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U.S. PIRG and its state affiliates are working to ensure that every eligible American voter has the ability to participate in democracy, even during a pandemic. We’re calling on states to start preparing now to ensure safe elections in November, including emergency expansion of vote by mail, sanitized and socially-distant polling places and other measures.
This weekly update highlights the work we’re doing on the COVID-19 voting front, and other important developments in the news. If you have questions or comments, please email Joe Ready (email@example.com) or Ross Sherman (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The clock is ticking on our ability to prepare safe elections for the fall. Based on a report by the Brennan Center, this Axios piece outlines many hard deadlines that states must meet -- from ordering paper ballots to accommodate the increase in vote by mail to rolling out online absentee application systems. Some of those deadlines occur as soon as next month.
Also this week, it was impossible to ignore the ongoing misinformation and baseless attacks from President Trump on state efforts to make it safer to vote during the pandemic. Aside from the fact that despite his claims, voter fraud is incredibly rare, this rhetoric has the potential to undermine confidence in our democracy. As we said last week, expectations need to be set now that because of more mail-in voting, we probably won’t know the winner on Election Night, and the whole process could take days. The president should be leading that effort, not undermining it.
A bill to significantly expand voting by mail, early voting and safe in-person voting options for the November election passed through a Senate committee Thursday. Illinois PIRG is working with a statewide coalition, Just Democracy Illinois, to get the bill passed and signed into law.
A bill that would have expanded voting at home failed in a House committee Tuesday. If passed, it would have allowed all registered voters to cast their ballots by mail in all state elections, including the presidential election. In Louisiana, voters can only receive an absentee ballot if they have an “excuse,” which does not currently include COVID-19.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced Tuesday that all of Michigan’s registered voters would be mailed an absentee voter application for both the August and November elections. As she put it, “By mailing applications, we have ensured that no Michigander has to choose between their health and their right to vote. Voting by mail is easy, convenient, safe and secure, and every voter in Michigan has the right to do it.”
Our state affiliate MASSPIRG joined a press conference Wednesday urging swift passage of a bill that would expand vote by mail opportunities to all residents. The legislation, introduced earlier this month, would ensure that all voters have the option to vote absentee, extend early voting periods, and allow general election ballots postmarked on or before November 3 to be counted, among other positive changes.
State lawmakers approved a bill last week that would allow any registered voter to cast their ballot by mail this year. If signed by the governor, voters can use COVID-19 as an excuse for voting absentee if they are over 65 or live in a nursing home, or have a condition that makes them immunocompromised. Voters that don’t fit under those categories can also vote by mail, but they need to have their ballot notarized.
In the latest court decision related to vote by mail in Texas, a federal judge ruled Tuesday that any voter, not just those over the age of 65, could vote by mail in upcoming elections without needing to provide an excuse. This decision would represent a dramatic and much-needed expansion of safe voting options during the pandemic. The Texas attorney general said he would immediately appeal the decision.
A state government report was published last Friday which analyzed the absentee voting results from Wisconsin’s April elections, and made several important recommendations to improve upon it for upcoming elections. Recommendations include improving the ballot request process and implementing a more uniform ballot tracking system. The numbers from the April 7 elections showed that because of COVID-19, total ballots cast by mail easily broke the previous record for any statewide election. However, because many of the absentee voting requests occurred at the last minute, there were issues that need to be addressed for future elections.
U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.
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