By Democracy Docket

September 2020

Committed to Justice

Less than a week after the loss of a cultural, intellectual and historical icon, we are still grieving.

As I wrote in my piece, “The Urgency of Now,” all of us have a moral obligation to continue the fight for freedom and justice that was the cornerstone of Justice Ginsburg’s life and career. We are, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1963, “faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.”

The fierce urgency of now requires all of us to stand up in public and speak out for what is right and oppose what is wrong; to take political action through registering ourselves and our friends and family to vote. The fierce urgency of now requires us to hold our elected officials accountable by voting and making sure others we care about do the same.

Generations from now, when people ask who Ruth Bader Ginsburg was and what she did at this time, when the stakes were this high, the answer will be that until her dying breath she fought for justice with the fierce urgency of now.

We must honor her with the same commitment to justice, not with words but with actions. Keep up the fight, every day counts.

40 Days and Counting

With 40 days left before the most important election of our lifetimes, Kamala Harris’s call to action in her nomination speech serves as a daily mantra: “Where were you when the stakes were so high?”

So far, in the 2020 cycle we have filed 56 lawsuits in 22 states—all for the purpose of protecting voting rights in November. Of the  lawsuits, we have already won 21 cases to help ensure every ballot counts. In the past week, we’ve had some of the biggest voting rights wins of the cycle. We successfully removed South Carolina’s witness requirement for absentee ballots. A Wisconsin court ruled in our favor and extended the registration and receipt deadline for absentee ballots. Thanks to our litigation in Michigan, voters can now get free rides to the polls, utilize ballot collection starting the Friday before Election Day and have their ballot count as long as it is received within two weeks following Election Day and postmarked by November 2nd.

On Tuesday, North Carolina agreed to settle claims related to three of our Four Pillars lawsuits in the state. As a direct result of our litigation, the state will extend the ballot receipt deadline, institute a process to fix ballot deficiencies and establish separate absentee ballot drop-off stations

The largest victory of the month came in Pennsylvania, where we successfully built three of the Four Pillars. Pennsylvania voters will now have prepaid postage on their absentee ballots, a receipt deadline that will count any ballot received within three days after Election Day and no signature matching requirements. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court also ruled that drop boxes are allowed and will require that poll watchers be residents of the county they are monitoring—both developments are crushing to the GOP’s voter suppression plans.

However, now is not the time to stop and celebrate. Republicans are appealing virtually all of our victories and are filing new lawsuits to make voting more difficult for voters. Indeed, even after the victory in Pennsylvania state court, the RNC amended their complaint in the federal court. We will continue defending our victories and fighting voter suppression in court.

The changes in the law due to court cases and interpretations is all the more reason to stay informed. Democracy Docket recently released a brand-new voter education resource to better inform voters of the rapidly changing legal landscape. Our Voter Dashboards aim to help you—and voters everywhere— make a plan to vote by providing accurate information about the voting laws in your state. Because of our ongoing lawsuits, election laws are changing every day. Our Dashboards provide up-to-the-minute information on the status of voting in your area. You can now find all our Voter Dashboards in one place—the Democracy Docket Voter Dashboard Hub. Check it out and make your plan to vote!

We filed many new voting rights cases this past month. Across the country, states rushed to finalize their November ballots, bringing a flurry of last-minute ballot design litigation.

Counties are also starting to implement how voters will return their absentee ballots. One method, in particular, has come under Republican scrutiny: ballot drop boxes. Drop boxes are an important option for voters, especially amid the current public health crisis. They offer a convenient, no-contact ballot return solution for voters.

Despite the obvious benefits, Republican election officials continue to restrict access to drop boxes for voters. In Iowa, the Secretary of State issued guidance that directs county auditors to place ballot drop boxes only inside or directly outside their office buildings: all other locations are strictly prohibited. These restrictions came after some county auditors had already installed drop boxes in locations other than their county offices. In July, the Linn County Auditor set up ballot drop boxes at grocery stores, saying “the three major reasons [Linn County] decided to install [the ballot boxes] were convenience, lowering postage costs, and because some voters don’t trust the mail system.” We challenged the Secretary’s drop box restriction on behalf of the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa and Majority Forward.

Despite efforts by Democratic legislatures to expand voting options for November, the other side continues to relentlessly challenge good election laws. The Republicans have made fighting our voting rights cases “a top priority and they are willing to put forward whatever resources necessary, including expanding the budget for such battles.” But we are committed to meeting them in every courtroom through interventions to defend voting rights.

In September alone, we intervened in 4 Republican cases. In Michigan, we intervened to stop Republicans from purging the voter rolls. In Montana, we intervened to defend the Governor’s vote by mail expansion. In Nevada, we successfully stopped both a conservative group and the RNC from undermining the state’s election reform bill. We will continue to monitor Republicans’ litigation efforts every day through the election.

September Spotlight: Recruiting Lawyers to Protect Voters

We are always overwhelmed by the number of people who reach out to Democracy Docket asking how they can help protect voting rights in November. If you are a lawyer looking to help protect the vote, our partner We The Action is the place to go. Launched in July 2017, We The Action is a community of lawyers dedicated to progressive causes. They recently launched their volunteer recruitment campaign for the election. Sign up now to help protect democracy.

What I’m Reading

Early voting has already kicked off in several states, which means voter suppression is also underway. In North Carolina, Black voters’ ballots are already being rejected at more than four times the rate of white voters. FiveThirtyEight has done extensive reporting on this disproportionate disenfranchisement occurring throughout the state and discusses how the majority of these ballots were rejected over simple mistakes. Read more here.

Tired of looking at your screen? Here’s what I’m listening to: NPR’s All Things Considered did a story on the history of presidential campaign legal challenges. Going back to the 2000 election and discussing the now elapsed RNC consent decree from the 1980s, the story discusses what we could see in post-election challenges this year.

What Bode’s Barking About

“There have been at least 245 coronavirus election cases filed in 45 states.”

CBS News

“That shift is a problem for the GOP during a time when people may be reluctant to vote in person because of the coronavirus pandemic. And it’s been a particular headache in places like Florida, where the Republican Party has traditionally had a strong vote-by-mail program and uses it to turn out its supporters.”

The Huffington Post

Democrats, including the DSCC and DCCC, have invested millions this election cycle in legal efforts aimed at voting laws, including trying to make it easier for voters’ ballots to be accepted and for those ballots to be ‘cured’ if a ballot is rejected.