By Democracy Docket

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.

— 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: #gapol

— Mark Niesse (@markniesse) May 9, 2020