Understanding What Vote-by-Mail Actually Is - WhoWhatWhy

Understanding What Vote-by-Mail Actually Is

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WhoWhatWhy’s Election Integrity Weekly is written by Gabriella Novello, and edited by William Dowell and Sue Rushford. Have a tip or want to suggest a story? Send us an email at ei@whowhatwhy.org.

Voting by Mail, Explained: Regardless of who you vote for this November, it’s important to know how you can cast a ballot — and the popular choice appears to be absentee voting.

As the coronavirus spreads across the United States, vote-by-mail offers protection for both voters and election workers. At least 77 percent of eligible voters will be able to cast a ballot by mail this November, and millions of voters have already requested a ballot. 

Our latest edition of America Decides 2020 looks at why vote-by-mail is growing in importance amid the coronavirus pandemic. We also dive into some of the most commonly asked questions — like what mail-in voting is, how you can vote by mail, and whether or not you should worry about widespread voter fraud. (read more)

Next week, we discuss ranked-choice voting. Stay tuned.

The Ultimate Threat: Election interference in 2016 was no surprise to Historian David Shimer. In fact, he says that covert election interference by the CIA and KGB during the Cold War explains why Russia’s meddling was part of an established tradition.

Shimer sat down with WhoWhatWhy’s Jeff Schechtman to discuss his new book, Rigged: America, Russia, and One Hundred Years of Covert Electoral Interference, in which he lays out a roadmap that details  how Russia successfully interfered in our last presidential election. With the advent of the internet and social media, Shimer predicts that things could get worse over the next three months. (listen here)

Getting Children Counted: Last month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing states to exclude noncitizens from the census. That could effectively erase millions of undocumented parents from the count. Also lost to the count and federal aid would be their children who were born in the United States, and are consequently American citizens. 

Young children are  one of the most populous groups in the United States, yet they have also been one of the most underrepresented groups in past censuses. Nearly five percent of children nationwide were undercounted during the 2010 census. 

“You’re looking at a scenario where a two-year-old today could miss out on the bulk of funding for their school years,” Diana Elliott, principal research associate at the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute, told WhoWhatWhy. (read more)

Making Matters Worse: The Census Bureau, which is required by law to finish its data collection by December 31, asked Congress for an extension without success. Instead, the Trump administration ordered it to curtail door-knocking efforts to report uncounted households by  October 31 and then shortened that deadline to September 30.

That raises more uncertainty concerning the credibility of  the 2020 census which has already been forced to deal with obstacles to counting resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 40 percent of households nationwide have still not been counted. (read more)

A Supreme Failure: The fight over voting by mail is a symptomatic of deeper problems in American politics — extreme partisanship and outright manipulation of election rules.

Former President Barack Obama tweeted in July that voting by mail shouldn’t be a partisan issue, after all 34 states and Washington, DC, already offer voting by mail. Why can’t voting by mail be offered everywhere?  

Eliezer Poupko suggests in a WhoWhatWhy OpEd that one reason may be that partisan politicians in state legislatures have  manipulated election rules with very little oversight from the federal judiciary. Poupko writes:

“In short, partisanship has become pervasive in US election law and administration because US courts have explicitly allowed it to be so, effectively encouraging it. Partisan politicians, Republican or Democrat, aren’t the real problem; they’re just doing what should be expected with the latitude they’ve been given. The fault lies with the judiciary, which has almost completely forsaken its job of ensuring basic equality and fairness in electoral rules and procedures — not to mention its role in encouraging participation. Voting is a partisan issue because the US Supreme Court has abdicated its responsibility for protecting democracy in America.” 

What can be done? One solution, Poupko suggests, would be to adopt a new Voting Rights Act and establish a nonpartisan agency to deal with elections in jurisdictions that have a history of discrimination. The Constitution provides Congress with the ultimate authority to legislate how states conduct federal elections even if states are unwilling to change rules affecting state elections. (read more)

In the Courts

  • Useche v. Trump: A group of voters from across the country are taking on the president’s census directive and filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Southern District of Maryland. 

The plaintiffs accuse Trump of “[depriving] diverse states and communities of political power in Congress and the Electoral College and [denying] the residents of those states … their rights to equal political representation.”

  • League of Women Voters of Ohio v. LaRose: Absentee voting rules vary by state, and in Ohio, absentee voters can have their ballot application rejected without notification if their signature doesn’t match the signature  on their voter registration form. In 2016, more than 700,000 absentee ballots were rejected due to signature mismatch.

The ACLU filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of the League and alleges that “because of the COVID-19 pandemic, these constitutional violations threaten to disenfranchise Ohio voters in significantly higher numbers than ever before.”

What We’re Watching

Congress is set to leave on its August recess at the end of the week. The  clock is ticking on requests for more funding for election assistance. Experts  estimate that it will cost roughly  $4 billion to fully fund the November election. House Democrats passed the HEROES Act in May and included $3.6 billion for states so that they could adequately prepare for the election, but the latest coronavirus relief bill that Senate Republicans introduced last week provided no funding for election preparations at all. It did, however, include $1.75 billion for a new FBI headquarters and $8 billion for defense projects.

WhoWhatWhy and Readers’ Picks of the Week:

Former Michigan Governor: What If Trump Seizes Ballot Boxes? (Politics USA)

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