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Republicans Are Now Contesting Absentee Ballots One by One

Now that more than 85 million people have already voted, many using mail-in ballots, Republicans have reportedly shifted their political strategy to challenging individual absentee votes and, in some cases, attempting to invalidate ballots already cast. According to the Washington Post, recent tactics aimed at challenging individual votes include a lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign this week in Nevada “seeking images of the signature of every registered voter in Democratic-leaning Clark County — a potential first step toward challenging individual votes on grounds that the signed ballots don’t match the signatures on file.” Another attempt at targeting individual votes this week took place in Texas, where GOP officials asked the state Supreme Court to invalidate more than 100,000 ballots that have already been cast at drive-through voting sites in Harris County, a Democratic stronghold in a Republican-leaning state, “contending that the creation of the drive-through sites was illegal and thus ballots cast at them should be thrown out.” The request was the latest GOP-led challenge to Harris County’s drive-through locations, which Republicans have unsuccessfully asked the court to shut down. 

The strategy is a pivot away from broader GOP efforts to limit expanded access to voting, a campaign that began months ago with President Donald Trump’s incessant and false claims linking mail-in voting to fraud — misinformation that Republican officials have embraced in trying to adjust election rules at the last minute. In Texas, for example, Governor Greg Abbott issued an order that required multiple drop-off locations across the state, opened to try to make voting easier during the pandemic, to close, claiming that limiting counties to a single drop-off site would “stop attempts at illegal voting” despite there being no evidence of large-scale voter fraud.

Election law in certain states, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, permits third parties to contest individual mail-in ballots; but even in places where election law is less clear on the matter, “there are signs that Republicans may ask courts to intervene to permit them to contest ballots.” The aforementioned suit recently filed in Nevada’s Clark County by the Trump campaign was the second case in a week targeting the county: on October 23, the Trump campaign argued that the county “has prevented poll watchers from adequately observing ballot-processing operations,” limitations that Trump campaign lawyers said “could allow fraud to go undetected — including by elections workers tempted to assist their favored candidate.” Another effort apparently laying the groundwork for challenging individual votes took place in Florida last month, when an attorney acting for the Trump campaign requested permission to observe the signature-matching process in the Democrat-heavy Broward County. “The appointed Republican election supervisor denied the request, saying the review could slow the count. But earlier this month, both campaigns were given a one-time chance to watch the process play out for a handful of ballots,” per the Post.

As my colleague Eric Lutz wrote, Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh’s recent argument forcing Wisconsin to reject mailed-in ballots received after Election Day is already becoming a playbook for legal challenges in other states: in Minnesota on Thursday, five days before the election and with 580,000 mail ballots still outstanding, a federal appeals court ruled to change the state deadline for receiving absentee ballots from November 10 to November 3, citing Kavanaugh’s Wisconsin argument as justification. “There is no pandemic exception to the Constitution,” the court ruled. Trump spokeswoman Thea McDonald praised the Minnesota directive as a “major victory for voting rights and the rule of law.”

Republican efforts to contest ballots already cast could, if successful, offer the party an electoral advantage given partisan differences in voting preferences, as, the Post notes, “polls have consistently shown that more Republicans plan to vote in person on Election Day while many Democrats have chosen to vote absentee.” Decisions made in Minnesota and Pennsylvania this week will require election officials to set aside absentee ballots that arrive after Election Day — even if postmarked in time — which “would make them easier to challenge should the race prove to be close.” Trump reiterated his intention to do so at the White House earlier this week, telling reporters: “It would be very, very proper and very nice if a winner were declared on Nov. 3, instead of counting ballots for two weeks, which is totally inappropriate and I don’t believe that that’s by our laws.

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