabilities. (The Hill, USA Today, Keystone State News Connection)

The Latest From The Courts

  • Florida: Democrats from the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee said two federal appeals court judges appointed by Trump should be disqualified from ruling on the state’s felon voting rights case because they were involved in the case while on the Florida Supreme Court. Also, a group founded by LeBron James will donate $100,000 to pay outstanding court debts so that ex-felons are able to vote. (News Service of Florida, Politico)

  • Illinois: The state board of elections is getting sued for not disclosing voter registration records. (WICS)

  • Iowa: The Trump campaign and GOP are intervening in a lawsuit against a state rule that allows county auditors to look up missing voter information on absentee ballot requests, arguing the suit should be thrown out. (Des Moines Register)

  • Kansas: A judge ruled that the secretary of state must release names of voters who used provisional ballots in the 2018 election and must also disclose if those votes counted. (AP)

  • New York: The ACLU is trying to extend the state’s voter registration deadline. (NBC New York)

  • North Carolina: The state’s mail voting system isn’t accessible to visually impaired voters, a new lawsuit says. (Greensboro News and Record)

  • Ohio: The state Supreme Court approved a plan to give educational credits to lawyers for acting as voluntary poll workers on Election Day. (Court News Ohio)

  • Rhode Island: Voting rights groups sued the state over its absentee ballot witness requirement, and a judge said she supported suspending the rule. The Republican National Committee tried to intervene in the case, but was denied. (Providence Journal)

  • Texas: Disability rights groups are suing the state over its mail ballot system, which they say violates the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Star-Telegram)

  • Virginia: The state is being sued over its absentee voting system, which advocates say aren’t accessible to some disabled voters. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

  • National: Both presidential candidates are marshalling “armies of attorneys” to deal with election litigation. (The Hill)

Cybersecurity Headlines

  • A cybersecurity vendor analyzed the email systems of 12,000 election officials and found that more than 1,600 used free or nonstandard software that may not have sufficient protections. (The Wall Street Journal)

  • Local election officials have been warned that ransomware poses a threat ahead of the election. (State Scoop)

  • “Today, we see our adversaries seeking to compromise the private communications of U.S. political campaigns, candidates and other political targets,” said William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, in a statement last week. “Our adversaries also seek to compromise our election infrastructure, and we continue to monitor malicious cyber actors trying to gain access to U.S. state and federal networks, including those responsible for managing elections.” (NPR)

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