Democrats flood the courts
More election-related lawsuits have been filed this year than in the last two decades, according to the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project, which is tracking the cases. These suits, filed in nearly all 50 states, challenge voter ID laws, polling place consolidations, widespread purges from the rolls and multistep absentee ballot processes. Lawsuits have snowballed in response to the coronavirus, with an increase of more than 300 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, the Stanford-MIT database shows.
Some primary elections held at the height of the virus’ spread in the United States were plagued by last-minute polling place changes and closures as well as long wait times. Voting rights advocates point to the complicated primary elections in Georgia and Wisconsin as a warning sign that Covid-19 could expedite efforts to limit turnout among Black and Latino voters, who have been disproportionately harmed by the virus.
Still, Democrats say they’re encouraged by a handful of wins in the courts. On Sept. 28, a U.S. district judge in Georgia ordered state election officials to prepare paper copies of voter registration and absentee voting information for each of the state’s polling places, should problems arise with their digital voting system on Election Day.
Also last month, a Nevada judge dismissed a case filed by Trump’s reelection campaign that tried to bar the state from mailing ballots to all active voters. Early voting in the state begins on Oct. 17.
In other states, however, Democrats had mixed results. A 2015 Wisconsin law requiring voters to present photo IDs to vote drew seven separate lawsuits from groups in the state, according to a tracker from the Brennan Center for Justice.
The lawsuit alleges the law, which does not count student IDs alone as a valid form of identification, is a violation of voters’ 14th Amendment rights to vote unburdened. That law was upheld by a federal judge on Wednesday, who ruled changing it would cause unnecessary confusion so close to the election.
In 2018, the Florida electorate voted overwhelmingly for Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to as many as 1.4 million formerly incarcerated people. But earlier this month, Florida’s Supreme Court ruled that people with former felony convictions could vote only if they paid all their fines, court debts and fees. The ruling, which would keep hundreds of thousands of returning citizens from being able to vote, was a major blow to voting rights advocates, who view the requirement as a poll tax.
“Our government is supposed to be seeking ways to expand democracy, to make sure that all of its citizens have a very unencumbered pathway to being able to participate in elections,” said Desmond Meade, executive director of the Florida Voting Rights Restoration Coalition, which led the movement to pass Amendment 4.
“They should not be seeking ways to restrict that. And when they do that, they’re really breaking a contract with people,” Meade continued. “They’re supposed to provide this access. They’re supposed to want to create a more inclusive democracy.”
Outside of the courts, efforts to keep dissuade voters from casting a ballot still loom.
One automated call in Illinois, sponsored by right-wing hoaxer Jacob Wohl, used paranoia to discourage Black voters from mailing in their ballots. In the call, a woman’s voice can be heard telling voters their personal information would be added to a public database and that they could be arrested for outstanding warrants or be forced to participate in Covid-19 vaccine trials.
“Don’t be finessed into giving your private information to ‘the man,’” the woman says. “Stay safe and beware of vote by mail.”
On Thursday, Michigan’s attorney general charged Wohl and Jack Burkman, another conservative operative, with felonies in an alleged robocall scheme to suppress the vote.