Election officials are growing increasingly concerned that the Trump administration’s trade war with China could make it more difficult and expensive for overseas voters — including those in the military — to cast ballots in the 2019 and 2020 local, state and federal elections. The issue is the pending withdrawal in October by the U.S. from the Universal Postal Union, a group of 192 nations that has governed international postal service and rates for 145 years. Last October, the U.S. gave the required one-year notice stating it would leave the UPU unless changes were made to the discounted fees that China pays for shipping small packages to the United States. The subsidized fees — established years ago to help poor, developing countries — place American businesses at a disadvantage and don’t cover costs incurred by the U.S. Postal Service. With the U.S.-imposed deadline for withdrawal or new rates fast approaching, states officials are running out of time to prepare for overseas mail-in voting. Last week, Kentucky elections director Jared Dearing pleaded for help from the Election Assistance Commission — for himself and his peers in other states. The deadline for his state and most others to send out absentee ballots for the fall elections, Dearing said, falls a few days before a Sept. 24-25 UPU meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss the U.S. proposal to revise the rate system. That makes it difficult to provide voters with guidance about how to return their ballots. If the United States ends up withdrawing from the UPU, overseas citizens may not be able to return their ballots using regular mail service and could have to pay upward of $60 to use one of the commercial shipping services, Dearing said.Full Article: Civilians, military abroad may find it more expensive to vote - The Fulcrum.
North Carolina: Proposal offers new absentee ballot security, tweaks early voting hours | Travis Fain/WRAL
House leadership rolled out a wide-ranging election bill Thursday to tinker with early voting hours, let counties that use touchscreen voting machines keep doing so and tighten absentee ballot rules in response to last year’s 9th Congressional District scandal. Among other things, Senate Bill 683 would start a pilot project to cover postage on absentee ballots so that voters wouldn’t have to buy stamps. There are other measures meant to keep campaigns from trying to collect absentee ballots en masse, including a rule requiring prohibiting outside groups from returning ballot request forms. Those forms would also change every election so groups couldn’t simply photocopy old ones and submit fraudulent requests. The 12-page bill has been under construction for some time, and it has a ways to go to become law. Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, a House leader on election issues, said in a statement that he looks forward to working with the Senate to get the bill passed “in a timely manner.”Full Article: Proposal offers new absentee ballot security, tweaks early voting hours :: WRAL.com.
North Carolina: ‘A risk to democracy’: North Carolina law may be violating secrecy of the ballot | Jordan Wilkie/The Guardian
North Carolina may be violating state and federal constitutional protections for the secret ballot in the US by tracing some of its citizens’ votes. The situation has arisen because North Carolina has a state law that demands absentee voting – which includes early, in-person voting as well as postal voting – is required to use ballots that can be traced back to the voter. The laws are in place as a means of guaranteeing that if citizens cast multiple ballots during early voting or that if ineligible residents – like non-citizens or people who have not completed sentences for criminal offenses – cast ballots, those votes can be retrieved and removed. Likewise, if a voter casts an early ballot then dies before election day, that ballot can then be discounted. But voting rights advocates think the North Carolina law breaks one of the most sacred tenets of the democratic system: preserving the secrecy of the ballot. “Anytime you can link a ballot back to the individual voter, that’s a violation of the secret ballot,” said Caitriona Fitzgerald, the chief technology officer for the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center.Full Article: ‘A risk to democracy’: North Carolina law may be violating secrecy of the ballot | US news | The Guardian.
Georgia: Election law resolves lawsuits over absentee ballots | Mark Niesse/Atlanta Journal Constitution
The battle over thousands of rejected absentee ballots appears to have come to an end. Absentee ballots can no longer be thrown out in Georgia because of a signature mismatch or a missing birth year and address, according to a new state law that recently resolved two federal lawsuits.County election officials discarded nearly 7,000 absentee ballots in the November election, often for minor transgressions such as marking the outside of the absentee ballot envelope incorrectly.Judges issued orders at the time preventing election officials from discarding absentee and provisional ballots. Then the Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 316 in March, a broad elections bill that replaces the state’s voting machines and makes many other changes to elections.That legislation led to the lawsuits’ dismissal.Full Article: Georgia election law resolves lawsuits over absentee ballots..
A key elections bill backed by the state’s supervisors heading for final votes. The measure is meant to address issues stemming from the 2018 election but Democrats say it doesn’t do enough. Last year local supervisors of elections found themselves trying to handle three statewide recounts in addition to local races. Bad ballot designs, mis-matched signatures, and questions around vote-by-mail and provisional ballots coupled with a tight turnaround deadline for certification made the process harder for some supervisors, especially those in South Florida. It also gave the state some unwanted attention. Reports from national Media outlets like CNN, USA Today and ABC News along with local coverage drew attention to the monumental task of recounts. Larger counties like Palm Beach and Broward missed the deadline to submit their recount totals. The ghosts of past elections loomed over 2018. Republican Representative and former state GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia has taken on the task of trying to clean up the process.Full Article: Elections Reform Effort Nears Final Votes Amid Democratic Opposition | WJCT NEWS.
Indiana: House rejects effort to give voters more time to get absentee ballots | Greensburg Daily News
Democrats in the Indiana House tried and failed in their efforts to assure that Hoosiers have more time to apply for an absentee ballot. House Bill 1311, authored by Rep. Thomas Saunders, R-Lewisville, would change the amount of time to apply for an absentee ballot from eight to 12 days before an election because local county clerks had said they needed more time to process them. “We want people’s votes to count,” Saunders said in an interview. An earlier deadline would give voters more time to submit the ballots and clerks more time to count them.Full Article: House rejects effort to give voters more time to get absentee ballots | Local News | greensburgdailynews.com.
Senate Republicans advanced a controversial bill that would bar Arizonans from dropping off their early ballots in person at polling places, but GOP holdouts appear likely to stop it from going any further. Republican Sens. Kate Brophy McGee and Heather Carter were silent during the contentious, hour-long debate over Senate Bill 1046 on Wednesday. However, both said afterward that they will vote against the proposal, which will be enough to defeat it, presuming no Democrats break with their caucus to support it. Brophy McGee said she believes there are other Republicans who are also opposed to the bill. Republicans have a 17-13 advantage in the Senate, and can only afford a single defection on a party-line vote.Full Article: Bill banning early ballot drop-offs appears doomed • Arizona Mirror.
The Hawaii Supreme Court this afternoon invalidated Trevor Ozawa’s 22-vote victory over Tommy Waters for the City Council District 4 seat. “Because the correct results of the November, 6, 2018 special election for the city councilmember seat for District IV cannot be determined, the special election must be invalidated” the court said in a 55-page opinion signed by all five justices. “The second special election for councilmember for District IV, City and County of Honolulu, is invalidated.” City Clerk Glen Takahashi, in an email to Council members, said “while we are still reviewing, we will be required to re-run the election for Council district IV.” The re-vote will likely need to occur within 120 days.Full Article: Hawaii Supreme Court invalidates Trevor Ozawa’s 22-vote victory over Tommy Waters.
Nearly a quarter million Arizonans who dropped off their early ballots at polling places on Election Day in November would lose that ability in future years under a bill that passed its first legislative hurdle in a Senate committee on Thursday. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed three election-related bills sponsored by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale. One of those bills, Senate Bill 1046, would require voters who receive early ballots in the mail to return them only by mail, rather than bringing them to polling places before or on Election Day. People who don’t mail in their ballots would be able to vote at a polling place, but would have to wait in line and go through the same process as other in-person voters. The committee passed SB1046 on a 4-3 party-line vote, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats in opposition.Full Article: Senate committee votes to ban voters from dropping off early ballots • Arizona Mirror.
The Iowa secretary of state’s rules implemented last year restricting how election officials verify absentee ballots is illegal, a state judge ruled Thursday, saying the secretary incorrectly interpreted state law. Polk County District Court Judge Karen Romano temporarily enjoined enforcement of the new rules last July, which was upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court, and her 10-page ruling issued Wednesday and released publicly Thursday permanently blocked the new rules from being enforced. The ruling prevents the state from implementing regulations regarding verifying a voter’s legitimacy if their absentee ballot lacks a voter-verification number.Full Article: Iowa Judge Strikes Down Absentee-Ballot Rules.
An investigation into suspected fraud in a closely contested House race in North Carolina has shined a spotlight on an increasingly powerful tool in U.S. elections: mail-in ballots. The case in North Carolina’s 9th District, which centers on claims of an aggressive — and illegal — absentee ballot drive by a Republican operative, has resurfaced concerns about the security of mail-in ballots and the potential for fraud. It also raises questions about how vote-by-mail programs should be executed, especially with a growing number of Americans casting their ballots by mail. Between 2008 and 2016, the number of voters who cast mail-in ballots more than tripled, from 2.4 million to 8.2 million, according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.Full Article: Disputed North Carolina race exposes mail ballot flaws | TheHill.
Despite having been mailed back before the November election, 29 absentee ballots in Northeast Iowa’s House District 55 race — which was decided by a mere nine votes — were never postmarked and therefore cannot be counted, state officials say. But they could have been counted by now if Winneshiek County had availed itself of a safeguard the Iowa Legislature approved two years ago — an “intelligent bar code” that can verify if mailed-in ballots meet the deadline even if they are not postmarked. That safeguard is voluntary, and currently is used by only seven of Iowa’s 99 counties. It adds a few pennies to the cost of each mailed-in ballot, and takes time to set up. But there is no assurance the Postal Service will postmark each letter, and therefore no assurance that absentee votes mailed in on time will ever be counted.Full Article: Mailing codes could have called close Iowa race | News | southernminn.com.
An investigation into whether political operatives in North Carolina illegally collected and possibly stole absentee ballots in a still-undecided congressional race has drawn attention to a widespread but little-known political tool called ballot harvesting. It’s a practice long used by special-interest groups and both major political parties that is viewed either as a voter service that boosts turnout or a nefarious activity that subjects voters to intimidation and makes elections vulnerable to fraud. The groups rely on data showing which voters requested absentee ballots but have not turned them in. They then go door-to-door and offer to collect and turn in those ballots for the voters — often dozens or hundreds at a time. Some place ballot-collection boxes in high-concentration voter areas, such as college campuses, and take the ballots to election offices when the boxes are full.Full Article: Disputed House race puts spotlight on ‘ballot harvesting’ - The Washington Post.
A voter photo identification bill won state House approval Wednesday, a proposal now also altered to try to improve absentee ballot security in North Carolina in light of fraud allegations in a congressional district. The House version of legislation detailing how a new constitutional amendment mandating photo ID to vote in person is carried out starting in mid-2019 also directs the state elections board next year to figure out how people requesting mail-in absentee ballots also must offer ID. The measure now returns to the Senate, which approved an earlier version last week that didn’t address the mail-in requests. That was before attention to absentee ballots soared with word that election officials and prosecutors are investigating claims of fraudulent absentee ballot activities in the 9th Congressional District.Full Article: Latest voter ID bill tries to address absentee ballots | Myrtle Beach Sun News.
North Carolina: Bladen, Robeson Had 3,400 Absentee Ballots That Weren’t Returned. What Happened To Them? | WFAE
In the still un-certified 9th Congressional District race, Bladen and Robeson counties had the two highest rate of unreturned absentee mail-in ballots. Bladen and Robeson also stand out statewide, according to an analysis by Catawba College political science professor Michal Bitzer. He found there were about 19,400 absentee ballots by mail statewide that were requested but not returned for the Nov. 6 election. Robeson had 10 percent of those statewide non-returned ballots, and Bladen County had 8 percent of the non-returned ballots. That’s 3,404 ballots. The two counties make up less than 2 percent of the state’s population.Full Article: Bladen, Robeson Had 3,400 Absentee Ballots That Weren't Returned. What Happened To Them? | WFAE.
North Carolina: Certification in limbo in North Carolina House race as fraud investigation continues | The Washington Post
Mounting evidence of voter fraud in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District could indefinitely delay the certification of a winner, as state election officials investigate whether hundreds of absentee ballots were illegally cast or destroyed. The North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has no plans to certify Republican Mark Harris’s 905-vote victory over Democrat Dan McCready, according to an agenda of a board meeting scheduled for Friday morning. The board is collecting sworn statements from voters in rural Bladen and Robeson counties, near the South Carolina border, who described people coming to their doors and urging them to hand over their absentee ballots, sometimes without filling them out. Others described receiving absentee ballots by mail that they had not requested. It is illegal to take someone else’s ballot and turn it in.Full Article: Certification in limbo in N.C. House race as fraud investigation continues - The Washington Post.
Nearly 7,000 voters would have had their early ballots rejected over problems with their signatures if Maricopa County hadn’t initiated a new policy of attempting to “cure” those ballots after Election Day. According to data provided to the Arizona Mirror by the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, 7,240 early ballots had signatures on their envelopes that required further review after Election Day. The majority of those ballots were dropped off at polling places on Election Day. County election officials began contacting voters who dropped off early ballots on Election Day and whose signatures needed further review on Nov. 8, two days after the election. The outreach effort allowed the county to verify the signatures on 6,933 of the ballots, which was nearly 96 percent of the ballots that election officials reviewed for potentially mismatched signatures.Full Article: Maricopa County saved nearly 7,000 ballots through curing policy • Arizona Mirror.
The chief investigator for the North Carolina Board of Elections took absentee by mail ballot request forms and their return envelopes from Bladen County immediately after the Nov. 6 election, according to the chair of the county’s board of elections. Bobby Ludlum, chair of the Bladen County Board of Elections, told WFAE Wednesday that the board’s chief investigator, Joan Fleming, came to Elizabethtown to get the records during the week of the election. “She was here the day after, or around that time,” said Ludlum, a Republican who chairs the county’s board. “I’ve heard rumors and allegations (about what they are looking for) but they haven’t said anything.” Bladen County is in the 9th Congressional District.Full Article: NC Elections Investigator Seized Bladen County Absentee Ballot Forms | WFAE.
A Bucks County judge on Monday dismissed a legal challenge filed in a contested state Senate race that claimed Pennsylvania’s deadline for excluding absentee ballots is unconstitutional. State Rep. Tina Davis filed the lawsuit Nov. 19 after losing the race in the state’s Sixth District to incumbent state Sen. Richard “Tommy” Tomlinson by just 74 votes. However, at least 216 absentee ballots went uncounted because they were received after the deadline but before Election Day, according to the filing. Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Davis did not provide an explanation for his ruling Monday, which came hours after a hearing on the issue in Doylestown. Under his order, the absentee ballots in the race will remained sealed, despite attempts by Davis’ campaign to view a list of the voters who had submitted them.Full Article: Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Over Absentee Ballots in Pennsylvania Senate Race.
Mississippi: Civil rights lawsuit claims Mississippi made it nearly impossible to vote by absentee ballot | Salon
A civil rights group is suing top officials in Mississippi for giving voters very little time to cast absentee ballots in Tuesday’s special runoff Senate election, making it nearly impossible for some votes to be counted. Democrat Mike Espy faces appointed Republican incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith Tuesday after neither received a majority of the vote in the November 6 election. According to a federal lawsuit filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, election officials did not send absentee ballots for the run-off until Nov. 17. Many out-of-state voters did not receive the ballots until Thanksgiving time. Under state law, absentee ballots must have been submitted by Monday, Nov. 26 at 5 p.m. Absentee ballots in the state must also be notarized, which means many voters had just one business day to get the ballot stamped and delivered to their county elections office, Mississippi Today reported. “Mississippi’s absentee ballot procedures stand out as some of the most burdensome in this country,” the lawsuit says, accusing the state of violating the Constitution.Full Article: Civil rights lawsuit claims Mississippi made it nearly impossible to vote by absentee ballot | Salon.com.