Georgia's battle over paper at the polls has taken another turn, and much longer waiting times on Election Day look to be the result.
At issue is whether up-to-date printouts of voter registration and absentee voting information need to be on hand at every polling place in the state next week, to backstop a new generation of computerized tablets. A federal appeals court on Saturday ruled against the paper poll book requirement, which a trial court judge had set last month.
The issue sounds nerdy. But if the decision is not changed in the next week, which seems unlikely, it could prove crucial to depressing turnout in one of the nation's essential battlegrounds, with the winner of 16 electoral votes and two Senate seats too close to call.
Poll workers were forced to rely only on the electronic system on primary day in June and ran into some serious hiccups and delays in trying to check in voters, which created bottlenecks generating lines several hours long especially in and around Atlanta. And the evidence shows not all the software bugs have been fixed.
Part of the problem is with the quality of the information in the tablets, called Poll Pads. In case the electronic records get challenged or freeze up, Judge Amy Totenberg had ordered, a paper copy of each precinct's records should be printed right before Election Day — showing not only who is registered in that neighborhood but whether they've already voted, either by mail or in-person beforehand.
She called the order "a limited common sense remedy" to impediments voters have faced this year since a $100 million replacement of all the state's voting hardware has been rolled out.
Two judges on the 11th Circuit, both nominated by President Trump, put a hold on that order but offered no explanation of their reasoning. A judge named by President Barack Obama dissented.
"Murphy's law says Georgia voters will soon find out why the trial court judge found that simple protection should be in place," said Robert McGuire of the Coalition for Good Governance, which filed the lawsuit
"We thank the 11th Circuit for recognizing that, with record turnout and the difficulties of conducting an election during a pandemic, local election officials have enough on their plates without last minute additions from federal judges," said GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who fought the order.
The broader lawsuit argued the state's new system was so problematic that it should be sidelined for the general election in favor of hand-marked paper ballots. Totenberg rebuffed that request.
The 11th Circuit's decision this weekend was its second to block an election easement in Georgia. Three different judges had earlier rejected a decision to allow ballots mailed by Election Day but arriving after, reimposing the normal deadline that the envelopes must be in tabulating offices by the time the polls close.
Almost 2.8 million ballots had been cast in the state, in person or by mail, by Sunday night — more than double the 2016 total for votes not cast on Election Day.
Polling shows a tossup race in the state between Trump, who carried the state last time by 5 points, and former Vice President Joe Biden, who would be the first Democrat to carry the state since 1992. Both of the state's Senate seats are also being contested, with David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler among the year's most endangered GOP incumbents nationwide, but there's a strong chance at least one of those races will be extended to a runoff in early January.
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For many years, the U.S. election system has been plagued with shameful disparities in voter access. Too often, people of color and students wait in much longer lines to vote. This depresses turnout — and representation — in those communities. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen shockingly long lines in communities from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania to Georgia to Nevada and beyond.
Today the Voter Protection Corps released new, actionable, data-informed information in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University about where the risks of long lines are the greatest, and where the most work needs to be done over the next four weeks to recruit poll workers.
We found that 485 out of 795 counties in eight battleground states — Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin — are at high risk for poll worker shortages. Since the tool was first developed in August, 254 counties that were not initially considered at high risk have moved up in priority, many key counties that were identified as high risk in August remain in that category. Some previously high risk counties have now downgraded in their risk level.
Time is running out. Voting in many jurisdictions across the country has already begun. Counties need assistance, and voting rights organizations valiantly recruiting poll workers need guidance. Our tool can help.
No matter the election, no polling place should close because election administrators can't find an adequate number of workers to staff them. But in this year — and at this moment — we have to be even more vigilant in our approach to the problem of poll worker recruitment. There's simply too much at stake to fly blind as we aim to find a solution.
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Petrow-Cohen and Deal are on the staff of the Leadership Now Project, a membership group of mostly business leaders that invests in nonprofits and candidates that "advance a modern, effective democracy."
This is shaping up to be an election year with unprecedented challenges and high potential for chaos. Voting by mail is under fire from the Trump administration, the coronavirus pandemic has created a shortage of poll workers, and the Postal Service has sounded an alarm about its ability to handle a surge in ballot envelopes.
Defending the right to vote, which is the core of a strong democracy, is defending democracy itself. That's why our organization is working to mobilize the business community behind a plan to address these crises through a team called the Election Support Corps — a collection of business school students and people with an MBA ready to spend the next months supporting efforts to ensure the success of the election.
The corps was created this spring by a group of Leadership Now members across the country who were concerned about the security of our elections because of Covid-19. With democracy under fire, the effort has since expanded to 12 full-time staffers across eight states, and the team continues to grow rapidly.
Vote-by-mail is both secure and popular, as Amber McReynolds, founder of the National Vote at Home Institute, explains. Our own polling has found two-thirds of senior business executives support it. Nevertheless, our report this summer on election disinformation tells the story of targeted, well-funded campaigns aimed at undermining vote-by-mail in key states. Combined with a shortage of poll workers because of the virus, our election system is underprepared and vulnerable to chaos akin to what we saw in the Iowa caucuses as the year began.
Undoubtedly, this challenge is too big and too important for one organization to tackle on its own. Leadership Now has partnered with Vote at Home, Power the Polls, Protect Democracy, March to the Polls, and Students Learn Students Vote to achieve a set of lofty but essential goals related to election support. We can make progress by working together, sharing best practices and leveraging each organization's unique expertise.
The corps is now focused on three areas we believe will have the biggest impact on the elections in November.
The first is providing operational support to county election officials. By working with Vote at Home, our team has already placed MBA students and graduates in high-priority locations including Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Texas, New York and Washington, D.C., and we will place more of them in states where election officials have expressed need for support.
By leveraging tools our team created, they will help election administrators plan for mail-in ballots and in-person voting, and provide communications. This on-the-ground support is a key component of our effort.
The second is recruiting poll workers through university and corporate networks. Because three in five election workers are older than 60, and therefore at higher risk of Covid-19 complications, many are not serving this year and the resulting shortage is among the most critical challenges to the election.
In partnership with Power the Polls, an organization that directs users to the information necessary to register as a poll worker in their state, the corps is working to find young and healthy poll workers for counties with the most need. By partnering with other constituency groups such as Students Learn Students Vote and March to the Polls, corps has dramatically increased its impact. Stunningly, Power the Polls was able to register 80,000 poll workers in just one week this month — almost a third of the way to our 250,000 recruiting goal.
Finally, we are combatting disinformation and responding to election crises. Our disinformation report identified campaigns attempting to undermine the integrity of our elections and democracy more broadly. Given the number of confounding factors contributing to the spread of disinformation, we are also working with Protect Democracy on coordinated responses to all potential election scenarios. The Transition Integrity Project recently released a report laying out critical risks to this election, such as delayed or contested results. Countering disinformation and ensuring trust in our election system are critical to mitigating these risks.
Our partnerships with these groups is crucial to the success of our MBA corps. Tapping into their expertise, resources and strategies has been integral to creating a well-rounded and impactful program. As is too often forgotten, we can achieve much more together than we can alone. And at this moment of crisis, democracy requires all hands on deck.
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More Than a Vote, the group of Black athletes and artists headed by LeBron James, has announced its latest major initiative: a multimillion-dollar effort to increase the number of poll workers in majority-Black polling districts in preparation for the November election.
The project, being done in cooperation with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, hopes to recruit young people to serve in Black communities in swing states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida.
The effort will focus on poll worker recruitment through an advertising campaign and a corporate partnership program where employees are encouraged to volunteer as poll workers.
Nearly every day brings new reports on poll worker shortages. Many poll workers are elderly and during the primary season a significant number have opted out because they are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic — one of the factors leading to excessively long lines at polling stations.
Plus, while there is a nationwide shift to voting by mail this fall, there remains a greater affinity among Black voters to cast their ballots in person instead of using the mail because of the history of voter suppression.
One example of the challenges faced by election officials came during the Wisconsin primary in April. In Milwaukee the number of in-person voting locations was reduced from 180 to five because of a shortage of poll workers.
Other high-profile members of More Than a Vote include Allyson Felix (track and field); Ben Simmons (NBA), Brittney Griner (WNBA), Jozy Altidore (soccer), Patrick Mahomes (NFL) and singer Toni Braxton.
In July the group announced it was giving $100,000 to help felons in Florida pay off their fines and court costs in order to qualify to register to vote.
Voters in the state passed a referendum restoring voting rights to felons who finish their terms. But the Legislature passed a bill signed by the governor that requires them to pay all of their fines and fees in order to complete their sentence and earn the right to vote again.
That law requiring the payment of fines and fees is still being challenged in court.
More than a Vote is also part of an effort to use large sports arenas as voting sites where voting booths can be spaced out in order to keep everyone healthy.