Vote at Home | Weekly Roundup September 21, 2020

Beth Hladick
Director, Research & Outreach
Unite America

There are 39 days until the November election. This week, ongoing policy changes and litigation mean absentee voting policies are still uncertain, especially in several battleground states. Here’s the latest in Vote at Home news: 

In Pennsylvania, Luzerne County Elections Director Shelby Watchilla discovered nine military ballots improperly discarded last week and immediately reported the matter to authorities  — seven of the nine ballots found outside their envelopes were cast for Trump. PA law dictates mail ballots (military or otherwise) are to remain stored until processing can begin at 7 a.m. on Election Day. County officials say a third-party staffer processed the ballots, and confused the envelopes with absentee ballot applications. According to their statement on the matter: “An error was made, a public servant discovered it and reported it to law enforcement at the local, state and federal level, who took over to ensure the integrity of the system in place.” The FBI and U.S. attorney general for the Middle District of PA are now investigating the situation. Trump's campaign tweeted linking to the DOJ press release inquiry and said Dems are trying to steal the election. The investigation is ongoing. 

Also in PA, the state Supreme Court ruled election officials must reject ballots that arrive without an inner secrecy envelope in addition to the outer envelope. PA is one of 16 states that require both an outer envelope and a secrecy sleeve when ballots are returned, but it’s one of the few states to fully enforce that requirement for the ballot to be counted. A Philadelphia election official warned state lawmakers in a letter that, in her estimation, 30,000 to 40,000 naked ballots could be rejected in her county alone, and up to 100,000 statewide (though a lack of data makes it difficult to know the true extent of the issue). In 2016, the presidential race in PA was decided by 44,000 votes. 

In Wisconsin, a federal court ruled ballots could be received up to six days after Nov. 3, a change from the state’s normal law that absentee ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day. On Wednesday, the state legislature appealed the ruling, which is expected to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2016, the presidential race in WI was decided by less than 1 percentage point — fewer than 23,000 votes. 

Today, Fox news reported 1,000 Virginians received two absentee ballots due to an erroneous label printing error. Election officials said only one ballot would be counted per voter if an extra was mailed, and said voters who received two should destroy one. 

In Michigan, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill to make it easier for clerks to process the absentee ballot surge by letting them start a day early. The change is intended to ease processing burdens on election administrators. A record 2.4 million Michiganders have requested to vote by mail, quadruple the number of requests over the same period in 2016. 

Margaret White, ED of No Labels, wrote a Hill op-ed yesterday urgently calling on leaders at all levels to ramp up preparations to ensure a transparent and fair election. White argues thousands of jurisdictions nationwide will struggle to collect and count ballots in an orderly and timely fashion. Check out WaPo’s interactive on how the rate of counting absentee ballots could affect perceptions of the presidential race over time. 

New polling, tracking, and resources out this week: 

  • A CQ Roll Call survey of 132 Congressional staffers (conducted 9/14-9/22) found only 16% of Democrats and 10% of Republicans believe it’s likely Congress will pass a virus relief bill before election day. 
  • NYT’s new interactive graphic 50-state tracking absentee votes in the 2020 Election (compared to 2016). Also tracks absentee ballot requests made so far (compared with 2016 totals). 
  • In new polling from AP, 39% of registered voters say they’ll vote by mail, up from the 21% who say they normally do so. 
  • Brennan Center’s new report on our election security infrastructure: Our Election System is Resilient — but Still Has Room for Improvement

The National Task Force on Election crises compiled a new resource on how key states and the federal government adjudicate post-election disputes and implement remedies when necessary.

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