Nearly every state legislature is considering bills to either roll back pandemic-era voting easements or make permanent the rules that allowed a record-breaking number of Americans to cast their ballots ahead of Election Day.
But with election officials already looking ahead to the 2022 midterms, the Center for Election Innovation and Research is concerned with the rules that are on the books right now. So CEIR released a report Monday analyzing the current laws in each state to determine where it will be easiest to cast a ballot early in person or by mail next year.
CEIR found that almost every state offered at least one method of early voting to all eligible voters. Only a handful make voting before Election Day difficult for most Americans.
Thirty-five states, plus Washington, D.C., have both no-excuse absentee voting (or run predominately vote-by-mail elections) and in-person early voting for federal races.
Eight states offer early in-person voting, but require an excuse to vote by mail: Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. Delaware and New York are also currently in this category, but lawmakers in the two Democratic-controlled states are likely to pass amendments eliminating the excuse requirement to vote by mail later this year.
Seven states are considered to have the most restrictive access to early voting because they require an excuse to vote absentee and they don't offer in-person voting to all voters before Election Day. These states are Alabama, Connecticut, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
While most states now offer multiple voting options, there are ongoing efforts in state legislatures to restrict access to early and mail voting because of erroneous claims that these methods are more susceptible to fraud.
"These efforts not only could create barriers for eligible voters, but also negatively impact election integrity by concentrating voting on a single day instead of over a longer period, which could hamper efforts to detect fraud or cyber-attacks," said David Becker, executive director and founder of CEIR.
- State lawmakers seek changes to voting rights laws - The Fulcrum ›
- The 6 toughest states for voting during the pandemic - The Fulcrum ›
- 34 states are making voting easier, if only for this fall - The Fulcrum ›
Capping an extraordinarily complex and contentious season for democracy in a fitting way, hundreds of thousands of Georgians headed to the polls Tuesday for an unusual overtime contest with exceptional consequences.
It took five days after the 2020 campaign year ended for the final election of 2020 to finish. And the stakes of the twinned Senate runoffs could hardly be higher: whether Republicans will still control half of the Capitol, or whether Joe Biden will have a Democratic Congress at his back for his first two years as president.
The fact that the races are in Georgia, which has long been ground zero in battles over voter suppression and rickety election administration, has only heightened the tension. But as of midday, civil rights groups and others looking for big problems were not finding them.
On the contrary, it seemed as though many of the criticisms about the state's processes had faded or been resolved in time for their biggest test.
"The scope and scale of the problems voters are facing are not overwhelming," said Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Her organization ran an election protection hotline all year — one that was swamped with calls from confused or complaining voters after the state's first 2020 election day, the primaries in June.
A main reason, she said, was that so many voters had continued to take advantage of the state's pandemic-promoted decision to encourage voting ahead of time, either in person or using mail ballots that Georgia has made easier than ever to obtain and complete.
As of Monday, more than 3 million had already voted — including 123,000 who didn't vote in the general election. Somewhere between 700,000 and 900,000 were expected at local polling places before polls shut at 7 p.m.
Such turnout — while below the 5 million votes cast in the presidential race, a turnout rate of 68 percent — would nonetheless shatter records for runoffs in Georgia, which in modern times have not topped about three-fifths of the November number.
Black voters made up 31 percent of the ballots cast early, either in person or by mail, in line with their share of the population and their share of the November vote. Voters younger than 30 account for 12 percent of the early votes, also in line with the fall. Turnout by both Black and younger voters were key to President-elect Joe Biden's razor-thin, 12,000-vote win in the state, the first by a Democratic presidential nominee in 28 years.
Motivating turnout for what has appeared to be a pair of tossup races of national importance has helped make the Georgia contest by far the most expensive congressional election in American history: More than $833 million has been spent on the two contests overall — an astonishing 6 percent of all the money poured into all the elections for president and Congress over the past two years.
Wins by both Democrats, documentary film company owner Jon Ossoff and Baptist minister Raphael Warnock, would give their party 50 seats in the Senate, a working majority once Kamala Harris becomes vice president and has the tie-breaking vote.
Victories by either GOP incumbent, David Perdue (who's opposed by Ossoff) and Kelly Loeffler (challenged by Warnock), would mean a GOP Senate but a Democratic House, almost assuring partisan gridlock that hobbles Biden's efforts to advance what could be the most progressive governing agenda in generations.
The biggest problem reported Tuesday morning was in Columbia County, outside Augusta, where problems with the digital poll books meant election workers had to resort to the slower methods of checking people in using paper backups.
Gabriel Sterling, the state's voting system manager, tweeted that back-up emergency ballots were being used and new equipment was being delivered to polling stations by police.
Election workers have experienced sporadic issues with a new generation of electronic equipment in use since last year, so much so that this fall a federal judge had ordered the paper backups as a precaution.
Of the 2,000 calls to its hotline, the Lawyers Committee reported, by far the most were complaints that requested absentee ballots had not arrived and so voters felt compelled to risk Covid-19 exposure to vote in person.
Looming much larger than any voter complaints, it seemed certain, would be the vituperative condemnations of the Georgia election system from President Trump. Since losing the state's 16 electoral votes — after the ballots were counted three times — he has launched an extraordinary jihad against the fellow Republicans in charge, Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
At a rally in northwest Georgia on Monday night, he repeatedly declared that the November elections were plagued by fraud that fellow Republicans — from the Georgia officials to his own previous attorney general — flatly declared did not occur.
At the same time, he encouraged his supporters to show up in force. "You've got to swarm it tomorrow," Trump told thousands of cheering supporters, downplaying the threat of fraud.
Since the early vote appears to have solidly favored the Democrats, Republicans are counting on a big turnout Tuesday from their base.
At just 33, Ossoff would become the youngest senator in the nation. Warnock would be the first Black Democrat elected to the Senate from the Deep South.
"Georgia, the whole nation is looking to you. The power is literally in your hands," Biden declared at his own rally in Atlanta on Monday. "One state can chart the course, not just for the next four years, but for the next generation."
- Georgia runoff elections will be the next test for democracy - The ... ›
- Late rush to register young Georgians for Senate runoffs - The Fulcrum ›
- Georgia smashes record for most expensive Senate election - The ... ›
- What if the Senate won't seat Georgia's winners? - The Fulcrum ›
Election Day passed with remarkably little drama. After months of anxiety, that's a relief. Even better, there has been extraordinarily little violence or threat of violence to mar the election itself. Those of us concerned about political violence will now worry about the aftermath.
On the positive side: The evening before the election, the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general declared illegal the department's deputization of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and other DHS employees to Portland in August. The timing suggests the IG wanted to get the warning out before the election, to preclude the possibility of further Portland-like deployments in the post-election period. These are missions that could take DHS into territory that would appear partisan.
Similarly, Reps. Ted Lieu of California and Kathleen Rice of New York, from the House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, asked DHS about any planned post-election deployments, requesting detailed understanding of rules of engagement, authorities, and plans. That the DHS inspector general and members of Congress felt the need to warn about unlawful activities is worrisome. That they did it anyway shows patriotism.
Meanwhile, our active duty military got in front of rumors with a highly unusual call this weekend to news anchors representing channels from across the political spectrum. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs reportedly told journalists in the off-the-record briefing that the active duty military would have no role in a transition of power.
The chief of the National Guard Bureau also explained to journalists that some units have already been activated at the behest of governors. Some soldiers worked without uniform, as normal poll volunteers, under strict National Guard guidelines. Others have been working to ensure cybersecurity of their states' elections.
Still others have been activated, in uniform, in case of civil unrest. Since uniformed military on U.S. streets can frighten some people, the National Guard needs to make sure the public understands their presence isn't a cause for alarm. Forces activated so far haven't been federalized. Under their governor's command they are fulfilling proper and normal missions. Should there be post-election unrest, the Guard generally backfills jobs like traffic control so local law enforcement can handle protests and counter-protests.
The U.S. military is highly respected for its apolitical, professional role, and it does not want to be politicized. They are well aware of laws that specifically prohibit interference in elections and vote counting, and want to stay well on the right side of those laws.
That does not mean we should remain sanguine. Governors may attempt to politicize the National Guard. But the Guard today is not what it was in the 1960s. While these citizen-soldiers come from their states and communities, most have been deployed in wars overseas, where they served under the professional norms of active-duty troops. We can hope they imbibed some of those nonpolitical norms. Meanwhile, Guard units' military police are trained in civil unrest, unlike many in local law enforcement. DHS may try to circumvent laws and the IG alert in ways that further tarnish its reputation. Doing so could make the public believe DHS serves a party, not a country. That would politicize its long-term survival.
Finally, the clear bad news is that the election has fallen into our expected, but worst-case scenario. It's a close call that may shift from red to blue, after the president has declared victory. It may take days to count all the ballots. It may take even longer to work through litigation challenging the counts. According to multiple polls, voters on both sides of the aisle expect their candidates to win, and they believe if their side loses, it will be because of fraud. That underlines the likelihood of protests and counter-protests.
If police can't deescalate protests, violence may grow. And for some politicians, such citizen-on-citizen violence could serve as an excuse to crack down with curfews and other tactics that are known to escalate situations. Such escalation tends to play into the hands of "strongmen" leaders, to whom citizens turn in the face of violence. We can hope it doesn't come to this.
There is a great deal to celebrate about the election. Despite all fears and prognostication to the contrary, a record number of Americans cast their votes peacefully and easily. And, thanks to early voting and mail-in voting, we even avoided the long lines that have become such a feature in recent elections. Let us hope that this good news can carry through to a potentially more confusing post-election period.
Rachel Kleinfeld is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Read more from The Fulcrum's Election Dissection blog.
- Who's allowed to enforce election security? - The Fulcrum ›
- Laws limit use of military to police election unrest - The Fulcrum ›
- Minnesota National Guard to help with election security - The Fulcrum ›
- Fact checking president's claims about Minn. National Guard - The ... ›
- Election Day proceeds with little turmoil - The Fulcrum ›
- National Guard prepares for unrest and walks a political tightrope ... ›
- As election nears, Texas National Guard prepares to deploy troops ... ›
- National Guard civil unrest update: More than 17,000 troops in 23 ... ›
- USA: National Guard deployed in Philadelphia ahead of citywide ... ›
- National Guard Readies for Election Day Deployment - The New ... ›
As a career diplomat who proudly represented the United States abroad in Latin America, Europe, Central Asia and Africa, I saw firsthand how elections were stolen in repressive countries. In the days ahead, we need to make sure that every vote is counted to avoid this result at home.
Time and again, votes in many of the authoritarian places where I served were rigged to allow corrupt leaders to remain in power indefinitely. As an international election observer, I often saw violations including ballot manipulation, proxy voting and voter intimidation at polling sites.
But the most blatant cases of electoral rigging often happened during the vote count itself — or after transmission of tallies to government-controlled electoral commissions.
To cite just one example, when I was posted to Romania in the early 1990s, I served as an international observer from the U.S. embassy for a parliamentary election there. After the last polling place where I'd observed was closed, I was allowed to remain to watch the paper ballots being counted by poll workers. Opposition and ruling party representatives were also there and permitted to challenge any ballot that appeared to be unclearly marked. As I understood Romanian, I could follow everything being said, although as an observer, I was not allowed to intercede in any way. Generally, consensus was reached among those present on whether such ballots should be counted or declared void.
I was impressed by what seemed like a fair process and agreement by all sides on the final tallies. Opposition candidates did very well at this polling place, and the results were posted outside on a bulletin board for the public to see. All the ballots, along with the tally sheets signed by the poll workers and party representatives, were placed in a container. It was then secured with a wax seal and transported to the electoral commission. Everything seemed above board.
But days passed before the commission, controlled by the ruling party, announced the winners. And when it did, the tallies showed landslide victories for almost all of the ruling party's candidates.
The opposition parties challenged the results, arguing there had been strong support for their candidates at sites like mine throughout the country. They charged that the election had been rigged, and international observers concurred. But the government said there had been "grave errors" in polling site tallies requiring the commission to re-examine the ballots and count them again.
There was no transparency in how this alleged recount was conducted. Nevertheless, the government declared the "revised" tallies were correct, and the results final.
In those years, Romania's judicial system was largely controlled by the ruling party, so the opposition had no recourse to challenging the outcome in court. It was my first experience with a party in power stealing an election. Unfortunately, I would witness similar rigging elsewhere during the decades that followed.
What relevance, if any, does this experience have for this American presidential election? Normally, I would say none whatsoever. But now, I'm not so sure.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, record numbers of Americans voted by mail — 64 million envelopes had been returned by the morning of Election Day. After receiving their absentee ballots, many returned them to an official drop box rather than use the Postal Service. In four states, elections with entirely-by-mail voting have been held for years without any evidence of measurable cheating.
But President Trump, as has become universally known, has challenged the legitimacy of such voting by mail. Without any proof, he has claimed many times that this practice will lead to massive electoral fraud and has already made illegitimate the results that poured in Tuesday night. His solution, he signaled up until the eve of the election, will be to contest results that don't go his way all the way to the Supreme Court, which is now dominated by conservatives, including three justices he appointed.
There is simply no reason to believe that voting by mail has undermined a free and fair election in our country. But because so many more of us voted this way than ever before — and because the envelopes must be opened, the signatures checked and the ballots readied for tabulating all by hand, but in some swing states not before Election Day — the process of counting all the votes that have been cast with total legitimacy will take longer than many are used to.
As voters, we need to stay watchful in the coming days. It is crucial that the final vote count be complete, accurate and fair.
Contrary to what the president has claimed, there is nothing in our Constitution or laws that says presidential winners must be declared on election night. We should remain both patient and vigilant in the days ahead to ensure all our voices are heard — and remain alert in the 11 weeks until Inauguration Day to help ensure the legitimate result prevails.
State and federal officials must also stay vigilant to prevent foreign governments and any others from interfering with the final vote count. As patriotic citizens, it's our duty, and we all have a role to play to defend American democracy if we want to make sure we avoid the sort of electoral rigging I saw so often overseas.
- Meet Reed Hundt, an insider now on an outsider's crusade - The ... ›
- Elections end when all the ballots are counted - The Fulcrum ›
- Bipartisan panel launches $20M election integrity effort - The Fulcrum ›
- American democracy after the 2020 stress test - The Fulcrum ›
- Checking claims that. elections observers are being blocked - The Fulcrum ›