Coronavirus-Related Elections Litigation Kicks Up Into High Gear

Voting rights primer
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This piece is part of our weekly Prime series on voting rights, but it has been moved outside of the paywall while we cover COVID-19.

As states prepare for the primary elections they initially postponed amid the coronavirus outbreak, voting rights advocates are heading to the courtroom to make sure the new election policies being put in place due to the pandemic are fair. The map of active pandemic-related elections litigation is quickly expanding. Here’s a look at the states that had big legal developments on this front in recent days.

  • Texas: Voter groups and Democrats convinced a judge on Thursday to order that Texas let voters claim fear of coronavirus as a reason to vote absentee in the July primary. The state is continuing to fight the effort to expand absentee voting tooth and nail.
  • Missouri: After the GOP governor refused to make coronavirus an absentee voting excuse, the state was hit with a lawsuit by voting rights advocates on Friday.
  • New Mexico: The effort by local clerks and the Democratic secretary of state to make New Mexico’s primary a completely vote-by-mail election was blocked in court by Republicans. The state Supreme Court ordered that clerks nonetheless make the process of applying to vote absentee as easy as possible.
  • Nevada: Election officials are significantly expanding mail-in voting for the primary, but Democrats on Thursday filed a lawsuit challenging how they’re going about that expansion. The Democrats — who, cleverly found a small town Nevada mayor with the last name “Corona” to be their lead plaintiff — are taking aim at the plans for major reductions of in-person voting places as well as certain absentee voting policies that may cut off access for certain voters.
  • Virginia: The state’s requirement that an absentee voter must have a witness sign his ballot is the subject of a lawsuit filed Friday, which pointed out the health risks the mandate posed particularly for older voters.

The issues with a pandemic expansion of mail-in voting are bigger than just these legal fights. Even the states that have lax absentee voter policies face big challenges scaling up their mail-in voting programs. As I wrote last week, only a handful of states already have the systems in place that can handle the big influx of absentee voting the coronavirus is likely to bring. One of the big challenges is the complicated infrastructure — which include sophisticated equipment and a web of vendors — that big vote by mail programs rely on. If election officials who are not used to big proportions of mail-in voting don’t start building their systems now, the supply chain may not be able to handle a surge in demand that comes closer to November.

COVID-19 Has Trump Admin Making Big Changes To 2020 Census Plans: The Trump administration made its biggest changes yet to how it will conduct the 2020 census given the pandemic. The timeline for finishing the counting operation has been pushed back by three months, as field operations won’t likely start in earnest until three months after they were scheduled to.  The major delay has the administration asking Congress to postponed by four months the deadlines for producing the redistricting and apportionment data the count yields. But such a delay will also scramble state redistricting plans, and the administration says it’s working with states on fixing those issues as well. It’s worth noting that while the in-person counting won’t begin for a few more weeks, self-response continues and on Saturday the Bureau announced that more than half of U.S. households had responded to the survey.

Latest Tranche of Voter Access Bills Become Law in Virginia: Virginia Democrats have continued their campaign to push through voting rights legislation, with Gov. Ralph Northam signing into law several measures earlier this month. They include a reversal of a GOP voter ID requirement, expansion of early voting, an extension on Election Day polling place hours and designating Election Day as a holiday.

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