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Electionland 2020: Georgia’s Chaotic Primary, NJ Mail Voting Problems, Election Legislation and More

This week’s headlines on what went wrong during recent primaries, voter registration issues and the latest lawsuits.

This article is part of Electionland, ProPublica’s collaborative reporting project covering problems that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots during the 2020 elections. Sign up to receive updates about our voting coverage and more each week.

This Week’s Elections

Georgia, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina and West Virginia held elections this week.

Here’s how the primary in Georgia went: “It’s a hot, flaming, f—-ing mess,” Nse Ufot, executive director of voting rights organization New Georgia Project, told Politico.

The election there resulted in an investigation by the secretary of state and criticism from prominent figures ranging from Hillary Clinton to LeBron James.

Georgia’s problems included very long lines, a lack of provisional ballots, equipment that wasn’t delivered on time and poll workers who had trouble operating voting machines. Some voters showed up because they never received their absentee ballots; last week Fulton County launched an investigation into why some voters hadn’t received them. Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams said she had to vote in person, since her ballot came without a mailable envelope. Judges ordered the polls to stay open late at locations in 20 counties.

But this dysfunction didn’t come as a surprise: there were pandemic-related delays in processing absentee ballot applications, poll consolidation, and problems with too few poll workers, some of whom lacked proper training.

While Nevada held a largely mail election, voters who opted to cast a ballot in person faced long lines at a reduced number of polling sites. In South Carolina, more than 10% of polling places were relocated, with long lines reported. Members of the State Guard helped alleviate a poll worker shortage. In Richland County, there were problems with lines, ballots and social distancing.

Voter Voices

  • The co-founder of Black Voters Matter and a Georgia voter on this week’s chaotic election: “We have got to stop making voting a traumatic damn experience for black voters. Everything has to be a traumatic experience. The secretary of state needs to resign. ... They always blame it on local officials.” (Politico)

  • A Philadelphia woman on getting her grandmother to the polls after her absentee ballot never arrived: “We made it there just in the nick of time, with about seven minutes to spare. It was like a comedic movie or an episode of I Love Lucy, us rushing in there with a 103-year-old woman who can barely walk. But we got her there, put her in a chair and slid her up so she could sign her name in the book.” (Philly Mag)

  • A Washington, D.C.-based reporter recounting her voting experience last week: “[M]y husband and I washed our hands, put on masks, got in the car, and drove off to a nearby polling place to vote in DC’s Ward 4 primary. We arrived at 6:45 p.m. It would be well after midnight before we got home.” (Mother Jones)

Voter Registration News

  • State voter registration databases remain vulnerable to hackers and foreign adversaries. Also, a new report says that an internet voting platform used in some states could be manipulated to alter votes. (The New York Times)

  • The Center for Election Innovation & Research released a report that found fewer voter registrations in April in 12 states and D.C. compared to the same period in 2016. (USA Today)

  • The nationwide Black Lives Matter protests have helped spur voter registration efforts, according to advocacy groups. Rock the Vote saw 61,000 new registrations between June 1 and 5. (KCBS, CNBC)

The Latest on Vote by Mail

  • A little over half of Pennsylvanians who voted in last week’s primary cast a ballot by mail. But tens of thousands of ballots arrived in the week after the election, and thousands of voters who’d requested an absentee ballot ended up voting with a provisional ballot. Most of those votes will be counted because of a gubernatorial order and court-mandated deadline extensions, but November could be a different story. It could take weeks to count the ballots. (Associated Press, Philadelphia Inquirer)

  • During local New Jersey elections last month held by mail, one in 10 ballots were rejected. (NJ Spotlight)

  • During the 2016 and 2018 elections in the vote by mail states of Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, officials identified fewer than 400 possible fraud cases out of 14.6 million votes cast. (The Washington Post)

  • President Donald Trump’s press secretary reportedly used her parents’ Florida address to vote by mail in Florida in 2018, even though she lived in Washington, D.C. and had a New Jersey driver’s license. (HuffPost)

  • A coalition of voting rights groups issued a report that claims that age restrictions on absentee voting violate the 26th Amendment. (Courthouse News)

  • The Louisiana secretary of state said his office made an error in leaving off more than 300,000 eligible voters from a mailing list to inform them about vote by mail. (WDSU)

  • The former governor of Wisconsin tweeted last week that “The past few weeks have shown America that there is no need to hold vote-by-mail elections.” (Twitter)

  • In New Hampshire, mail voters will need to send in a copy of their ID, proof of address, and a witness signature. Voters may now register by mail, rather than in person. (NHPR, Union Leader)

  • Turnout was up in five states that used mail voting for primaries this month. (FiveThirtyEight)

  • It’s up to Indiana’s election commission, which is split along party lines, to decide on vote by mail during the general election. (WVIK)

  • Mississippi’s secretary of state opposes widespread vote by mail, but said voters who are ill or especially vulnerable to coronavirus could vote absentee. (Associated Press)

The Latest on Lawsuits

  • Arizona: Democrats are suing the state over a law that doesn’t offer a cure process for voters who didn’t sign their ballots. (Capitol Media Services)

  • Florida: The governor made a rare request asking a full appellate court to consider the state’s felon voting case. (Orlando Weekly)

  • Kentucky: A class-action lawsuit asks for more than one in-person polling site in several of the state’s most populous counties for the June 23 primary. (Courier-Journal)

  • Michigan: The state should remove ineligible voters from its rolls in counties with “abnormally high” registration levels, a new lawsuit demands. (The Associated Press)

  • Minnesota: The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the secretary of state and asking the state to send absentee ballots to all registered voters. (MPR)

  • North Dakota: A federal judge ruled that state officials cannot reject mail ballots based on signature mismatch without adequate procedures to notify voters and remedy the problem. (Grand Forks Herald)

  • Tennessee: A judge ruled that the state must let all registered voters have the option to cast a mail ballot during the pandemic. The state’s attorney general plans to appeal. A Vanderbilt University poll found that a majority of Tennesseans support expanded absentee voting. (The Tennessean, WBIR, The Commercial Appeal)

  • Texas: A federal appeals court blocked expanded vote by mail until a full appeal is heard. (The Dallas Morning News)

  • Wisconsin: Republicans filed motions to halt a lawsuit by progressive groups who seek to facilitate voting, but the judge said the lawsuit can move ahead. (AP)

Election Law News

  • California: The legislature is considering two bills that require the state to set up at least one voting center per every 10,000 voters that opens at least four days before Election Day, as well as sending mail ballots to every registered voter for the general election. (LA Mag)

  • Iowa: The Senate passed legislation that would bar the secretary of state from changing the voting process during an emergency, which would prevent the secretary from sending mail ballot applications to all registered voters. Also, the legislature is currently considering changing the state constitution to restore voting rights to felons. The governor already signed legislation that would require felons to pay victim restitution before gaining the right to vote, and those guilty of certain crimes would require gubernatorial approval to vote. (Iowa Public Radio, Des Moines Register)

  • Kansas: The state is not moving to expand vote by mail, and the legislature passed a measure barring the governor from making changes to elections during the pandemic. (AP)

  • Massachusetts: The House of Representatives passed a bill to provide early and mail voting options for local, state and federal elections. (WHAV)

  • North Carolina: Legislators are considering a bill that would make it easier to vote by mail. (WRAL)

  • Ohio: The Senate will consider a bill that shortens the period to request an absentee ballot and forbids the secretary of state from paying for return postage of mail ballots and ballot applications. It also limits the governor’s ability to change elections. (

  • Vermont: Lawmakers advanced a bill that would give the secretary of state unilateral authority over vote by mail and would enable an all-mail election in the fall. (Seven Days)

Any newsroom can apply to be part of Electionland. We’re looking for newsrooms — especially local newsrooms — that will be dedicating resources to covering voting problems during the 2020 election. Radio, TV, online and print reporters are all encouraged to apply. Sign up here.

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