The electorate is on ready and voting early this month, with lines queuing up outside many districts that allow voting before Election Day. A record 54 percent of voters told federal officials they would be voting early this year, which is an increase from the 40 percent of voters who said they planned to in 2016. A CNN survey predicts a record-shattering turnout this year and because of this enthusiasm, several decisions and legal moves in courts across the south and Midwest are doubly important this month.
The Georgia NAACP and Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda filed a motion in September to stop 14,000 Fulton County voters from being purged from the rolls mere weeks before the November general election. Two voters from Fulton County filed a motion this year to force the Fulton County Election Board to convene voter challenge hearings and begin the process of purging voters, despite the imminent election. Challengers supporting the purge include Warren Mathew Schmitz Jr. and Jeffry Alan Kunkes. Both argue most of the voters allegedly match names on a National Change of Address database (NCOA), which proves the voters moved at some point. However, as explained in reports, the NCOA test does not prove definitively if a voter has moved outside their district, or if they are merely staying at a different home in the same district, as renters often do.
In any case, more than a name on the NCOA list is required to purge voters, and any move to do so, says the Georgia NAACP, is a violation of federal law.
A similar fight is underway in Arkansas, where the League of Women Voters moved to disrupt Secretary of State John Thurston’s attempt to restrict absentee ballots to voters based on the appearance of their signature on the ballot.
Arkansas leaders recently imposed a signature match requirement that allows officials to dump any ballot missing a signature or any officials perceive to have an incorrect address, birthday or deviation in the look of the signature. But the lack of an effective notice-and-fix process to clean up the discarded votes constitutes a violation of voters’ rights, according to the lawsuit League of Women Voters of Arkansas v. Thurston. Voters tossed by signature mismatches don’t get an opportunity to fix their vote, plaintiffs say. They don’t even get a chance to learn their vote was chunked until after Election Day.
“Arkansas voters should have confidence that their vote would count if there were a process for fixing issues when their ballots are marked for rejection,” said League President Nell Matthews. “With the surge in absentee ballots this year because of COVID-19, many of our most vulnerable voters are at risk of disenfranchisement without a notice and cure protection. No one should have their vote thrown out due to a technicality of a signature error or mismatch.”
COVID-19 is a factor in plenty of litigation in the days leading up to the November election, even if Mississippi’s Supreme Court seem to prefer voters risk catching the virus. A majority of conservative judges on the state’s supreme court reversed a Sept. 2 decision by Hinds County Chancery Judge Denise Owens, saying she broadly interpreted rule changes that state legislators passed this year.
White lawmakers in Mississippi prefer to discourage voting, which means imposing countless restrictions upon it, including voter ID requirements. It also means discouraging things like early voting and same-day voter registration. Even absentee voting in Mississippi comes with strict requirements such as proof that a voter won’t be available on the day of the election or that the voter suffers a health condition that keeps them from the polls.
The pandemic spooked state lawmakers into expanding those health requirements earlier this year, but only marginally, so plaintiffs sued the state, arguing any voter looking to avoid a pandemic should be able to vote absentee, and the inability to do so burdened voters’ fundamental right to vote. The supreme court quickly reminded voters this month, however, that Mississippi still hates democracy and only a handful of preexisting health conditions allow nervous voters to spare themselves a coronavirus exposure in a long, crowded voter line by voting absentee. Obesity and other very real factors, the court says, are not on that list.
Democracy did win a small victory up in Indiana, where voters won the ability to extend polling hours in November. A federal court granted voters’ request this month to block a dumb Indiana law that strips voters of their right to petition to extend polling-place hours.
“Hoosiers must never be denied the ability to exercise their right to vote,” said Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana, which sued the state in Common Cause Indiana v. Lawson. “We are extremely pleased with this decision and relieved that Hoosier voters will not be barred from seeking relief from state courts should they face obstacles in casting their vote on November 3rd.”
A second victory in that state included a federal court’s decision that prevents state officials from purging state voters without notice.
Voter advocates say if the Senate and White House flips to the Democrats this year, voters may expect the creation of a new voting rights act that will dispense with countless attempts across the nation to discourage voting. Forty-eight senators introduced legislation earlier this year restoring the Voting Rights Act gutted by the Roberts Court in 2013. The new bill, named after civil rights icon John Lewis, has already passed the Democratically-controlled House, and now only requires a Democratic Senate to get a presidential signature.