About a month ago, we laid out five ways that Republicans are making it harder to vote and more generally undermining the electoral process in 2020. We focused on Republicans for two reasons. First, making it harder to vote is a more controversial and anti-democratic goal than making it easier to vote, as Democrats are aiming to do. And second, President Trump is playing a central role in these voting wars. Trump has publicly said that he is opposed to efforts in many states to make absentee voting and voting by mail (the two are functionally the same thing) available to virtually anyone who wants to vote that way. He has also suggested that higher overall voter turnout would make it harder for Republicans to win elections.
Over the last month, with the election approaching, Republican officials — from county-level election administrators to the president himself — have in some ways escalated their use of these tactics. So here’s an update on those efforts to complicate the voting process and oppose moves that would make it easier. These five categories, which we used in the last article, are generally ordered from least alarming to most alarming. (There is no formal system tracking every lawsuit concerning voting and the electoral process in all 50 states, so this article is based on our informal tracking, which means we might have missed a key development in a state or two.) Here’s what’s happening:
1. Opposing changes to make it easier to vote amid COVID-19
- Opposing or limiting the use of ballot drop boxes. Recent U.S. Postal Service changes enacted by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a GOP megadonor, have slowed down mail delivery and likely increased the potential that some mail-in ballots will get to elections offices too late to be counted. (In most states, mail-in ballots must be received by Election Day.)
In response, to make sure that people don’t have to vote in person and to ensure that their ballots are received in time, Democrats have been pushing states and localities to expand the number of secure boxes where people can drop off their ballots so they can be picked up later by election officials. Republicans, though, are also opposing these drop boxes. In Ohio, the Republican secretary of state is blocking any county from having more than one ballot drop-off location — even though it would obviously make sense for counties with larger populations to have more than one. In Iowa, the Republican secretary of state is allowing such boxes only at government-owned buildings (as opposed to, say, outside grocery stores). Missouri, another GOP-dominated state, is barring the use of any drop boxes.
- Opposing moves to make it easier to vote by mail. The GOP-controlled board of commissioners in Gwinnett County, Georgia (that’s suburban Atlanta), rejected a proposal to have applications for absentee ballots sent to all registered voters in the county. In Arizona, the Trump campaign is opposing a push to count any ballot that is postmarked by Election Day (as opposed to received by Election Day).
- Limiting the use of NBA arenas as voting centers. After their brief strike in the days after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, NBA players successfully pushed the league to authorize using its arenas as voting centers. But despite owners offering the space to local governments, election officials in Miami (Florida) and Memphis (Tennessee) have opted against using those arenas. (Miami has a Republican mayor; the elections procedures in Shelby County, which includes Memphis, are set by a board whose members are appointed by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature.)
- Opposing early processing of absentee ballots. In Michigan, Republican lawmakers so far aren’t pushing forward proposed legislation to allow elections officials to start processing mail-in ballots (basically removing the outer envelope that they are contained in and verifying voters’ signatures) before Election Day. Even under this proposed legislation, election officials would not start reading the ballots and counting votes until Nov 3. But starting the process of opening up the ballots before Election Day would help officials speed up the count.
2. Seeking to invalidate laws that make it easier to vote amid COVID-19
This is different from the prior category (and more concerning) because in these instances Republicans are seeking to overturn decisions already made to ease the voting process.
- Pushing to get existing drop boxes removed. In Pennsylvania, Republicans are suing to prevent the use of drop boxes, as well as advancing legislation that would limit drop boxes to a few types of official sites, which would mean some existing boxes could no longer be used.
- Stopping local officials from making absentee voting easier. Republicans in Texas filed and won a lawsuit to bar officials in Democratic-leaning Harris County (the Houston area) from sending absentee ballot applications to all registered voters in the county. In Iowa, the Trump campaign filed and won a lawsuit stopping officials in one of the state’s more urban and Democratic-leaning areas from sending voters absentee ballot applications that already had some information (like the voter’s name and birthday) already filled in. In Montana, the Trump campaign and GOP officials have filed a lawsuit to block a policy implemented by the state’s governor, who is a Democrat, that would allow all counties to set up comprehensive vote-by-mail programs.
3. Advancing new practices and provisions that make it harder to vote
- Complicating the voting process for felons in Florida. Not much has changed in the last month in this category. But Republican officials in Florida are continuing litigation to keep in place a law they adopted in 2019 that requires convicted felons to pay all fees associated with their sentence before their voting rights are restored. The law, in effect, limits a 2018 ballot initiative adopted by Florida voters intended to restore felon voting rights. In continuing this litigation, Florida Republicans are likely to be successful in basically running out of the legal clock and keeping the 2018 provision from truly going into effect in the 2020 election cycle.
4. Anti-democratic rhetoric
- Misleading statements about voter fraud. Trump and Attorney General William Barr continue to argue that widespread mail-in voting will lead to a lot of voter fraud, often making outlandish and inaccurate claims to support their position. There is no evidence that voting by mail leads to increased fraud, and in states like Washington and Oregon, where most people have voted by mail for years, there has been no evidence of widespread malfeasance.
5. Fundamental changes to the electoral process
- Encouraging people to vote twice. Trump has recently been encouraging people who vote by mail to also go to vote at the polls on Election Day. If the election systems are working properly, he argues, they won’t be allowed to vote in person. It is very unlikely that anyone’s vote will be counted twice, but encouraging people who have already voted by mail to also show up in person will complicate election officials’ jobs. If some people actually do vote twice, that would, of course, undermine the entire voting process — and break the law.
- Downplaying potential Russian interference. Published reports suggest that Russian operatives are using measures similar to those they employed in 2016 to both boost Trump and increase political division in America. But the Trump administration has opted against clearly saying that Russia is engaged in such conduct or forthrightly condemning it. Instead, senior Trump officials have suggested that both Russia and China are trying to interfere, with China favoring Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Russia favoring Trump. But in reality, while the Chinese do favor Biden, according to published reports, there is no evidence that they are pursuing active measures to help him win, unlike Russia.
In addition, the Trump administration — apparently in retaliation for congressional Democrats publicly indicating that Russia is trying to tilt the election toward Trump — has opted to limit briefings to Congress on election security. In particular, top intelligence officials will now only submit written comments to Congress, instead of meeting in-person with leaders from both parties on the key intelligence committees.
There are plenty of Republican officials, even in some of the states listed above, taking steps to make it easier to vote. Texas, for example, increased the number of days in which early voting is available. So it’s not that all Republicans are trying to complicate the voting process. Rather, most of the officials trying to complicate the voting process are Republicans. Also, Republicans aren’t the only people filing a lot of lawsuits and pushing a lot of changes to the voting system — it’s just that Democrats’ extensive legal efforts are generally pushing to make it easier to vote.
So the most surprising aspect of the voting process is what we have laid out here: One party seems to be systemically making it harder to vote and taking other steps that undermine the integrity of the electoral process. The big question is whether these tactics will work, either by keeping anti-Trump ballots from being cast or counted, or by throwing the election results (whatever they end up being) into doubt.