Texas: As states expand vote by mail amid COVID, Texas leaders continue their fight against it | Mark Dent/Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The local election news of the last few weeks reminds Lisa Morris of her mom. Gloria Meeks, who lived in the Rolling Hills neighborhood of south Fort Worth, was an entrepreneur with a seemingly endless supply of energy. She operated her own catering company yet found time to cook fiesta dip and Texas King Ranch casserole for her kids and grandkids. She regularly joined a pilot friend on leisurely plane rides in the skies of North Texas and took two cruises almost every year. On top of all that, she was devoted to ensuring the Black community exercised its right to vote. Meeks organized a phone bank for Democratic voters and assisted the elderly with their mail-in ballots during election seasons. “She was just a great lady,” says Democratic Fort Worth Congressman Marc Veasey. “She worked really hard. She liked getting out the vote.” Then, in August 2006, investigators with the Texas Attorney General’s Office arrived at Meeks’ house. She was drying off from a bath when two male inspectors looked in through her bathroom window, according to a signed declaration. She screamed, and they waited outside to interview her until she got dressed. Meeks was never charged. She was one of many Fort Worth women to experience scrutiny regarding mail-in ballots, and the encounter convinced her the Attorney General’s Office was after her for no reason, leading to difficulty sleeping. Later that year, Meeks had a stroke. Morris says her mother never fully recovered until her death in 2012 at age 75. The situation left Morris with a negative opinion of Greg Abbott, who was Attorney General at the time. “In all honesty, I believe he’s the reason my mother had a stroke,” she said.

National: From 47 Primaries, 4 Warning Signs About the 2020 Vote | Michael Wines/The New York Times

Evelina Reese has been a poll worker for 40 years. And for the last six decades, she says, she has never missed a chance to vote. “We’re all dedicated citizens as far as voting goes,” Ms. Reese, a retired social services worker from the Atlanta suburb of Riverdale, said this past week. But this year, out of concern about the coronavirus, Ms. Reese, 79, skipped her routine of visiting an early-voting site and instead requested one of the absentee ballots that the state promised to all who wanted one. Georgia’s June 9 primary came and went, the ballot never arrived, and Ms. Reese’s 60-year streak was broken. After Tuesday’s votes in New York and Kentucky, 46 states and the District of Columbia have completed primary elections or party caucuses, facing the ferocious challenge not just of voting during a pandemic, but voting by mail in historic numbers. The task for November is not just to avoid the errors that disenfranchised Ms. Reeves and many others, but to apply lessons learned since the Iowa caucuses ended in chaos on Feb. 3. Despite debacles in some states, votes have been counted and winners chosen largely without incident — a feat, some say, given that many states only had weeks to scrap decades of in-person voting habits for voting by mail. But the challenges and the stakes will be exponentially higher in November when Americans choose a president and much of Congress.

National: No presidential winner on election night? Mail-in ballots could put outcome in doubt for weeks| Joey Garrison/USA Today

Kentucky won’t have final results of last week’s state primary until Tuesday. New York could take twice as long. In Pennsylvania, the state’s largest city, Philadelphia, was still tallying mail-in ballots nearly two weeks after its June 2 primary. The unprecedented volume of mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic has produced hiccups in some state primaries and operated smoothly in others. But one thing is constant: States have shattered turnout records for primaries because of the deluge of mail-in ballots, forcing election officials to need days, even weeks, to count all the votes. Fast-forward to the Nov. 3 presidential election, when all 50 states and the District of Columbia will vote the same day. Many states are expected to turn to mass mail-in voting again but this time for a presidential race that will draw significantly greater turnout than primaries. In the race between President Donald Trump and Democratic presumptive nominee Joe Biden, down to races for Congress and even local contests, voting experts have a warning: Unless there’s a clear and decisive winner, brace for an election week or weeks, not an election night. “I think ‘weeks’ is potentially being generous,” said Joe Burns, a Republican election attorney for the Lawyers Democracy Fund.

National: Trump’s attacks seen undercutting confidence in 2020 vote | Jill Colvin/Associated Press

It was a startling declaration about one of the pillars of American democracy, all the more so given its source. The president of the United States last week publicly predicted without evidence that the 2020 presidential election would be “the most corrupt election in the history of our country.” “We cannot let this happen,” Donald Trump told an audience of young supporters at a Phoenix megachurch. “They want it to happen so badly.” Just over four months before Election Day, the president is escalating his efforts to cast doubt on the integrity of the vote. It’s a well-worn tactic for Trump, who in 2016 went after the very process that ultimately put him in the White House. He first attacked the Republican primaries (“rigged and boss controlled”) and then the general election, when he accused the media and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s campaign of conspiring against him to undermine a free and fair election. “The process is rigged. This whole election is being rigged,” he said that October when polls showed him trailing Clinton by double digits as he faced a flurry of sexual misconduct allegations. Then, as now, election experts have repeatedly discredited his claims about widespread fraud in the voting process.

National: Voter Registrations Are Way, Way Down During The Pandemic | Kaleigh Rogers and Nathaniel Rakich/FiveThirtyEight

Poll after poll showed a high level of enthusiasm for voting in the general election in 2020, and in the beginning of the year, voter registration surged to match that excitement. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. New registrations have fallen off a cliff. The spring of a presidential election year is often a busy time for adding new voters to the rolls, and a recent report from the Center for Election Innovation and Research, a nonprofit organization that aims to improve voter turnout and election security, shows registration numbers were even stronger in early 2020 than early 2016. But things changed dramatically in March, at least in the 12 places where FiveThirtyEight or CEIR were able to obtain data on new voters, a category that includes first-time voters, voters who recently moved to the state and, in some states (Texas, for example) even voters who moved between counties in the state. Consider Florida, for example, where 109,859 new voters registered in February of this year, compared to 87,351 registrants in February of 2016. But in April 2020, only 21,031 new voters registered, compared with 52,508 in 2016. The same pattern holds in 10 other states, plus Washington, D.C.: Each one registered fewer new voters in April 2020 than in April 2016, including in states where online voter registration is available.

National: Federal Election Commission losing quorum again after Caroline Hunter resigns | Daniel Lipman and Zach Montellaro/Politico

The Federal Election Commission is losing its short-lived quorum after Caroline Hunter, a longtime Republican commissioner of the FEC and former chair of the agency, is resigning, according to a resignation letter obtained by POLITICO. Her departure from the agency means that the FEC will be unable to make major enforcement actions. After almost a year of not having enough commissioners, the FEC had only just regained its quorum last month when the Senate confirmed Texas election attorney Trey Trainor on a party line vote to fill an empty seat on the nation’s campaign finance watchdog. Last week, the FEC had its first meeting after Trainor’s confirmation, during which it approved only three advisory opinions on minor issues. Without four commissioners, the FEC, which is supposed to have six commissioners, is functionally unable to address complaints alleging campaign finance law violations. That meant that at the end of March, there were more than 300 pending cases that hadn’t been addressed, including about three dozen that alleged foreign interference. Hunter will leave the agency on July 3 and said in her letter that she fought against “unnecessary government regulations and unfair enforcement actions” and promoted the FEC being more transparent. During the Citizens United era, which has been marked by an explosion in campaign spending and super PACs pumping cash into elections, Hunter often opposed limits on such activity.

Alabama: Federal appeals court won’t block ruling allowing curbside voting in Alabama | Brian Lyman/Montgomery Advertiser

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday refused to stop a lower court ruling that allowed curbside voting and loosened some absentee voter requirements in three counties for the July 14th runoff. Writing for the court, U.S. Circuit judges Robin Rosenbaum and Jill Pryor ruled that the state had failed to prove that the plaintiffs in the cae who argued that current policies put them at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 would lose in court. The judges also accused the state of minimizing the potential harms from the outbreak. “Appellants’ (the state) failure to acknowledge the significant difference between leaving one’s home to vote in non-pandemic times and forcing high-risk COVID-19 individuals to breach social-distancing and self-isolation protocols so they can vote reflects a serious lack of understanding of or disregard for the science and facts involved here,” the judges wrote. A message seeking comment was sent Thursday to the Alabama Attorney General’s Office. Natasha Merle, senior counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of three groups representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement Thursday they hoped to see curbside voting in Alabama “in July and beyond.”

Arkansas: Governor Wants To Decide On Arkansas Absentee Voting By August 1 | Steve Brawner/KUAR

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he hopes to make a decision by August 1 regarding allowing voters in Arkansas more flexibility to vote absentee this November. He made the comment at his daily press conference June 24 in response to a reporter’s question about a lawsuit filed in Pulaski County seeking no-excuse absentee voting. He said has been communicating with the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners, Secretary of State John Thurston, and county officials. “My timeframe is to make some decisions based upon their guidance and their requests sometime before August 1,” he said. “And that way there is adequate time to prepare for the election and make any adjustments that are needed.” Arkansas voters now must sign a form when voting absentee certifying that they will be “unavoidably absent” on Election Day,” that they will be unable to vote in person “because of illness or physical disability,” or that they reside in a state-licensed long-term care or residential facility. They also can vote absentee if they are a member or the spouse of a member of the military or merchant marines, or if they temporarily live outside the United States. Written in all-caps at the top of the form are the words, “If you provide false information on this form, you may be guilty of perjury and subject to a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for up to 10 years.”

Delaware: No excuse voting by mail gets Senate nod | Randall Chase/Associated Press

On Thursday, the Senate gave final approval to a bill authorizing universal voting by mail in primary, general and special elections in Delaware this year. The bill cleared the Democrat-led Senate on an 18-to-3 vote Thursday after passing the Democrat-controlled House last week on a strict party line vote. Supporters of the bill said the coronavirus epidemic justifies allowing everyone in the state to vote by mail, rather than having to go to local polling places or request an absentee ballot. Senate President Pro Tem David McBride, D-New Castle, said lawmakers have “a moral obligation” to ensure that voters can cast ballots without endangering their health.

Florida: Judge chips away at mail-in ballots case in Florida | Dara Kam/News Service of Florida

Laying the groundwork for an upcoming trial in a case seeking to expand the state’s vote-by-mail procedures, a federal judge on Friday tossed out an effort by left-leaning groups to require county elections officials to pay for postage for mail-in ballots. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle held a status conference in preparation for a July 20 trial in the case, which is a consolidation of legal challenges focused largely on the state’s mail-in ballot processes. The trial is expected to last at least 10 days and will come a little more than three months before the November elections. In one of the lawsuits, the organization Priorities USA and other plaintiffs have urged the judge to extend a deadline for mail-in ballots to be returned and require free postage for the ballots. They’re also challenging a provision in Florida law restricting paid workers from collecting mail-in ballots. Earlier in the week, Hinkle rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that requiring voters to pick up the tab for stamps amounts to an unconstitutional “poll tax,” saying the cost for postage was no different than the price voters have to pay to take public transportation to cast their ballots in person.

Georgia: Ban on mailing absentee ballot application forms dies at Georgia Legislature | Mark Niesse/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A bill that would have barred election officials from mailing absentee ballot applications to Georgia voters failed to pass Friday. The proposal sputtered amid opposition to a limiting voting access after record numbers of Georgians cast absentee ballots in the state’s primary election. Over half of all primary voters, 1.1 million, voted absentee. The measure arose after Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger mailed absentee ballot request forms to 6.9 million voters before the June 9 primary. While the absentee effort allowed voters to avoid human contact during the coronavirus pandemic, it created problems as well. Some counties, especially Fulton County, struggled to process absentee ballot applications for weeks, forcing voters back to the polls. And House Speaker David Ralston said widespread use of absentee ballots created opportunities for fraud. The legislation, Senate Bill 463, never received another vote after it passed the House Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

Iowa: Gov. Kim Reynolds signs law limiting Iowa secretary of state’s powers in elections | Ian Richardson/Des Moines Register

Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed into law new restrictions that will prevent Secretary of State Paul Pate from mailing ballot request forms to Iowans in November’s election without first seeking approval from legislators. The law will also prohibit county election officials from decreasing the number of polling places by more than 35% during an election. The legislation was passed by state lawmakers after Pate and county election officials took similar steps before the primary because of the coronavirus pandemic. Leading up to the primary, Pate extended the mail-in voting period from 29 to 40 days and mailed ballot request forms to every registered voter in Iowa. The primary had record turnout, with nearly 80% of those casting ballots voting absentee. But Republicans in both chambers of the Legislature looked to limit Pate’s power, with some saying he had pushed the limits of his authority and that another secretary of state could use the same powers in an effort to reduce voter turnout.

Maryland: Local election directors call for hybrid election, saying traditional format would set them up to fail | Emily Opilo/Baltimore Sun

Maryland’s local election board directors are calling on state officials to hold a hybrid vote-by-mail election in the fall with more in-person voting centers, saying it is too late to plan for a traditional election. In a letter to the governor, legislative leaders and top state election officials, the Maryland Association of Election Officials said Friday that its members are best prepared to hold a hybrid election amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The local election officials said they feared they would be “set up to fail” in a regular election with voting at precincts because of a shortage of personal protective gear, election judges and viable locations for polling places. Many neighborhood voting sites, such as schools and senior centers, remain closed or off limits during the pandemic. “While we acknowledge there were some problems with implementation of the primarily vote-by-mail June 2, 2020, primary election, valuable lessons have been learned and there is adequate time to remedy those issues before the general election,” the association wrote.

Montana: Lawmakers get update on Native American voting in all-mail primary | Jonathon Ambarian/KTVH

On Friday, a state legislative committee got an update on how Montana’s all-mail primary election went in Indian Country. The State-Tribal Relations Interim Committee wrapped up three days of online meetings Friday. Because of concerns about COVID-19, Gov. Steve Bullock gave Montana counties the option to switch to all-mail ballots for the June 2 election – and all 56 counties took that option. On Friday, the committee heard from four election administrators from counties with large Indian populations – Dulcie Bear Don’t Walk of Big Horn County, Tammy Williams of Blaine County, Katie Harding of Lake County and Joan Duffield of Rosebud County. All four counties had voter turnouts at or below the Montana average in the primary, with Big Horn County having the lowest turnout in the state at 35.4%. However, administrators said there were some positive signs for tribal turnout. Bear Don’t Walk said 25% to 35% turnout is typical for a primary in Big Horn County, and that about 44% of those who were mailed a ballot this year returned them. Williams said Blaine County estimated about 30% turnout in reservation areas, but that overall turnout was again on the high end of what was expected. According to Duffield, turnout in Rosebud County’s Lame Deer precinct was 20% this year, compared to 11% and 10% in the 2016 and 2018 primaries.

New Hampshire: Lawmakers, Secretary of State seek to iron out COVID-19 absentee ballot process | Ethan DeWitt/Concord Monitor

Weeks after a lengthy commission and exhaustive debate, lawmakers and the Secretary of State’s office say they’ve come up with a process for voting in New Hampshire during the coronavirus. But it’s not going to be effortless. Voters will be allowed and encouraged to vote by absentee ballot to avoid going to the polls – an option usually reserved for specific circumstances. Getting the state’s potential voters familiar and comfortable with the new process, however, will take new levels of outreach. Under the new process, voters looking to avoid polling locations will need to know how to register to vote by mail, apply for an absentee ballot by mail, and turn that ballot in properly. For many, it’ll be their first experience with the process. Town officials and the Secretary of State’s office are prepping for a surge. On Thursday, a key state Senate committee hammered out legislation that could make it easier. An amendment to House Bill 1266 recommended by the Senate Election Law Committee Thursday would allow voters to register to vote and apply for an absentee ballot for both the Sept. 8 state primary and the Nov. 3 presidential election. The bill will receive a full hearing and vote in the Senate on Monday.

New Mexico: New election law opens door to curbside, mail-in voting | Dan McKay/Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico voters this fall might cast their ballots at drive-thru sites, fill them out during expanded early-voting hours or even receive them by mail. The extra flexibility is part of complex election legislation signed into law Friday by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Under the legislation, any new procedures will have to be designed to protect public health amid the coronavirus pandemic. Procedures must be consistent with federal guidelines or be “otherwise evidence-based.” The rules could vary by county, depending on the severity of the outbreak in different parts of New Mexico. The legislation, Senate Bill 4, won Senate approval 40-2 last week and passed the House 44-26. Lujan Grisham’s office said the new law will protect voting rights and create flexibility that might be needed in a public health emergency. “There is no solution excluded nor is there a secret plan to go to a particular solution,” said Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, an Albuquerque Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill. The goal, he said, is to create options for health and election officials because of uncertainty over whether the virus will surge or abate as the Nov. 3 general election approaches. The new law doesn’t mention potential emergency options or rule any out.

New York: New Accessible Absentee Ballots Aren’t Accessible Enough, Voters Say | Ethan Stark-Miller/City Limits

New Yorkers with disabilities had mixed reactions to the accessible absentee ballot option that the state Board of Elections (BOE) implemented for the June 23 primary. Voters with disabilities named a number of problems with their accessible absentee ballots, from them not being compatible with screen reader technology to having issues with printing the ballot and bringing it to the mailbox independently. These problems, voters with disabilities said, got in the way of them being able to vote independently and privately. “It was disappointing, in that I was not able to independently mark my ballot without (a sighted person’s) assistance,” said Meghan Parker, a legislative co-chair of the American Council of the Blind New York (ACBNY). Parker, who is blind, said she wasn’t able to mark the ballot by herself because it was incompatible with her screen-reader technology. On the other hand, Ian Foley – the other legislative co-chair for ACBNY – said he spoke with members of his organization who had positive experiences with the ballot.

Pennsylvania: 2020 election in Pennsylvania could be a nightmare if state doesn’t act now | Jonathan Lai/Philadelphia Inquirer

It’s Nov. 3, 2020. It’s been a long Election Day in Pennsylvania, with new voting machines causing confusion at some polling places, and the closure of others for public health reasons leading to long lines at locations still open. Meanwhile, a huge surge of mail ballots driven partly by coronavirus fears of voting in person means it’s going to take days to count them all and determine who won. But President Donald Trump is already declaring victory. Early, unofficial results make it look like he has won the critical battleground state of Pennsylvania in a landslide. But the election night results are incomplete, with most mail ballots not yet counted. And most Democrats voted by mail, while most Republicans voted in person. Trump isn’t winning. His voters are just being counted first. In the days after the election, as the populous and Democratic Philadelphia region counts its votes, the numbers shift in Joe Biden’s favor, and Trump begins to make false claims of voter fraud and election rigging — echoing conspiracy theories he has promoted for months. One week after the election, votes are still being counted, lawsuits are being prepared, misinformation and partisan attacks are flying. And public trust in the legitimacy of the election is fading, fast. None of this has happened yet. But the experience of this month’s Pennsylvania primary election, coupled with Trump’s increasingly frequent false claims about mail voting, show that it’s not only possible: Without policy changes before November, it is likely, elections officials and voting rights advocates say.

Pennsylvania: Bill to provide mail-in ballots to all Pennsylvania voters introduced to House committee | Mike Pesarchick/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A bill introduced in the state House would provide a mail-in ballot to all registered Pennsylvania voters, offering a possible alternative to long lines at the polls like those seen during the primary election earlier this month. The bill would direct county boards of elections to provide an official mail-in ballot to each qualified voter before any primary or general election. The bill would also repeal an earlier law that requires voters to submit an application for a mail-in ballot to their county’s board of elections. Mail-in ballots were introduced to the state election code last October. Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Lincoln-Lemington, the bill’s primary sponsor, said the bill would soothe concerns about voting in case of a second coronavirus pandemic. “It would reduce the number of people at the polls,” he said. Voters in Mr. Gainey’s district reported waiting for nearly an hour to vote in the June 2 primary, and lines at a Penn Hills polling place grew so long that a judge ordered the polls to remain open an extra hour.

Texas: Supreme Court Turns Down Request to Allow All Texans to Vote by Mail | Adam Liptak/The New York Times

The Supreme Court said on Friday that it would not require Texas to let all eligible voters vote by mail. The Texas Democratic Party and several voters had urged the court to reinstate a federal trial judge’s injunction requiring state officials to allow all voters, and not just those who are 65 or older, to submit their ballots by mail. They relied on the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18 and said the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age.” The court’s brief order gave no reasons, which is typical when the justices rule on emergency applications, and there were no noted dissents. Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a statement saying that the question in the case raised “weighty but seemingly novel questions regarding the 26th Amendment.” But she said the court was right not to address those questions in the context of an emergency application. “I hope,” she wrote, “that the court of appeals will consider the merits of the legal issues in this case well in advance of the November election.” Voting by mail has been the focus of debate and litigation in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Five states will conduct the general election in November entirely by mail, and many others will allow all eligible voters to vote by mail.

Wisconsin: ‘A consequence that is going to have national implications’: Milwaukee elections in turmoil after mayor’s pick to lead agency withdraws | Mary Spicuzza/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Mayor Tom Barrett’s pick to head the City of Milwaukee’s Election Commission is withdrawing from the appointment after it was delayed by the Common Council. That means with about four months to go until the November election — a race in which Milwaukee is expected to play a key role determining whether President Donald Trump wins reelection — the state’s largest city faces being left with no one running its elections agency. “I respect and fully support the Council’s desire for departments to come forward with clearly outlined plans on how we will work to improve equity for communities of color and to make programming decisions through an equity lens,” Claire Woodall-Vogg wrote in an email to aldermen Thursday night. “However, holding my appointment has jeopardized my ability to lead and evolve the Election Commission. Elections are administered by the hour and day, not by weeks.” Earlier this month, the Common Council voted unanimously to send a series of Barrett’s cabinet-level appointments back to committee for further consideration. Ald. Milele Coggs, who made the motion to further consider the appointments, said her intention was not to hold up the process for an extended length of time but rather for the council to reshape the city’s efforts to serve Milwaukee residents. The move came after unrest following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer. Coggs said the council needed to ensure that cabinet-level appointees have clear plans to address concerns the community has raised, especially about the quality of life for Black people in the city.

Russia: ‘It looks like a gameshow’: Russia’s pseudo-vote on Putin’s term limits | Andrew Roth/The Guardian

The people of Moscow received text messages this week telling them they had been registered to win “millions of prizes”. The catch? They have to vote on constitutional amendments that include allowing Vladimir Putin to remain in the Kremlin potentially until 2036. Organisers of Russia’s pseudo-referendum to amend the constitution – originally scheduled for 22 April but delayed owing to the coronavirus outbreak – appear to be making up the rules as they go along. In a single vote, Russians must choose whether to support a package of amendments that include pension and minimum wage boosts, a modest reorganisation of government, a constitutional mention of “faith in god”, a ban on gay marriage, exhortations to preserve Russian history, and a ban on top officials holding dual citizenship. Ads for the vote barely mention that it will also reset term limits for Putin, who has ruled since 2000. It is not an official referendum and the rules are custom-designed. Unlike in normal elections, voting is allowed online and takes place over a week, between 25 June and 1 July. As Russia continues to grapple with the coronavirus, some voting officials have decided it is safer to collect ballots outdoors, planting ballot boxes on tree stumps, in the boots of cars, in public buses and on plastic patio furniture.