When the history of this era is written, June 2020 will be remembered as the month that Americans could no longer avert their eyes to the systemic racial injustice in our society. In the midst of a pandemic, and under threat from militarized police—and in some instances the military itself—we witnessed brave men and women take to the streets to say enough is enough: we will not stand by as Black men and women are systematically targeted and killed based on the color of their skin. Millions of Americans of all races and backgrounds are finally saying loudly and clearly that Black Lives Matter.
Unfortunately, against this backdrop, June also demonstrated how unprepared we are to hold free and fair elections this November. From Georgia to Nevada, Pennsylvania to Kentucky, we saw voters—many of them Black and brown—waiting in seemingly endless lines. The last voter in Nevada did not cast a ballot until 3:00 AM.
Reflecting on the gravity, persistence, and unfairness of these long lines, I recently asked, “How long would you be willing to stand in line to vote?” I wrote that “we must demand election officials offer concrete plans—not platitudes—for how they will avoid long lines this November. And, if the politicians fail to act, we must demand the courts step in to solve this problem and protect voters.”
Simultaneously, Republicans have begun to acknowledge out loud what they have previously said in private: voter suppression and opposing voting rights in court is their best chance at winning. In the words of Fair Fight’s Lauren Groh-Wargo, Republicans are building a “voter suppression war machine.” In addition to spending $20,000,000 to fight against voting rights in court, Republicans have begun to recruit 50,000 “poll watchers” to “police who votes and how.”
For his part, President Trump made clear that he now sees our voting rights lawsuits as the “biggest risk” to his re-election. “My biggest risk is that we don’t win lawsuits,” Trump said. “We have many lawsuits going all over. And if we don’t win those lawsuits, I think—I think it puts the election at risk.”
The fight continues.
Fighting Bad Laws in Republican—and Democratic—States
In June, we won not just one, but two voting rights cases in Minnesota. First, a Minnesota court struck down the state’s Ballot Order provision, which required all political party candidates be listed on the ballot in reverse order based on the average number of votes received in the previous election. Under this provision, the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party would have been listed last on every ballot in the upcoming general election. As the judge wrote in the order, “Contrary to the Secretary’s arguments, the advantage provided by the Ballot Order statute is not small. The unrefuted evidence shows that the primacy effect created by the statute confers anywhere from 1% to 5.5% more votes on the party benefiting from the statute’s operation…Given that Minnesota’s elections have, in the past, been decided by as slim of a margin as .01% of the vote share, even a 1% increase in vote share as a result of the primacy effect created by the Ballot Order statute is significant.”
Our second Minnesota win came from a settlement we reached with the Democratic Secretary of State. The Secretary settled both claims in our Four Pillars lawsuit and agreed to abandon two significant vote by mail (VBM) restrictions. Because of our lawsuit, voters are no longer required to have their mail-in ballots witnessed and will have their ballots counted so long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received within two days after Election Day. However, these changes are only in effect for the August primary. We will continue to challenge these restrictive laws for the November general election.
We also won another settlement in Arizona, where the Secretary of State settled our case that challenged Arizona’s mail ballot deadline law and practice that systematically disenfranchises voters. This law has had a disproportionate impact on Hispanic and Latino, Native American, and rural voters. For example, in rural Arizona counties, Hispanic and Latino voters are five to six times more likely to be disenfranchised than white voters.
In the settlement, the Secretary of State agreed to adopt specific measures to ensure that minority voters have fair and equal access to voting this November. Specifically, the state has agreed to:
- Increase outreach efforts to educate voters about the Election Day Receipt Deadline in English, Spanish, Navajo, and Apache
- Expand early voting opportunities in Hispanic and Latino, Native American, and rural communities
- Allocate funding toward additional mobile early voting units and physical early voting locations
- Hire election staff who can speak the languages of different Arizona communities
- Expand the number of ballot drop-boxes in rural, Hispanic and Latino, and tribal communities
The Secretary also agreed to review ballots received after Election Day and will consult with election officials on the future implementation of a postmark deadline. This study will hopefully expand Arizonans’ voting rights in elections to come.
If you take a look at our cases map below, you might be surprised to see that we are suing a number of Democratic-controlled states, just like Minnesota and Arizona. The truth about voter suppression is that bad laws are everywhere: if we don’t look closely at old voting laws, hundreds of thousands of voters could face disenfranchisement in November.
Where We’re Litigating
We also filed two new Four Pillars cases in Michigan and Maine. In Michigan we challenged the state’s Ballot Receipt Deadline, lack of pre-paid postage, and Voter Assistance Ban. These three restrictions threaten to deny Michiganders their right to safely cast a ballot and have it counted. The U.S. Postal Service has reduced mail service in some parts of the state—including Detroit and other highly-populated areas—due to pandemic-related staffing shortages. In Michigan’s May 5 local elections, 99% of those who voted cast absentee ballots. These factors further underscore the importance of our lawsuit, and why we must take steps now to protect voting rights ahead of November.
Our Maine Four Pillars case challenged more VBM barriers than any of our previous Four Pillars cases. On behalf of the Alliance for Retired Americans, Vote.org, and individual voters, our lawsuit challenged six laws and practices in Maine that restrict VBM. In addition to failing to meet any of the Four Pillars, Maine also does not accept online voter registration applications and requires that first-time registrants who register to VBM submit a photocopy of an ID.
Finally, in California, we fought back against the RNC and right-wing’s attempt to block Governor Gavin Newsom’s effort to expand VBM. On behalf of the DCCC and the California Democratic Party, we intervened in the RNC’s lawsuit to ensure a safe and fair election in November. A week ago, Governor Newsom signed a new law requiring election officials to mail a ballot to every registered, active voter for the November election: another legal blow to the GOP and a huge win for voters across the state!
We’re less than five months away from Election Day and are already litigating over 30 voting rights cases. But let me be clear: our fight is far from over. Every day, new restrictive voting laws quietly move through statehouses across the country. Last week, we saw Iowa Republicans add last minute voter suppression provisions into the state’s budget bill. Specifically, they called for additional voter identification requirements and restrictions on how county auditors can help voters fix an incomplete absentee ballot request. These provisions are deliberately designed to make VBM harder in a state that saw more than 80% of participants vote by absentee ballot for the June primary. If the bill is signed into law, we are at the ready to sue.
June Spotlight: Organizing Young Voters
This month’s spotlight is Alliance For Youth Action, a nationwide network of organizations focused on organizing young, progressive voters. They recently published a helpful guide on how to be an at-home organizer, featuring MOVE University free classes, a new series of policy discussions, book recommendations, and other tools to build community around specific issues. Check out what else their network is doing and how to get involved in your local organization.
What I’m Reading
As our On the Docket community continues to grow, I’m repeatedly asked how people can get involved in our work. InStyle asked me the same question in their piece “So You Want to Get Politically Active? Here’s Your Comprehensive Guide.” Their guide is a great starting point for those looking to get involved in politics and advocacy work—maybe even for the first time.
What Bode’s Barking About
“The vote-counting restrictions aren’t a problem when absentee ballots are a small slice of the pie. But they could cause extensive backlogs in light of new projections that mail-in voting will explode to more than half of all ballots cast — potentially numbering in the millions — because of the pandemic.”
“The coronavirus has heightened the already considerable obstacles blocking citizens from exercising their right to vote. In the last decade, Republicans have enacted new voting restrictions in 25 states. The Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act, unleashing new efforts in states with long histories of voting discrimination to make it harder for voters of color to cast ballots.”
“The U.S. has never had to shift its system of election administration so massively and so swiftly. We will have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. The lack of federal leadership and the partisan polarization of the moment will make all of this more difficult. Time is running out for all those who care about the validity of the 2020 election.”