By Marc Elias

August 2020

Democracy Docket 2.0

At last, we have a full Democratic ticket for November—Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

As Democrats were choosing their nominees and holding a virtual convention, Democracy Docket was undergoing a facelift of its own. In addition to newer, brighter colors, we have expanded our site to include a new explainer series. We also opened up a new Spotlight series for guest opinions. Our first Spotlight was by Senator Michael Bennet, “We Can’t Let the Pandemic Keep Students from Voting.” You can expect even more content in the coming days, including articles by elections experts and, of course, new cases. So stay tuned and make sure you follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

In addition to the website, we also expanded our litigation. Not only did we continue to protect vote by mail (VBM) and fight Trump (details below), but we also took on the problems facing in-person voting, starting with long lines in Georgia. We all remember Georgia’s chaotic primary election where voters waited for hours in line to cast a ballot. Well, we have filed suit to prevent that from happening again this fall. We also sued to expand early voting days in North Carolina, where many voters prefer in-person early voting.

Our balanced approach to protecting VBM and in-person voting tracks closely with Kamala Harris’ VoteSafe Act. I was proud to be one of the first to endorse the bill when it was introduced in April. In addition to containing all Four Pillars, it also reflects many of the reforms for in-person voting I wrote about in The Atlantic and which we are litigating in court.

Our Rebuttal to GOP Lawsuits

In July, I warned about the Trump Campaign and RNC-sponsored lawsuits directly attacking VBM. Just as I predicted, every day we get closer to November, the GOP mounts additional attacks on voting rights. Republican state committees are following Trump’s lead and bringing their false claims about VBM to courtrooms across the country.

But we are fighting back. In the past few weeks, we have intervened to defend against Republicans’ cases in Illinois, Iowa, Nevada, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Wherever Trump and the Republicans try to deprive people of their voting rights, we’ll be there fighting back.

Luckily, we don’t have to rely solely on our successes in court. Elected officials are also taking the lessons of our litigation into consideration as they create new laws and regulations for November. In Nevada, the state addressed the concerns raised in our lawsuit by passing a new law—sparking Trump’s outrage and resulting in another Republican lawsuit. The new law addressed 100% of our Four Pillars case challenges, including legalizing ballot collection, adopting new signature matching standards and expanding early voting days.

Active Cases

Another example of state officials improving their election laws as a result of our litigation came in Pennsylvania. After filing our lawsuit, the state changed its position on two of the Four Pillars. Thanks to our litigation, all voters in Pennsylvania now have prepaid postage on their absentee ballot. The state also agreed that voters should have their ballot counted if it is postmarked by Election Day and received by three days after.

As a result of a different Four Pillars case, Minnesota will no longer enforce its burdensome Witness Requirement and Election Day Receipt Deadline. Because of our litigation, sponsored by the National Redistricting Foundation, voters will now have their ballot counted if it is postmarked on or before Election Day and received within one week of Election Day. A few weeks later, Republicans threw in the towel and dismissed their appeal of our victory, further cementing what the lower court judge wrote:

“Moreover, as to the question of voter safety, and with deep respect to Committees’ counsel, his clients can’t have it both ways. As the Defendant noted at argument, the President’s own tweets suggest a recognition that voter safety will be compromised in November. The day before this hearing, the President of the United States tweeted “Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

This month, we also successfully foiled Republican dirty tricks in Montana. Weeks after voters signed a petition to get the Green Party on the ballot, Montana voters discovered that the Montana Green Party had absolutely no connection to the petition. The misleading petition was actually led by a professional, out-of-state, for-profit consulting firm funded by the Montana Republican Party. When petitioners requested their names be withdrawn, the Green Party did not meet the political party qualification requirement to be listed on the ballot. We won in both the District and State Supreme Court, where the judge said, “The actions of the MTGOP and its agents demonstrate that its misrepresentations and failures to disclose in violation of Montana campaign finance law were intentionally designed to create an advantage for the MTGOP at the expense of unwitting signers.”

Keeping USPS delays and fears over mail ballots arriving after state deadlines in mind, we continue to work on implementing the Four Pillars to safeguard VBM ahead of November. We filed two new Four Pillars cases in August—one in New Hampshire and one in Missouri. New Hampshire lacks three of the Four Pillars: prepaid postage, ballot receipt deadline and third party collection. We also challenged New Hampshire’s witness and documentation requirements and the state’s overly-complicated absentee registration request process that relies on voters registering in person. In Missouri, we challenged the state’s notary requirement, restriction that voters return their ballots only by the USPS, received by deadline, ban on third party collection and signature matching protocols.

We are preparing to take on every legal challenge the GOP will throw our way in November. We must ensure no one is disenfranchised by Trump’s malicious voter suppression tactics that prioritizes maintaining power over eligible voters’ inalienable right to cast a ballot.


August Spotlight: Empowering Latino Civic Engagement

This month, we’re spotlighting Mi Familia Vota, an organization empowering Latino communities through their seven pillars model of community engagement. Mi Familia Vota is a national, non-partisan organization that operates in six states and identifies voting rights as one of their six key issues. In addition to citizenship workshops, voter registration and organizing voter participation, they are also on the ground on Election Day as a resource to fight voter suppression. Learn more about ways to get involved here, or donate directly to their Education Fund here.


What I’m Reading

Despite the President’s constant bashing of VBM, support for voting by mail in the United States is quite high. In July, researchers at the COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States conducted a 50-state survey asking voters if they support making it easier to VBM in November. The results showed 64% of likely voters support making it easier to VBM.

Last week, the U.S. Postal Service sent detailed letters to 46 different states, warning election officials that mail-in ballots may not arrive in time and that ballot receipt deadlines should be changed accordingly. These letters are blaring alarms, warning states of the potential disenfranchisement of tens of millions of Americans who plan to VBM in November. You can read all of the letters to the states here.


What Bode’s Barking About

“Trump’s remarks are part of a pattern of comments in which he has suggested he is willing to take actions to impede how people cast their ballots this fall. He has repeatedly sought to undermine confidence in the November vote, making false claims about the integrity of mail-in balloting and raising the specter of widespread electoral fraud.”

Washington Post

“The United States Postal Service has warned election officials in 46 states and the District of Columbia that their absentee voting rules are “incongruous” with the agency’s mail delivery service standards and may result in uncounted ballots, raising further alarms with the viability of a voting platform millions of Americans are expected to use in the run-up to the November vote.”

ABC News

“Getting politically active may feel intimidating if you’re not sure where to start, but it’s never too late to get involved and make your voice heard. Here’s a primer of some of the most essential steps you can take.”

InStyle

 

By Marc Elias

July 2020

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 wroteTrump 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.

Looking for a way to take action? Sign Democracy Docket’s latest petition asking colleges and universities to commit to protecting student voting rights this Fall.

 


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.

We want to hear from you! If you want us to highlight what you or your organization is doing to fight voter suppression, please tell us here.

 


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.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“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.”

AJC

“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.”

The New York Times

 


 

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

 

It shouldn’t be a partisan issue to say we need to protect and invest in our Postal Service. Grateful @marceelias and Democracy Docket are focused on this important issue. https://t.co/crcAuNube1

— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) July 21, 2020

By Marc Elias

June 2020

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 thinkI 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:

  1. Increase outreach efforts to educate voters about the Election Day Receipt Deadline in English, Spanish, Navajo, and Apache
  2. Expand early voting opportunities in Hispanic and Latino, Native American, and rural communities
  3. Allocate funding toward additional mobile early voting units and physical early voting locations
  4. Hire election staff who can speak the languages of different Arizona communities
  5. 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.

Map of where we are Litigating

As promised, we also filed several new voting rights cases this month. In Arizona, we are challenging the unequal treatment of mail ballots. Arizona recognizes that its process of signature matching rejects otherwise lawful votes and has implemented a “cure” process for mismatched signatures—but this rule does not equally apply to all mail ballots. Mail ballots that are missing signatures will be thrown outwith practically no opportunity to cure the ballot. On behalf of the DNC, the DSCC, and the Arizona Democratic Party, we asked the court to declare that all voters who submit a ballot without a signature will receive the same opportunity to cure as voters with a signature mismatch.

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 workmaybe 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.”

NBC News

“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.”

The Wall Street Journal

“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.”

Mother Jones

 

By Marc Elias

May 2020

Last month, I noted that the Republican National Committee had pledged $10 million to fight our voting rights efforts in court. This month, they doubled it to $20 million, while also announcing that they plan to recruit 50,000 poll watchers/challengers.

While it is increasingly clear that the President’s obsession with vote by mail is affecting all aspects of the Republican Party and the right-wing, we have stayed focused on expanding voting rights for all eligible voters. This means both vote by mail and in-person voting.

Toward that end, May was one of our busiest months for litigation so far.

In Texas, we challenged all Four Pillars on behalf of a group of individuals, the Texas Chapter of the NAACP, Voto Latino, and the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans. We sued Minnesota to remove the state’s requirement that a notary or other registered voter be a witness for an absentee ballot. We sued Florida over its lack of prepaid postage for mail ballots; refusal to count ballots that are not received by 7:00 PM on Election Day; and prohibition on the use of paid organizers to assist voters with collecting sealed ballots. In North Carolina, we targeted not just three of our four pillars, but the state’s burdensome requirement that absentee ballots have two witnesses. In South Carolina, we sued to ensure that all South Carolinians can vote by mail during the pandemic as well as the Four Pillars safeguards. Finally, we brought Four Pillars litigation against Georgia, which continues to resist the changes necessary to ensure fair voting rights for all.

As a reminder, our Four Pillars cases seek one or more of the following vote by mail reforms:

  1. Postage must be free or prepaid by the government;
  2. Ballots mailed on or before Election Day must count;
  3. Signature matching laws need to be reformed to protect voters; and
  4. Community organizations should be permitted to help collect and deliver voted, sealed ballots.

 

Where We’re Litigating

 

The good news: We achieved several of our first Four Pillars victories this month. In Nevada, the Clark County Registrar responded to our lawsuit only two weeks after we filed our preliminary injunction motion. Specifically, for the state’s primary election, the Registrar agreed to send mail ballots to all registered voters, including inactive voters, establish additional polling locations, set up a signature matching review and cure notification process, and deputize and train ballot collectors. While our lawsuit will continue in Nevada to ensure the same voting rights for the General Election, this was an important victory for the 74% of Nevada’s population who lives in Clark County. Also in Nevada, we successfully fought against a right-wing voter suppression group’s effort to stop voting by mail. The court found that “Nevada currently allows for mail-in voting in certain mailing precincts…with no reported incidents of election fraud.

We had another quick vote by mail victory in South Carolina. Hours after we argued our emergency vote by mail lawsuit in front of the South Carolina Supreme Court, the state’s lawmakers approved a short-term bill allowing all South Carolina voters to request a mail-in absentee ballot for the June 9 primary. Thanks to this litigation, South Carolina’s 3.3 million registered voters will all be able to safely vote by mail in the primary election. Just like in Nevada, we are still fighting in South Carolina, specifically over its lack of prepaid postage for absentee ballots, 7:00 PM Election Day cut-off, and voter assistance ban.

In Michigan, a federal court denied Republican efforts to dismiss our lawsuit aimed at striking down the state’s voter assistance and transportation ban laws.

Finally, in Montana, a state court ruled in our favor—blocking the state’s ban on ballot collection and requiring the state to count ballots postmarked by Election Day, even if they are received afterward.

Perhaps our biggest victory was revealed in the post-election analysis of our Wisconsin litigation. Prior to our case, Wisconsin law said that ballots needed to be received by Election Day in order to be counted. We argued in court that if they were postmarked by Election Day, they had to be counted. While the U.S. Supreme Court rejected other parts of our relief, it affirmed our view of this key point—ballots postmarked by Election Day must count even if received after the election. As the Washington Post wrote: Unexpected outcome in Wisconsin: Tens of thousands of ballots that arrived after voting day were counted, thanks to court decisions.

 


 

May Spotlight: Digitizing the Resistance

This month, we’re spotlighting Resistbot, a service that turns your texts into a letter and delivers it to your elected officials. Founded after the 2016 election, Resistbot has sent 12,263,076 letters to lawmakers of all levels, from local officials to the president. Last week, Resistbot created a custom campaign based on our Four Pillars. The bot will show you how your state rates on vote by mail and will customize a letter pushing for key reforms. Check out all the ways you can resist with Resistbot here.

We want to hear from you! If you want us to highlight what you or your organization is doing to fight voter suppression, please tell us here.

 


 

What I’m Reading

A recent study, “The Relationship between In-Person Voting, Consolidated Polling Locations, and Absentee Voting on Covid-19: Evidence from the Wisconsin Primary,” used county-level data on voting and coronavirus tests to take a deeper look at in-person voting and the spread of COVID-19. The results of the study showed a “large increase in COVID-19 cases in the weeks following the election in counties that had more in-person votes per voting location, all else equal.” Researchers found that the consolidation of polling locations also contributed to an increase in the spread. Counties with higher numbers of voters per polling location also saw notably higher increases in positive tests following the election. The paper concluded: “Given these results, it may be prudent, to the extent possible, that policy makers and election clerks take steps to either expand the number of polling locations or encourage absentee voting for future elections held during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

A new study entitled, “Voting by Mail in a VENMO World: Assessing Rejected Absentee Ballots in Georgia” merged Georgia’s statewide voter files with county-level U.S. Census Bureau data to analyze vote by mail ballot rejections in the 2018 Election. The researchers found that “newly registered, young, female, and minority voters have rejection rates that are higher compared to their counterparts, varying from 4 to 7 percentage points.” These findings show that not all absentee ballots are treated equally, and this problem will only be exacerbated by COVID-19. This study and a similar one from Florida’s 2018 election were the subject of my most recent Democracy Docket post: Vote By Mail Risks Disenfranchising Young and Minority Voters.

 


What Bode’s Barking About

“Vote-by-mail fraud more a fear than a reality in Georgia.” AJC. 

“Mail Voting Opens Door to Minority, Student Disenfranchisement.” Bloomberg. .

“Deadlines Start Now for Safe Voting in November.” Axios.

“Republicans Devote $20m and 50,000 People Into Efforts to Restrict Voting.” The Guardian.

Donald Trump votes by mail.
Mike Pence votes by mail.
Ivanka Trump votes by mail.

Republicans are hypocrites and want to force voters to chose between their health and safety, and exercising their fundamental democratic right to vote. https://t.co/4c1AT5hnzr

— Latino Victory (@latinovictoryus) May 21, 2020

Let’s frame this the right way: Donald Trump has threatened to harm the citizens of Nevada and Michigan because their elected officials are making it easier for them to vote.

— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) May 20, 2020

A federal lawsuit says ballots postmarked by election day should be counted, a change that could save thousands of votes from being rejected during the coronavirus pandemic: https://t.co/dDLXGbhCBT #gapol

— Mark Niesse (@markniesse) May 9, 2020

 

By Marc Elias

April 2020

When the history of voting rights in 2020 is written, there will be what happened before the Wisconsin primary and what happened afterwards. On April 6, in order to try to win a state judicial election, Republicans forced voters in Wisconsin to go to the polls and vote in the middle of a pandemic. Despite efforts by the Governor and the pleas of the public, Republicans believed that their best hope to win that election was low voter turn-out in Milwaukee and across other urban centers in the state.

The Wisconsin election was a wake-up call on a number of fronts. First, we saw what the pandemic can do to our fragile election processes – with only five of more than 180 polling locations in Milwaukee open and voters having not even received their mail ballots before the election. Second, it vividly illustrates how far Republicans will go to win an election. As I said on election night to Chris Hayes, “if this is what the Republicans will do for a judicial election in Wisconsin…just imagine what Donald Trump and the Republicans will do in November.”

Perhaps, most importantly, the Wisconsin primary underscored the vital role that the judicial process will play in this election. In the days leading up to the election, we sued Wisconsin on behalf of the DNC and the Wisconsin Democratic Party to protect Wisconsinites’ voting rights. Over the course of several days, we won several important victories—extending deadlines for absentee ballot applications and online registration. We lost on a key issue of whether a witness requirement could be waived. Most notably, we went to the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of when absentee ballots would be due in order to count in the election. When the conservative justices ruled 5-4 and reversed the lower court’s ruling, it was widely reported that we lost.

However, overlooked by much of the press was that in that “loss” was a key victory—the Court adopted the “postmarked by” Election Day standard that we have advocated for nationally. This ruling will substantially support the other vote by mail cases we are filing in other states. As the Washington Post subsequently wrote, “A Democratic lawsuit challenging Arizona’s absentee ballot deadline is citing the Supreme Court’s recent ruling about the Wisconsin primary to support its case, arguing that the decision to allow absentee ballots to count in Wisconsin if they were postmarked on or by Election Day should also apply in Arizona.”

The take-away from Wisconsin is clear: voting rights and the rules of voting are going to matter more in 2020 than ever before and the Republicans are going to take unprecedented steps to fight against access to voting. After initially saying that the RNC would spend $10M in court to fight against voting rights, they recently said they will spend whatever it takes. If you want a good overview of the legal significance of Wisconsin’s election, listen to my discussion with Dahlia Lithwick on the podcast, Amicus.

Finally, there has been a great deal of debate over how America should vote in 2020. On one side are those who argue that we need to move to an entirely vote by mail election; on the other side are those who want to keep all voting in-person. As I discuss below, the answer must be all of the above.


 

New Vote by Mail Litigation

As described above, Wisconsin’s April primary— held in the middle of stay-at-home orders— was a disastrous example of how unprepared most states are to move to vote by mail, while still providing safe in-person voting options this election cycle. After releasing my four pillars of vote by mail safeguards last month, and seeing exactly what can go wrong without these protections in place, we filed four lawsuits specifically addressing these issues, with many more to come in May. As of today, we have filed vote by mail lawsuits in Nevada, South Carolina and Pennsylvania.

We are also bringing litigation to force states that only allow no-excuse absentee voting for those over 65 to adopt it for all voters. The 26th Amendment prohibits age-based discrimination in voting for those over 18-years of age. Yesterday we sued Texas on behalf of a group of young voters who wish to vote absentee this fall.

Most states are vastly unprepared for moving to vote by mail before summer primaries and the general election in November. Recognizing this reality, we researched how all 50 states held up to our four safeguards and shared our findings in a recently-released report. These insights have been instrumental to informing our litigation efforts and we hope that they will help guide organizing and activism through Election Day.

Read more about these four pillars here.

At the same time, we continue to win major victories. Just last week, we forced Michigan to change their absentee ballot process of rejecting applications and ballots for signature mismatch. Prior to our lawsuit, Michigan lacked uniform standards and procedures for reviewing signatures, and election officials lacked training to accurately compare signatures. Most importantly, the law did not require election officials to notify voters that their application or ballot had been rejected. As a result of our lawsuit, the Michigan Secretary of State revised the state’s guidance so that voters are immediately informed of a missing or mismatched signature and election officials are sufficiently trained on how to perform signature verification.

After a multiyear battle, Florida finally settled with us over our case involving early voting sites located on college campuses. In 2018, the court held that the state’s policy banning college campus early vote sites violated the 26th Amendment by discriminating against young voters. Last summer, the Florida legislature again passed a law that effectively prevented early voting sites on college campuses. We immediately sued on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Florida and the Andrew Goodman Foundation. A few weeks ago, the state settled and issued a new directive that interpreted the law to allow colleges to have early vote sites—a huge victory for student voters in Florida.

We also won another student voting case this month: our case in New Hampshire overturned a Senate Bill requiring people to submit proof of domicile when registering to vote or face criminal penalties. Under the bill, a new voter, who was fully eligible to vote in New Hampshire, could have been fined $5,000 and/or faced a sentence of up to a year in prison if they failed to return the confusing and lengthy paperwork required by the bill. The court struck down the bill as unconstitutional and found that the law specifically inhibited young voters, college students, mobile voters, low-income voters, and Democrats from registering and voting in New Hampshire. As a result of this victory, young voters will now have an equal opportunity to register to vote and cast their ballot. This victory will also help reduce long lines on election day—a major concern facing all states providing in-person voting this November.

Regardless of whether we are social distancing or not, there will still be many people who will wish to vote in-person, even if voting by mail is an option. States must make sure these voters are not further disenfranchised by coronavirus. We created five requirements for safeguarding in-person voting that states should adopt in tandem with our vote by mail pillars. The five rules are:

  1. States must grantee staffing at polls by turning to staff at state agencies and to students
  2. States should expand curbside voting for voters of all ages
  3. States must expand early voting to include weekend voting
  4. States should adopt vote-anywhere or vote center rules, allowing voters to cast their ballot in any polling place in their jurisdiction
  5. States should develop systems that allow voters to sign up to reserve a time to vote during off-peak hours

You can read more about these rules and how they will protect voters in November in my article in the Atlantic.


 

April Spotlight: Stand Up for Vote by Mail

This month, we are highlighting the work of the non-profit, Stand Up America. Stand Up America is a progressive community of activists focused on “standing up to corruption and strengthening our democracy across the country.” Their organizing team has driven over a million calls to lawmakers on local and national issues. Recently, they’ve shifted their focus to vote by mail, organizing communities to demand that Congress funds vote by mail efforts across the country. You can call your representatives using Stand Up America’s action tool here.

We want to hear from you! If you want us to highlight what you or your organization is doing to fight voter suppression, please tell us here.

 

What I’m Reading

A new paper, “Voting by Mail and Ballot Rejection: Lessons from Florida for Elections in the Age of the Coronavirus,” showed the existing problems with voting by mail that will likely be exacerbated by coronavirus. The study examined over 8.2 million ballots cast in the 2018 Florida General Election. 2.6 million voters voted by mail, of which 1.2 percent were rejected by local election officials. The researchers found that younger voters, voters with disabilities and Hispanics were disproportionately more likely to have their ballot rejected. For example, the rejection rate of mail ballots cast by 18-21-year-olds was 5.4%, while 65+ voters had only a .6% rejection rate. “The findings suggest that a wholesale transformation in the United States away from in-person voting must be promulgated carefully if those implementing this transformation want to ensure that ballot rejection rates do not disproportionately affect some voters more than others.

The New York Times analyzed the outcome of the controversial Wisconsin primary and showed how a large shift from in-person to mail voting can affect a 2020 election. Their reporting found that the liberal candidate in Wisconsin’s State Supreme Court race performed 10 percentage points better than her opponent in votes cast by mail, “upending years of study showing little advantage to either party when a state transitions from in-person to mail voting.” This data shows the results of a huge organizing effort by Democrats around vote by mail, and one that we can hopefully replicate in future elections. “The Democrats proved they can mobilize their voters to vote by mail.”


 

What Bode’s Barking About

“States need billions to ensure safe elections.” CNN

“Trump campaign declares war on Dems over voting rules for November.” Politico

“From Nevada to Pennsylvania, voting rights battles erupt in key swing states.” Ms. Magazine

“As mail voting pushed, some fear loss of in-person option.” AP News

“Can Trump Cancel or Postpone Election Day?” NowThis

NEWS: Dem Super PAC @prioritiesUSA is backing a new lawsuit seeking to expand Pennsylvania’s vote by mail laws: https://t.co/nWf9qX79Ia

— Jonathan Tamari (@JonathanTamari) April 22, 2020

 

Safety should be top-of-mind for the November election. My VoteSafe Act would do just that and give grants for states to:

Expand curbside voting
Publish current wait times for voters
Provide pre-paid postage for mail-in ballots

— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) April 17, 2020

By Marc Elias

March 2020

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:

  1. Postage must be free or prepaid by the government;
  2. Ballots postmarked on or before Election Day must count;
  3. Signature matching laws need to be reformed to protect voters; and
  4. 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 billionit 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 DNCDSCC 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 VoteThe 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.

We want to hear from you! If you want us to highlight what you or your organization is doing to fight voter suppression, please tell us 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.

 

.@CatherineForNV: “We will continue to stand up for voting rights and win these fights so voters can make their voices heard and every ballot is counted fairly in 2020.” https://t.co/crRQHXNXvb

— 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.

We’ve got to fight back and win, and @marceelias is showing the way. Join the fight: https://t.co/FbBK1qsgGS #DemocracyDocket

— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 5, 2020