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Electionland 2020: Masks at the Polls, Election Funding, Ex-Felon Enfranchisement and More

This week’s headlines on the latest vote by mail changes, a slew of litigation and Trump’s new takes on absentee voting.

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.

Voting During a Pandemic

  • The CDC says Milwaukee didn’t see a spike in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations or deaths after the April Wisconsin primary. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

  • More than 200 Ohio health care professionals sent a letter to the secretary of state calling for minimum requirements for polling places in the fall, including enforced social distancing and a mask mandate. (Cleveland.com)

  • Two employees at a Kansas county clerk office were diagnosed with COVID-19, and the other two employees were quarantined before this week’s primary. (Topeka Capital-Journal)

  • Some California counties are struggling to find locations for voting centers in the fall; at least two counties will use stadiums. In Texas, election administrators are getting creative and considering putting polling places in defunct banks, parking garages and hotel ballrooms. (KQED, KUT)

  • A Georgia voting rights activist started an organization that aims to recruit 5,000 young poll workers for the general election. (WSB-TV)

  • The governor of Maryland is facing a “massive backlash” over his election plan for the fall, which includes traditional precinct polling sites amid a historic poll worker shortage. (The Washington Post)

  • Michigan’s governor didn’t mandate masks at polling places to avoid constitutional questions of refusing to let maskless voters cast a ballot. (Frontline, Columbia Journalism Investigations and Detroit Free Press)

  • Wisconsin isn’t requiring masks at polling places. An elections official said poll workers must let people vote if they’re not wearing a mask, and voters who do wear masks won’t have to take them off to verify their identity. (WPR)

  • Chicago election officials won’t require masks at the polls in the fall. (Chicago Sun-Times)

  • In Missouri’s St. Louis County, masks were required at polling places during this week’s state primary, and workers gave out free masks. One voter said he refused to wear one and also turned down the option to vote from his car, so he didn’t vote. (STL Today)

  • Some Florida counties are still waiting for CARES Act funding for PPE and mail ballot costs, among other expenses. “I’ve sent emails up to the state and we’ve gotten no reply,” said Brian Corley, Pasco County elections supervisor. “We’re in the dark and we need it.” (WTSP)

  • In addition to surgical masks and face shields, New Hampshire ordered an estimated 16,000 KN95 masks for local election officials, but the state epidemiologist advised against giving them to poll workers. (NHPR)

  • “Being an election official is like somebody shoving you into a batting cage, honest to God,” said Tina Barton, clerk of Rochester Hills, Michigan. “Fastballs are coming at you from every direction, and you’ve got to be like this election ninja, trying to avoid getting hit.” (Politico)

Trump’s Takes on Mail Voting: A Timeline

  • July 30: In a tweet, Trump attacked “Universal Mail-in Voting,” praised “Absentee Voting” and suggested postponing the election, which he does not have the power to do. (Trump)

  • July 31: Stephen Miller, one of the president’s most influential advisers, falsely claimed that officials aren’t checking if mail voters are U.S. citizens. Meanwhile, the administration’s own intelligence officials dismissed the president’s claims that foreign powers could interfere with mail ballots. (TPM, CNN)

  • August 1: The president’s chief of staff backpedaled on Trump’s July 30 statement about trying to delay the election, and said that the election date will not change. (The Washington Post)

  • August 3: The president said he would sue Nevada for approving legislation to expand vote by mail. He also criticized mail voting in New York. At a press conference, Trump said “absentee is great,” but added that “universal mail-in ballots is going to be a great embarrassment to our country.” A senior White House official told The Washington Post that the White House plans to “repeatedly emphasize the risks of ’mass mail-in voting’ in upcoming months.” (Politico, The New York Times, The Washington Post)

  • August 4: Trump tweeted that Florida’s voting system is now “Safe and Secure” and encouraged Florida voters to vote by mail. He claimed “Florida’s Voting system has been cleaned up"; he’d made unfounded accusations of fraud in Florida in 2018. (An elections researcher pointed out that more Democrats have requested mail ballots than Republicans in that state. A Democratic strategist tweeted: “[M]y GOP friends probably wish he had tweeted this before torching Republican confidence in vote by mail, and in the same fire, burning 25 years of investments to build up a VBM machine.") Later that day, the Trump campaign sued Nevada. (Trump, Michael McDonald, Steve Schale, Courthouse News)

  • August 5: The president tweeted a criticism of Nevada’s mail ballot system, and praised Florida’s. In an Oval Office meeting that day, the governor of Arizona defended the state’s vote by mail system. (Trump, KJZZ)

Vote by Mail News

  • In July, a consortium of university researchers conducted a 50-state survey on who plans to vote by mail in November. The lowest percentage of voters who said they were somewhat or very likely to vote by mail was 39% (Tennessee) and the highest was 94% (Washington). (The COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States)

  • The governor of Kentucky is working with the secretary of state to come up with a plan for no-excuse absentee voting for the general election. (Lex18)

  • Pennsylvania will pay for postage on mail ballots in the fall. (NBC Philadelphia)

  • During this month’s state primary, Kansas saw a 515% increase in requests for mail ballots compared to 2018. (Lawrence Journal-World)

  • The House Oversight Committee asked the new postmaster general, a Trump appointee, to testify in September. (Axios)

  • Virginia voters will be able to track their mail ballots like a package, thanks to a new rule approved by the state board of elections. (WTOP)

Mail Voting Problems

  • There are reports that some Missouri voters hadn’t received their absentee ballots before this week’s state primary. (KSDK, KCTV)

  • A confusing white label affixed to absentee ballot envelopes in Detroit may have caused ballots to be returned to voters. The USPS said it would work with election officials to redesign the ballots for the next election. (WDET)

  • In at least a dozen states, voters reported never receiving the absentee ballots they requested during the primaries. (538)

  • As of a week before the primary, more than 20,000 Connecticut voters hadn’t received their absentee ballots. (Hartford Courant)

  • Some Black voters are distrustful of mail voting and plan to vote in person. (AP)

  • Kentucky officials rejected more than 32,000 mail ballots from the June primary; more than a quarter of the rejections stemmed from a problem with the inner envelope. (The Guardian)

  • The USPS reportedly had trouble processing some of New York’s prepaid envelopes for mail ballots, which led to some votes getting thrown out for lacking a postmark. (The New York Times)

  • Mail delays caused by cost-cutting procedures at USPS are worrying postal workers and voters alike. (The Washington Post)

Voter Enfranchisement Stories

  • Demetrius Titus, a formerly incarcerated Michigan voter, on why he’s voting in the upcoming election: “When I came home, I wanted to shout as loud as I could to be heard. I actually feel now that although I only have one voice, it carries the weight of hundreds of men and women that I personally know who are left back in prison.” (Detroit Free Press)

  • Some inmates in Florida jails are eligible to vote, though there’s a lot of variation in how accessible jails make the process. In Arizona, efforts are underway to help eligible jail inmates to vote. (WFSU, Arizona Republic)

  • Hawaii has made it easier for visually impaired voters to cast a ballot from home. (Honolulu Civil Beat)

  • Michael Jordan and his brand are donating $2.5 million to fight Black voter suppression. (Nike)

Election Law News

  • Iowa: The governor signed an executive order to enfranchise former felons, which will allow them to vote in the fall. (Des Moines Register)

  • Louisiana: With no current plan to expand absentee voting, the Louisiana secretary of state said he’s in conversation with legislators and the governor about a potential emergency election plan for the fall. (The Advocate)

  • Nevada: The governor signed legislation to expand vote by mail for the general election. (KSNV, Reno Gazette Journal)

  • Ohio: The secretary of state said it’s up to the attorney general to issue a legal opinion so that counties can add more ballot dropboxes. (Local12)

  • Pennsylvania: The Department of State asked legislators to mandate that counties send out absentee ballots earlier for the November election, and issued a series of recommendations to legislators to change the election code before November. (The Morning Call, Penn Live)

  • National: House Republicans introduced the Emergency Assistance for Safe Elections (EASE) Act, which would provide $400 million to states for the general election. Separately, the House passed an appropriations bill that includes $500 million for election security. The House subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Innovation held a hearing and discussed the need for further election funding. (The Hill, Courthouse News)

The Latest From The Courts

  • Florida: Nineteen states and the District of Columbia filed a brief asking an appeals court to rule against the state in its ex-felon voting case. (Politico)

  • Indiana: Advocacy groups are challenging the state’s deadline for receiving absentee ballots. (The Statehouse File)

  • Louisiana: Voting rights groups are suing the state over its lack of vote by mail options. (AP)

  • Michigan: The state Supreme Court will not hear a case trying to extend the deadline to receive absentee ballots. (AP)

  • Minnesota: Voters will not need witness signatures to submit an absentee ballot this fall, a judge decided. Also, ballots will be counted if they arrive within a week of the election as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3. In the ruling, the judge cited a Trump tweet. A group of voters backed by GOP legislators are suing the state over its mask requirement at polling places. (Star Tribune, Sam Levine, MPR)

  • Nevada: The Trump campaign filed a lawsuit to try to halt the state’s expansion of mail voting. (Reno Gazette Journal)

  • New York: A judge ruled that the state must count thousands of absentee ballots from the primary that are missing a postmark. The Board of Elections is appealing. (Gothamist, NY1)

  • Ohio: Two lawsuits were filed against the state: one to allow voters to make online requests for absentee ballots and another over its signature match system for mail ballots. (Cleveland.com)

  • North Carolina: A federal judge ruled that the state must notify voters with rejected ballots and offer a way to fix any mistakes that were found. However, the judge kept in place the state’s witness requirement for mail ballots. (News & Observer)

  • South Carolina: Two high-risk voters asked for an emergency Supreme Court hearing on the state’s voting law, which they say doesn’t protect vulnerable voters. (The State)

  • Tennessee: The state Supreme Court struck down the state’s expanded vote by mail system. (AP)

  • National: The Brennan Center published a state-by-state voting rights litigation tracker; constitutional law professor Justin Levitt also put together a list. (Brennan Center, Election Law Blog)

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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Portrait of Rachel Glickhouse

Rachel Glickhouse

Rachel Glickhouse is a journalist and the partner manager for the Electionland project.

About Electionland

ProPublica’s Electionland project covers problems that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots during the 2020 elections. Our coalition of newsrooms around the country are investigating issues related to voter registration, pandemic-related changes to voting, the shift to vote-by-mail, cybersecurity, voter education, misinformation, and more.

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