Updated: October 17, 2020 1:31:10 pm
This year, the US saw an unprecedented number of legislative battles about voting access — almost 200. With President Donald Trump having already labelled the election “rigged” and filled with “fraud”, there has been a lot of debate around the technicalities of the system and the legitimacy of the process. A left-of-centre elections advocacy group, Campaign Legal Center (CLC), has been at the forefront of state-level voting access legal battles, alongside other organisations such as the American Civil Liberties Union. CLC’s communications manager Corey Goldstone spoke to Karishma Mehrotra about what to expect this election season.(Follow US Election Live Updates here)
Are you bracing for a prolonged election week or month?
Yes. We most likely won’t have the election results on election night – and may not have them for up to a few weeks afterward – as procedures are being followed to ensure that every eligible voter’s ballot counts. A big reason is that it takes election officials longer to verify and count absentee ballots than votes cast by electronic voting machines before announcing a result. What’s more, in some states, by law, election officials can’t even start processing these ballots until after polls have closed on Election Day.
Another factor that could potentially slow down the counting of ballots would be an onslaught of post-Election Day litigation that prevents states from finalizing the vote count until the disputes are settled. Under federal law, there is a strong incentive for all post-Election Day litigation to be done six days before the meeting of the Electoral College, a body which comes together every four years for the sole purpose of electing the President and Vice President of the United States. In 2020, the Electoral College is scheduled to meet on Dec. 14, 2020, so the deadline by which election litigation should be done is Dec. 8.
This is all to say that it isn’t hard to imagine that it might be a month before things are settled. We must let the process play out and let every vote be counted before declaring the results.
What are the top concerns on your mind this election? Rejected ballots? In-person voting?
CLC is concerned about various attempts to limit access to the ballot around the country. We are also concerned about attempts made by politicians in recent months to undermine the legitimacy of the election and convince people that their votes won’t matter.
The signature match laws that a majority of states use to verify mail-in ballots could prevent many people’s votes from counting. These laws require state election officials to compare a voter’s ballot signature with another government record of their signature. Voters with disabilities, the elderly, non-native English speakers, and racial minorities are more likely to have their ballots rejected due to signature match issues, which are often determined by untrained people using subjective criteria. This is especially troubling given that many of these groups are more susceptible to contracting a serious illness from Covid-19 and have experienced heightened levels of voter suppression due to restrictive photo ID laws, polling place closures, and state voter roll purges in recent years. Without opportunities to give voters notice of issues with their ballot signatures and cure them, this could lead to ballots being rejected because of perceived poor penmanship.
Too many state and local election officials have kept limited voting options in place or restricted them even further despite the pandemic. This includes states like Texas, which has been in the news a lot lately since its governor issued an order limiting ballot drop off locations to one per county.
Yet the most concerning aspect of this election is how President Trump and others have repeatedly claimed that if more voters use mail-in ballots or if the election results do not go in their favor, then the system cannot be trusted. First, this has turned off some voters from opting to use mail-in ballots, even if it would be the safest way for them to vote. Secondly, these claims have also given many voters a feeling of despair. The goal of voter suppression is to leave voters feeling that their vote won’t matter. The idea is to convince them to sit out in 2020. It’s important that this message can’t catch on.
With almost 200 ongoing legal battles on these issues, how do you feel the US is faring when it comes to voter suppression and access to voting?
Voting rights advocates are facing an uphill battle in the courts. A large part of this battle is who is ruling on these cases. In federal courts across the country, more judges who are hostile to voting rights have been appointed in the last three-to-four years.
Still, most courts are continuing to reject arguments made by parties like the Trump campaign about voter fraud, saying that this is not a systemic problem. In Montana, a federal judge appointed by Trump rebuked his campaign’s attempt to suppress mail voting, calling the allegation of widespread fraud “fiction”.
Any other aspects of this year’s voting that you want to mention as well?
Having the President concede the election is a tradition, but it isn’t a requirement. We have an election system with checks and balances for this exact reason. The power lies in the system itself, not with any one individual. No matter what the President says, this system has worked for the past two centuries, and it will work again this election cycle.
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