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Big Picture

New Mexico: How one state's story reflects the long, strange journey toward the election

Usually, the results of a presidential election provide the main drama. Usually, it is not the story of how Americans are going to vote that's packed with twists, conflicts, and a constant litany of first evers and never befores.

Of course, almost nothing about 2020 has been usual. In fact, it may be the most historically significant year leading up to a national election in memory. So the fighting over how to hold a comprehensive, safe and reliable election has often been tough to follow in the shadows of impeachment, pandemic and economic calamity.

There are five weeks to go. But the path traveled so far — by good-government activists, election officials, security watchdogs, political leaders, legions of attorneys and regular citizens — becomes clear through the lens of a single state. We've chosen New Mexico. It's more rural, poor, politically blue and demographically brown than the nation. But its election experience this year nicely reflects the calamity the country's already gone through, even before the fight over the actual count begins.

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Legal decisions issued over the past few days significant impact voting by mail in a half-dozen states.

More court rulings in favor of a complete (if not quick) election

This month's flurry of courthouse wins is continuing for advocates of a comprehensive and safe election. The most important decision out of six since Friday could prevent the presidential election winner from being declared until the middle of November.

Michigan absentee ballots must be counted so long as they arrive within two weeks of the election, a judge ruled Friday. If not reversed on appeal, the ruling means the tallying of potentially hundreds of thousands of votes won't be done until Nov. 17 in a state Donald Trump carried by a scant 11,000 votes last time — and with 16 electoral votes that remain a tossup again this time.

Judges also allowed easier absentee voting in the biggest county in Texas, relaxed a vote-by-mail restriction in South Carolina and tossed a lawsuit seeking to limit mail voting in Illinois. And the Postal Service agreed to destroy millions of its misleading voter mailings. The only bad news for voting rights groups came from the Supreme Court of Mississippi, which ruled people at high risk of severe Covid-19 complications don't have an automatic right to vote absentee.

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These are the latest developments:

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Burst of legal victories gives hope to promoters of a comprehensive election

A rare spurt of important victories, in three courthouses stretched across the country, has voting rights advocates breathing a little easier about the prospects for a smooth and reliable presidential election.

In battleground Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court significantly eased the use of mail-in ballots on Thursday by ordering they be counted even if they arrive three days after Election Day and by permitting an expanded deployment of drop boxes.

A few hours later, a federal judge blocked a law in tossup Michigan that makes it a crime to hire drivers to take someone else to the polls.

And by day's end another federal judge, in Washington state, had blocked all the operational and policy changes made by the Postal Service this summer, concluding the way they had slowed the mail in recent months would amount to "voter disenfranchisement" if continued into November.

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Ohio will not provide envelopes with prepaid postage to voters for the 2020 general election.

Ohio won't join states covering postage for absentee voters

Ohio voters will have to provide their own postage if they opt to return their ballots by mail this fall.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose wanted to purchase $3 million worth of stamps with federal Covid-19 relief funding to put on envelopes for the record number of absentee ballots expected this fall. But a budgetary oversight board run by his fellow Republicans rejected that proposal Monday.

Voters in most states have to put their own 55-cent stamp on their mail ballots. But 17 states have permanent policies to provide postage-paid envelopes to absentee voters, and another three have decided to do the same for the November presidential election.

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