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Election workers in Lansing — and across Michigan — began processing mail-in ballots on Monday.

How they'll count votes in the 15 make-or-break states

If voting is the essential democratic act, then counting ballots completely and accurately may be called the indispensable follow-up for any minimally functional democracy.

The former will end Tuesday night. The latter will not. And that will be true even if it seems clear that one candidate is going to have the 270 electoral votes needed to cinch the presidency — and even if it's not, as seems much more likely, but President Trump follows through anyway on his loose talk about claiming a victory he knows he hasn't secured.

Fortunately, the rules and timetables for processing and tabulating ballots and reporting the results are locked down in almost all the 13 states (plus two congressional districts) that are true tossups or could still be plausibly carried by either Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden.

That makes it possible to lay out with clarity how those places will be counting votes and how soon conclusive results of even a tight race could be known. The bottom line: Millions of totally valid ballots will not get tallied Tuesday night. And the caution and voter protections behind that extended timetable are, in virtually every case, signs of democracy's strength that should not be seen as any reason at all for suspicion.

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"If you have to register on a paper form, mail it in as soon as you can," writes Tammy Patrick.

Voter registration deadlines — it's complicated

Arizona just extended its voter registration deadline from Oct. 5 to Oct. 23. This should give voters more time to sign up, but it also raises a host of issues for election administrators. And there may be complications on Election Day if too many voters register at the new deadline.

Why do some states have voter registration deadlines weeks before Election Day? It's often based on what's needed to process paper, which many states still use to run elections. Voter registration forms are gathered, voter lists are created and turned into paper signature rosters. Paper registers are sent to the polls. Data entry and printing take time when preparing for thousands, if not millions, of voters. States with modernized voter registration are better positioned to navigate the 2020 election.

Arizona voters can now submit registrations or request a mail-in ballot just 11 days before Nov. 3. Potentially thousands of registrations and ballot applications will be submitted close to the deadline. Waiting that long places a greater burden on election offices that are already stretched thin in the midst of a pandemic. It may also create avoidable issues for voters.

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South Carolina ballot curbs revived by Supreme Court as roster of hot cases grows

The Supreme Court has reinstated witness requirements for mail-in ballots in South Carolina, furthering its nearly uninterrupted string of decisions against relaxed burdens on voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

Monday night's ruling brings to eight cases, out of nine considered this year, where the justices have come down on the side of making elections more complicated or restrictive rather than simpler and more open. Several more appeals are sure to be considered before the presidential contest ends in four weeks — including a ruling likely this week on whether ballots delayed in the mail in tossup Pennsylvania up to three days beyond Election Day should still count.

And lower state and federal courts continue to order more easements — some of which could also end up before the Supreme Court. Just Monday, judges put a halt on the witness mandate for mail ballots in Alaska, extended the registration deadline in battleground Arizona and relaxed absentee ballot rules in tossup Iowa.

These are details of the latest developments:

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Navajo Nation voters are asking Arizona election officials to count absentee ballots that arrive up to 10 days after Election Day.

Navajo Nation voters sue over Arizona's absentee ballot deadline

Six Navajo Nation citizens have asked a federal court for relief from an Arizona law that requires absentee ballots to arrive by Election Day in order to be counted.

The group filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, requesting more time for absentee ballots to arrive in the mail as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3. The suit argues Arizona's strict deadline disenfranchises voters who live on reservations where mail service is slower and less reliable.

Given the anticipated vote-by-mail surge this fall, the Postal Service has advised voters to mail their ballots as early as possible to ensure they arrive in time to be counted. Thirty-three states, including Arizona, have laws against counting mail ballots that arrive after Election Day.

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