The Pew Charitable Trusts

06/03/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 06/02/2020 23:14

Trump's Attacks on Vote-by-Mail Worry Some Election Officials

Still, Alabama has expanded access to mail-in voting, allowing voters to list COVID-19 as an excuse to cast an absentee ballot. The state also is working to provide voters safe in-person options, Merrill said.

Merrill told Stateline he has received criticism from voting rights advocates and members of the media who think his state should adopt a Colorado-like system, which he said is not realistic to implement months before the presidential election, nor what Alabamians want.

'The biggest frustration has not been from our people,' he said, 'but from people who are not from Alabama and trying to get in our business and tell us how to do things.'

Alabama is one of several states the League of Women Voters sued over its mail-in ballot policies. The group is hoping to remove some barriers before November, such as the state's voter ID and notary requirements for absentee ballots. While he wouldn't comment on the lawsuit, Merrill said he is confident courts will uphold Alabama's voting laws.

The lawsuits go both ways. After California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, recently announced the state would send ballots to every registered voter ahead of the November general election, the Republican National Committee sued the state, calling the expansion of absentee voting an 'illegal power grab.'

Seeing this partisan divide and an increase in disinformation over allegations of widespread fraud, several organizations have launched education efforts surrounding voting by mail.

All Voting is Local - a project of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Leadership Conference Education Fund that helps register people of color and young people - this week will call 124,000 Michiganders through phone banks. It also sent text messages to 521,000 Michigan voters.

The state, for the first time, will send every voter an application for a mail-in ballot for August and November elections. The project wants to ensure voters understand that process and ignore partisan misinformation.

'We want to dispel the myth that their vote doesn't count,' said Aghogho Edevbie, the project's director in Michigan. 'It does. There's no reason to state that this is something that can't be trusted, when it can be trusted.'

Last week, a nonpartisan coalition - the American Public Health Association, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the Center for Tech and Civic Life, the Center for Civic Design and We Can Vote - issued state-specific guides to safe mail-in and in-person voting amid COVID-19.

'We are taking the politics out of this and protecting every eligible American's right to vote,' said Jessica Barba Brown, a senior adviser for We Can Vote, a project of the Center for Secure and Modern Elections, which advocates for automatic voter registration.

In addition to the work of nonprofits, states and counties can implement their own tools to rein in confusion and assist voters participating in a new, unfamiliar process, said Amber McReynolds, CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, which advocates for mail-in voting.

McReynolds said states must maintain accurate voter registration lists to efficiently send absentee ballots or ballot applications to voters. They also need to invest in ballot tracking services that allow voters to follow their ballot from their mailbox to the county election office.

'This helps with confidence,' she said. 'Without that type of system, it's a black hole.'

Confusion about vote by mail could disenfranchise voters, said Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. The Democrat, who witnessed long lines and widespread voter confusion during Wisconsin's April primary, said states need to start planning and investing now to protect public health and the integrity of the vote.

'This was preventable,' he said. 'States have to start planning now.'