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Electionland 2020: DeJoy Under Fire, Election Administrators, Pandemic Voting and More

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This article is part of Electionland, ProPublica’s collaborative reporting project covering problems that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots during the 2020 elections.

 

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What the Post Office Needs to Survive a Pandemic Election

Fueled by the president’s unfounded claims about rampant mail-in voter fraud, and reports of sorting equipment being removed, the plight of the United States Postal Service has captured America’s attention. Will it collapse? Here’s what you need to know.

For Election Administrators, Death Threats Have Become Part of the Job

In a polarized society, the bureaucrats who operate the machinery of democracy are taking flak from all sides. More than 20 have resigned or retired since March 1, thinning their ranks at a time when they are most needed. Read the story.

What’s Happening with USPS?

  • After coming under fire for reported mail delays and the removal of mail-sorting machines, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy suspended operational changes at USPS until after the election. Over the weekend, protestors gathered in front of his D.C. and North Carolina homes. (NBC News, DCist, CBS 17)
  • DeJoy is slated to testify before Congress on Friday after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the House back into session to address the USPS crisis. A bipartisan group of secretaries of state are also demanding to meet with DeJoy. (USA Today, Politico, The Hill)
  • On Wednesday, Pelosi met with DeJoy and released a statement saying that the postmaster general did not intend to reverse changes that already took place, like replacing machines and other infrastructure. “All of these changes directly jeopardize the election and disproportionately threaten to disenfranchise voters in communities of color,” Pelosi said. (Speaker.gov)
  • Around 90 House Democrats called on the USPS Board of Governors to remove DeJoy as postal worker representatives reported “little to no change” since DeJoy said he’d suspend the agency overhaul. (The Washington Post)
  • House Democrats introduced legislation that would provide $25 billion to USPS and would mandate same-day processing for mail ballots, though the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate. (Reuters)
  • A coalition of voting rights groups sued the postmaster general. Washington’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against the USPS along with a dozen other states. Pennsylvania will also file a suit with five other states. (League of Women Voters, AP)
  • An internal USPS watchdog is investigating DeJoy’s potential conflicts of interest. (CNN)
  • The Postal Service sent letters to 46 states and the District of Columbia warning that, because of problematic state absentee ballot deadlines, it couldn’t guarantee delivery for all mail ballots in time to be counted in November. (Washington Post)
  • UPS and FedEx publicly warned that they cannot deliver ballots. (Reuters)
  • Out of 13 postal districts in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin and North Carolina, four failed to meet on-time service goals for first-class mail between April 1 and June 30, and six districts managed only one. (Wisconsin Watch/APM Reports)
  • USPS woes are driving some election officials to look for alternatives to sending ballots in the mail, including more dropboxes, drive-thru options, and more in-person voting. (The New York Times, The Washington Post)
  • In a new rule, the USPS has prohibited employees from signing absentee ballots as witnesses while on duty, which could affect voters in states with witness requirements, particularly in rural areas. (Anchorage Daily News)
  • A former USPS official told lawmakers that he raised concerns about DeJoy’s hiring and accused the treasury secretary of politicizing the Postal Service. (The New York Times)

Trump’s Latest Takes on Voting

  • President Donald Trump voted by mail in Florida’s primary on Tuesday, in spite of his constant attacks on mail voting. (Palm Beach Post)
  • On Monday, Trump raised unfounded concerns about mail ballot drop boxes. (Bloomberg)
  • On Wednesday, Trump tweeted: “IF YOU CAN PROTEST IN PERSON, YOU CAN VOTE IN PERSON!” The statement used similar language to an August 16 tweet from a far-right activist whom Trump has previously retweeted. (Twitter)
  • The GOP is promoting mail voting around the country, in spite of Trump’s attacks. Some North Carolina voters have received absentee ballot request forms with Trump’s face on them. Ohio Republicans also sent out a similar mailer with a quote from Trump praising absentee voting. (Politico, WRAL, Henry Gomez)
  • Facebook’s initiative to register voters got off to a slow and bumpy start after the Trump campaign falsely claimed it was intended to help Joe Biden. (Tech Transparency Project)

Mail Voting News

  • One of the most common problems that disqualifies mail ballots is the lack of a postmark, and states are trying to clarify their rules before November. (NPR)
  • California, Massachusetts and New Mexico are setting up new methods to let voters track their mail ballots. (ABC 7, MassLive, AP)
  • North Carolina Democrats have requested more than triple the number of absentee ballots as Republicans, per the latest data. (Michael McDonald)
  • Michigan’s secretary of state will send postcards encouraging voters to request absentee ballots online. (MLive)
  • Connecticut’s secretary of state encouraged voters to put their completed absentee ballots in drop boxes rather than the mail, since the boxes will be available in every town. (Hartford Courant)
  • Some officials in Maryland and Virginia are expanding the number of mail ballot drop boxes given the USPS crisis. (Washington Post)
  • In response to a lawsuit, Maine will provide an accessible way for visually impaired voters to cast an absentee ballot. (Bangor Daily News)
  • Tennessee voters can’t return mail ballots in person — only by mail. (Johnson City Press)
  • Michael Cornfield, associate professor of political management at George Washington University, on mail voting: “There’s a surge coming. It’s like a hurricane, and it’s time to lay the sandbags. The next few weeks are the time that can really make a difference between massive multistate problems and manageable problems.” (Denver Post)

Voting in a Pandemic

  • The House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis sent letters to election administrators in Florida, Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin asking about plans for in-person voting, recruiting poll workers and expanding mail voting. (USA Today)
  • Ahead of Tuesday’s primary, Alaska’s division of elections shut down polling places in six small towns due to a poll worker shortage. (Alaska Public Media)
  • In Illinois, the Cook County clerk’s office closed twice in one week after two employees tested positive for COVID-19, and in Greene County, the clerk sent the whole staff home after an employee tested positive. In Ohio, the Miami County Board of Elections office closed temporarily after an employee became ill with coronavirus; it has now reopened. (Chicago Tribune, KMOV, Dayton Daily News)
  • Ohio’s secretary of state said that while the state’s mask mandate includes polling places, the mandate won’t be enforced, concerning some poll workers. (WTRF)
  • Alabama’s secretary of state said polling places are exempt from the state’s mask mandate, and that no voter would be turned away for not wearing a mask. (Al.com)
  • Ahead of the presidential election, Nevada’s Clark County plans to reduce the number of polling places from 159 to 125 as officials struggle to find poll workers. Meanwhile, advocates warn that the state’s Native American voters may not be able to access mail voting. (Las Vegas Review Journal, Nevada Current)
  • Between 30 and 40 million American households may face eviction this year, causing concerns about those voters’ access to the ballot. About a third of renters protected by the federal moratorium on evictions could face homelessness by the end of this month. (VOA News, The Fulcrum)

Voting in Florida

  • Ex-felons in Florida are still facing a lot of confusion over their eligibility to vote, given ongoing litigation and barriers to paying off fines. (News Service of Florida)
  • A woman wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt tried to vote at Florida International University in Miami, and a poll worker refused to let her vote unless she changed or turned the shirt inside out. She opted for the latter. (Miami New Times)
  • In Leon County, a storm set off sprinklers and a fire alarm at a voting site, while a naked mask-wearing man visited another polling site to greet voters. (Tallahassee Democrat)

The Latest on Voting Laws

  • Indiana: The state’s election commission voted against a proposal to allow no-excuse absentee voting in the fall. (Indianapolis Star)
  • Kentucky: Voters worried about getting sick will be able to vote absentee in the presidential election, per a plan unveiled by the governor and secretary of state. (Courier Journal)
  • Louisiana: A House committee approved the secretary of state’s plan for the presidential election that will only allow one group to qualify to vote absentee if they don’t meet the regular requirements: those who have tested positive for COVID-19. The rule could exclude thousands of potential mail voters, and the governor opposes the plan. (WBRZ, The Advocate, The Guardian)
  • Michigan: The secretary of state urged legislators to change the deadline to allow absentee ballots to be counted. (Michigan Radio)
  • Nebraska: The secretary of state will send an absentee ballot application to all registered voters. (Siouxland News)
  • New Jersey: The governor signed an executive order to send absentee ballots to registered voters in the fall. (NJ.com)
  • New York: The governor signed legislation to expand absentee voting in the fall. (The New York Times)
  • Ohio: Federal lawmakers sent a letter to the secretary of state to ask him to reverse his decision on limiting ballot drop boxes. The secretary of state will ask the Ohio Controlling Board permission to spend $3 million on return postage for absentee ballots. (Fox8, Columbus Dispatch)
  • South Carolina: The Senate leader called a special session during which legislators are likely to pass legislation authorizing no-excuse absentee voting for the general election. (The State)
  • Utah: Legislators are considering a bill that would expand outdoor and drive-thru voting and additional drop boxes for absentee ballots. (Fox13)
  • National: A group of House Democrats introduced a bill to protect youth voting rights. Two New York legislators unveiled legislation to provide more funding for election security resources. (CNN, The Hill)

Voting Lawsuits

Any newsroom can apply to be part of Electionland. We’re looking for newsrooms — especially local newsrooms — that will be dedicating resources to covering voting problems during the 2020 election. Radio, TV, online and print reporters are all encouraged to apply. Sign up here.

Clarification, Aug. 21, 2020: This article was updated to clarify that the Miami County Board of Elections office, which closed temporarily after an employee became ill with coronavirus, has now reopened.