The November elections are shaping up to be debacles of long lines at polls, lost mail-in ballots and delayed results — all of which will give losers ample room to challenge the outcome.
President Trump’s suggestion last week that the elections be postponed drew little support from either Republicans or Democrats, but the president did identify a serious problem when he pointed out that New York is still counting votes from its botched June primaries.
The state has invalidated tens of thousands of ballots and has yet to declare winners in some of the June 23 contests. Primary day was seen as an early test of the push to expand mail-in balloting.
Republicans warn of mischief if mail-in voting predominates nationwide, and Mr. Trump has said he is not sure whether he will accept the results.
Democrats say in-person voting is dangerous and are pushing to expand mail-in voting as far as possible, though they say Mr. Trump is undercutting the U.S. Postal Service.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden has assembled a team of 600 lawyers and more than 10,000 election observers to prevent “chicanery.”
Trump supporters see an attempt by Mr. Biden to steal the contest.
“It is clear that when President Trump is reelected, the left will not accept that election result any more than they did the one four years ago which brought the president to office,” said Rick Manning, president of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Limited Government.
Voter ID requirements and time frames for early voting are perennial fights, but the major debate this year is over voting by mail and how easy states should make the process during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Democrats and liberal-leaning voter groups have rushed to courthouses in more than a dozen states asking judges to expand opportunities.
Some states have agreed to make changes on their own.
Rhode Island agreed to relax requirements for witness signatures on mailed ballots after the American Civil Liberties Union said the provision could lead to violations of social distancing restrictions.
Virginia also relaxed its signature rules, and the governor signed a bill from the Democratic-controlled state legislature allowing no-excuse absentee voting.
Similar challenges over witness requirements in North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Missouri, Minnesota and the Dakotas are moving through the court system.
Some Kentuckians are challenging the state’s photo ID requirement for mail-in ballots. They argue that coronavirus closures at the Department of Motor Vehicles make it impossible for voters to obtain driver’s licenses.
In Alabama, liberals won a decision from a lower court against some of the state’s rules on photo ID and witness signature requirements. The judge said voters would “risk death” by following the rules.
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, stayed that ruling in a 5-4 decision. The court said Alabama gave voters months to copy their IDs and have notaries public or two witnesses watch them sign their ballots.
The high court issued a similar ruling in April involving Wisconsin. A lower court granted nearly an extra week to receive absentee ballots, but the conservative wing of the high court struck down that change.
In Texas, where a valid excuse is still needed to vote absentee, Hispanic rights groups asked courts to create a coronavirus exception. They argued that fear of contracting COVID-19 should count as a disability, which is one of the specific exemptions in state law.
The Texas Supreme Court and a federal appeals court rejected that argument, and the U.S. Supreme Court left those rulings intact for the primaries. The matter could return to the justices before November.
Marge Baker, an executive vice president for People for the American Way, said the lawsuits must move forward because many states have significant barriers to mail-in voting despite the threat of coronavirus transmission at the polls.
“In Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign is actively trying to make it even harder to vote safely in November,” she said. “Democracies thrive where access to the ballot is streamlined, not where voters have to navigate a dangerous obstacle course and risk their health in order to cast their vote and have that vote counted.”
The Trump campaign has sued Pennsylvania, claiming its mail-in ballot system produced “chaos” during the state’s June primary with reports that people were dropping ballots at shopping centers and retirement centers.
California and other states, meanwhile, are planning to send a mail-in ballot to every registered voter this year.
That raises serious problems, said Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice.
“Common sense alone tells you that putting millions of blank ballots in the mail is a recipe for fraud,” he said.
He said blank ballots could be stolen and cast, or one person in a home could fill out someone else’s ballot without permission.
“Moreover, having mailed ballots sitting on every kitchen table is an invitation for activists to go door to door pressuring people to vote when they don’t want to or pressuring them to vote for a candidate they wouldn’t have otherwise voted for,” he said. “Republicans have the most reason to be concerned because research shows that voting fraud, when it occurs, tends to favor Democrat candidates.”
In Champaign County, Illinois, duplicative ballots were sent to voters who requested to vote by mail, according to an investigation by WCIA, a CBS News affiliate.
“This led to some voters receiving two, three, or possibly more duplicative ballots,” Rep. Rodney Davis, Illinois Republican, said in a letter to county officials.
As ranking member of the House Administration Committee, Mr. Davis launched inquiries of 10 cities and counties that experienced problems including the closure of in-person voting locations and stacks of unanswered absentee ballot requests.
He is demanding more congressional oversight of the millions of taxpayer dollars sent to these localities in the CARES Act, a coronavirus relief package approved in May.
“Less than 100 days until Election Day and we have yet to examine how states have used the $400 million Congress provided in the CARES Act to help administer elections during a pandemic,” Mr. Davis told The Washington Times. “That is this committee’s role, but Democrats are ignoring the reality by refusing to talk about the very real problems we saw play out in primaries across the country, which have mostly stemmed from moving too quickly to expand mail-in voting.”
House Democrats, though, are looking for more cash.
They criticized the Senate Republicans’ latest coronavirus relief bill for not including any additional money.
The House Democrats’ version includes $3.6 billion, which Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat and chair of the House Administration Committee, said will reduce crowding and support mail-in voting.