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Democratic voting rights lawyer Marc Elias was sanctioned by a federal court.

Two prominent voting rights players upbraided by courts for 2020 behavior

Judges in recent days have slapped two of the most prominent figures in the fight for easier access to the ballot box, a fresh if mainly symbolic setback for the cause of voting rights.

The nation's most prominent Democratic elections attorney, Marc Elias, violated legal ethics rules as he pressed an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit last fall to preserve straight-ticket voting in Texas, a federal appeals court decided.

And Michigan's top elections officer, Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, exceeded her authority last fall when she instructed local officials to presume the validity of all signatures on absentee ballot envelopes, the special court that handles suits against the state government ruled.

Conservatives hailed the pair of decisions last week as evidence that promoting the franchise too aggressively too often leads to the sort of corner-cutting and overzealous behavior that can incubate election fraud. But there's no evidence of anything beyond minimal and sporadic cheating anywhere in the nation surrounding the 2020 presidential contest, including in Texas and Michigan.

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Gov. Greg Abbott, in the Oval Office in May, issued new restrictions after President Trump leveled fresh unfounded allegations of voting fraud at this week's debate.

Latest Texas ballot curbs: Fewer drop boxes and no speedy  'one punch' voting

Just one drop box for voters in Houston, in the fourth most populous county in the nation, its 4.7 million people ranking just behind Alabama to be 25th in population were it a state. And just one place to deposit a ballot early in Brewster County, at 6,200 square miles bigger than three states, and where it's 90 minutes through the desert to get from the county seat to the next-biggest town.

That is what Gov. Greg Abbott has commanded: Starting Friday, none of the 254 counties in Texas can offer more than a single place to return an absentee ballot.

Assuming it survives a promised lawsuit, the Republican's executive order would amount to the most assertive state government effort to restrict voting in new ways this fall. Further hobbling the prospects for significant turnout and a smooth election, in what has become the nation's biggest presidential battleground, a federal appeals court has reinstated a prohibition on Texans voting in a matter of seconds by casting a straight-ticket ballot.

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Democracy Madness: Final Four set in our Voting bracket

The favorites took care of business in the second round of the Voting region of our Democracy Madness bracket. Now you get to decide who heads to the "regional" finals.

Will it be the No. 1 seed, a new Voting Rights Act, which blew away the idea of expanded early voting? Or maybe No. 4, universal automatic voter registration, will keep on rolling after shutting down the call for expanded felons' voting rights.

The No 3 seed, voting at home, is the darling of the moment and ended the Cinderella run for No. 11 STAR Voting. But now it faces the No. 2 seed, ranked-choice voting, which had the most dominating win of the round — absolutely crushing another surprise performer, the No. 10 seed, a ban on straight-ticket voting.

The 2-vs-3 game may be the biggest matchup of the tournament, with RCV and vote-at-home trying to keep their momentum going. RCV has had the longer public relations campaign, but the coronavirus has made voting at home (absentee ballots sent to everyone) the story of the season. Keep your eye on that one.

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Democracy Madness: On to the Elite Eight (Voting Division)

How low does a seed have to be to officially be a "Cinderella" team? Banning straight-ticket voting and promoting so-called STAR voting have scored big upsets, but otherwise the top seeds in the Voting division of our Democracy Madness bracket are through to the Elite Eight.

The next round starts Wednesday and continues Thursday.

Automatic voter registration and ranked-choice voting blew away their opponents in the first round, while felon voting rights and early voting both snuck through. AVR and felon voting rights are going head-to-head now. Will felon voting rights be able to pull off the upset? Or will AVR continue to crush its opponents?

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