Two Democratic senators say nine states are violating federal law with their mail-in voter registration deadlines for the November election, potentially disenfranchising thousands of people by blocking applications as many as three days earlier than other states. U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Patrick Leahy of Vermont asked the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to intervene and work with election officials in those states to ensure compliance with the National Voting Rights Act. The states cited in their letter Thursday are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Hawaii, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah and Washington. “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,” the senators wrote. The calendar appears to be the culprit. The deadline for registering by mail under federal law — 30 days before the election — falls on a Sunday this year. The next day happens to be Columbus Day, when there will be no postal service, preventing registrations from being postmarked. All other states have adjusted their deadlines to account for the long holiday weekend, accepting registration applications postmarked by Tuesday, Oct. 11.
Utah is among them, despite being cited in the senators’ letter, said Mark Thomas, the state’s director of elections. State law says nearly all registration deadlines must be moved forward if the deadline falls on a Sunday or holiday, and that’s what Utah has done for this fall’s general election, he said.
Election Assistance Commission spokesman Bryan Whitener said the agency is reviewing the senators’ request.
This year is the first presidential election in which a key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act is no longer in effect, and voting rights groups have been aggressively calling attention to any potential for disenfranchisement. Four of the nine states with the earlier registration deadlines were previously required by a section of the Voting Rights Act to obtain U.S. Justice Department approval before changing voting procedures.