There are now less than 100 days until the November election and Republicans are in a full-scale panic. Posed to lose control of the White House, the Senate and see their numbers dwindle in the House, Republicans are turning to the only trick they have left—voter suppression.
And, increasingly, they are turning to the courts for help in blocking the vote.
As Politico recently wrote: “Trump volunteered that the thing he’s most worried about is those lawsuits not sufficiently suppressing the vote. ‘My biggest risk is that we don’t win lawsuits… 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.’”
Our job is to not let him win. This is why I started Democracy Docket and this newsletter to serve as a resource for people worried about the Republican assault on democracy.
I am pleased to announce that in August, we will be expanding the reach and scope of the site to provide even more information about voting, elections, voting rights and threats to our democratic systems. While it will continue to serve as a clearinghouse and resource for people or groups looking for information about our voting rights litigation, it will do even more to protect voting and democracy.
Stay tuned for more later this Summer.
Race to the Courthouse
In the past four months, we have filed 14 new cases to expand voting rights for as many eligible voters as possible for November. While it took them a few months to catch up, the Republicans are starting to fight back with a vengeance. Not only did they double their litigation budget to $20 million and commit to recruiting 50,000 poll watchers, they recently switched their focus to filing their own cases to limit voting. And just this week, new reporting revealed that “deep-pocketed and often anonymous donors are pouring over $100 million” into this litigation, substantially coming from “Donors Trust, a nonprofit often referred to as the ‘dark money ATM’ of the conservative movement.”
But we won’t sit by quietly as Republicans and the Trump campaign maliciously suppress voters for their own political gain. In July, we intervened in their cases against California and won. One month after we filed to intervene, the RNC was forced to concede defeat after the California legislature passed a bill requiring election officials to mail a ballot to every registered, active voter in California ahead of the November election.
Just last week, we intervened in the GOP’s Pennsylvania lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed by the Trump campaign and the RNC, attacked the state’s implementation of vote by mail (VBM) safeguards in the June primary. Unsurprisingly, their lawsuit falsely claimed that providing VBM to voters in Pennsylvania gives “fraudsters an easy opportunity to engage in ballot harvesting, manipulate or destroy ballots, manufacture duplicitous votes, and sow chaos.”
We promised we would fight this lawsuit from the moment it was filed. On behalf of Priorities USA and the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans, we intervened in the case to protect VBM. 1.9 million Pennsylvanians have already requested mail ballots this year, compared with just 107,000 in 2016. With Trump and the GOP’s poll numbers dropping daily, this surge in VBM is a direct threat to their re-election. This lawsuit, and others like it, is their only chance at winning.
Meanwhile in Iowa, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a new law that restricts elections officials from helping voters who incorrectly fill out their absentee ballot request forms. Prior to the law, election officials could quickly fill in any incomplete or incorrect information using the state’s voter database.
The law creates an unnecessary burden on VBM and makes it more difficult for county election officials to send out absentee ballots—and we’re fighting back in court. On behalf of LULAC of Iowa and Majority Forward, we challenged this restriction that, if left intact, is sure to disproportionately disenfranchise Black, Latino, and young voters.
It’s no coincidence that the day before this law passed, a poll came out showing Iowa Democrat Theresa Greenfield leading incumbent Republican Senator Joni Ernst by three percentage points. Make no mistake—the Republican Legislature in Iowa got the signal to pass this restrictive law from the GOP. I have no doubt that similar orders are being given to legislatures across the country, especially in places where Trump and the Republicans are losing.
Where We’re Litigating
We had a series of wins in July. In South Carolina, the State Election Commission agreed to part of our lawsuit, saying they will provide pre-paid postage for absentee ballots for the November 2020 general election “regardless of the number of voters deemed qualified to vote by absentee ballot.” This agreement will save South Carolina voters an estimated $1 million on postage. Our case on the remaining voting restrictions remains ongoing.
The next settlement came from our Florida Four Pillars case, where the Florida Secretary of State agreed to engage in a massive education campaign for voters and election supervisors before the November General Election. This will include:
- Encouraging Supervisors to use first-class mail for delivery and return of mail ballots.
- Educating Supervisors on the use of intelligent mail bar codes to track ballots and using CARES Act funds for pre-paid postage.
- Committing to contacting eligible but unregistered Floridians to inform them of the available methods to vote.
- Maximizing the use of ballot drop boxes and early voting days.
- Creating a social media campaign to inform voters of the available voting options, with specific efforts made to promote these options to college-age voters and minority groups.
The lawyer for the Republican Secretary of State spoke eloquently to the court in describing our plaintiffs as the victors of this settlement:
“The victors include the black teen in overtime in Miami who will be voting for the first time, the hurricane refugee from Puerto Rico who is now casting a vote in Kissimmee, the rural voter, the single mom, the dad who works two jobs, the civic-minded first generation college student. These are the victors to this agreement.
“These victors are those who sometimes need a helping hand in exercising the franchise and are afraid of asking for it by exercising the constitutional right to come to this court and demand it. These people are to be applauded, Your Honor. This agreement will help these Floridians and many others like them to exercise their franchise.”
Finally, we had several victories in Minnesota. First, the Secretary of State agreed not to further challenge our Ballot Order case after the District Court judge ruled in our favor last month. The court granted our joint motion to stay the case until the end of the 2021 Minnesota Legislature session. This is a double win for Minnesota voters. In the November election, there will be no unfair Ballot Order and the stay will give the Minnesota legislature the opportunity to permanently remove the Ballot Order rule for future elections.
Also in Minnesota, we entered into a consent decree with the state regarding two important VBM rules. First, the state agreed to suspend the witness requirement for November, meaning voters no longer need a witness to cast a mail ballot. Second, Minnesota agreed that ballots postmarked by Election Day will count, even if received afterwards. This is a critical Four Pillars requirement for fair VBM. We await the court’s sign-off on this agreement.
Our most recent win in Minnesota was in our Four Pillars voter assistance case. The court granted our preliminary injunction motion, which will stop Minnesota from enforcing two election laws that collectively made it a crime for people to assist with ballot collection and voter assistance. This is a huge win for Minnesota voters, especially for language-minority groups and disabled voters who often rely on voter assistance and third-party ballot collection to ensure their votes are counted.
Every day we get closer to the general election, Democracy Docket is fighting to protect voting rights, especially for young and minority voters who face high rates of disenfranchisement. For a complete list of our current cases and recent victories, check out our website.
July Spotlight: Communities Building Movements
Our July spotlight is Movement Voter Project: a progressive organization that helps people directly support community-based action. Focusing on youth and communities of color, Movement Voter Project supports organizations that turn out unlikely voters and organize communities. Ahead of each election cycle, they identify areas in most need of investment and develop individual state-by-state targets. Recently, the Movement Voter Project created the Black-Led Organizing Fund, where any donation is re-granted directly to 42 Black-led organizing groups in key 2020 states. To support these groups directly, check out the full list of on the ground organizations here to support them directly.
What I’m Reading
Earlier in July, the Inspector General for the United States Postal Service released the report “Timelines of Ballot Mail in the Milwaukee Processing & Distribution Center Service Area.” In the report, the IG “identified potential nationwide issues integrating election office’s vote by mail processes with the Postal Service processes which could impact future elections.” The IG also reported concerns that if states don’t change their deadlines, the problems found in Milwaukee’s primary will only be repeated across the country. Read the full report to better understand the importance of our Four Pillars lawsuits.
Recently, we’ve seen Republicans’ litigation strategy shift from intervening in our lawsuits to filing their own. A Slate article published earlier this month described this troubling new front in the voting wars. The article, “Conservative Groups Sue to Make Pandemic Voting Even Harder” is a much-needed explainer for people wondering why we are litigating so many more cases this cycle than ever before. As the piece explains, these new GOP lawsuits flip the script, targeting “states that have facilitated voting during the pandemic by loosening electoral regulations.”
What Bode’s Barking About
“More than 14,000 mail ballots were rejected in the March 3 primary because the signature on the vote-by-mail envelope didn’t match the one on the voter registration card. Thousands more were counted only after voters were required to provide a new signature for scrutiny.”
“Some voters in Fulton County are receiving absentee ballots with envelopes that lack a mailing address for them to be returned. The space for the address of the county elections office is blank. Voters would have to fill in the address of the Fulton elections office themselves. Otherwise, the U.S. Postal Service wouldn’t be able to deliver their ballots.”
“Numerous studies have found that voting by mail has not traditionally favored one party over the other. But as the president falsely denounces the process as “corrupt,” Democrats around the country are requesting ballots at a far higher rate than Republicans are.”
Watch Secretary Clinton talk about Democracy Docket on The Daily Show.
Trump: “My biggest risk is that we don’t win lawsuits. We have many lawsuits going all over. And if we don’t win those lawsuits, I think it puts the election at risk.” Referring to lawsuits that fight against mail-in voting & seek to suppress the vote. https://t.co/mvRJpMA0Rz
— Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II (@RevDrBarber) July 19, 2020
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) July 21, 2020