What a difference a month makes.
Last month, I wrote about the busy court schedule we expected in March. The COVID-19 pandemic changed that schedule—but not our plan to ensure that every eligible citizen can exercise their right to vote and that their vote is counted accurately. As detailed below, we continue to litigate twenty-plus voting lawsuits, while filing new ones where necessary. And that won’t change. In the coming weeks, I expect to file several new lawsuits and announce additional victories—including additional favorable settlements.
What has changed is the need to focus our efforts on the inevitable growth of voting by mail. Voting by mail has many benefits. It can help diminish long lines and increase voter participation. With the possibility that COVID-19 will remain a public health concern in November, vote by mail offers voters a way to participate that doesn’t require close contact with others.
That said, vote by mail has also been associated with some unique types of disenfranchisement. A 2018 study by Professor Daniel Smith found that “younger voters, as well as voters from racial and ethnic minorities, are much more likely to cast VBM ballots that are rejected, and are less likely to cure their VBM ballots if SOE staff flag them for having signature problems.”
In our lawsuit against Arizona, expert analysis shows that in Maricopa County the requirement that ballots be received by Election Day (and not just postmarked) is four times more likely to disenfranchise Hispanic voters than white voters, and 5.5 times more likely to disenfranchise Native American voters than white voters. In Arizona’s Santa Cruz County, where 83 percent of the population is Hispanic, ballots are about six times more likely to be rejected than ballots from Maricopa.
This is why I wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post as well as participated in an accompanying video (with a cameo from Bode) where I discussed everything that states will have to do to ensure a successful move to voting by mail.
To be fair to all voters, states must adopt four pillars to safeguard voting rights with vote by mail. They are:
- Postage must be free or prepaid by the government;
- Ballots postmarked on or before Election Day must count;
- Signature matching laws need to be reformed to protect voters; and
- Community organizations should be permitted to help collect and deliver voted, sealed ballots.
I was honored and thrilled when Stacey Abrams incorporated these four pillars into what she calls the “gold standard.” The House and Senate COVID-19 Response Bills also addressed these issues. The Senate bill committed $400 million to help states address the effects of COVID-19 on the 2020 election. While this is not enough to truly combat the problem—the Brennan Center estimated it could cost up to $2 billion—it is a large step up from the Republican-proposed $150 million. I’ll be keeping a close eye on how states use this money to make sure every vote counts in November.
Rethinking Voting Litigation
As states across the country start planning for an increased amount of voting by mail this November, we are already achieving results to protect voting rights. In early March, we settled a case challenging Georgia’s signature matching laws and Gwinnett County’s absentee ballot envelope design. Our lawsuit, brought on behalf of the DSCC, DCCC, and Georgia Democratic Party, challenged Georgia’s law that failed to give all voters prompt notification of their rejected absentee ballots in time to fix a missing or mismatched signature. Ballots were getting thrown out for no lawful reason without timely notification to voters due to standard-less and unreliable signature matching processes. Read the settlement documents here, where Georgia agreed to provide prompt notification of absentee ballot rejections and increased signature matching regulations and trainings. Gwinnett County also adopted a clearer absentee ballot envelope design in the settlement. While this is an exciting win, it is also an important example of the many precautions states need to consider when instituting vote by mail elections.
A week after we settled the Georgia case, we followed the five major Native American Tribes in Montana in challenging the state’s ballot collection law. On behalf of the DSCC and Montana Democratic Party, we are challenging Montana’s recently enacted restrictions on individuals and organizations that collect and transport absentee ballots to assist voters and the requirement that absentee ballots be received by 8pm on Election Day. The combined effect of these two laws makes it significantly more difficult for voters to submit their ballots and prevents organizations, friends, and neighbors from helping voters most burdened by these laws: seniors, disabled populations, Native Americans and young voters.
As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, last week, on behalf of the DNC and Wisconsin Democratic Party, we sued and won an extension to Wisconsin’s on-line registration deadline ahead of their upcoming April 7 election. We continue to challenge the state’s Election Day receipt deadline for mailed ballots.
Where We’re Litigating
We also filed our fifth lawsuit this cycle against Texas, this time challenging their elimination of straight-ticket voting. Straight-ticket voting plays a critical role in Texas’ elections: in the 2018 general election, more than 5.6 million voters cast their votes using straight-ticket voting in Texas alone. Straight-ticket voting is an integral component of voting, especially in Texas where it reduces voting time and long lines at polling places. These long lines disproportionately exist in counties with high populations of African-American and Hispanic voters. Without straight-ticket voting, these voters in Texas will have to wait in even longer lines than we’ve already seen in primary elections this cycle.
With our ever-growing updates on voting rights litigation expanding past this monthly newsletter, we launched a new website in the beginning of March, Democracy Docket. Democracy Docket is a hub for voting rights news and updates on litigation and political commentary focused on the 2020 election. Interested in learning more about the cases in our active case map below? Check out our cases page on Democracy Docket where we detail active cases, post recent briefs, and showcase our past litigation victories. We are also highlighting the groups sponsoring our litigation, from the DNC, DSCC and DCCC to advocacy groups like Priorities USA and the National Redistricting Foundation.
March Spotlight: Documentary on Voter Suppression
If you’re looking for some election-related content to keep you busy in social isolation, check out the new documentary, Suppressed: The Fight to Vote. The short movie follows the many issues Georgia voters faced in the 2018 midterm election. It features experts, poll watchers and regular voters discussing the threat of voter suppression in 2020. Stacey Abrams called the movie “vivid, powerful…Suppressed reminds us all that we can fight together to achieve a future where all Americans can freely exercise their fundamental right to vote.” Check out the documentary here.
What I’m Reading
Stephen Wolf, Elections Writer for the Daily Kos and a long-time advocate for expanding voting rights and electoral reform, shared the below map detailing which states have vote by mail options. He also discussed the different remedies different states and legislators are taking in response to the coronavirus pandemic and its potential affect on elections.
Expanding voting rights is a community effort, and in this time of international crisis we must take care of our communities first. WAMU, DC’s public radio station, published this article on six ways to help your neighborhood fight the impact of coronavirus. They suggest donating to local food banks, buying gift cards at your favorite restaurants in the area, or volunteering to grocery shop or run errands for older neighbors if you are feeling well. I hope everyone is staying safe and leaning on their friends and family during this difficult time.
What Bode’s Barking About
“PRESS ROOM: The DCCC, DSCC, Democratic Party of Georgia Announce Victory Against Unlawful Georgia Ballot Procedures.” Black Press USA. March 11, 2020.
“Coronavirus tests American democracy as planning begins for worst case in November Election.” Washington Post. March 16, 2020.
“Pandemic Planning Should Ensure All Votes Can Be Cast by Mail in November, Experts Say.” The Intercept. March 16, 2020.
“Only Congress Could Change Date of November Election.”The Wall Street Journal. March 18, 2020.
“Video: Coronavirus could change how we vote. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing.” Washington Post. March 16, 2020.
— Senate Democrats (@dscc) March 10, 2020
Voting should be easy. But as we saw with seven-hour lines in Texas on Tuesday, Republicans put up barriers to voters casting their ballots.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 5, 2020