Republicans sue to disqualify mail ballots in swing states


Republican officials and candidates in at least three battleground states are forcing thousands of mail-in ballots to be rejected after urging supporters to vote on Election Day, in what critics call a concerted effort to suppress partisan voters say.

In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court agreed with the Republican National Committee that election officials must count ballots on which the voter did not notice a date on the outer envelope — even in cases where ballots arrive before Election Day. As a result, thousands of ballots were allocated, which is enough for a close race.

In Michigan, Kristina Karamo, the Republican nominee for secretary of state, sued the top election official in Detroit last month, demanding that absentee ballots not cast in person with identification be counted, even though it is against state requirements. When asked at a recent court hearing, Karamo’s attorney declined to say why the lawsuit targets Detroit, a heavily Democratic, majority-Black city, and not the entire state.

And in Wisconsin, Republicans won a court order that would prevent some mail-in votes from being counted when the required witness address is incomplete.

For the past two years, Republicans have waged a sustained campaign against alleged voter fraud. Experts say the lawsuit — which could significantly affect Tuesday’s vote — reflects a parallel strategy by the lawsuit to disqualify mail-in ballots on technical grounds. While the denials may have some basis in state law, experts say they appear to run counter to a principle, enshrined in federal law, of disenfranchising voters for minor mistakes.

The suits coincides with a systematic effort by Republicans — led by former President Donald Trump — to persuade GOP voters to vote only on Election Day. Critics argue that the overall goal is segregation Republicans and Democrats are using the ballot method and then lawsuits to invalidate mail-in ballots that are overwhelmingly Democratic.

Ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, most Americans say democracy is under threat. These are efforts to protect it. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

“They’re looking for any advantage they can get, and they figure this is a way they can win more seats,” said Sylvia Albert, director of polling and elections for Common Cause, a nonpartisan democracy advocacy organization. “The study found that absentee ballots are more likely to be cast if they are cast by young people and people of color, who are not typically seen as the Republican base.”

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Albert said legal battles over the right to vote by mail have the potential to delay and even change the results. In some cases, disputes can end up before the United States Supreme Court.

The potential for chaos is especially high in Pennsylvania, where the legal battle is ongoing and could affect or delay it. results in some of the tightest races in the state, including one that could determine control of the U.S. Senate.

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Emma Vaughn said in a statement that the committee filed in Pennsylvania “because we’re simply asking counties to follow state law, which, by the way, dozens of Democrats supported.”

“We look forward to continuing our legal actions to ensure that the election is governed by this bipartisan rule of law,” Vaughn added.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) issued a statement Sunday night saying that “no voter should be disenfranchised just because they made a small mistake in filling out their ballot.”

“This has not been a controversial concept in our country or our commonwealth until recently, with the rise of the Big Lie and efforts to spread misinformation and disinformation in the days leading up to the general election,” Wolf continued. “I urge the counties to continue to make every vote count.”

Election officials are bracing for a repeat of a long-running standoff following Pennsylvania’s May primary election between state officials and three counties — Berks, Fayette and Lancaster — that refused to include undated ballots in their certified results.

The Wolf administration sued those counties in July to force them to include ballots, most of which were cast by Democrats, court records show. In August, a state judge ordered counties to include “all legally cast ballots,” including those with missing dates, in their certified returns.

Republicans then successfully persuaded the state Supreme Court to reverse that policy for the general election in a ruling released last week. A state court ruled on whether the denial of ballots violated voters’ federal civil rights.

Common Cause and others soon filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the state court’s decision on the grounds that the denial of votes due to a technical error violated the Civil Rights Act. The case is still ongoing.

The complaint says the date printed on the postal ballot envelope is a “meaningless technicality” that has no effect on officials’ ability to judge whether a vote was cast by a qualified voter on time.

Federal courts have weighed in on the issue before: Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that not counting undated mail ballots violated federal civil rights laws. However, the Supreme Court of the United States added uncertainty to this issue and decided to dismiss the case, since the election in question had already passed.

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Meanwhile, there are voting rights groups and others launched a full legal press to inform voters across Pennsylvania the ballots were rejected and needed to be corrected or replaced. According to data compiled by the Pennsylvania Department of State, at least 7,000 such ballots across the state have been rejected for a variety of reasons, including the date of loss. Activists said the number could be much higher because many counties have refused to release the information.

In Philadelphia, The state’s largest city and a Democratic stronghold, more than 2,000 such ballots were rejected. Election officials posted voter lists online with instructions to come to City Hall on Election Day to cast a proxy vote. Nick Custodio, deputy city commissioner, said in a phone interview that a steady number of residents turned out to vote again over the weekend.

Shoshanna Israel, a coordinator with the liberal Working Families Party in Philadelphia, said her organization has recruited 49 volunteers to contact voters with ballots that need verification. The group has contacted 1,800 voters since last Tuesday.

But not everyone can reach the City Hall.

“I am totally disabled,” he said Jean Terrizzi, 95, who was returned as a ballot with a missing date. She added that she had an important doctor’s appointment on Monday and would just “let it go” and not have her vote counted.

“This voting situation is terrible,” she said, declining to reveal her political affiliation. “It’s so embarrassing.”

Republicans have also sued to block counties from notifying absentee voters of their voting history to give them a chance to correct them. The attempt failed, but counties can choose whether to do it or not, meaning not all voters will be given a chance to correct voting errors.

A small number of votes can make the difference in the kinds of close races that Pennsylvania has grown accustomed to.

“If you can eliminate 1 percent of the vote and it tends to be Democratic, then that gives you that statistical advantage,” said Clifford Levine, a Pittsburgh election attorney for the Democrats.

“This is not about stopping fraud,” Levine said. “It’s about lowering postal votes. There’s just no question.”

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Republican candidates in Pennsylvania, including gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, have loudly urged supporters to vote on Election Day, not by mail.

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Jeff Mandell, a Democratic election lawyer in Wisconsin, said there has been little concerted effort in that state to lead Republicans on Election Day, although Trump has done so in one appearance this year.

Under Wisconsin law, an absentee voter is required to find a witness — usually a spouse, relative or friend — to verify that the voter has legally completed voting. The witness must sign the ballot envelope and give an address.

Former President Donald Trump said on July 26, “Our goal should be same-day voting with paper ballots only.” (Video: The Washington Post)

Republicans successfully sued this year issuing guidance from the Wisconsin Elections Commission that allows local election officials to fill in incomplete witness addresses on ballots. While voting rights groups sought new guidelines What missing elements in the address would allow the ballot to be cast, the judges ruled that it was too close to the election to change state policy.

“There is a concerted effort by the Republican establishment, the party, and others who work with it, as well as Republican leaders in the House, to disrupt absentee voting and make it more difficult for people to vote that way,” Mandell said. Mandell said.

How many votes are cast and counted in the courtrooms, the decision is made

Wisconsin Republicans who spoke about the case said state law is clear that only a voter can correct an incomplete list.

“The illegal conduct of the vote cannot and will not be allowed to continue,” Senate Republican Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said in a statement released at the time. “We are putting the full weight of the council behind this case to bring it to a close [the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s] It is a violation of the law.”

Republicans and Democrats in Michigan say they think the lawsuit filed by Karamo, the GOP secretary of state candidate has little chance of success. Democratic Elections Attorney Mark Brewer called Karamo’s case “racist, senseless and punitive.”

In a text message, Karamo’s attorney, Daniel Hartman, said the candidate, who is black, sued in Detroit in part because of what he described as the city’s history of election security violations. Karamo is an outspoken supporter of the baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

Even if the fit fails, other challenges arise: In recent days, County employees are recruited throughout Michigan emails from organized groups that attempt to dispute the eligibility of voters who requested to vote or cast absentee ballots; suggesting there may be more to come.

Tom Hamburger in Washington and Patrick Marley in Madison, Wis., contributed to this report.


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