By Democracy Docket

October 2020

We’re just 4 days away from Election Day! In honor of our last On the Docket before Election Day, this edition will cover some of our cases that have impacted voters so far this cycle.

I launched Democracy Docket in March to shine a spotlight on voter suppression and our litigation efforts to combat it. Since then, Democracy Docket has transformed into the leading platform for progressive advocacy and information on voting rights, elections, redistricting and democracy. Over the past seven months, we’ve educated thousands of voters, called out problems with the USPS, advocated for ballot drop boxes and partnered with other advocacy organizations to protect the vote in 2020.

With the launch of Democracy Docket, we’ve also brought more awareness to our litigation than ever before. Our Voter Dashboards allow thousands of voters to learn, in real-time, how our voting rights lawsuits are changing election laws in their state. Democracy Docket has grown into a community for policy makers, thought leaders and activists across the country—all in less than a year.

We won’t stop fighting for voting rights until the last lawful ballot is counted. To keep up with Democracy Docket’s post-election litigation, follow us on Twitter and stay tuned for up-to-the-minute updates on DemocracyDocket.com coming soon.

Here’s what happened this cycle:

Where We Won

Arizona

In Arizona, we achieved a favorable settlement with the state, leading the Secretary of State to agree to expand early voting and outreach efforts to Hispanic and Latino communities. This is critically important, as Hispanic and Latino voters living in rural counties are five to six times more likely to be disenfranchised than white voters.

Florida

We had several litigation victories in Florida.

  • The first was a successful challenge of Florida’s standard-less process for rejecting ballots that had mismatched signatures. Because of our litigation, Florida implemented signature matching training and an extended cure deadline.
  • In our Florida Early Vote case, we successfully struck down the Florida Secretary of State’s interpretation of the early voting statute, which prohibited placement of early voting sites on college campuses.
  • Finally, in our Florida Four Pillars Case, the state agreed to engage in a massive voter education campaign for voters and election supervisors.

Iowa

Last September, we won an important voter ID lawsuit in Iowa. The Iowa Voter ID case challenged a 2017 state law that instituted a voter identification requirement for in-person voting. The court ruled in our favor, prohibiting the state from rejecting absentee applications and ballots based on a purported signature mismatch and ordering the state to issue all voters a free voter ID card upon request.

Michigan

In Michigan, we successfully challenged two restrictive voting laws.

  • In our Michigan Signature Matching case, we successfully challenged the state’s unconstitutional signature matching process. As a result of our lawsuit, the Michigan Secretary of State revised her guidance to adopt new cure procedures and trainings on signature matching.
  • Finally, in our Michigan College Student Voting case, we successfully pressured the Secretary of State to issue a directive informing elections officials that a statute that would’ve had a disproportionate impact on college students was invalid. The statute originally required individuals who registered to vote for the first time by mail to vote in person.

Minnesota

We successfully challenged two state laws in Minnesota.

  • In our Minnesota Second Congressional District Postponed Election case, we struck down the use of a disenfranchising statute.Following the death of a major party candidate, the law would’ve required the state to not count any votes for CD-02 in the November election and instead postpone the election until February 2021. The Republicans appealed our win twice—first to the Eighth Circuit and then to the U.S. Supreme Court. We won both times.
  • In our Minnesota Four Pillars case, we were able to stop the enforcement of the state’s witness requirement for absentee ballots for both the primary and general elections.

Missouri

In Missouri, we knocked down a Voter ID law that was specifically designed to make voting harder. In 2019, we challenged Missouri’s Voter ID law that imposed strict restrictions on voters who lacked photo ID, including forcing them to execute a misleading affidavit. In January, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the voter ID affidavit requirement was unconstitutional—successfully protecting thousands of voters from potential disenfranchisement.

Montana

In Montana, we successfully built one of our Four Pillars—community ballot collection—and defended the expansion of vote by mail.

  • After a hard fought victory, we were able to strike down Montana’s restrictions on ballot collection that had, for too long, deprived voters of critical assistance. Ballot collection is especially important to Native American voters, who often lack access to reliable mail service.
  • In our Montana Intervention case, we successfully stopped the Trump Campaign and the RNC’s lawsuit that challenged the Governor’s expansion of vote by mail in the state. Thanks to our intervention, all counties in Montana have been able to expand access to early voting and vote by mail for the November election.

Nevada

In Nevada, our Four Pillars case led the Nevada Legislature to pass a bill that addressed 100% of the claims brought in our lawsuit. The bill—AB4—legalized ballot collection, adopted a new signature matching standard and more generous cure options, required polling locations on Nevada’s reservations, required county clerks to mail ballots to active registered voters during a state of emergency, and guaranteed a minimum number of early vote and Election Day polling locations by county. Shortly after it was passed, Trump and the RNC took the bill to court, but we fought them and won. In addition to this lawsuit, we successfully defended AB4 in two different interventions.

North Carolina

After months of litigation and struggle, we had two major voting rights victories in North Carolina. In September, we entered a consent decree with the North Carolina State Board of Elections. Our win was immediately appealed by the state’s Republican legislature in the state court and attacked by the legislature and the Republican Party in two additional federal court lawsuits. But in late October, the North Carolina Court of Appeals dissolved the Republicans’ temporary stay of our agreement with the State Board, which: extended the ballot receipt deadline, allowed ballot drop-off stations to be established at each early voting location and county board, and instituted revised cure guidance. The state Supreme Court upheld this decision and, on Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Republicans’ attempt to undermine the consent decree.

Pennsylvania

Our litigation in Pennsylvania successfully helped build three of the Four Pillars.

  • After we filed our Four Pillars litigation, Pennsylvania agreed to pay for postage on all absentee ballots and to not throw out ballots with mismatched signatures. In a petition parallel to our lawsuit, the state Supreme Court extended the received-by deadline to a postmarked-by deadline, allowing ballots to be counted as long as they’re postmarked by Election Day and received within three days after Election Day. On Wednesday, the U.S Supreme Court denied the Republicans’ attempt to undermine the state Supreme Court and upheld the extended ballot receipt deadline.
  • The same petition also related to our intervention, where the state Supreme Court ruled against the RNC and affirmed that Pennsylvania was permitted to use ballot drop boxes and that poll watchers must be from the county they’re monitoring. The Republicans went on to appeal this decision and lost in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in October, preserving our win.
  • In a related case, we joined the Secretary of State’s petition to the state Supreme Court. The court ruled in our favor and struck down the Republicans’ attempts to institute signature matching procedures.

South Carolina

In South Carolina, we achieved two major wins this cycle:

  • Similar to Pennsylvania, our South Carolina Four Pillars lawsuit influenced the state to provide prepaid postage to all absentee voters in November, likely saving voters over $1 million on postage.
  • In our South Carolina SSN Voter Registration case, we challenged the state’s requirement that people provide their full Social Security Number on their voter registration application. The state quickly agreed to only require the last four digits of the registrant’s Social Security Number, allowing thousands of voter registration drives to thrive without voters having to worry about disclosing too much personal information.

Texas

We had a major victory for voter registration in Texas. In our Texas DMV Voter Registration litigation, a court said the state must abide by the National Voter Registration Act and allow for simultaneous application for voter registration along with any online transaction with the DMV. Texas agreed to not appeal the decision. This change has made it easier for thousands of voters—especially young voters—to register to vote when they change their address or apply for a driver’s license renewal.

Successful Interventions

We promised to always meet Republicans in court to defend voting rights. This cycle, we defeated several Republican attempts to suppress voters and denigrate our litigation wins.

  • Nevada: We successfully defended our Four Pillars win in two separateRepublican attacks.
  • Illinois: We intervened to defend Illinois’ election legislation that allowed more people to vote by mail, expanded early voting hours, improved the signature verification process and made Election Day a state holiday.
  • California: We successfully intervened in an RNC case that challenged the state’s plan to conduct the election primarily by mail.
  • Montana: Our intervention in Montana stopped the Trump Campaign and the RNC’s lawsuit challenging the Governor’s expansion of vote by mail.
  • New Jersey: We successfully stopped the Trump Campaign’s attack on New Jersey’s plan to run a primarily all-mail general election.
  • Pennsylvania: Our intervention stopped two Republican congressional candidates from suppressing voters in Pennsylvania. They sued to invoke a non-existent right to poll watch in satellite early voting sites.

What Bode’s Barking About

Each time the Republicans threatened voting rights, we met them at the courthouse.

From the very beginning, the Republicans have screamed the quiet part out loud:  they know that the more votes that are counted, the fewer chances they have at winning. As the AP reported on our North Carolina win, “The Supreme Court will allow absentee ballots in North Carolina to be received and counted up to 9 days after Election Day, in a win for Democrats.” More coverage of our signature matching win in Pennsylvania showed the same trend, as Politico wrote, “The ruling is a defeat for President Donald Trump’s campaign and other Republicans, who had challenged the decision by Pennsylvania election officials, arguing that efforts to match signatures on ballots to signatures on voter rolls were necessary to prevent fraud.”

Are you planning to vote in person, either early or on November 3rd? Make sure to read our latest voting process explained article, “The Dos and Don’ts of Voting in Person.” The article covers important polling place rules, such as taking pictures of your ballot and campaigning.

As we get closer to the election, I sense an increasing impulse among many progressives to simply give up on the courts. I fully understand the anxiety that people feel right now. I know how big the stakes are. And I am not blind to the effect Trump and Senator McConnell have had on our federal judiciary—including the Supreme Court. The question is what do we do today as our democracy hangs in the balance? Read my answer in my last op-ed before November 3 on Democracy Docket now.