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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

Amid ongoing mail delays, time is running out for voters who wish to vote by mail to get their ballots to their local elections officials. With less than two weeks before Election Day, we are well within the USPS recommended 14-day timeline to request, receive and return a mail-in ballot

While we know that waiting for mail-in ballots will take time, other factors could also contribute to incomplete election results on the night of Nov. 3. An expected increase in provisional ballots, issued to in-person voters whose registration status wasn’t verifiable on Election Day, could also contribute to delayed results. 

To help ease public concerns during this election with what seems to be an ever-increasing number of variables, a bipartisan voting rights group launched a campaign to reassure voters that our elections systems are fundamentally safe and secure. And while the voting and results are secure, that doesn’t mean we should not be vigilant against real efforts by malicious foreign actors to confuse or intimidate voters and sow doubts about the election results

Alabama

In a 5-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the state of Alabama to ban the practice of curbside voting. As a safety precaution, some Alabama counties had planned to offer curbside voting to elderly, disabled or at-risk voters. 

Arizona

Arizona began counting ballots this week. The state has already received more than 1 million ballots. Early counting should enable the state to know results earlier than states that don’t start tabulating ballots until Election Day. 

Colorado

In addition to its standard practice of mailing all registered voters ballots, Colorado has adopted a host of safety measures to ensure that those voters who choose to cast their ballots in person can do so as safely as possible.

Maryland

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, voters in Baltimore who opt to vote in person will have their temperature checked at registration. If a person has a high temperature, they will still be able to cast their ballots but will need to do so in a separate, isolated area.

Michigan

Mail-in ballots now have to be received by Election Day. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed an earlier decision that permitted ballots postmarked by Election Day, but received within 14 days, to be counted. 

Mississippi

A new rule adopted by Secretary of State Michael Watson will create more options for safe voting during the pandemic. Voters exposed to or exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms will be able to cast their ballots curbside. Additionally, Missippians who choose to vote by mail will now have an opportunity to cure their mail-in ballots if election officials discover a problem with the ballot.  

Oregon

A new study from the first state to move to all mail-in voting found, yet again, that vote-by-mail voter fraud is exceedingly rare

Pennsylvania

A 4-4 non-decision by the U.S. Supreme Court means that Pennsylvania will be allowed to count ballots that are postmarked by Election Day but arrive up to three days after Election Day. Meanwhile, the state legislature failed to pass any bill to allow ballots received prior to Election Day to be either counted or prepared for counting. This significantly increases the likelihood that we will not know the state’s election results on election night.

Tennessee

The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that first-time voters are eligible to vote by absentee ballot. State law had held that first-time voters must vote in person in order to have their identity verified. The ruling means that first-time voters will have the opportunity to vote safely via mail-in ballot during the pandemic. 

Texas

The 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that if election officials cannot verify the signature on an absentee ballot, they can reject the ballot without notifying the voter. The voter would then be notified after the election that their ballot was not counted. This decision is a reversal of a previous injunction that had required officials to either not use the signature matching standard or provide the voter an opportunity to correct their ballot. 

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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.