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Mail-In Voting Sparks New Political Battle, Endangers Elections


Concerns about the spread of COVID-19 have made voting by mail an increasingly popular option for voters who are worried about going to the polls in person. The pandemic has also required major adjustments to voting rules across the country. These changes are driving a wave of new lawsuits as both parties try to ensure those voting rules are crafted in their favor. NPR's Pam Fessler covers voting issues and joins us now.

Hey, Pam.


CHANG: So what kind of litigation are we talking about?

FESSLER: Well, we're seeing tons of lawsuits, and they really run the gamut. For example, the Democrats have gone to court in Texas, and they're challenging a state law that voters need to have an excuse to vote absentee. They've also filed another suit in Nevada to get that state to mail ballots to all voters. And they're contesting mail-in voting restrictions in Arizona, New Mexico and Michigan. And I've been told we should expect to see a lot more of these suits in the coming weeks, especially in the battleground states.

And the Republicans are also lawyering up. The RNC and President Trump's reelection campaign announced in February that they plan to spend $10 million defending state laws that they say preserve the integrity of the vote. And they say now with the pandemic, they'll probably spend a lot more than that. And we saw the opening round earlier this month, when Republicans went all the way to the Supreme Court to make sure that mail-in ballots in the Wisconsin primary weren't counted if they were mailed after Election Day.

CHANG: OK, so give us a sense of what the main issues are that are at stake in these lawsuits.

FESSLER: Well, I think, basically, it's really a fight over how easy it should be for people to vote. Democrats would like all states to allow anyone who wants to vote by mail to be able to do so without needing an excuse, which is still required in some states. They'd also like absentee ballots sent to every voter with return postage paid. They want to eliminate requirements such as witness signatures, and they would like third-party groups to be able to collect and deliver ballots for those, you know, who might not be able to do it on their own.

And that's something Republicans have criticized as ballot harvesting because Republicans, for their part, say they're - what they're trying to do is defend laws that they say were put in place to protect against voter fraud. And they are accusing Democrats of using this health crisis to try and eliminate some of those protections. As you know, there's not that much evidence that this fraud is very extensive, if at all. But it really plays to the party's base to - you know, for Republicans to make the case that this is a serious threat to the legitimacy of the elections. And we've seen that from some of President Trump's tweets criticizing mail-in voting.

CHANG: So I'm curious. Ultimately, do you see all this litigation coming down to just a fight between Democrats and Republicans?

FESSLER: Well, that's the main part. But we're seeing - it's a lot of other groups as well. There's litigation coming from advocacy groups, you know, both on the left and the right. Just in the past couple of weeks, the ACLU has filed lawsuits challenging mail-in voting rules in Texas, Virginia, Georgia and Missouri. And then we also have conservative groups such as Judicial Watch. They're suing counties and states such as North Carolina because they say that their voter rolls are bloated and that they need to be cleaned up or that that might make the elections more susceptible to fraud. So as I say, there's cases all over the place.

CHANG: And just really briefly, I mean, how much impact will any of these changes, any of these court decisions have on this year's elections, you think?

FESSLER: You know, it's really not clear at all. I mean, Republicans think that mail-in voting hurts them, but there's really not that much evidence that it helps one party over the other. But as you know, in close cases, close elections...

CHANG: Yeah.

FESSLER: Every vote matters.

CHANG: Absolutely.

FESSLER: And that's - you know, that's why they're fighting so hard.

CHANG: That's NPR's Pam Fessler.

Thanks, Pam.

FESSLER: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.
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