Two Democratic senators have a new voting rights nemesis: Columbus Day. US Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Patrick Leahy of Vermont say the federal holiday could disenfranchise “hundreds of thousands” of Americans whose voter-registration applications wouldn’t be postmarked until after nine states’ deadlines to register by mail. In a letter addressed to the US Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) Sept. 30, the senators asked the agency to work with election officials in the nine states to extend their deadlines past the October 10 Columbus Day holiday. The senators’ letter shows how voting rights advocates are “aggressively calling attention to any potential for disenfranchisement,” as the Associated Press’s Christina Cassidy writes, in the first presidential election since the Supreme Court watered down the Voting Rights Act in 2013. While courts have been asked to rule on controversial voter ID laws since then, the senators are also concerned about other ways Americans might not be able to vote. “The right to vote is too precious to have something so simple to fix potentially prevent so many Americans from participating in the upcoming Election,” wrote Mr. Schumer and Mr. Leahy in the letter.
The National Voting Rights Act sets the deadline to register by mail 30 days before the election. This year, it falls on a Sunday. The next day is Columbus Day, when there will be no postal service. Any voter registration placed in the mail won’t be postmarked until after the deadline.
Most states have pushed their voter registration deadlines to Tuesday, Oct. 11, the day after the holiday.
The nine states the letter says haven’t are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Hawaii, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington.