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This week in COVID-19 voting news

What it means for access to the ballot box during the pandemic
For Immediate Release

National

It was a wild week for the U.S. Postal Service. On Tuesday, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced he was suspending further operational cuts and changes until after the election. The cuts had resulted in service delays and concerns that the USPS would not be able to deliver election mail on time. DeJoy also agreed to testify before Congress next week after the House votes on a USPS relief package this weekend. Suspending the changes is a good move but more must be done to restore reliable service. 

As the USPS is engulfed in this political firestorm, election officials are racing to provide more options for people to safely vote. Their efforts include installing more drop boxes for ballots and securing large arenas to serve as socially distanced voting centers. All of these actions are happening despite the fact that efforts to secure federal funding for safe elections have stalled completely.

Finally, cybersecurity and elections officials joined the chorus in warning that due to the surge of people voting by mail, election results will take longer than usual to tabulate, and voters should be patient while awaiting results. 

Alaska

A recent USPS rule change could make it very difficult for rural Alaskans to vote. In Alaska, and several other states, absentee ballots must be signed by a witness who can verify the legitimacy of the ballot. Postal workers who often used to fill that role are no longer allowed to do so.

California

Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis re-launched the California Students Vote Project to increase voter participation and turnout from college students.

“Young people are the largest block of potential voters in this country, so we have the ability to shape our futures in this election if we vote,” said Nicolas Riani, a public affairs major at UCLA and the CALPIRG Students state board chair. “CALPIRG Students is excited to partner with the California Students Vote Project and work to register and turn out thousands of students to vote in this election.” 

Connecticut

Hartford’s state legislative delegation wrote a letter to Secretary of State Denise Merrill asking for additional drop boxes for voters, citing a lack of confidence in the USPS. This action follows President Trump’s remarks about withholding funding from the postal service. Previously, Merrill said that Connecticut voters should use a drop box instead of submitting their ballot in the mail. 

Florida

Election officials have noted a significant increase in people voting early and voting by mail. This includes President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, who recently submitted their mail-in ballots.

Kentucky

Kentucky, which requires voters to have an excuse for requesting an absentee ballot, will allow voters to use COVID-19 as a reason to cast their ballots by mail this November. The state is also expanding early voting in an attempt to reduce in-person traffic at voting stations on Election Day. 

Louisiana

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s proposed plan for November’s elections undoes most of the COVID-19 protections that were in place for Louisiana's previous elections this year. Louisiana requires voters to provide an excuse to vote by mail, and voters can only get a COVID-19 exemption if they test positive for the infection during the early voting period. 

Maryland

The state Board of Elections unanimously voted to start tabulating ballots on Oct. 1, the earliest start in the nation. This move is part of an effort to get ahead of what is expected to be a record number of ballots submitted by mail. 

Michigan

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson called on the legislature to change the law so that ballots postmarked by Election Day can be counted. During the primary, 6,400 voters postmarked their ballot by the day of the election, but their ballots were not counted because they were not received by 8 p.m. on the day of the primary. Given this information, the League of Women Voters asked the Michigan Supreme Court to reconsider the 8 p.m. deadline. 

New Jersey

All New Jersey voters will receive ballots in the mail, but due to the uncertainty surrounding the USPS and its funding, they will have multiple options to return their ballot: mail it in, put it in a drop box, or return it directly to a poll worker on Election Day. 

New Mexico

New Mexico is moving forward with a program that will allow voters to track ballots that they’ve mailed in via the USPS. This is just one of multiple electoral reforms adopted by the legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in response to COVID-19. 

New York

Gov. Andrew Cuomo finally signed legislation that allows all New York voters to use COVID-19 as a reason to vote by mail. 

Utah

State legislators introduced a bill to expand voting options for Utah voters, including additional ballot drop boxes and “drive-thru” voting. Utah has successfully implemented vote-by-mail elections for years. 

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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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U.S. PIRG is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.