Lawsuits, easements and diagnoses: updates from the nexus of elections and coronavirus
Advocates for making the coronavirus pandemic the time for changing American voting habits are taking heart there won't be any polling places for three of the next four Democratic presidential contests.
Voting in Alaska and Hawaii will now join Wyoming's caucuses in being conducted entirely remotely, among the latest wave of changes in the world of elections during a historic public health emergency.
While several states moved to make voting easier, Wisconsin pressed ahead with plans for a traditional primary April 7 and has now been confronted by four federal lawsuits hoping to force changes. And Florida reported the first known cases of poll workers subsequently testing positive for coronavirus.
Here are the latest developments:
The state's requirement that an adult witness must sign all mail-in ballots violates the constitutional rights and health of as many as 250,000 older voters who are avoiding others because of their high risk of Covid-19 infection, the League of Women Voters argued Thursday in a lawsuit.
In a separate claim later in the day, groups representing black and Hispanic voters and union members sued to delay the primary until Democratic Gov. Tony Evers lifts his emergency order closing most businesses and schools and requiring most people to stay at home. They argued it is "functionally impossible" for election officials to both comply with those orders and follow the rules for running an election.
They are the third and fourth cases brought against Wisconsin election officials in the past week.
The signature suit, filed on behalf of four elderly women who live alone, asks a judge to suspend the rule for absentee ballots in the primary. It is going ahead on schedule in part because, in addition to the presidential contest, the ballot also includes races for a state Supreme Court seat and some other state and local posts that will otherwise become vacant next month.
As of Friday, six days from the deadline, nearly 800,000 absentee ballot requests had been received — meaning the share of remote votes is on course to set a record in the state.
U.S. District Judge William Griesbach says he will rule Monday on an effort by Green Bay to get the primary postponed until June 2. The city sued Tuesday, claiming that the health of poll workers, city employees and voters would be put at risk unless the election is delayed for eight weeks.
In response to a lawsuit filed by the state and national Democratic Party, a federal judge recently ruled Wisconsin must extend online registration by a dozen days, until Monday.
Two people who worked different primary polling stations in the beachfront city of Hollywood on March 17 have tested positive for coronavirus, Broward County elections officials announced Thursday.
The officials said they did not know when the volunteer election helpers got sick but that they had only limited contact with voters. One was a greeter at a precinct where 205 people cast ballots. The other checked people in at a place where just 61 votes were cast after working behind the scenes at an early voting station the previous week.
To date, Hollywood has had more confirmed coronavirus cases than any other city in Florida outside Miami. The Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections said it was unaware of any other poll workers testing positive in the state.
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine planned to sign a measure Friday extending voting by mail in the primary until April 27 and essentially quashing the governor's push for a day for balloting in person on June 2.
The GOP-majority Legislature cleared the measure this week in response to the governor calling off the March 17 voting just hours before polls opened.
The law orders the state to send postcards to all Ohioans about the changed timetable and voting method, but does not provide for sending out absentee ballot request forms automatically. It says only the disabled and homeless may vote in person on April 28.
Several civil rights groups complained the new system and tight timetable would disenfranchise thousands. Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, said he disapproved of the plan because it would "significantly reduce the time provided for Ohio to bring this primary to a close" but would work to carry it out.
The bipartisan Election Commission decided Wednesday to suspend the excuse requirement on applications to vote absentee in the primary — one of several changes to accommodate GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb's earlier decision to delay the voting from May 5 to June 2.
Hoosiers must usually stipulate they have one of 11 acceptable excuses for being unable to get to their polling place on Election Day, one of the more restrictive vote-by-mail laws in the country.
The panel also extended the absentee application deadline to May 21 and the registration deadline to May 5, and relaxed rules about staffing levels at voting sites. It said it would reconvene in four weeks to decide if the pandemic required altogether abandoning in-person primary voting.
The next contests by mail
Hawaii Democrats had planned for most of their primary to be by mail, but this week they scrapped plans for 21 polling sites across the archipelago. They also mailed out ballots to all registered voters for a third time and delayed the deadline to register to vote until primary day, April 4.
Alaska Democrats have called off in-person voting on April 4 and extended the postmark deadline on mailed-in ballots until April 10. They had already mailed those forms to every member of the party and this week made a version available for download from the party website.
Wyoming Democrats had dropped the caucus-in-person option a few weeks ago. This week they reopened, until Wednesday, the period for requesting a ballot in the mail — and postponed the deadline for getting them back to April 17.
The state will become the sixth to move its presidential voting to June 2 once Democratic Gov. Tom Wolfe signs the necessary legislation, probably later Friday. It was cleared by the Republican-majority Legislature Wednesday — not in Harrisburg but by conducting business remotely for the first time in its history.
With 186 Democratic delegates up for grabs, it is the second biggest state (after New York) that hasn't had a primary yet.
A collection of third-party candidates asked a federal judge Thursday to reduce the number of signatures required to win a spot on the November ballot, arguing the absence of people in public places makes it "virtually impossible" to circulate petitions.
In a lawsuit, they asked the court to keep the deadlines the same but trim the signature thresholds to a number prorated to the date this spring or summer when the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention rescinds the guidance recommending social distancing.
Every registered voter will receive an application in early April for voting absentee in the May 12 primary. GOP Secretary of State Mac Warner announced Thursday the state would cover the counties' mailing costs but that forwarding a mail-in ballot automatically would go against state law.
This "encourages voters to participate in the election in the safest manner possible without having to leave their house," he said. "Your ballot box is as close as your mailbox."
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