We knew that this year's election was going to be a rough one.
From President Donald Trump on down, various people, groups and operatives have been working to undermine the vote, manipulate electoral rules in their favor, and exclude, intimidate and deter voters, particularly those who are Black. Add to that the difficulties that COVID-19 and the economic recession have caused, and it was clear that there would be difficulties with this vote. Blavity has already produced an election guide, which includes helpful resources for both mail-in voting and in-person voting. As both mail-in and early in-person voting have already started in many states, Blavity is keeping track of voter suppression efforts and difficulties faced by voters across the U.S.
Ballot drop-off boxes limited to one per county in Texas and Ohio
As Blavity previously reported, absentee ballots can be dropped off at official polling stations within your state.
Some states have increased the number of these drop-off points to accommodate the record-setting number of absentee ballots being cast this year. The Texas government has gone in the opposite direction. As Blavity previously reported, Republican Governor Greg Abbott has limited drop-off boxes to only one per county in the state. For a state of 29 million people divided between 254 counties, this means an average of only one drop-off location for every 114,000 people; for larger counties such as Harris County, there's is only one location for more than 4 million people. It also means that some Texans have to drive up to 30 miles to reach their county's drop-off destination.
Harris County is bigger than the state of Rhode Island, and we're supposed to have 1 site? This isn't security, it's suppression. Mail ballot voters shouldn't have to drive 30 miles to drop off their ballot, or rely on a mail system that’s facing cutbacks. https://t.co/IeKwzdB0Hb
— Lina Hidalgo (@LinaHidalgoTX) October 1, 2020
After several court cases went back and forth challenging Gov. Abbott's order, a U.S. federal appeals court has allowed the one location per county order to stand. A similar process occurred in Ohio, a federal appeals court upheld a restriction of one drop-off location per county in that state as well, even though a lower court had ruled that the restriction had a "disproportionate effect on people of color." As a result of the latest ruling, absentee ballots can only be returned in person to each county's board of elections office; ballots can still be mailed in, as well.
Republicans place illegal ballot boxes in California
Californians are facing a different problem with hand-delivering absentee ballots.
The Republican Party in at least three counties in the state — Los Angeles County, Orange County and Fresno County — have put out their own drop-off boxes for ballots that have not been approved by government officials.
California's Secretary of State Alex Padilla and the state's justice department have already declared these boxes illegal and issued a cease-and-desist order to the state's Republicans; the party has so far defied the order. Local authorities, meanwhile, are attempting to track down the illegal ballot boxes, and may pursue criminal charges against those responsible for the act.
The New York Times has provided guidelines for telling the difference between official and illegal ballot boxes.
Ballots burned in Massachusetts
A man set fire to ballots inside of an official ballot drop-off box outside of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square on Oct. 25. CBSN reports that police arrested 39-year-old Worldy Armand for the crime the following day. Police do not believe that Armand was politically motivated in setting the fire, describing the suspect as "emotionally disturbed."
Only some of the ballots inside the box were damaged beyond use. Nonetheless, the city was set to mail new ballots to all voters who had used the box around the time period of the fire. Voters who do not use the new ballots will have their old ballots counted, if possible, instead. Voters who used the Copley Square drop box are urged to contact the Boston Elections Department and check the status of their ballot. The department can be contacted at the weblink or by phone at 617-635-8683.
Hours-long waits to vote in Georgia, Texas, Ohio and Illinois
Early voting is open in several states including Georgia, Illinois, Ohio and Texas and has already broken several records.
Yet, the enthusiasm of voters has been met with extremely long lines. Some voters in Georgia, for example, waited in line for up to 11 hours to be able to cast their ballots on Oct. 12, the first day of early voting in that state.
Officials in these states generally dismissed the waits as the result of unprecedented numbers of early voters and social distancing requirements that make voting take longer on average. However, critics have charged that the long waits are a form of voter suppression. For instance, Rev. Raphael Warnock, who is running for the United States Senate from Georgia as one of Blavity's candidates to watch, tweeted that "Voter excitement does not equate to 10+ hour wait in voting lines. That’s not excitement, that’s voter suppression."
Voter excitement does not equate to 10+ hour wait in voting lines.
That’s not excitement, that’s voter suppression.https://t.co/nQH4sMEI1L
— Reverend Raphael Warnock (@ReverendWarnock) October 14, 2020
Multiple studies have revealed that voters in majority-Black areas tend to face significantly longer wait times than white voters. Waco, Texas ABC affiliate KXXV 25 News has tips for avoiding the longest lines when voting early.
Voter registration difficulties in Florida, Virginia and Pennsylvania
When Florida's voter registration website crashed on Oct. 5, the last day to register in that state, Secretary of State Laurel Lee extended registration for one day.
A federal judge, however, rejected a lawsuit that sought to extend registration for two additional days. Florida officials blame very high website traffic for the crash. As Blavity previously reported, Virginia extended its registration process for two days after an inadvertently cut cable crashed that state's registration site on Oct. 13, the original final day for Virginians to register. As Blavity has noted, if you are unsure about your registration status, you can check by entering some basic information at Vote.org.
In Pennsylvania, The Washington Post reports that college students are having trouble registering online during the last hours before the state's 5 p.m. registration deadline on Oct. 19. Even students who thought they had successfully registered as early as September have received rejection notices weeks later, leaving them little time to re-apply. According to the Post report, many of the rejections seem to be related to faulty or unaccepted signatures on their applications, though many of the rejections have come with little to no explanation for why the initial applications were rejected. Many students are now having to reapply in person or by mail, hoping to get their applications in before the deadline.
Witness signature requirements upheld in Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina
On Oct. 14, a federal appeals court struck down a rule that would have waived Alabama's requirement for witness signatures for absentee ballots for some voters. A lower court judge had ruled that the signature requirement should be waived for voters 65 or older and for voters with underlying health conditions. The latter judge based his ruling in part on the idea that the signature requirement disproportionately impacted Black voters in the state that has a long history of voter suppression against Black residents. The appeals court ruling, however, means that all absentee votes in Alabama must abide by the state's identification and witness signature requirements.
As The Washington Post reported, a legal dispute in North Carolina has left nearly 7000 ballots, almost half of them cast by Black voters, in limbo. The controversy came after the state Board of Elections issued a rule allowing voters who had made a mistake with their absentee ballots, such as failing to provide a required witness signature or signing the ballot on an incorrect line, to fix or "cure" their ballots by submitting a separate, signed affidavit. This rule change led to a lawsuit to block the curing procedure, arguing that the Board of Elections had essentially changed the voting rules in the middle of an election.
Also on Oct.14, a federal judge ruled to allow curing for minor errors, such as errors in voters' written addresses, but not for the witness signature requirement. This will allow some but not all of the disputed ballots to be cured. The ruling should not prevent voters whose ballots have been rejected for lack of signature from voting in person, but voters with this concern should check in with their local election officials. Contact information can be found through IWillVote.com.
In neighboring South Carolina, meanwhile, lower courts waived that state's witness signature requirement, but on Oct. 5, the Supreme Court restored the witness requirement. The high court did allow ballots that had already been cast without the signature to be counted, but those sent in after the Oct. 5 ruling must have the signature.
End of straight-ticket voting in Texas
Earlier this year, Texas' Republican-led government ended straight ticket voting, beginning with the 2020 election.
Straight ticket voting had allowed voters to select an option to vote for all candidates on the ballot for one party instead of marking individual votes for each race. The change has contributed to the long voting lines in Texas. Straight ticket voting has been thought to benefit Democrats in Texas in recent years, such as the slate of 17 Black women judges who were sworn in after winning seats in Harris County in 2018. Straight ticket voting has been particularly popular in urban areas, and Texas Democrats have argued that the change will negatively impact Black and Latino voters the most. Texas voters can check out who is on their local ballot by entering their address to this site.
Voters turned away for wearing Black Lives Matter apparel in Tennessee
While political slogans of candidates like "Make America Great Again" are banned from polling stations, messages related to the Black Lives Matter campaign are allowed by law. CNN reports that a single polling official objected to the clothing at the Memphis polling place and that this unnamed individual has been fired. Voters had previously reported similar incidents at the polling station, which serves a majority Black community within Memphis, during primary elections earlier this year. As CNN notes, voters facing discrimination based on their clothing can call either the Election Protection coalition's hotline at (866-OUR-VOTE) or the the Department of Justice's voting rights hotline at (800-253-3931).
Voters receive threatening pro-Trump emails in Alaska, Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania
CNN, USA Today and other news outlets are reporting that hundreds of registered voters in at least four states have received threatening emails warning them to "Vote for Trump or else!" and similar threats.
"You are currently registered as a Democrat and we know this because we have gained access into the entire voting infrastructure,” said one email, according to the Anchorage Daily News. “You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you. Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply."
USA Today reports Floridians have received personalized emails that appear to be coming from the email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. The international chairman of the Proud Boys, a white supremacist group that received a shout-out from President Trump in the first presidential debate, strongly denied responsibility for the emails in a statement to USA Today. He said the emails showed evidence of being "spoofed" or labeled with a false address. An expert who spoke to CNN additionally said that the emails showed signs of coming from a foreign source.
USA Today advised voters who receive such emails to contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI. Voters in Florida were also urged to contact the Florida Democratic Party Voter Protection team at 1-833-VOTE-FLA.
Guns allowed at the polls in Michigan, masks not required in Texas
A federal judge overturned an order that would have restricted open carry firearms from polling stations in Michigan. The latest ruling allows voters to openly carry guns into their polling places throughout the state. Many people worry that allowing individuals to carry guns in or near voting places will contribute to voter intimidation.
Meanwhile, a different federal judge sided with Texas Governor Abbott in allowing for an exception to Texas' requirement that masks be worn at polling stations. This most recent ruling means that Texas voters won't be required to wear masks while voting or waiting to vote; poll workers can also operate without masks. Those who had been pushing to enforce face masks at polling stations have argued that allowing voters to show up maskless was discriminatory against Black and Latino voters, who have been disproportionately susceptible to COVID-19. Although voters are not required to wear masks, they are still allowed to do so, and health regulations would strongly recommend that they do so if they are voting in person.
Counting mail-in ballots after Election Day
Several lawsuits have been moving through the courts regarding mail-in ballots that arrive after election day. The Supreme Court recently ruled against Republican lawsuits in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. The high court's rulings mean that, for now, ballots that arrive up to three days after Election Day in Pennsylvania and up to nine days after Election Day in North Carolina will still be counted. However, the Court also indicated that it might reconsider its decision after Election Day; should that happen, new Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who did not participate in the decisions this time, may cast a vote and could very well vote to throw out the late ballots.
In general, President Trump and his allies have been attempting to prevent or restrict ballots received after Election Day from being counted. Meanwhile, because of possible mail delays, the United States Postal Service is now recommending that any absentee ballots that have not yet been mailed in not be put in the mail; instead, absentee voters are now recommended to drop off their ballots in person at their local election office or at authorized drop boxes in states that have provided that option. As Blavity previously reported, rules about dropping off absentee ballots differ from state to state. Information about your state's rules can be found by contacting your state's election officials; the US Election Assistance Commission website has state voting and contact information.
With tens of millions of people having already voted and millions more expected to vote prior to Election Day, more irregularities and difficulties may arise between now and Nov. 3. Nonetheless, the record-breaking turnout shows that voters remain enthusiastic and largely undeterred in their quest to make their voices heard in this election. Blavity will continue to cover voting difficulties as well as direct readers to resources to make sure that their votes count.