Stephen Wolf, Daily Kos

Louisiana GOP fails to override Democratic vetoes of voting restriction bills

Programming Note: The Voting Rights Roundup will be taking a break the week of July 31 but will return the following week.

Leading Off

Louisiana: Louisiana Republicans have narrowly failed to override any of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' vetoes in the legislature's first-ever override session since the adoption of Louisiana's current constitution in 1974. Republicans had been trying to undo Edwards' vetoes of bills addressing several topics, including two that would have added voter ID requirements for absentee voting and banned private grants from philanthropic groups seeking to remedy the underfunding of election administration.

Thanks in large part to their existing gerrymanders, Republicans nominally hold a veto-proof majority in the state Senate and are just two seats shy of the two-thirds mark in the state House, where a trio of independent members hold the balance of power.

However, not only did GOP leaders fail to convince a sufficient number of Democrats or independents in the House to side with them, they were unable to even get their whole caucus to show up to override the vetoes in the upper chamber. (Overrides in Louisiana require a two-thirds vote of all members, not just those present.)

The failure of these override attempts is a small yet encouraging sign that Republicans might not have the votes to override Edwards' likely vetoes of their forthcoming congressional and legislative maps, which are all but certain to be partisan gerrymanders that favor the GOP, as the current maps are. Given the higher stakes involved, however, the fate of any redistricting vetoes is very much an open question.

Redistricting

Colorado: Colorado's independent congressional redistricting commission has filed a petition asking the state Supreme Court to extend the Sept. 1 deadline for passing a final map to Oct. 28 in light of the Census Bureau's delayed release of the data needed to draw new districts, which isn't expected until around Aug. 16.

Maine: Maine's Supreme Court has extended the date for mapmakers to draw new congressional and legislative districts after the delayed release of census data made meeting the state constitution's June 11 deadline impossible. The state's advisory redistricting commission will now have 45 days after the data comes out to propose maps to legislators, who will then have 10 days to vote on them, putting those dates in late September and early October, respectively.

New Jersey: The two parties on New Jersey's bipartisan congressional redistricting commission have failed to agree on a tie-breaking member for the first time since the commission first came into being three decades ago, meaning that the state Supreme Court will now have to make the decision for them. The court has asked commission members to reconsider, but unless they reach a last-minute agreement on a consensus choice, the high court will have to pick one of the two candidates nominated by the parties (both former judges) by Aug. 10.

This impasse raises the winner-take-all stakes of New Jersey's flawed approach, which has typically produced incumbent-protection gerrymanders. Sometimes the outcomes have been even more skewed: A decade ago, the tie-breaker (a former state attorney general who served under a Republican governor) chose a congressional map submitted by the GOP that amounted to a partisan gerrymander favoring Republicans.

There's no telling what sort of pick the Supreme Court might make: It has three Democratic appointees, three Republican appointees, and an independent appointed by former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a moderate Republican. That Whitman appointee, Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, is retiring, which means Democratic appointees will soon become a majority on the bench, but that won't happen until September at the earliest.

Voting Access Expansions

Massachusetts: Massachusetts' Democratic-run legislature has passed a bill to extend pandemic-era voting access measures through mid-December so that they'll remain in place for upcoming local elections (such as Boston's mayoral contest) while lawmakers decide whether to make them permanent. The provisions in question include expanded early voting and no-excuse mail voting.

Meanwhile, state Senate Democrats passed a separate bill in a committee that would permanently adopt those reforms along with same-day voter registration. That bill also aims to improve voting access for incarcerated people who still retain their voting rights, along with some other smaller measures.

New York: Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed several voting and election reform bills, including one bill that will permanently allow voters to request absentee ballots online. Another measure takes steps to strengthen the existing process allowing absentee ballots to count so long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received up to a few days later.

Oregon: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has signed a Democratic-backed bill that will allow mail ballots to count as long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received up to a week later. Ballots that are missing a clear postmark will be presumed to have been mailed by Election Day. Under the previous law, ballots had to be received by Election Day in order to count.

Voter Suppression

Indiana: The conservative-dominated 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has unanimously upheld a lower court decision that blocked much of a voter purge law passed by Indiana Republicans last year—the second straight time such a law has been barred by the courts.

The GOP's latest effort came about after a 2019 decision from the 7th Circuit that also sustained a ruling barring Republicans' previous attempt to pass a similar voter purge measure two years earlier. The result this time was little different: The appeals court held that the new law "impermissibly allows Indiana to cancel a voter's registration without either direct communication from the voter or compliance with [federal law]."

The newly blocked legislation had withdrawn the state from the now-defunct Interstate Crosscheck system championed by Republicans such as former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, which multiple federal courts had blocked Indiana from using over its security flaws and inaccuracy. The GOP's replacement law, however, created a new system that was susceptible to the same shoddy design flaws that saw Crosscheck yield more than 100 false positives for every improper duplicate registration it found.

Republicans have not yet said whether they will appeal further.

Ohio: In passing a new law banning private charities from making donations to help underfunded election administrators, Ohio Republicans went one step further by effectively banning election officials from almost any type of collaborations with outside groups to try to increase voter turnout. The provision is sweeping in its scope:

"No public official that is responsible for administering or conducting an election in this state shall collaborate with, or accept or expend any money from, a nongovernmental person or entity for any costs or activities related to voter registration, voter education, voter identification, get-out-the-vote, absent voting, election official recruitment or training, or any other election-related purpose."

Although there are limited exceptions, such as using privately owned buildings like churches as polling places, this language would appear to prohibit programs like one promoted by Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose that distributed voter registration forms via barber shops and other venues.

LaRose contends that such programs are still allowed and says he'll continue them, but he risks a lawsuit to compel him to stop. But regardless of what LaRose does, the new law gives Republicans—and Ohio's conservative-controlled courts—yet another tool to prevent Democratic election officials from encouraging voter turnout in ways the GOP opposes.

The election was a disaster for redistricting — ensuring extended GOP minority rule

Election night delivered nothing short of an unmitigated catastrophe for Democrats—and democracy—heading into the coming redistricting cycle. Before the 2020 elections, Republicans would have been able to draw three to four times as many congressional districts as Democrats. But instead of leveling the playing field, Tuesday saw the GOP's edge expand to potentially four or five times as many districts as Democrats, as shown in the map at the top of this post (see here for a larger version).

That disparity is similar to the lopsided aftermath of the 2010 elections, when Republicans won the power to redraw five times as many House districts as Democrats. That allowed the GOP to craft a majority of all districts in the House while Democrats wound up responsible for just one-tenth. That huge advantage helped Republicans win the House in 2012 despite the fact that Democratic candidates won more votes. The same story played out in several legislatures in key swing states multiple times over the last decade.

A repeat of GOP minority rule is now a strong risk for 2022 and beyond, both in the House and in the states, since control of legislative redistricting will also heavily favor Republicans, as shown on the map below.

Click to enlarge

Three states have legislative chambers with majorities in doubt as of Thursday morning: The Arizona Senate and House, Minnesota Senate, and Pennsylvania Senate and House. The GOP currently leads for all three states. Additionally, Democrats could gain a two-thirds supermajority in New York's state Senate once mail ballots are counted after Nov. 6. We are tracking each key state and will update this post as races get called in the coming days.

Beyond these four states, the future of redistricting is highly contingent upon the Supreme Court's new far-right majority, which could both further undermine the Voting Rights Act and strip away checks on GOP state legislatures. We also don't know to what degree Trump has corrupted the accuracy of the census in a way that could disproportionately hurt Democrats.

We'll delve into the results in all the important states, and their implications for the coming decade, just below. We'll also address the threat of the Supreme Court and a tainted census in an article to follow. You can also explore our guide to the rules that govern which party (if any) controls redistricting state by state.

ARIZONA

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican—uncalled
  • State House: Republican—uncalled

Arizona has had an independent redistricting commission in place since 2000, but there's a significant risk that the Supreme Court will strike down all commissions that were passed by citizen-initiated ballot measures, especially with Amy Coney Barrett now on the court. Republicans control the governorship, and while Democrats had high hopes of flipping the legislature, the GOP currently leads in key uncalled races as of Thursday.

That would lead to a divided government in case the commission gets struck down, meaning that barring a bipartisan compromise, new maps would likely be drawn by the courts, which favor nonpartisan districts. Republicans in the legislature have also repeatedly sought to undermine the commission, so ending the GOP's control of state government would help insulate the panel from further attack.

CONNECTICUT

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Democratic hold
  • State House: Democratic hold

Democrats failed to gain the two-thirds supermajorities that they would have needed under the state constitution to gain control over redistricting, leaving bipartisan control in place, though it's not clear whether they would have pursued the opportunity even had they reached that threshold.

FLORIDA

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican hold
  • State House: Republican hold

Republicans remain in control in Florida after Democrats failed to flip either chamber. Voters passed two ballot initiatives in 2010 to try to ban gerrymandering, but the state Supreme Court has taken a lurch far to the right after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis won in 2018. It's therefore unlikely to enforce the amendments to curb GOP gerrymandering.

GEORGIA

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican hold
  • State House: Republican hold

Republicans maintained full control over redistricting after Democrats failed to flip the gerrymandered state House or Senate, even though the presidential race is neck and neck.

IOWA

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican hold (half of seats up)
  • State House: Republican hold

Since the 1980s, a nonpartisan agency has proposed maps to the Iowa legislature, which has always adopted them. However, since Democrats failed to flip the state House to break the GOP's full control, next year will be the first time in several decades under this system that one party has unified control over state government.

That would allow the GOP to simply reject the agency's proposals and implement their own gerrymanders, or even repeal the statute that created the agency. The only possible deterrent is fear of a public backlash, but as we've seen in so many states, gerrymandering is the very thing that can protect incumbents from anger over gerrymandering.

KANSAS

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican supermajority hold
  • State House: Republican supermajority hold

Democrats needed to flip just a single state House seat or three state Senate seats to break the GOP's veto-proof majorities, but they failed to do either. Consequently, Republicans will be able to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's vetoes, including of the very congressional gerrymander that the Republican Senate leader was recently caught on tape vowing to fight for.

MICHIGAN

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State House: Republican hold

Like Arizona, Michigan also has an independent redistricting commission, but while it's new for the 2020 cycle, it too could get invalidated by the Supreme Court. Even if it survives, though, litigation over the eventual maps the commission produces is likely, which is why it's critical that Democrats gained a 4-3 majority on the state Supreme Court. However, the court's power to block gerrymandering is also threatened by the U.S. Supreme Court, just as the commission is, and even Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's veto power could be as well.

Michigan Democrats failed to retake the gerrymandered state House even though it's very possible that, once again, their candidates will have won more votes. If that comes to pass, it would mark the fourth of five elections over the last decade when the same thing has happened, offering the starkest example of how GOP gerrymandering has replaced democracy with entrenched minority rule.

MINNESOTA

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican hold—uncalled
  • State House: Democratic hold

It appears that Democrats have failed to gain full control in Minnesota, falling just short in the state Senate, though final tallies have not yet been announced. While the state currently has nonpartisan maps drawn by a court and is poised to again after 2020, racial segregation in the Minneapolis area creates a "geography penalty" that harms Democrats, which means even ostensibly nonpartisan maps have the effect of functioning like GOP gerrymanders. Case in point: Hillary Clinton and Democratic candidates won more votes statewide than Trump and Republicans in 2016 but failed to win a majority of seats in the state Senate. That seems to have happened once more to Senate Democrats this year.

MISSOURI

  • Governor: Republican hold
  • State Senate: Republican supermajority hold (half of seats up)
  • State House: Republican supermajority hold

Missouri voters passed an initiative in 2018 to reform the state's existing bipartisan legislative redistricting commission by requiring new maps be drawn that explicitly take partisan fairness into account, which would negate the geographic penalty against Democrats caused by white-flight racial segregation. However, Republicans successfully deceived voters into passing a disingenuous amendment this year that guts this reform by making the fairness requirement toothless. Congressional redistricting, meanwhile, is still handled by the legislature and governor, both of which remained firmly in GOP hands.

NEBRASKA

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican hold, no supermajority gained (half of seats up)

Republicans control Nebraska's unicameral and nominally nonpartisan legislature, but they just narrowly failed to gain the the two-thirds supermajority needed to overcome a filibuster of any new gerrymanders. The GOP could also eliminate the filibuster with a simple majority, but it's far from clear that enough Republican lawmakers are willing to make that move due to their internal divisions. Therefore, if the status quo prevails and Democrats sustain a filibuster, new maps would be handled by the courts.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

  • Governor: Republican hold
  • State Senate: Republican flip
  • State House: Republican flip

Republicans unexpectedly regained their gerrymandered majorities to obtain full control over redistricting for the second decade in a row in New Hampshire. It's possible that Republicans will have once again won majorities despite Democrats winning more votes once outstanding mail votes are finalized.

NEW JERSEY

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2021)
  • State Senate: Democratic (up in 2021)
  • State House: Democratic (up in 2021)

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and the heavily Democratic legislature don't face the voters again until 2021, after legislative redistricting is supposed to take place. However, voters approved Question 3, which Democrats hope will push back redistricting (only for the legislature) to the 2023 elections if the census doesn't provide the data lawmakers need by Feb. 15. Delaying redistricting two more years would further disadvantage the state's growing Asian and Latino populations, likely intended to be to the benefit of white Democratic incumbents in primaries.

No matter which year New Jersey conducts its redistricting, the process will see two bipartisan commissions (one for Congress and one for the legislature) appointed by a combination of legislative leaders and state party leaders calling the shots. Democrats therefore won't have the chance to adopt extreme partisan maps, though either party has a chance at seeing somewhat favorable districts enacted depending on what proposal each tiebreaker picks.

NEW YORK

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Democratic—uncalled supermajority
  • State Assembly: Democratic supermajority hold

New York has a new bipartisan redistricting commission appointed by lawmakers, but Democrats could override the commission's recommendations and pass maps to their own liking if they win a two-thirds supermajority. It's unclear whether the GOP's gerrymander will further collapse and let Democrats hit that threshold in the state Senate once absentee ballots are counted. (Democrats hold a more secure supermajority in the Democratically gerrymandered Assembly.)

However, many Democratic lawmakers in New York have often been all too happy to ignore their party's broader interests if it means getting a seat that insulates them from a potential primary challenge. It's therefore unclear whether Democrats would be able to pass aggressive partisan gerrymanders even if they were to win supermajorities.

NORTH CAROLINA

  • Governor: Democratic hold
  • State Senate: Republican hold
  • State House: Republican hold
  • State Supreme Court: Democratic hold (three seats up)

North Carolina has seen the worst and most pervasive Republican gerrymandering of any state in modern history, and the battles over redistricting are set to continue after Republicans unexpectedly gained seats by ousting several Democratic legislators to maintain their majorities. And even though Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper won reelection, he is unable to veto most key redistricting bills.

Making matters worse, Republicans ousted at least one Democratic incumbent on the state Supreme Court and lead in two uncalled races where absentee and provisional ballots will decide whether Democrats majority stays at 6-1 or narrows to 5-2 or even 4-3. The size of Democrats' majority is important because it means the GOP could regain control of the court as soon as 2022 if they sweep every seat up this year. That opportunity could be delayed until 2024 if Democrats hang on in the two unsettled races.

State courts curtailed the GOP's gerrymanders last year, but while those rulings curbed the worst excesses of Republican gerrymandering, they didn't entirely eliminate the problem. Furthermore, state-level judicial review is not guaranteed to succeed again given the increasingly radical stances taken by the U.S. Supreme Court.

OHIO

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican hold (half of seats up)
  • State House: Republican hold
  • State Supreme Court: Republican hold (two seats up)

Ohio's legislature was hopelessly gerrymandered by Republicans this past decade, but while Democrat Jennifer Brunner flipped a seat on the state Supreme Court, fellow Democrat John O'Donnell failed to oust a second GOP incumbent, leaving the GOP with a narrower 4-3 majority. Such a majority will likely mean the court won't enforce the protections added by the GOP in bad faith to Ohio's constitution in 2018 in an ostensibly bipartisan compromise to reform congressional redistricting, leaving Republicans free to gerrymander while falsely claiming they curbed the legislature's power to do so.

OREGON

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Democratic hold—uncalled supermajority (half of seats up)
  • State House: Democratic hold but failure to gain two-thirds supermajority

Over the last two years, Oregon Republicans repeatedly fled the state to deny Democrats the two-thirds legislative supermajority needed to conduct any business under Oregon's unusual quorum rules, successfully defeating a Democratic bill to enact climate protections. They may try that move to stop Democrats from controlling congressional redistricting next year, since Democrats failed to gain a two-thirds supermajority in the state House. If the GOP once more succeeds at quorum-busting, a court would likely draw the congressional map.

However, Democratic state Sen. Shemia Fagan flipped the open secretary of state's office held by Republicans, meaning that if lawmakers don't pass new legislative districts by July 1, 2021, the secretary of state takes over that process. Had Fagan not prevailed, a GOP walkout would have handed legislative redistricting to a Republican secretary of state.

PENNSYLVANIA

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican—uncalled but likely hold (half of seats up)
  • State House: Republican—uncalled but likely hold

While many mail ballots that lean heavily Democratic are yet to be counted, Democrats are unlikely to win either chamber even if they win more votes—which is precisely what happened in 2018 and 2012. Like North Carolina, Pennsylvania's Supreme Court has a Democratic majority that, in 2018, issued a ruling striking down the GOP's congressional gerrymander. However, even if Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf once again blocks Republican legislators from passing an extreme gerrymander, the state Supreme Court may not get the opportunity to draw a fair map of its own, especially if the U.S. Supreme Court interferes.

However, because the state Supreme Court determines the majority tiebreaker on the bipartisan commission used for legislative redistricting, Democrats are poised to control that process after two decades of Republicans running the show. A Republican effort to pass a constitutional amendment that would effectively gerrymander the court could be even more consequential, though. The GOP passed their amendment earlier this year and would need to pass it again after 2020 before voters weigh in via a 2021 referendum. A Democratic state House could stop that power grab dead in its tracks if absentee ballots help Democrats pull off an upset to win control this year.

TEXAS

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican hold (half of seats up)
  • State House: Republican hold (four seats up)

The most important state for Republican congressional gerrymandering is Texas, and Democrats failed to make significant gains needed to flip the state House to break the GOP's control, even though the GOP's gerrymander showed major cracks in 2018 when Democrat Beto O'Rourke won a majority of seats despite losing 51-48 overall to Ted Cruz.

Democrats also failed to lay the groundwork for striking down gerrymanders later this decade after Republicans swept all four seats up this year to maintain their 9-0 state Supreme Court majority. While Democrats could in theory gain control over the court as soon as 2024 (at least three seats are up every two years depending on vacancies), Texas may simply not be blue enough for that to be realistic by then.

VERMONT

  • Governor: Republican hold
  • State Senate: Democratic supermajority hold
  • State House: Democratic supermajority lost

Democrats and their third-party Progressive allies lost their two-thirds supermajority in the state House needed to override Republican Gov. Phil Scott's vetoes and gerrymander the legislature (Vermont only has a single statewide congressional district). Independents now hold the balance of power for veto overrides in the state House (the GOP failed to break the Democratic-Progressive state Senate supermajority).

However, it's far from a given that Democrats could have even overridden a veto anyway given the state's penchant for rejecting the sharpest sort of partisan politics common just about everywhere else. After 2010, the Democratically dominated state government passed new maps with wide GOP support, so something similar could happen after 2020.

VIRGINIA

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2021)
  • State Senate: Democratic (up in 2023)
  • State House: Democratic (up in 2021)

Virginia voters have approved the creation of a bipartisan redistricting commission after the new Democratic majority in Virginia's legislature agreed to hold a vote earlier this year on a GOP-backed reform to enact a bipartisan redistricting commission. The amendment was a compromise that passed with widespread Democratic support in the state Senate but almost unanimous Democratic opposition in the state House.

While the measure is not without its own flaws, it should help ensure Virginia districts are by and large nonpartisan following the 2020 census if it passes. Democrats, however, were divided in their support and opposition for the ballot measure. While its passage should help ensure fair maps for Virginia in isolation, particularly for legislative maps, it means Democrats lose a counterweight at the national level to GOP congressional gerrymandering elsewhere.

WISCONSIN

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican hold, no supermajority (half of seats up)
  • State House: Republican hold, no supermajority

Democrats blocked Republicans from gaining the two-thirds supermajorities needed in the badly gerrymandered legislature to override Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' vetoes, meaning an Evers veto would send redistricting to court instead of letting the GOP gerrymander.

However, a more uncertain but plausible risk is that the partisan 4-3 conservative majority on Wisconsin's Supreme Court will overturn a 1965 precedent and let Republicans pass a new gerrymander by stripping Evers of his veto power, potentially making the size of the GOP's majorities irrelevant since they still will control both chambers.

Voting Rights Roundup: Key 2020 court battles take shape as Supreme Court threat to mail votes looms

LEADING OFF

Supreme Court: This week, the Supreme Court set the stage for what could be the most important legal battle of the 2020 elections with its rulings in major cases over whether mail ballots may count if they are postmarked by Election Day but received afterward.

These cases rely on a radical constitutional theory that would effectively overturn the foundation of federalism and eliminate state-level judicial review when state courts try to safeguard voting rights from hostile GOP legislatures. In a worst-case scenario, this approach could allow the Supreme Court's far-right majority to throw out thousands if not millions of valid absentee ballots and potentially change the outcome of the election.

The conservative justices first reversed a lower court ruling in Wisconsin allowing postmarked ballots to count while refusing to overturn a state Supreme Court ruling in Pennsylvania that did permit such ballots count and a settlement by North Carolina officials extending the deadline by when postmarked ballots must be received after Election Day.

Shortly after those rulings came down, a panel of mostly conservative judges on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals issued one of the most flagrantly partisan and undemocratic decisions in years to disqualify postmarked ballots in Minnesota—a ruling that experts lambasted as "outrageous" and "indefensibly wrong" as we'll explain below.

While North Carolina and Pennsylvania decisions appear on the surface to be victories for voting rights, they may be short lived, because the issues of postmarked ballots could swiftly return to the Supreme Court after Election Day. It's very possible the court's new hardline right-wing majority could invalidate votes after Election Day even though they were properly cast at the time voters mailed them, an outcome that would be an unprecedented judicial abrogation of the right to vote.

If voters have not already voted, they should forget about returning their absentee ballots by mail and risk them not arriving on time. To mitigate the impact of a hostile judiciary, they should instead return their mail ballots at a drop-box, polling place, or local elections office if their state or locality allows it, and if that isn't an option, voters should vote in-person and do it early if that's allowed where they live.

Common to many of these cases above are two legal principles, once of which stems from a 2006 Supreme Court ruling called Purcell v. Gonzales that gave rise to the so-called "Purcell principle." That principle says courts should be sternly reluctant to change election laws or procedures close to an election in an effort to avoid voter confusion or strains on election administration. Even when some election rules may be unconstitutional, federal courts are supposed to apply a much higher burden for overturning them to avoid creating chaos (state courts operate under different procedures varying based on state constitutional law).

Citing Purcell, the Supreme Court's conservatives refused to overturn a 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that overturned a lower court ruling requiring postmarked ballots to count in Wisconsin. But while the Supreme Court in Purcell did not say that no changes may ever be made when an election is near, many conservative judges have interpreted that guideline this year to block any relief for plaintiffs no matter how egregious the alleged constitutional violations.

The extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, combined with Donald Trump's ongoing sabotage of the postal service creating unprecedented delays in mail delivery service, could very well have entitled the plaintiffs to relief in Wisconsin and many related lawsuits. Yet in case after case where lower federal courts have blocked GOP voting restrictions due to the pandemic, the conservatives on the Supreme Court and courts of appeals have overturned such rulings by citing Purcell regardless of how serious the violation of constitutional rights, with the high court often granting emergency stays that don't require it to provide any written explanation.

Right-wing judges over the last few weeks have brazenly wielded Purcell as a partisan cudgel against Democrats by selectively enforcing it to almost-consistently benefit Republicans and hurt voters. The Minnesota ruling in particular offers a stark illustration.

In that case, an 8th Circuit panel ruled 2-1 along ideological lines that Democratic Secretary of State Seve Simon had likely exceeded his powers and usurped the legislature's authority when he agreed three months ago in a lawsuit to count postmarked ballots received up to Nov. 10. The 8th Circuit directed Simon to segregate any postmarked ballots that arrive after Election Day as the case proceeds in case it finds his actions unlawful, strongly implying that the judges will toss out those ballots after Election Day when they issue a final ruling on the merits.

Granting a GOP lawsuit filed in September with just weeks to go, the court in Minnesota itself changed election procedures with just five days left until Election Day and after some mail voters had already voted with the postmark provision in mind. That outcome makes a mockery of Purcell by treating it as a one-way partisan ratchet for the GOP in which Republicans are allowed to wage last-minute challenges to attack voting rights—even changing the rules after ballots have been cast—but Democrats aren't allowed to do so to protect them.

Likely anticipating the catastrophic effects of an adverse ruling that could come from a potential appeal, Simon and Minnesota Democrats announced on Friday that they would hold off on trying to overturn the 8th Circuit ruling. Simon emphasized that "there is no ruling yet saying those ballots are invalid" and that Minnesota reserves "the right to make every argument after Election Day that protects voters."

While Purcell has largely guided federal courts, state courts operate under different rules due to two centuries of precedents establishing the guidelines of federalism, the second principle common to these cases. For that reason, it's particularly alarming that the Supreme Court has even considered potentially overturning state Supreme Court rulings in Pennsylvania and North Carolina where those courts were adjudicating issues based solely on state constitutional concerns without any questions of federal law at issue in good faith.

The Supreme Court left a ruling by the Democratic majority on Pennsylvania's Supreme Court in place when, for the second time in recent weeks, it refused the GOP's request for a stay that would block ballots postmarked by Election Day and received up to three days later. In two separate lawsuits over a settlement where the Democratic majority on North Carolina's state Board of Elections extended the deadline by when postmarked ballots must be received from Nov. 6 to Nov. 12, the Supreme Court refused to overturn a federal lower court ruling and refused to reverse a ruling by the majority-Democratic state Supreme Court that had upheld the settlement just days prior.

But each of these cases remain ongoing, and their fates appear ominous for voting rights based on how the justices ruled on the requests for the stays and Justice Brett Kavanaugh's separate opinion in the Wisconsin case. Three justices, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch all would have gone nuclear in North Carolina and Pennsylvania by granting the stays, accepting an extreme and unprecedented view of the U.S. Constitution's Elections Clause.

The Elections Clause gives the "legislature" in each state the power to set the "times, places, and manner of holding" federal elections (though Congress "may at any time make or alter such regulations"). Republicans argue in these cases and in Minnesota that this clause only empowers the state legislature itself, not those who hold the power to set laws under state constitutions such as state courts, voters (via the ballot initiative process), or potentially even governors when they exercise their veto powers.

The Supreme Court rejected this interpretation of the Elections Clause in a 5-4 ruling in 2015 upholding the right of Arizona voters to strip their GOP-run legislature of the power to control redistricting by using a 2000 ballot initiative to create an independent redistricting commission. However, two of the justices in the majority in that ruling, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy, are no longer on the court and have since been replaced by justices much further to their right.

While Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch are not a majority on their own, Kavanaugh strongly cast doubt on the legality of counting postmarked ballots that arrive after Election Day in his Wisconsin ruling, a decision that drew fierce criticism over factual inaccuracies and Kavanaugh's having concocted a notion that "states also want to be able to definitively announce the results of the election on election night, or as soon as possible thereafter." Especially worrisome is that Kavanaugh approvingly cited a theory in the Supreme Court's infamous case Bush v. Gore, which decided the 2000 election for George W. Bush.

Kavanaugh's statement appears to support Trump's bogus claims that votes counted after Election Day, potentially even those that were received and not just postmarked by Election Day, are somehow illegitimate, and it's at odds with two key facts. First, no state does or ever has had official declarations of a winner on Election Night, and every state counts ballots such as provisionals and military ballots from abroad in the days or even weeks afterward. Federal law acknowledges as much by setting Dec. 8 as the last day to certify votes ahead of the Dec. 14 vote by Electoral College electors.

Second, the Republican legislatures in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, both of which saw Democrats win more votes in 2018 but the GOP win gerrymandered majorities anyway, have refused to pass laws that would allow election workers to even begin preparing absentee mail ballots for counting ahead of Election Day. Nearly every other state lets workers begin processing such votes early even if they may still have to wait until Election Day to count them, and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin's inability to do so could drag out the vote counting past Election Night.

Because Trump's demagoguery against mail voting has meant that Democrats are voting by mail at much higher rates than Republicans, Trump has made it clear that he plans to try to overturn an election loss by claiming victory on Election Night based on a partial count even in the likely event that late-counted mail ballots ultimately cause him to lose. While Kavanaugh did not side with his three colleagues who would have granted these stays, he left little doubt where his inclinations lie on the merits.

That leaves new Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who did not weigh in on the requests for the stays. However, Barrett made clear via a spokesperson that she was not recusing herself but had simply not had time to get caught up to speed on the briefings, something that won't necessarily be the case if these cases return to the Supreme Court in the coming days. Trump himself has let slip that he rushed Barrett's appointment to the court just eight days before Election Day precisely because he wanted her to decide the election in his favor.

Consequently, there is a dire risk that all of the Supreme Court's conservatives aside from Chief Justice John Roberts could rule after Election Day against counting these postmarked ballots. Such a ruling would be an unprecedented assault on the sanctity of the election and a denial of due process afforded to voters in countless past cases, and such an outcome could spark a historic public backlash against the court itself.

If there's one silver lining, it may be that the potential for backlash could give the conservative hardliners pause to avoid giving congressional Democrats the public standing they would need to expand the Supreme Court by adding new justices in response. Furthermore, the potential margin of Trump's defeat itself may play into Kavanaugh and Barrett's willingness or lack thereof to brazenly discard votes, and if the polls are anywhere near close to the mark, Trump is poised to decisively lose next week.

Nevertheless, the fact that five justices on the Supreme Court appear very open if not eagerly willing to upend two centuries of established law, all to help a historically unpopular and authoritarian president cling to power in the face of a looming decisive defeat, is itself ample reason for Democrats to reform the court itself should they nevertheless overcome these barriers and win the presidency and Senate on Tuesday.

If they don't, the Supreme Court's conservative hardliners could make nakedly partisan rulings attacking the right to vote for years if not decades to come.

(Note: Daily Kos Elections contributing editor Arjun Jaikumar is representing a party in this Pennsylvania litigation. He took no part in the production of this writeup.)

FELONY DISENFRANCHISEMENT

Tennessee: A state court has dealt a setback to voting rights advocates by ruling that Tennessee is not required to alter its felony disenfranchisement regime to restore voting rights to people with felony convictions from other states based on how the state where they were convicted treats voting rights for such individuals.

Felony disenfranchisement is more restrictive in Tennessee than almost anywhere else in the country, requiring voters to have completely served all parts of their sentence including prison, parole, and probation, and some of the most serious offenses result in lifetime disenfranchisement. Furthermore, Tennessee requires the payment of court fines and fees before voters may regain their rights, which results in post-sentence disenfranchisement potentially for life for those unable to pay off such assessments.

Consequently, 9% of Tennesseans are banned from voting, nearly the highest rate of any state, including 22% of Black voters, which is the highest rate in the country after several states have adopted reforms to lessen their disenfranchisement rates in the last several years. It's unclear how many of those affected would see their rights restored if Tennessee treated out-of-state convictions similarly to how those voters would have been treated in their native states.

ELECTION CHANGES

Please bookmark our litigation tracker for a complete summary of the latest developments in every lawsuit regarding changes to elections and voting procedures as a result of the coronavirus.

Alaska: The Alaska Supreme Court, which has a GOP-appointed majority, has rejected a lawsuit asking that voters be notified of any problems with their mail ballots and be given a chance to fix them before Election Day. The state already requires officials to notify voters of any issues after the election.

Arkansas: A federal court has rejected a lawsuit asking that Arkansas voters be notified of any problems with their mail ballots and be given a chance to fix them. Arkansas is one of only four states that does not give voters the opportunity to address any alleged signature mismatches.

Separately, voting rights advocates have filed a lawsuit in state court challenging a state law that says that absentee ballots may only be counted on Election Day. Election officials say they plan to keep counting such ballots "regardless of how long it takes to complete the process." It appears that the case has since been transferred to a federal court.

Georgia: Republican-appointed judges on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals have stayed a lower court ruling that required election officials to maintain paper backups of voter registration records at polling sites in the event of failures with the state's electronic voter check-in system that marred Georgia's June primary.

Missouri: A Missouri state court has rejected a lawsuit seeking to count mail ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within a few days. The court also declined to block a pair of state laws: one requiring that only voters under 65 have mail ballots notarized (elderly voters, who are exempt, typically lean Republican) and another prohibiting voters from returning mail ballots in person.

South Carolina: A federal court has ordered election officials not to reject mail ballots due to alleged signature mismatches and says that officials must also review any ballots that were previously rejected on such grounds. Ballots with missing signatures from voters or witnesses, however, will still not be accepted.

Texas: Conservative judges on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals have blocked a lower court ruling that held that an exemption in Texas' mask mandate for voters and poll workers violated the Voting Rights Act. Separately, the Texas Supreme Court upheld Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's order limiting election officials to just one mail return location per county.

Taken together, it's particularly cynical of Republican state Attorney General Ken Paxton to argue that the mask mandate violates voters' right to vote when he has personally ensured that many such voters have no alternative but to vote in-person after Paxton successfully fought in court against efforts to liberalize access to mail voting.

Meanwhile, a group of Republican activists and candidates have asked the state Supreme Court to throw out all ballots cast at curbside voting locations in Harris County. The court previously rejected similar challenges filed by Republicans, but an adverse ruling here could disenfranchise over 100,000 voters if the high court grants this request.

Virginia: A Virginia state court has ruled that ballots lacking a postmark can't count if they arrive after Election Day.

Wisconsin: A Wisconsin state court has dismissed a lawsuit seeking a declaration that mass ballot dropoff events in Madison were legal, saying that organizers who brought the suit and the city officials named as defendants were not in disagreement. Republicans had threatened to sue to block the events, known as "Democracy in the Park," but no such lawsuit ever came.

New report reveals the staggering impact of felony disenfranchisement

LEADING OFF

Felony Disenfranchisement: The Sentencing Project has released a report with updated estimates on the number of Americans disenfranchised for a felony conviction in every state, finding that more than 5 million people overall are barred from voting. Many of these laws have their origins in the Jim Crow era, and 6% of Black Americans are banned from voting compared to 2% of Americans overall. Laws on felony disenfranchisement vary widely by state, with Maine, Vermont, and the District of Columbia not barring anyone from voting while several mostly Southern states impose lifetime bans for at least some offenders.

Thanks to a lifetime ban on voting for a large number of felony offenses that can only be remedied by the state legislature and governor passing a bill to individually restore a voter's rights—something the GOP state government almost never does—Mississippi leads the way with more than 1 in every 10 voters banned from voting, including one in every six Black voters, three times the rate of whites. But Tennessee leads the way with Black disenfranchisement, with more than one in four Black citizens banned from voting there.

Should Democrats retake the Senate and Joe Biden become president, Congress may be poised to restore voting rights to millions of citizens who aren't currently incarcerated by ending the bans on voting that many states enforce against citizens on parole, probation, or who owe outstanding court debts even though they have completely served their sentences. The report estimates that 43% of those disenfranchised nationally have served any prison, parole, or probation sentence, and 75% are no longer incarcerated and could regain their rights if Congress adopts Democrats' proposal.

BALLOT MEASURES

Florida: With the support of Democratic state Sen. Janet Cruz and GOP state Rep. Chris Sprowls, who would become speaker if the GOP maintains their majority this November, a new lawsuit has been filed with Florida's conservative-dominated Supreme Court asking it to invalidate an initiative that will appear on the ballot this year and would amend Florida's constitution to create a "top-two primary" for state-level races if at least 60% of voters adopt it. The lawsuit contends that the measure violates the Florida constitution by undermining existing protections for Black and Latino representation.

If voters adopt the ballot measure, Florida would eliminate its traditional primaries closed to voters registered with a particular party and replace them by having all candidates run on the same ballot in the first round regardless of party. From there, the top-two finishers would advance to the November general election regardless of party, meaning two candidates from the same party could advance. As we've noted before, this system is highly flawed because one party can get shut out of the general election simply for having too many candidates in the first round even if they collectively won more votes than the other party, which has happened in California and Washington.

The lawsuit focuses on how top-two reduces existing opportunities for voters of color to elect their chosen candidates for state legislature, particularly since Black voters are heavily Democratic while whites lean GOP. Currently in a district capable of electing a Democrat, Black voters don't need to form an overall majority so long as they can form a majority of the Democratic primary electorate and can count on enough support from a minority of whites in the general. But under top-two, white Republicans who can't elect a Republican on their own might support a candidate backed instead by white Democrats to defeat a candidate preferred by Black Democrats.

Back in 2010, Florida voters passed two previous ballot initiatives that added protections against both partisan gerrymandering and the dilution of voters of color in existing districts that were capable of electing the preferred candidates of such voters. The plaintiffs therefore argue that this 2020 proposal violates the latter provision because it would almost certainly dilute the existing voting strength in several districts of Black voters and to a lesser extent Latinos (who are more internally diverse both in terms of their ethnic identity and partisanship).

VOTER REGISTRATION AND VOTING ACCESS

New York: Voting advocacy organizations are appealing a recent state lower court ruling that declined to extend New York's voter registration deadline from 25 days before Election Day to just 10 days prior.

2020 CENSUS

2020 Census: The Supreme Court has stayed a lower court ruling that had blocked the Trump administration from ending the census' counting operations weeks before the original Oct. 31 deadline, enabling Trump to stop counting on Thursday. Trump has pushed to short circuit the census in a likely effort to produce an undercount that would disproportionately harm communities of color, which in turn would undermine those communities' clout in redistricting for the coming decade.

While the Census Bureau reports that they already had a 99.9% completion rate in nearly every state before the Supreme Court issued its ruling, reporting from the New York Times details how those numbers are misleading. That 99.9% figure doesn't cover the number of households that have filled out the census forms and instead covers those checked off the list by any means, even via estimates.

For instance, the Times notes that instead of interviewing every individual household in a major apartment complex, enumerators may have instead entered data given to them by the apartment manager just on those individuals who signed leases, which could fail to include everyone living in each unit with more than a single occupant. Furthermore, the statewide completion rates don't add light to variations within states, and certain populations that are the hardest to count could thus be more incomplete.

Meanwhile in a federal lawsuit over the Trump administration's attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants from census data that determines the reapportionment of congressional seats and Electoral College votes among the states after 2020, the Supreme Court has agreed to fast-track Trump's appeal of a lower court ruling that blocked Trump's effort earlier this year. The high court set oral arguments for Nov. 30.

ELECTION CHANGES

Please bookmark our litigation tracker for a complete summary of the latest developments in every lawsuit regarding changes to elections and voting procedures as a result of the coronavirus.

Alabama: The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a lower court ruling blocking Alabama's requirement that absentee voters have their ballots witnessed or notarized. However, the panel upheld another part of the ruling that barred the state from banning curbside voting. Republican Secretary of State John Merrill has said he will appeal that portion of the decision to the Supreme Court.

Alaska: The Alaska Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling blocking the state's requirement that absentee voters have their ballots witnessed. Separately, voting rights advocates have filed a lawsuit in state court asking that voters whose mail ballots are rejected be given the chance to fix any problems.

Arizona: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a lower court ruling that extended Arizona's voter registration deadline from Oct. 5 to 23. However, the judges did order officials to accept new registrations from voters who submitted applications by Oct. 15. Meanwhile, a separate panel on the 9th Circuit has upheld a lower court ruling that rejected a request by the Navajo Nation that mail ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within 10 days be counted.

Delaware: A Delaware state court has rejected a suit requesting that ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within 10 days be counted. Separately, voting rights advocates have filed a suit in state court asking that voters who have been displaced from their homes because of the pandemic be allowed to receive ballots electronically and return them by printing them out and mailing them in.

Georgia: In a long-running case, a federal judge has declined to order Georgia officials, whose polling places have long been plagued with lengthy lines due to difficulties with electronic voting equipment, to use hand-marked paper ballots instead of new electronic voting machines. In a separate ruling, the same judge also declined to order that officials provide paper backup ballots equivalent to 40% of registered voters. Under state law, officials are required to maintain backups for only 10% of voters.

In a separate Democratic-backed lawsuit that was also seeking paper ballot and poll book backups among other measures to prevent long voting lines, a different federal judge has dismissed the case.

Indiana: The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a lower court ruling requiring that Indiana officials count absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within 10 days. Instead, ballots must be received by noon on Election Day in order to count.

Iowa: The Iowa Supreme Court has overturned a lower court ruling that said that Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate exceeded his authority in barring county election officials from sending out absentee voter applications with information pre-filled.

Separately, the court said it would hear a challenge from Democrats against a law passed earlier this year by the state's Republican-run legislature prohibiting officials from using their databases to fill in missing information on applications they receive from voters, which they've done in past years. Under the new law, officials are required to contact voters by phone, email, or regular mail.

Louisiana: A state court has blocked Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin's attempt to limit officials in New Orleans to just two ballot return drop box locations.

Michigan: The state Court of Appeals has sided with Republicans and overturned a lower court ruling that had required mail ballots to count if postmarked by the day before Election Day and received up to two weeks afterward.

Minnesota: A federal judge has rejected a Republican challenge to an agreement made between Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon and voting rights advocates to allow ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within seven days to count, saying the plaintiffs had failed to show they were injured by the law. Plaintiffs say they will appeal.

Missouri: A federal judge has stayed his own ruling allowing the in-person return of mail ballots pending an appeal by Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft.

North Carolina: Two separate federal court rulings have resulted in a mixed outcome for voting advocates regarding absentee voting procedures. In one case, a district court blocked part of a settlement in a separate state lawsuit that would have allowed voters to sign an affidavit in case a witness signature was missing, thus requiring a witness signature for all such ballots.

However, a district court in a separate case refused to overturn an agreement by the state to count ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 12 while also allowing voters to fix certain other problems on mail ballots regarding voter signatures or incomplete witness information. Additionally, the second federal ruling means dropping off mail ballots at polling places remains allowed.

Republicans are appealing that second federal ruling as well as the settlement in the state lawsuit, which saw the state Court of Appeals issue a short-term stay of the settlement and give the parties until Monday to respond on whether to more permanently block it.

Ohio: The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked a lower court ruling that forbade Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose from preventing county election officials from providing more than one drop box for ballot returns. LaRose's directive that each county may only set up one drop box is now back in effect.

Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to take up Democratic Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar's request for it to clarify whether state law allows counties to reject mail ballots based on signatures purportedly not matching the ones on file without notifying voters and giving them a chance to correct the problem. Boockvar had issued a directive last month telling counties that they were required to give voters a chance to fix problems, but the Trump campaign contested it in a separate federal lawsuit.

Meanwhile in that same federal case, a district court has rejected Trump's request to ban dropboxes and allow voters to serve as poll watchers outside their home county, which opponents argued was an attempt to encourage voter intimidation in cities with large Black populations. Trump is appealing to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

(Note: Daily Kos Elections contributing editor Arjun Jaikumar is representing a party in this case. He took no part in the production of this writeup.)

Tennessee: The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling refusing to require that Tennessee officials allow mail voters a chance to fix problems with their ballots that would otherwise result in their votes being rejected.

Texas: Latino voter advocates announced they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after three Trump-appointed judges on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling that had blocked a limitation on counties having more than one location for returning mail ballots regardless of population size. The 5th Circuit's ruling came down even though federal courts across the country have been blocking efforts to change election rules too close to the election and GOP Gov. Greg Abbott issued the limitation only on Oct. 1.

Regardless of the federal litigation, a separate state lawsuit has seen a lower court block Abbott's limitation on mail ballot return locations, though Republicans quickly vowed to appeal.

In two separate state court lawsuits over voting access, the first saw the all-GOP state Supreme Court reject right-wing activists' challenge to Abbott's order extending early voting by six days, leading to it beginning this week. In the second case, a panel on the state Court of Appeals has rejected the state GOP's request to ban curbside voting in Harris County, which is home to Houston and is the state's most populous at 4.7 million people, but the state Republican Party will appeal to Texas' high court.

Wisconsin: Democrats have filed an appeal with the Supreme Court asking it to reverse a recent 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that had blocked a lower court's order to count ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 9.

Overseas Voters: A federal district court has rejected a request by voters from Georgia, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin who currently reside abroad and were seeking to be able to receive and return their ballots electronically, a process that is already available to the military and even some civilians in other states.

Voting Rights Roundup: Using Jim Crow logic, federal court greenlights age discrimination in voting

LEADING OFF

Indiana: A panel of three Republican-appointed judges on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against plaintiffs who were challenging a GOP-backed restriction that Indiana voters must present a non-COVID excuse to vote by mail this fall. Plaintiffs had argued that an exemption for voters aged 65 and above violates the 26th Amendment's ban on age discrimination in voting, but the appellate court disagreed in a manner that has potentially far-reaching consequences.

In their ruling, two of the three judges would effectively eviscerate any real protection from age discrimination. The plaintiffs argued that a law restricting the right to vote based on race or sex would violate the 15th Amendment or 19th Amendment, respectively, which the 26th Amendment mirrors with almost-identical language. But the majority wrote that those amendments themselves don't subject suspect voting laws to heightened judicial scrutiny, saying instead that such scrutiny comes from the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection clause.

The majority's position, in other words, is that the four amendments expanding voting rights—the 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th—don't actually provide protections without the 14th Amendment backing them up. These four amendments, however, all contain the phrase "the right to vote ... shall not be denied or abridged on account of" the category they cover. But since age is not a protected class like race and gender under equal protection jurisprudence, the 26th Amendment would become almost meaningless in practice under this view.

This line of reasoning is almost indistinguishable from the jurisprudence advanced by judges during the Jim Crow era to deny the plain intent of the 15th Amendment when upholding laws that prevented Black citizens from voting in all but name, on the flimsy basis that they didn't explicitly ban African Americans from voting.

These Jim Crow laws, such as literacy tests, generally did not make it impossible for Black voters to exercise their rights in theory, much like the absentee excuse requirement doesn't prevent younger voters from voting in person in theory. In practice, however, Jim Crow rules did make voting impossible for Black voters, just as the pandemic has made in-person voting impossible for many voters.

The 7th Circuit's ruling also opens the door to laws that roll out the red carpet for older voters—a Republican-leaning demographic—and impose additional burdens on younger voters, who typically favor Democrats. It could even let GOP legislators pass laws with illicit racial intent by claiming their motives are based on age instead, since young voters tend to be much more diverse than older ones.

The plaintiffs have not yet indicated if they will appeal further. The possibility of an adverse ruling by the Supreme Court could stay their hand, as such a decision would have the effect of making the 7th Circuit's logic binding on the entire country.

In a separate case, a federal district court has temporarily stayed its ruling for a week after ordering that ballots must count if postmarked by Election Day and received a few days afterward in order to give the 7th Circuit time to consider the GOP's appeal.

VOTER SUPPRESSION

Arizona: In early October, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would take up Arizona Republicans' appeal in a case that could strike a crippling blow against the last remaining pillar of the Voting Rights Act.

This case involves two Republican-backed laws in Arizona that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found had both the effect and intent of discriminating against Black, Latino, and Native American voters. If both findings are overturned, it may become impossible to challenge such laws in the future.

Earlier this year, the 9th Circuit blocked the two laws: one that bars counting votes cast in the wrong precinct but in the right county, and another that limits who can turn in another person's absentee mail ballot on a voter's behalf.

Arizona had largely transitioned to mail voting even before the pandemic, but the 9th Circuit observed that only 18% of Native American voters receive mail service, and many living on remote reservations lack reliable transportation options. That has led some voters to ask others in their community to turn their completed ballots in, which Republicans have sought to deride as "ballot harvesting" in an attempt to delegitimize the practice. The law the court struck down had restricted who could handle another person's mail ballot to just a close relative, caregiver, or postal service worker.

The 9th Circuit's ruling also invalidated a separate provision prohibiting out-of-precinct voting, in which a voter shows up and casts a ballot at the wrong polling place but in the right county on Election Day. Under the invalidated law, voters in such circumstances could only cast a provisional ballot, which were automatically rejected if it was later confirmed that the voter had indeed showed up at the wrong polling place.

This ruling relied on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits laws that have a discriminatory effect against racial minorities regardless of whether there was an intent to discriminate. The finding of a discriminatory effect is critical because it's often much more difficult if not impossible to prove that lawmakers acted with illicit intent, whereas statistical analysis can more readily prove that a law has a disparate negative impact on protected racial groups.

Consequently, it's this so-called "effects test" that is the key remaining plank of the Voting Rights Act following the notorious 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. Some legal observers remain optimistic that the worst may not yet happen, since Arizona Republicans are not challenging the constitutional grounds for the VRA's effects test. However, others have noted that even if the effects test isn't formally struck down, the Supreme Court could make it so difficult to comply with the requirements to prove discrimination that the VRA would nevertheless become meaningless.

Chief Justice John Roberts has spent his entire career fighting to destroy the Voting Rights Act, beginning with his service as a young lawyer in the Reagan Justice Department. If Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed to the Supreme Court, hard-right appointees would have a solid majority. Should that come to pass, the Voting Rights Act's days could very well be numbered, whether this case or another is the vehicle.

U.S. Territories: Plaintiffs originally from Hawaii, including a civilian contractor with the military assigned to Guam, have filed a federal lawsuit challenging a federal law that prohibits them from voting for president and Congress solely because they reside in American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands. The plaintiffs note that U.S. citizens originating from the 50 states retain the right to vote for federal offices in their former state if they live in a foreign country or the Northern Mariana Islands but not in the other four territories. They argue that the system is unconstitutional by privileging citizens who move to one territory above the other four.

This lawsuit is similar to one that unsuccessfully tried to extend voting rights to U.S. citizens who moved to one of the first four territories above and became disenfranchised. In that case, the Supreme Court in 2018 declined to take up the plaintiffs' appeal after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the plaintiffs. Additionally in that case, the Trump administration proposed disenfranchising citizens in the Northern Mariana Islands as a solution to the purported equal protection violation.

ELECTORAL REFORM

Maine: The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the GOP's request to stay a state Supreme Court ruling that authorized the use of instant-runoff voting for the presidency this fall.

2020 CENSUS

2020 Census: The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to block an order that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued requiring census counting efforts to continue through Oct. 31 as originally scheduled instead of letting Trump cut them short by nearly a month.

ELECTION CHANGES

Alaska: An Alaska state court has blocked a requirement that absentee voters have their ballots witnessed. An appeal to the state Supreme Court is possible.

Arizona: A panel of three judges on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has temporarily rejected the state GOP's appeal of a recent lower court ruling that extended Arizona's voter registration deadline from Oct. 5 to Oct. 23, expressing doubt that the state Republican Party had the standing to appeal and instead inviting GOP state Attorney General Mark Brnovich to file his own appeal. Brnovich had filed a motion to intervene as defendant after Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs declined to appeal, but the court has not yet ruled on his motion.

In a separate case, a panel on the 9th Circuit has sided with Brnovich and the GOP by staying a lower court ruling that had allowed voters up to have up to five days after Election Day to "cure" problems with a missing signature on their mail ballots instead of requiring such corrections be done by Election Day. Plaintiffs had challenged the law by noting that voters whose signature purportedly didn't match the one on file already had five days after the election to fix the problem but not if the signature was missing entirely.

Georgia: A federal court has rejected a lawsuit seeking to require Gwinnett County, a large and diverse county in the Atlanta suburbs. to send out absentee ballot applications in Spanish, saying the plaintiffs lacked standing even though the county is the lone one in the state subject to the Voting Rights Act's language-minority protections due to its large Latino minority.

Iowa: An Iowa state court has blocked a directive from Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate forbidding local election officials from sending out absentee ballot applications with voter information pre-filled. Pate has asked the conservative-dominated state Supreme Court to stay the ruling.

Maine: A Maine state court has rejected a lawsuit by voting rights advocates seeking to have ballots postmarked by Election Day counted. Plaintiffs also wanted voters whose ballots are rejected for alleged signature mismatches the opportunity to fix any problems and have appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court. Separately, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills says she will not issue an executive order requiring that ballots postmarked by Election Day be counted.

Michigan: Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed a bill allowing election officials to begin processing mail ballots the day before Election Day. Previously, officials were only allowed to start doing so the morning of Election Day.

Missouri: The Missouri Supreme Court has rejected voting advocates' appeal of a lower court ruling that dismissed their challenge to a GOP-backed requirement that absentee ballots cast by voters under the age of 65, who are typically less Republican than elderly voters, be notarized. In a separate federal lawsuit, a district court has ruled against the GOP and blocked a state law that prohibits voters from returning their mail ballots in-person; Republicans announced they will appeal.

Montana: The Supreme Court has rejected an attempt by Republicans to block a directive by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock allowing county election officials to decide whether to conduct next month's election by mail; counties home to 94% of Montana residents have opted to do so.

Nevada: The Nevada Supreme Court has rejected a challenge by Republican Sharron Angle to the state's plan to hold next month's election by mail.

New Hampshire: A New Hampshire state court has largely rejected a lawsuit seeking to have election officials count mail ballots postmarked by Election Day, prepay postage, provide drop boxes, and allow third-party ballot collection.

New Jersey: A federal judge has rejected a Trump campaign challenge to New Jersey's plan to conduct next month's election by mail. Plaintiffs had specifically challenged provisions that allow election officials to start counting ballots up to 10 days before Election Day, and to accept ballots that lack a postmark up to two days after Election Day.

North Carolina: A federal judge has temporarily blocked a settlement approved by a North Carolina state court between voting rights advocates and the state Board of Elections requiring that ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within nine days be counted. The agreement also effectively waived a requirement that absentee voters have their ballots witnessed.

Ohio: A federal district court has overruled Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose's recent directive barring counties from setting up more than one location for voters to drop off their absentee mail ballots, which LaRose instituted shortly after a state appellate court ruled last week that he was allowed but not required to let counties operate multiple locations. LaRose immediately appealed the federal ruling to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

LaRose's attempt to limit mail ballot dropoff options to just one per county regardless of population size would disproportionately hurt Democrats if allowed to go forward, since Ohio's biggest counties lean Democratic while the smallest ones overall favor Republicans. It would also harm Black voters, since most live in large urban counties.

South Carolina: The Supreme Court has overturned a 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that had suspended the witness requirement for absentee mail ballots, ruling that it was too close to Election Day to make such changes under a principle designed to avoid voter confusion, but this ruling may just do that very thing.

In its Oct. 5 decision, the court held that those who had already voted by mail—more than 150,000 ballots had already been mailed out and an unknown number returned—could still have them count if they lacked a witness signature but were received by election officials no later than Oct. 7. However, in light of the Trump administration's effort to sabotage postal delivery service to stymie mail voting, voters could have legally mailed a valid vote days before the ruling only for it to arrive after the Oct. 7 deadline and thus be rejected.

Three of the most right-wing justices on the court—Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas—would have gone even further and thrown out even votes cast before the ruling came down if they lacked a witness signature.

Separately, voting rights advocates have filed two additional federal lawsuits seeking to expand voting access. The first one aims to require officials to notify voters and give them a chance to fix purported problems with their mail ballot signature. The second seeks an extension of South Carolina's Oct. 4 voter registration deadline, noting that the pandemic has upended normal avenues for voter registration activity.

Tennessee: A federal district court has temporarily blocked a GOP-backed law that required certain newly registered voters to present a photo ID in-person to be able to vote by mail, ordering GOP officials to allow such voters who registered by mail to include a photocopy of their ID with their mail ballot instead. This law was likely to make it more burdensome for groups such as college students, who may not be on campus due to the pandemic, to exercise their right to vote.

Texas: Texas' all-Republican state Supreme Court has issued a ruling blocking officials in Harris County, the state's largest, from sending mail ballot applications to all 2.4 million registered voters. The court ruled that the county couldn't mail applications to those beyond just voters age 65 and up, who had already been sent an application and are the only ones allowed to vote by mail without a non-COVID excuse.

Meanwhile, voting rights advocates have filed a second federal lawsuit and a new state-level lawsuit over GOP Gov. Greg Abbott's recent order prohibiting counties from setting up more than one drop box to receive mail ballots. That decision may make it disproportionately harder for Democrats and voters of color to vote since they are heavily concentrated in a handful of massively populated counties such as Harris; Texas' smaller counties are overall much whiter and more Republican. Plaintiffs argue that the order violates equal protection and the state constitution's right-to-vote guarantee.

Wisconsin: A panel of three Republican-appointed judges on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled 2-1 to reverse its earlier position and grant the GOP's request to stay a lower court decision that had ordered ballots to count if postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 9 and extended the deadline from Oct. 14 to Oct. 21 to register online or by mail (Wisconsin still allows in-person registration on Election Day).

Previously, this same panel had unanimously rejected the GOP's appeal on the grounds that Republican legislative leaders lacked the standing to represent the state on the basis of a prior state Supreme Court ruling. However, plaintiffs subsequently asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to clarify that they did have standing, which the court's conservative majority did in a 4-3 ruling along ideological lines.

Consequently, the 7th Circuit panel sided with the GOP by saying it was too close to the election to change voting rules. However, Judge Ilana Rovner, a George H.W. Bush appointee, dissented by saying the majority's decision will cause "many thousands of Wisconsin citizens [to] lose their right to vote." She concluded her dissent, "Good luck and G-d bless, Wisconsin. You are going to need it." Democrats have not announced if they will appeal.

Overseas Voters: Civilian voters residing abroad who retain the right to vote in federal races in their last state of residence have filed a federal lawsuit against officials in Georgia, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin seeking the right to vote electronically due to the pandemic and delays with postal delivery, which may be exacerbated by the Trump administration's efforts to sabotage the Postal Service.

Active duty military service members stationed abroad already have the ability to cast their ballots electronically via fax or email. Civilians abroad, meanwhile, can obtain but not return their ballots electronically. Plaintiffs argue that there's a considerable risk that their ballots will not arrive in time and that the significantly higher cost of sending mail from a foreign country can be prohibitive. While extending electronic voting to overseas civilians would be one way to ensure they aren't disenfranchised, election security experts have widely warned that internet voting presents critical security risks.

Voting Rights Roundup: Texas GOP launches attack on Dems and voters of color by limiting mail voting

LEADING OFF

Texas: On Thursday, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order that prohibited Texas' 254 counties from setting up more than one location for voters to drop off their absentee mail ballots regardless of population size, sparking a firestorm of condemnation and drawing a federal lawsuit from voting rights advocates seeking to block the move for discriminating against voters of color. With the Trump administration attempting to sabotage postal delivery and causing delays that risk ballots not arriving on time, in-person dropoff locations are a key alternative for ensuring mail ballots count.

Abbott's move is a thinly veiled attack on voting access for the state's rapidly growing Black, Latino, and Asian American populations and the Democrats they support, since those groups are largely concentrated in just a handful of massively populated counties. Harris County (home to Houston) alone has nearly 5 million residents and would have only one location in a jurisdiction roughly the size of Delaware, and together with several other counties with populations over 1 million containing cities such as Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio, they hold a disproportionate share of the state's Democrats and voters of color.

By contrast, well over one hundred of the state's smallest counties have electorates that are overwhelmingly white and therefore strongly Republican, leading to vast partisan and racial disparities in the number of dropoff locations per capita—though this order will require GOP voters in sprawling rural counties to also travel larger distances to drop off their mail ballots if they vote that way. However, because Democrats may be much likelier to vote by mail thanks to Trump's demagoguery discouraging Republicans from doing so, Democrats will likely face much more difficulty than Republicans with casting their ballots thanks to this order.

Texas has been ground zero for voter suppression in 2020 just as it finally becomes a key battleground state for the first time in decades, and Democrats have a critical chance to flip the state House this fall and block Republicans from passing the most important congressional gerrymander of any state after the 2020 census. Republicans have so far successfully fought back lawsuits and preserved a requirement that voters under age 65 have a non-COVID excuse to vote by mail—elderly voters, of course, are much whiter and therefore more conservative than the electorate overall.

Houston and Harris County have been the focus of much of the GOP's efforts to restrict voting, and a state appeals court has rejected a separate GOP challenge to a plan by officials there to send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters. However, the county remains barred from mailing out ballots due to an earlier preliminary ruling by the Texas Supreme Court. A final ruling from the high court is expected soon.

Relatedly, Republican activists have filed an additional lawsuit asking the all-Republican state Supreme Court to limit in-person voting in Harris County by shortening the start of early voting from Oct. 13 to Oct. 19, even though Abbott himself had added the additional six days of early voting statewide, and they want to bar the county from accepting mail ballots in-person before Election Day instead of throughout the early voting period as is currently allowed. These same activists are also challenging Abbott's early voting order in a case that was filed last month and is pending before the state high court.

REDISTRICTING

Arkansas: A federal district court has refused to issue a preliminary injunction that would have blocked a state law that Republican officials and the conservative-dominated state Supreme Court had used to disqualify all of the signatures that redistricting reformers had submitted for a ballot initiative to create an independent redistricting commission. The federal court dismissed the case with prejudice, prompting proponents to give up on winning a 2020 ballot measure battle. Although the measure remains on the ballot, its votes won't be valid.

While redistricting reformers vowed to pursue another ballot initiative in a future election, this ruling means Republicans will get to gerrymander the state after 2020 for the first time since Reconstruction (if not ever). Even worse, it's a potentially fatal setback for the reform movement going forward because of a measure Republicans have themselves referred to November's ballot to effectively make it impossible to attempt future ballot initiatives without supermajority support that includes many white conservative voters.

The GOP's November ballot measure would amend Arkansas' constitution to require supporters meet the signature threshold in 45 of 75 counties instead of the current 15. However, because Democrats, Black voters, and a majority of the state's population overall are heavily concentrated in a minority of counties, this requires initiative proponents to obtain signatures in heavily white and therefore conservative counties, making it harder for progressives but not conservatives to put initiatives on the ballot.

VOTER SUPPRESSION

Arizona: The Supreme Court has agreed to take up Republicans' appeal of a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that had determined Republicans had intentionally discriminated against Native American, Latino, and Black voters by enacting restrictions on counting votes cast in the wrong precinct but in the right county, as well as limitations on who can turn in another person's absentee mail ballot on their behalf. These two consolidated cases have potentially enormous and dire implications for the future of the Voting Rights Act, which we will further detail in a future Roundup.

Michigan: A federal district court has ruled partially in favor of Democrats by temporarily blocking a lone-in-the-nation law prohibiting the use of paid transportation to the polls such as ride-hailing services and hired drivers, but the court refused to block another limitation preventing most third-parties from collecting voters' completed absentee ballots and delivering them to officials on those voters' behalf.

North Carolina: A GOP-majority panel of state Court of Appeals judges has ruled 2-1 along party lines to overturn a lower court ruling and uphold two constitutional amendments that Republicans had placed on the ballot in 2018, which were approved by voters, rejecting the NAACP's argument that the GOP legislature had lacked the authority to amend the state constitution because they had relied on unconstitutional gerrymanders that had been struck down and redrawn. The NAACP is appealing to the state Supreme Court, which has a 6-1 Democratic majority, to overturn the two amendments, which required voter ID and capped the maximum income tax rate.

Regardless, the voter ID requirement was already not in effect for 2020 due to separate federal and state litigation that temporarily blocked the implementing statute itself while those cases proceed on the merits.

Texas: The conservative-dominated 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed a recent lower court ruling that would have blocked the GOP's repeal of the straight-ticket voting option for November, dealing a blow to voting access for Black and Latino voters, who are disproportionately likely to use the option, since the lack of the option means it will take much longer to fill out Texas' unusually long ballot and thus exacerbate voting lines.

Wisconsin: A federal district court has said it won't rule before the election on whether to curtail the GOP's limitation on the use of college IDs for satisfying the voter ID law, saying there is too little time left to resolve the issue without disrupting the election process.

Post Office: Three separate federal lower courts have issued rulings in recent weeks blocking the Trump administration from implementing changes to the U.S. Postal Service unilaterally in a manner that undermined service speed and reliability across the country over the summer. The courts ordered the post office to cease implementing changes such as limits on delivery trips and the removal of mailboxes and sorting machines. Additionally, one court ordered that election mail be prioritized and overtime requests be pre-approved for the two weeks surrounding Election Day.

Trump's postmaster general, major GOP donor Louis DeJoy, had ordered changes intended to sabotage the post office's ability to handle a historic surge in mail voting as a way to disenfranchise mail voters, who are largely Democratic thanks to Democratic concerns about the pandemic and Trump's demagoguery discouraging GOP voters from following suit at a similar rate. TIME reported that one of those changes was the post office's failure to update 1.8 million address changes, meaning thousands of voters may not receive their ballots at the correct address.

It's unclear, though, whether these court rulings will eliminate the service delays that began appearing after DeJoy's appointment earlier this year. Consequently, voters should strongly consider wearing a mask to go vote early in-person if they deem it safe enough, but if they plan to vote by mail, they should return their ballot by mail no later than two weeks before Election Day. Better yet, voters should return their mail ballots in-person at a drop box, polling place, or their local elections office where allowed by state law to avoid mail delivery delays entirely.

FELONY DISENFRANCHISEMENT

Florida: Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his allives have fundraised $16 million to pay off the fines of nearly 32,000 Black and Latino voters with felony convictions in response to Florida Republicans passing a modern-day poll tax by requiring people with felony convictions to pay off court fines and fees before regaining their voting rights, even though the state can't even tell countless affected individuals how much money they owe. The plaintiffs' expert witness estimated that roughly 43% of the 775,000 people barred from voting were Black, meaning this group likely leans decidedly Democratic compared to those who don't owe court costs.

The ultra-wealthy Bloomberg has committed $100 million to helping Joe Biden win Florida, and his effort is intended to blunt the racial and partisan discrimination behind the GOP's poll tax by only focusing on Black and Latino voters, since they're much likelier to lean Democratic than whites. In response, Republican state Attorney General Ashley Moody asked federal law enforcement to investigate Bloomberg's group for potential election law violations, making this whole ordeal further harken back to the ugliness of the Jim Crow era, when law enforcement was routinely wielded as a cudgel against Black voting advocates.

North Carolina: Civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block a state law making it a serious crime for people with felony convictions that render them disenfranchised to impermissibly vote before their rights are restored, even if it's unintentional, a move that comes after a state court recently struck down a law that required the payment of court fines and fees for certain people to be able to regain their voting rights.

2020 CENSUS

2020 Census: Late on Friday, the Justice Department announced it would go all the way to the Supreme Court if needed to overturn a flurry of recent lower court orders blocking the Trump administration's attempt to cut short the census' in-person counting operations. Earlier in the week, both the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and a district court had ordered the census to continue counting up through its originally planned Oct. 31 deadline instead of ending operations at the end of September, leading to the Census Bureau making an announcement that it would comply on Friday shortly before the DOJ vowed to appeal.

ELECTION CHANGES

Alabama: A federal judge in Alabama has blocked the state's witness and photo ID requirements for mail-in voting this year for voters at higher risk from COVID-19. Republicans say they will appeal.

Alaska: Republican election officials, who previously sent absentee ballot applications to all voters 65 and older, have agreed to email voters who didn't receive applications as part of this mailing with instructions on how to vote by mail. Separately, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said it would not have time to resolve a challenge to the state's decision to favor seniors before the election, which a lower court previously rejected.

Arkansas: Voting rights advocates have filed a suit in federal court challenging the state's lack of signature cure options for mail voters.

Arizona: A federal judge has rejected a lawsuit asking that ballots from the Navajo Nation be counted if they are received after Election Day so long as they are postmarked by that date. Separately, voting rights group have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to extend Arizona's voter registration deadline from Oct. 5 to Oct. 27

Delaware: A state judge has ruled against a Republican lawsuit seeking to block Delaware's decision to conduct the November elections largely by mail.

Georgia: Two Trump-appointed judges on the 11th Circuit Court of appeals have reversed a ruling over the dissent of the panel's lone Democratic appointee to reinstate a requirement that mail ballots be received by officials no later than Election Day, overturning the lower court's decision that had allowed ballots to count if postmarked by Election Day and received within a few days afterward.

In a separate case, a federal district court judge has ruled that Georgia election officials must maintain paper backups of voter registration data at every polling site in order to prevent the sort of problems that plagued the state's June primary, when many electronic data systems failed and caused long lines in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Republicans asked the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn that ruling on Friday, too.

Illinois: A federal judge has rejected a Republican lawsuit seeking to block the state's expansion of mail voting for the November general election.

Indiana: A federal court has ordered Indiana to accept mail ballots postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 13. Republicans are reportedly expected to appeal. Separately, voting rights advocates say they will appeal a lower federal court ruling that rejected their request that all Indiana voters be allowed to request absentee ballots without an excuse instead of only elderly voters, who typically favor Republicans.

Finally, a federal judge has struck down a state law that allowed only county election boards the ability to seek longer voting hours in the event of problems at polling places. Now individual voters will have the power to seek redress in the courts over such issues.

Iowa: Iowa's conservative-dominated Supreme Court has sided with the Trump campaign against Democrats and let stand decisions that invalidated tens of thousands of absentee mail ballot request forms that voters had already submitted in populous Linn and Woodbury Counties, while a lower court tossed thousands of such applications from heavily Democratic Johnson County. The courts found that these applications, which local officials had sent with partially pre-filled information, violated state law and had to be re-sent to voters blank.

Relatedly, a lower state court has ruled against Democrats and Latino voter advocates by refusing to block the GOP's underlying law that makes it more difficult for election officials to administer absentee mail voting by prohibiting them from using the state's voter database to fill in missing information such as PIN for a voter's ID. Instead, officials must waste their limited time by having to contact potentially tens of thousands of such voters or more, risking some voters not getting mail ballots in time if at all.

Meanwhile, voting rights advocates have filed a lawsuit in state court challenging the GOP's restriction that only allows county election boards to set up ballot collection drop boxes on site at their offices. Plaintiffs want election officials to be able to establish drop boxes anywhere they see fit.

Louisiana: A federal judge has ordered Louisiana to reinstate the limited expansions to mail voting it established before the state's summer primaries for the November general election, which allowed those at greater risk for COVID-19 to request absentee ballots instead of only elderly voters and those with limited other excuses. Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin says he will not appeal.

Maine: Maine's state Supreme Court, which is heavily composed of Democratic appointees, has rejected the GOP's request to suspend its late-September decision approving the use of instant-runoff voting for the presidency this November, meaning Maine will be the first state in history to use it for the Electoral College.

Michigan: A state court judge has ruled that Michigan must count mail ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within two weeks. The judge also blocked a law limiting the class of persons who can assist a voter in returning mail ballots; voters can now ask anyone to return their ballots.

Republicans are appealing the extension of the mail ballot return deadline, and they've also filed a separate suit in federal court challenging the ruling. In addition, they've filed a suit in state court challenging the ballot return assistance ruling.

Minnesota: Republican state Rep. Eric Lucero has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state's decision to count ballots postmarked by Election Day and received a week later.

Mississippi: The conservative-heavy Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled that those at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 may not request absentee ballots. Separately, leaders in the state's Republican-run legislature say they will not take action to permit no-excuse absentee voting. Mississippi is one of just five states where voters need to present an excuse to request an absentee ballot for the November general election, and all five states exempt elderly voters from the requirement, a demographic that typically leans GOP.

Missouri: Voting rights advocates have filed a suit in federal court challenging a ban on returning mail ballots in person. They also want voters to be given the chance to cure any problems with mail ballots after they're cast. Separately, a state court judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the Missouri GOP's requirement that voters have their mail ballots notarized if they are under the age of 65. Two other lawsuits challenging the law are still pending.

Montana: The Montana Supreme Court, which lacks a reliable liberal or conservative majority, has blocked a law prohibiting third parties from collecting and returning mail ballots from voters. However, the justices overturned a lower court ruling that allowed ballots to count if postmarked by Election Day and received within a few days afterward, and another that would have given voters the opportunity to cure any problems with their ballots, ruling that it was too close to the election to make such changes without potentially confusing voters and creating administrative problems.

Separately, a federal court has rejected a Republican challenge to an order by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock allowing local election officials to conduct the November election by mail. Counties that are home to 94% of Montana's population have chosen this option. Republicans are appealing.

Nevada: A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Trump campaign challenging Nevada Democrats' decision to hold the November election largely by mail.

New Jersey: A group of local Republicans have filed a lawsuit in state court challenging New Jersey Democrats' decision to hold the November election largely by mail.

New York: New York City's Board of Elections had to recently send out a hefty 100,000 replacement mail ballots after the vendor it used to supply ballot materials misprinted the envelopes sent to voters for them to place their ballots in. Numerous voters reported receiving envelopes with the wrong name and return address. While it was unclear how many erroneous envelopes were actually sent to voters or whether the problem extended beyond Brooklyn, the board went ahead with sending replacement ballots and envelopes to the up to 100,000 voters who may have been affected.

For voters who receive two ballots, only the second one should be sent in, and if a voter has already sent in the first ballot, only the second one would count if both are mailed. The replacement ballots also have a red mark that will be noted by the machines used to process them, and officials said they would try to contact voters by phone and email to alert them of the problem

The New York City board has been plagued by problems hurting voting access for years, and while Democrats have passed numerous reforms after gaining control of the state Senate in 2018, the long-troubled board (and its counterparts elsewhere in the state) is one area where they have yet to make major progress. Critics have long derided the system whereby the two major political party organizations select election board members as rife with corruption and patronage instead of encouraging apolitical professionalism.

Meanwhile, a state court judge has rejected a request from voting rights advocates that New York's voter registration deadline be shortened from 25 days before Election Day to just 10 days.

North Carolina: A state court has approved a settlement allowing officials to count ballots postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 12, leading GOP legislators to announce they would appeal. The agreement also makes it easier for voters to cure problems with their ballots and expands the availability of ballot return drop boxes. Separately, a federal court has blocked the Democratic-controlled state Board of Elections from issuing instructions saying election officials should count mail ballots received without a witness signature.

Ohio: A panel of judges on the state Court of Appeals has ruled that Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose is allowed but not required to let counties set up more than one location for voters to drop off their absentee mail ballots this fall, reversing a recent lower court decision that had ordered LaRose to allow more than one location in each county. LaRose had claimed that state law prevented him from allowing more than one site per county, but Democrats have blasted him for misinterpreting the law to suppress votes, since more populous counties are disproportionately Democratic compared to smaller ones.

LaRose now faces a decision of whether to prove Democrats right by refusing to allow additional locations or work with the counties to set up extra drop boxes, though separate federal litigation remains ongoing that had been on hold until the state appeals court ruled. The federal court in that case had recently ordered LaRose to work with heavily Democratic Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland, to set up additional ballot return locations.

Meanwhile, a state appeals court has rejected a request from Democrats in another lawsuit that Ohio officials allow voters to request absentee ballots online. Separately, the Republican-run legislative panel has voted down a proposal from LaRose to have the state pre-pay postage for mail ballots.

Oklahoma: A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Democrats challenging Oklahoma's GOP-backed requirement that mail voters have their ballots notarized or include a photocopy of their ID.

Oregon: Oregon election officials have issued advice on how to vote for those displaced by the recent wildfires that have ravaged the states. Most importantly, voters have until Oct. 13 to designate a temporary address at which they will be sent a mail ballot.

Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which has a Democratic majority, has ruled that election officials must count ballots postmarked by Election Day and received by the Friday after. In addition, the court ruled that local officials may set up ballot return drop boxes and also affirmed a ban on poll-watchers working in counties other than those they are registered to vote in. Republicans are appealing.

The court also ruled that so-called "naked" mail ballots wouldn't count, leading election officials are warning that up to 100,000 voters could be disenfranchised without adequate voter outreach. Such ballots are mail ballots contained only inside the outer envelope that contains the return address information, but the court's ruling requires that all mail ballots be inserted into a second "privacy envelope" that goes inside the larger return-address envelope. During the primary, such "naked ballots" were counted, risking further voter confusion this fall.

Consequently, Democrats launched TV ads in Philadelphia to warn voters about how to avoid the problem there, and three women running for state and county legislative offices in the Pittsburgh area used photos of themselves "naked" (the photos were censored with graphics of ballot materials) in a public service announcement that went viral on social media to raise awareness about the problem.

Separately, Democratic Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar has informed election officials that they may not reject mail ballots solely based on alleged signature mismatches, settling a suit with voting rights advocates.

South Carolina: The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, has blocked South Carolina from requiring that absentee ballots be signed by a sitness. Republicans have asked the Supreme Court for an emergency stay of the ruling.

Separately, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has signed a bill allowing all voters to request an absentee ballot for the November election, much as the state did for its primaries earlier this year.

Wisconsin: A three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling ordering Wisconsin election officials to count mail ballots so long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 9. Republicans are seeking an en banc review by the full 7th Circuit.

Additionally, Republicans and the 7th Circuit judges separately made requests asking the state Supreme Court to clarify a July ruling that limited the ability of Republican lawmakers to intervene in litigation, which the state court on Friday agreed to do. The 7th Circuit had relied on the state court's prior ruling in rejecting the GOP's challenge.

Separately, voters in the heavily Democratic state capital of Madison have filed a lawsuit asking a state court judge to affirm the validity of a recent event where city officials received more than 10,000 mail ballots in public parks across the city. Officials plan to hold similar events again, but Republicans have threatened litigation of their own to block them.

Vermont: A federal court has dismissed a Republican lawsuit challenging Vermont's plan to conduct the November election largely by mail.

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