Election 2020 Politics

Michigan appeals court reinstates Election Day mail-in ballot deadline as early voting surge continues

The decision — and the plaintiffs’ plans to appeal — arrived amid further signs of record turnout in mail-in and early voting this year, continuing a trajectory that could lead to a majority of votes being cast before Election Day for the first time in U.S. history.

More than 26 million people have voted so far, up from roughly 15 million earlier in the week, according to the U.S. Elections Project, a research hub run by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald. On Saturday, early voting locations opened in two more states — Nevada and Massachusetts — while spreading further across New Mexico. In the coming week, voters in about a dozen more states will be able to cast their ballots early.

In Walpole, Mass., south of Boston, town clerk Elizabeth Gaffey said the line of voters that formed Saturday morning outside the town hall was unusual for the first day of early voting.

“This is the first time early in the morning they were champing at the bit,” Gaffey said of voters.

Hundreds of voters swarmed to Fenway Park, one of the city’s 21 early voting sites, where the wait grew to more than an hour as the line snaked three quarters around the historic ballpark.

“Voting is legitimately one of my favorite things to do because I like the feeling of exercising my rights that other people fought for,” Lindsay Ford, 36, a Democrat and digital marketing specialist said after voting for former vice president Joe Biden.

Across Las Vegas, at makeshift voting locations set up in malls, senior centers and even along the famous Las Vegas Strip, residents began assembling up to two hours before the polls opened.

“I like to be first in line whatever I do,” said Ronald Otis Boyd, 49, who sat in a plastic tailgate party chair near the front of a long line outside the West Flamingo Senior Center, two miles west of the Las Vegas Strip. “And if there was ever an election you wanted to get in line to take part in, this is the one.”

Even as voters rush to cast their ballots, the rules that govern mail-in voting in a number of states are still being fought over in court.

On Friday, the appellate panel in Michigan ruled that the pandemic and delays in delivery by the U.S. Postal Service do not significantly threaten the right to vote by mail. In a decision cheered by Republicans, the judges also reinstated restrictions on third-party ballot collection in the days immediately preceding the election.

“We conclude that [the] restrictions are reasonable and nondiscriminatory and that the restrictions are warranted to further an important regulatory interest: protecting against voter fraud,” stated the ruling by the three judges, who were originally appointed by former Michigan governor Rick Snyder (R) before being reelected.

Richard Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, which had sought the changes, said his group is prepared to appeal.

“We continue to believe that all voters, especially seniors who need to stay in place, whose mail ballots are delayed for reasons beyond their control should have their ballots counted,” he said in a statement.

The turmoil over mail-in voting has been cited repeatedly by voters around the country who are choosing to vote early in person.

At the West Flamingo Senior Center in Las Vegas, Frank Jimenez said he trusts the mail for the most part, but this election was just too important to take chances.

“My mail gets lost and this is the most important election of my lifetime, so I had to come out here, even though it wasn’t easy,” said the 71-year-old, who had rolled his walker away from the line to smoke a cigarette.

Elsewhere in line, 63-year-old grandmother Danita Lewis rested on a chair to ease her aching legs. For three decades, she had worked for the U.S. Postal Service, a job that kept her on her feet.

Lewis said she completely trusted the integrity of the mail, saying claims about it being vulnerable to voter fraud were mostly concocted by Republicans and the Trump administration to sow chaos.

At one point, she shook her head and added: “If Obama had tried half of the stunts Trump has, they would have hung him right there in front of the White House.”

Another voter, Sandy Bailey, said that people were out to get Trump. Even though Nevada was one of several states to offer all voters the opportunity to vote by mail, she was having none of it.

“I’m skeptical of this whole election,” she said, standing in line with four members of her extended family, adding: “The potential for fraud is just too high. I want to see my vote go right into that machine, so I know it’s counted.”

“If [Trump] loses, the election was obviously rigged,” Bailey added. “But he’s not going to lose.”

Voters in the Boston area expressed feelings ranging from distrust to ambivalence about mail-in voting this year, even though many said they had used mail ballots in previous elections.

“It’s not that I don’t trust the mail-in process, but I want to be there in person to put the ballot in to make sure it gets counted,” Shawn Theriault, 52, said before voting at city hall in Chelsea, Mass.

Jim Shea, 46, a safety manager at a local company, said he didn’t trust the mail-in system and wanted to make sure his ballot for Trump was counted right in front of him.

“It’s a fraudulent system,” he said of mail voting, echoing Trump’s unsubstantiated claims. “Too many ballots end up in the wrong place or in the trash.”

According to the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office, 1.75 million people had requested absentee ballots as of Friday, 96 percent of which had been mailed out.

The state set up an online system for voters to request absentee ballots this year and sent out postcards with directions on how to get an absentee ballot. Officials also expanded an existing electronic tracking system for voters to track the status of their ballot and for local officials to check ballots in and out.

“There’s no comparison to this year,” said Debra O’Malley, a spokeswoman for Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin. “We’ve never had no-excuse absentee voting before. Typically 3 to 5 percent vote absentee. Right now, we’re just shy of 38 percent.”

City and town clerks said they have also been registering voters at a higher clip than normal and are bracing for high turnout. Nancy Talbot, the town clerk in Ware, a town of about 9,800 on the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts, said she had more than 300 new voter registrations just in the last few weeks.

“I’m processing an inordinate amount of registrations,” she said. “It’s something that’s unique.”

Glionna reported from Nevada. Moser reported from Massachusetts.

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