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Electionland 2020: North Carolina Mail Voting, In-Person Voting Starts, Naked Ballots and More

This week’s headlines on a Texas malware attack, Ohio drop boxes and the latest litigation.

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In North Carolina, Black Voters’ Mail-In Ballots Much More Likely to Be Rejected Than Those From Any Other Race

Black voters were more than twice as likely to have mail-in ballots rejected than those submitted by the state’s white voters in 2018, and rejection rates for 2020 show a similar pattern, according to a new analysis by ProPublica and WRAL News. Read the story.

Foreign Hackers Cripple Texas County’s Email System, Raising Election Security Concerns

The malware attack, which sent fake email replies to voters and businesses, spotlights an overlooked vulnerability in counties that don’t follow best practices for computer security. Read the story.

Before Limiting Ballot Drop Boxes to One Per County, Top Ohio Election Officials Secretly Consulted Promoter of Debunked Voting Fraud Fears

After Black union workers petitioned the state for more secure ballot drop boxes, top election officials called Hans von Spakovsky, a leading purveyor of discredited voting fraud claims, and then put a strict limit on the boxes instead. Read the story.

In-person Voting Begins

  • Early in-person voting began last Friday, with polls opening in Virginia, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wyoming. (New York Times)

  • Some Virginia voters waited in long, socially-distanced lines to cast an early ballot, and there were signs of high turnout in the other three states. (CNN)

  • A group of Trump supporters disrupted early voting with a demonstration in front of a polling site in Virginia, which officials said made some voters and staff feel intimidated. (The New York Times)
  • More than half of U.S. voters say they will vote before Election Day, and 39% plan to vote by mail, according to a new poll from the Associated Press–NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (Marketwatch)

2020 Election Challenges

  • Two major challenges to this year’s election: getting enough poll workers and making sure people fill out their mail-in ballots correctly, researcher Charles Stewart III says. (Science)
  • FBI Director Christopher Wray told a House panel last week that disinformation and foreign meddling risk undermining public confidence in U.S. elections. (NPR)
  • Former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats calls on Congress to create a high-level bipartisan commission to monitor the 2020 election and reassure the public. (The New York Times)
  • With litigation and legislation still ongoing, local election officials are struggling to keep up with the changing rules — and a flood of mail-in ballots — ahead of Election Day. (NPR)
  • A bill filed in Massachusetts would keep state police, sheriffs and deputies away from polling places unless they have special permission. (WBUR)
  • One Florida election official says his office is getting creative about in-person voting, including buying Q-tips from Dollar Tree for voters to use on iPads to avoid the cost of pens and styluses. (NPR)
  • Former 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Mike Bloomberg has raised $16 million to pay the outstanding fines for nearly 32,000 registered Florida voters who have felony convictions. Rep. Matt Gaetz said Bloomberg could be violating Florida law, and the state attorney general sent a letter to law enforcement agencies asking them to investigate potential violations of election law. (Washington Post, WTSP)

Keeping Voters Informed

  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Friday that makes it a misdemeanor to intentionally mislead voters about voting by mail. (KCAL)
  • Some voters who already requested a mail-in ballot were confused by a letter from the Illinois secretary of state about applying for a ballot. (Chicago Sun-Times, CBS Chicago)
  • An Oklahoma nonprofit dedicated to voter education sent a letter encouraging voters to register, confusing some voters who are already on the rolls. (Tulsa World)
  • Iowa’s voter registration form has not been updated to reflect an executive order last month that restored voting rights to thousands of felons who have completed their sentences. (Des Moines Register)
  • Florida sent postcards to 2.24 million residents who are not registered to vote, but with less than three weeks to go before registration closes, critics say it’s too little, too late. (Tallahassee Democrat)
  • Canvassers for civic engagement group Mi Familia Vota have also become lifelines for Arizona families hard-hit by the pandemic, passing along resources for help with rent and food while conducting door-to-door outreach. (Los Angeles Times)

Vote by Mail News

  • As of Sept. 24, more than 65.3 million voters had requested absentee ballots across 31 states and the District of Columbia. (New York Times)
  • Forty-six states now allow voters to track their mail-in ballots. (NBC News)
  • The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered election officials to throw out any “naked ballots” that are mailed back without the inner secrecy envelope provided to voters. Philadelphia’s city commission chair warned that the ruling could invalidate thousands of ballots and lead to “significant postelection legal controversy, the likes of which we have not seen since Florida in 2000.” (Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • Election officials in North Carolina are rejecting Black voters’ absentee ballots at nearly three times the rate of white voters. (Charlotte Observer, Five Thirty Eight)
  • North Carolina’s board of elections has agreed to let voters fix basic errors on mail-in ballots instead of filling out new ones, as part of a tentative settlement with a group that represents retirees. (Raleigh News and Observer)
  • Some states have changed the rules about ballot mistakes or ballot design to try to prevent mail-in ballots from being thrown out. (The New York Times)
  • A Michigan prosecutor will not pursue charges against a homeowner who placed a toilet and a sign that read “place mail-in ballots here” on their front lawn. (Lansing State Journal, The Hill)
  • Ohio politicians are urging the state’s top elections officer to abide by a court order and allow more dropboxes for absentee ballots across the state, instead of just one per county. (Mahoning Matters)
  • Some Mississippi voters are unsure how to cast their ballots as a lawsuit over the state’s in-person voting requirements works its way through the courts. (NBC News)
  • Wisconsin will not allow election “deputies” to visit nursing homes and assist residents with mail-in voting this year, citing concerns about the spread of COVID-19. (WFJW)
  • Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has come out against plans to allow some hospital patients and nursing home residents to cast their ballots via video conference. (Arizona Republic)
  • The cast of the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation” reunited for a virtual workshop to teach Wisconsin voters how to absentee vote as part of a fundraiser on behalf of the state’s Democratic Party. (NPR)
  • The Postal Service says groups can leave voter registration forms and absentee ballot request paperwork in post offices. That comes a month after the Texas League of Women Voters said volunteers around Houston had been blocked from doing so. (Houston Public Media, KUT)

The Trump Administration and Voting

  • At a rally Saturday, President Donald Trump said: “We’re going to have a victory on November 3rd the likes of which you’ve never seen. Now, we’re counting on the federal court system to make it so that we can actually have an evening where we know who wins. Not where the votes are going to be counted a week later or two weeks later.” (Politico)
  • Though Trump has frequently lambasted mail-in voting, on Monday he encouraged Michigan voters to take advantage of absentee voting. (Detroit News)
  • On Wednesday, Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if Biden wins the election. (The Washington Post)
  • The Trump campaign has filed at least 11 cases on mail-in voting in addition to half a dozen lawsuits filed with the Republican National Committee. (BuzzFeed News)
  • The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights spent months researching threats to voting rights, but the recommendations it compiled won’t be published after conservative members voted against releasing them. (USA Today)

The Latest Lawsuits

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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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