Using the courts to expand and safeguard vote by mail in November

Elections matter, and all too often, small differences in voting totals can change the course of history.

Every time there is a long line at a polling place, every time a ballot isn’t counted, and every time voting is anything but a straightforward, simple process accessible to all citizens, it’s a threat to our democracy.

Support for free and fair voting should be universal. But the reality is that there are forces actively seeking to undermine our elections by preventing access to the ballot box. They promote unjust laws that are designed to manipulate and suppress who votes. We saw this most recently in Wisconsin, where the Republicans refused to postpone the election in the midst of a global pandemic. They also delayed absentee ballots and closed polling locations in communities of color. The result? Long lines and suppressed turnout among minorities and young voters. And over 50 Wisconsin voters and poll workers have since tested positive for the coronavirus.

We’re in the midst of a global pandemic, and it’s up to us to prevent a public health crisis from exacerbating a democratic one.

The solution? Dramatically expanding and safeguarding vote by mail so that Americans can safely cast their ballots this November.

That’s why Onward Together is proud to partner with Democracy Docket to help fund the litigation necessary to bring about changes in state laws to protect voters in this election and all that follow.

The good news is that we have the data to understand how best to make sure we protect voting rights, by implementing 4 essential requirements:

1. Postage must be free or prepaid by the government: No voter should have to pay to cast their ballot, period. Postage should either be free or prepaid.

2. Ballots postmarked on or before Election Day must be counted: Many states reject all ballots received after Election Day, even if postmarked on or before Election Day. If you look at Maricopa County, Arizona — a swing county — the received-by-Election Day deadline is four times more likely to disenfranchise Hispanic voters than white voters, and more than five times more likely to disenfranchise Native American voters than white voters.

3. Signature matching laws need to be reformed to protect voters: Studies have shown that ballots cast by young and minority voters are much more likely to be rejected than those from older and white voters. In a study of Florida’s 2018 election results, the rejection rate for vote by mail ballots for those ages 18 to 21 was 5.4% compared to .6% for those over 65. Mail-in ballots cast by Black, Hispanic, and other racial and ethnic minorities were more than twice as likely to be rejected than mail ballots cast by white absentee mail voters. In total, 31,969 ballots cast by voters in that election did not count; the final vote margins were 10,033 votes for the US Senate race and 32,463 votes for the gubernatorial race.

4. Community organizations should be allowed to help collect and deliver sealed ballots: Across the country, community organizations play a vital role in collecting and delivering sealed mail ballots for counting. Voters without easy access to secure and reliable outgoing mail, or who need extra help to get their ballots delivered, rely on this practice. But across the country we’ve seen laws pop up that prevent voters from participating in our democracy through their churches and other community organizations.

In order to successfully sue states to protect voting rights, the Democracy Docket team needs to hire experts, conduct data analysis, draft complaints, and identify plaintiffs. We’ve already had some big victories. Most recently, the Democracy Docket legal team successfully won an emergency vote by mail lawsuit in the South Carolina Supreme Court that allows all South Carolina voters to request a mail-in ballot for the upcoming June primary. In the 2020 Wisconsin primary, as a direct result of the Democracy Docket lawyers’ efforts in court, the state’s Election Day receipt of mail ballot deadline was replaced by a postmarked by Election Day deadline. The result: 142,000 ballots were counted that would have otherwise been discarded, and the voters who cast them were protected against disenfranchisement.

States where we are considering new voting rights litigation include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

What we saw in Wisconsin is only the beginning of what Republicans are planning for November. In fact, just recently the RNC announced that they would double their litigation budget to $20 million to keep these discriminatory laws on the books. Expanding and safeguarding vote by mail is the first step to protecting public health and our democracy — and filing these lawsuits now will ensure that young voters and voters in communities of color are given an equal opportunity to have their votes counted.

Voting is the most precious right of every citizen, and we have a Constitutional obligation to ensure the integrity of our voting process. Please join us.

Join Onward Together