GOP voter suppression efforts pop up in Texas, Indiana, North Carolina courts
Robert Wilson reviews his selections on his ballot while voting at the town’s highway garage building, April 7, 2020 in Dunn, Wis. | John Hart / Wisconsin State Journal via AP

With three weeks to go until Election Day, over four million voters have already cast their ballots—more than 50 times the 75,000 early ballots cast in October 2016, and those statistics are projected to grow as the nation grips for another wave of coronavirus to hit. The current projection for voter turnout is around 150 million, about 65% of all eligible voters.

That would give 2020 the highest in turnout in a presidential election since 1908. The 2018 elections, which saw the highest midterm participation since 1914, serves as a preview for this year’s presidential election.

These staggering projections are worrisome to Trump’s re-election campaign and the GOP generally, as typically an increase in voter turnout—in this case, an increase coupled with the expansion of early, absentee, and mail-in ballots to offset the coronavirus’ impact on Election Day—signals a realignment, a flip-flop of the majority party.

Again, all of this could spell electoral disaster for the far-right GOP. Trump himself was caught saying, “They had levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” In simple terms: The easier it is to vote, the harder it is for the GOP to win.

It’s why this year’s election swing states are in the GOP’s legal crosshairs.

Last week, the GOP lost a bid to block absentee ballots in Wisconsin. This week, we have to turn and look at Texas, Indiana, and North Carolina.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, Oct. 7, that two million Houston voters cannot receive unsolicited mail ballot applications from local election officials scrambling to expand ways to vote Nov. 3 in the nation’s third-largest county, Harris County, which is a Democratic stronghold within that red state.

The decision by the all-Republican court sidestepped the issue of whether mail-in-voting was a safer option in the midst of a pandemic and instead held that current Texas law does not allow Harris County to send mass ballot applications.

“The question before us is not whether voting by mail is good policy or not, but what policy the Legislature has enacted. It is purely a question of law,” the court wrote in its ruling.

“We hold that the Election Code does not authorize an early-voting clerk to send an application to vote by mail to a voter who has not requested one and that a clerk’s doing so results in irreparable injury to the State.”

The Texas Democratic Party blasted the court’s ruling but still believes this year’s election is their biggest and best opportunity to shift the state’s political color a shade closer to blue.

“Once again, the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court steps into this election against the interests of voters and a functioning democracy,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.

This case is just one of several in Texas that will play out during these final weeks.

Moving over to the Midwest state of Indiana, a federal appeals court rejected a lawsuit aimed at making mail-in-ballots available to all Indiana voters because of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, Oct. 6, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a judge’s August ruling that state officials had discretion over how to allow mail voting and that voters not wanting to cast ballots on Election Day had the option of going to early voting locations for nearly a month before.

The Indiana Vote By Mail organization and several voters concerned about the risks of coronavirus exposure at polling stations sued election officials in April, seeking a court order to extend the no-excuse mail-in balloting that Indiana allowed in the spring primary election.

Currently, Indiana’s absentee ballot requirements only allow voters to cast mail-in-ballots if they fall into several specific categories, including being over the age of 65 or being away from their home state on Election Day.

“Indiana’s absentee-voting regime does not affect the Plaintiffs’ right to vote and does not violate the Constitution,” wrote the court.

“In the upcoming election, all Hoosiers, including Plaintiffs, can vote on election day, or during the early-voting period, at polling places all over Indiana. The court recognizes the difficulties that might accompany in-person voting during this time. But Indiana’s absentee-voting laws are not to blame. It’s the pandemic, not the State, that might affect the Plaintiffs’ determination to cast a ballot.”

Ultimately, this decision could negatively impact the projected record Indiana voter turnout.

Heading down south to North Carolina, U.S. District Judge William Osteen is consolidating arguments concerning a trio of lawsuits concerning how the state handles absentee ballots—the key issue being that all people casting absentee ballots must have their vote witnessed and vouched for by another voting-age adult.

Late last month, the State Board of Elections moved to allow voters to fix incomplete witness information by sending in a signed affidavit rather than starting over from scratch. The change drew harsh criticism from state GOP leaders and Trump campaign officials, who filed lawsuits challenging the changes before a federal judge in Raleigh.

The judge hearing those cases, U.S. District Judge James Dever, temporarily halted the changes and then transferred the two cases brought by GOP leaders to Osteen.

The key issue at the heart of the case is how local election boards should implement a state law requiring absentee voters to have another voting-age adult serve as a witness to the ballot and sign the envelope it will be sent in.

Following Wednesday afternoon arguments, Osteen raised sharp criticism against the procedure aimed at easing the ability to fix absentee ballot errors, but he declined to immediately rule on the tangled web of election-related lawsuits. He said he aims to issue a written decision by early next week after hearing further oral arguments on Thursday, Oct. 8.

Inside the courtroom, Osteen accused the North Carolina State Board of Elections of using his August ruling—saying that the state had to ensure voters were given due process to fix flawed ballots—as a “stepping stone” to remove the need for a ballot witness. He suggested the board could allow voters to skip having a witness completely but then have their vote counted anyway by sending an affidavit to county officials, thus “opening the door to (potential) voter fraud” in his view.

“You’ve extended my due process ruling into realms I never intended,” Osteen told a lawyer representing the state board.

So far, almost 395,000 absentee ballots have been accepted by the elections board, but 11,000 have been set aside due to various discrepancies needing further review.

As the countdown to Election Day continues, stay tuned here for further election updates coming out of the courts.

ELECTION 2020: Everything you need to know to vote in your state


CONTRIBUTOR

Al Neal
Al Neal

Al Neal is the associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World.

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