The November 3, 2020, general elections included races for president, 35 U.S. Senate seats, 435 U.S. House of Representatives seats, 120 statewide ballot measures, 165 state executive offices, state legislative seats in 86 chambers, and thousands of local offices and ballot measures.
All told, 37 states modified their absentee/mail-in voting procedures for the general election. These modifications can be divided into five broad categories. Here’s a recap of all of the changes made throughout 2020.
• Automatic absentee/mail-in ballots: Five states (California, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, and Vermont) automatically sent absentee/mail-in ballots to all eligible voters.
• Automatic mail-in ballot applications: Eleven states (Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) automatically sent absentee/mail-in ballot applications to all eligible voters.
• Eligibility expansions: Twelve states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia) expanded absentee/mail-in voting eligibility.
• Deadline extensions: Five states (Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania) extended absentee/mail-in ballot application or submission deadlines.
• Other process changes: Four states (Alaska, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia) made other modifications to their absentee/mail-in ballot procedures.
Ballotpedia is following results in 9,756 elections, including each state in the presidential election. Here’s the status of these elections as of 9 a.m. on Nov. 5, subject to change as more results come in:
65.4% (6,378) are called and not subject to a recount or lawsuit
34.5% (3,370) are uncalled and not subject to a recount or lawsuit
8 races are currently called but subject to a recount or lawsuit
7 races are currently uncalled and subject to a recount or lawsuit
Michigan: On Nov. 4, the Trump campaign and Eric Ostergren, an election challenger from Roscommon County, filed suit in the Michigan Court of Claims alleging Ostergren was excluded from viewing the absentee/mail-in ballot review process. In Michigan, election challengers differ from poll watchers. Political parties and certain interested groups appoint election challengers. Election challengers can question a ballot’s validity during counting. State law says at least one election challenger from each major party must be present during absentee/mail-in ballot counting.
Plaintiffs also reference state law requiring video monitoring of all ballot containers and allege Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) must allow election challengers to view this surveillance. Plaintiffs say, “Benson’s actions and her failure to act have undermined the constitutional right of all Michigan voters … to participate in fair and lawful elections.”
The plaintiffs are asking that the counting and processing of absentee/mail-in ballots stop immediately until election challengers have access to video monitoring until one challenger from each party is present at the counting boards.
Georgia: On Nov. 4, the Trump campaign and the Georgia Republican Party sued in the Chatham County Superior Court alleging that the Chatham County Board of Elections had failed “to safely store absentee ballots” and might be illegally accepting “absentee ballots arriving after 7:00 p.m. on Election Day.” The plaintiffs allege this “frustrates [the] organizational mission and dilutes lawful votes for Republican candidates in state, local, and federal contests.”
The plaintiffs submitted an affidavit from registered poll watcher Sean Pumphrey who says he saw 53 ballots received after 7 p.m. on Nov. 3 mixed in with ballots received before that time.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to require Chatham County election officials to segregate ballots received after 7 p.m. on Nov. 3 and “provide an accounting of all such absentee ballots, including the number of ballots received after 7 p.m. on Election Day, the name of the absentee voter, and the time and date that such absentee ballot was received” to the plaintiffs.
Pennsylvania: On Nov. 4, the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee sued Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar (D) and the state’s 67 county election boards. Plaintiffs allege processes allowing mail-in voters to provide missing proof of identification after submitting their ballots violated state law.
On Nov. 1, Boockvar directed county election officials to give mail-in voters until Nov. 12 to provide missing proof of identification. State law specifies that missing proof of identification must be submitted by the sixth day following the election, which would be Nov. 9. The plaintiffs asked the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania to reinstate this statutory deadline.
Upcoming absentee/mail-in voting deadlines
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have secondary receipt deadlines for absentee/mail-in ballots. In these states, ballots must generally have been postmarked on or before Election Day, but they will be accepted if received within a certain number of days after Nov. 3. These secondary receipt deadlines are listed below in chronological order.
District of Columbia
For coverage of all dates, deadlines, and requirements, click here.
Discussions about policy responses to the coronavirus are happening at a fast pace. As part of our ongoing coverage Documenting America’s Path to Recovery, Ballotpedia has published a series of articles capturing the regular themes in support of and opposition to these policy responses.
Here’s how it works. First, we identify a topic area, (such as mask requirements or testing). Next, we gather and curate articles and commentary from public officials, think tanks, journalists, scientists, economists, and others. Finally, we organize that commentary into broad, thematic summaries of the arguments put forth.
We’ve identified the following arguments as some of those in favor of expanding absentee/mail-in voting due to the pandemic:
Absentee/mail-in voting reduces the spread of COVID-19 and is necessary to facilitate access to voting,
Absentee/mail-in voting is unlikely to increase fraud, and
Absentee/mail-in voting is fair to both major parties.
We’ve identified the following arguments as some of those against expanding absentee/mail-in voting due to the pandemic:
Absentee/mail-in voting is less reliable than in-person voting,
Absentee/mail-in voting poses a higher risk for fraud,
Absentee/mail-in voting opens the door to flawed election policies, and
Absentee/mail-in voting can create election controversies.
Heading into the Nov. 3 general election, six states are expected to require absentee/mail-in voters to obtain the signature of a witness or notary in order to have their ballots counted. They are:
Alabama: Two witnesses or one notary
Alaska: One witness
Mississippi: Notary or other officer authorized to administer oaths
Missouri: Notary or other officer authorized to administer oaths
North Carolina: One witness
Wisconsin: One witness
Six states have suspended, reduced, or otherwise modified statutory or regulatory witness/notary requirements, as election officials prepare for an anticipated record-high number of absentee/mail-in ballots. They are:
North Carolina (reduced from two witnesses to one)
Oklahoma (voters can submit copies of their identification in lieu of having their ballots notarized)
Witness/notary requirements have been subject to litigation throughout 2020. Further changes to these procedures are possible as the general election approaches.
The rules and procedures governing absentee or mail-in ballots vary widely from state to state. One key difference is when states are allowed to begin counting absentee or mail-in ballots.
Thirty-four states do not allow absentee/mail-in ballot counting to begin either until Election Day or after polls close.
Sixteen states allow officials to begin counting at least some absentee ballots before Election Day.
Seven of these states—Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Vermont—explicitly allow vote counting to begin before election day.
In nine of these states, statutes either do not specify when ballots may be counted or leave the decision to the discretion of local officials: Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Utah.
Of the 16 states that allow absentee/mail-in ballots to be counted before election day, 10 voted for President Donald Trump (R) in the 2016 presidential election. The remaining six voted for Hillary Clinton (D).
The Mississippi Legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the 2020 ballot that would change election requirements for candidates for governor and statewide elected office.
Currently, in Mississippi, a candidate for Governor or elected statewide offices (Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Auditor, State Treasurer, Commissioner of Agriculture, and Commissioner of Insurance) must win the popular vote and the highest number of votes in a majority of the state’s 122 House districts (the electoral vote).
If no candidate secures majorities of both the popular and the electoral vote, under Article V, Section 141, the Mississippi House of Representatives considers the two highest vote-getters and chooses the winner. The election system was adopted in the state constitution of 1890.
The constitutional amendment would remove the electoral vote requirement and the House of Representatives’ role in choosing a winner. The amendment would provide that if a candidate for Governor of Mississippi or statewide elected office does not receive a majority vote of the people, the candidates will proceed to a runoff election.
The details of the runoff election would be provided through state law. A runoff election is a second election conducted to determine which of the top vote-getters in the first election will be elected to office. Runoffs occur in states that require candidates to receive a majority (as opposed to a plurality) of the vote to win an election.
A majority voting system is an electoral system in which the winner of an election is the candidate that received more than half (50%+1) of the votes cast. A plurality voting system is an electoral system in which the winner of an election is the candidate that received the highest number of votes. The candidate does not need to win a majority of votes to be elected.
The amendment was introduced as House Concurrent Resolution 47 by Rep. Jim Beckett (R) on February 17, 2020. The House adopted the measure in a vote of 109-6 on June 28, and the Senate adopted the measure in a vote of 49-2 on June 29, 2020.
The Mississippi House of Representatives has decided a gubernatorial election one time. In 1999, Ronnie Musgrove (D) received a plurality of the vote, 8,300 more votes than the next highest vote-getter, Mike Parker (R) in a contest with four candidates. Musgrove received 49.6% of the vote and Parker received 48.5% of the vote. Musgrove and Parker each won 61 of the state’s 122 House districts. Since neither candidate won a majority (over 50%) of the vote and a majority of the state’s House districts, the Democratic-controlled Mississippi House of Representatives decided the election. The House chose Musgrove on January 4, 2000, in a vote of 86-36 along party lines.
The National Redistricting Foundation, the 501(c)(3) arm of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, supports the constitutional amendment. The foundation said the amendment would “remove a racially discriminatory law designed to restrict the voting rights of African Americans. Due to pressure from a National Redistricting Foundation lawsuit filed last year, the state is finally casting out a post-Reconstruction era electoral scheme designed to maintain white control of the state government and prevent African-American voters in Mississippi from having a real voice in their representation.”
Four African-American citizens filed a federal lawsuit (McLemore v. Hosemann) backed by the National Redistricting Foundation on May 30, 2019, alleging that the electoral vote requirement was racially discriminatory and violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. Plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the electoral vote requirement for the 2019 gubernatorial election.
On November 1, 2019, the court acknowledged that the electoral vote requirement was likely unconstitutional, but noted that “courts have allowed elections to proceed under unconstitutional rules where it is simply too late to make a change” and denied to grant a preliminary injunction. On December 13, 2019, the court stayed litigation surrounding the election requirements to give the state legislature a chance to remove the constitutional provisions during the 2020 legislative session and said that “if the amendment process falls short, then there would be ample time to resume this litigation and resolve the matter before the 2023 election cycle.”
On June 15, signatures were filed for a veto referendum to repeal Maine LD 1803, which established ranked-choice voting for presidential elections. Under LD 1803, Maine is slated to use ranked-choice voting to elect the president for the first time on November 3, 2020.
The Maine Republican Party led the signature-gathering efforts for the veto referendum. Demi Kouzounas, chairperson of the Maine Republican Party, filed the veto referendum on February 3, 2020. Proponents needed to collect 63,067 valid signatures. The office of Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced that proponents reported filing 68,000 signatures. Dunlap’s office has 30 days (from June 15) to review the signatures. The measure would appear on the November ballot.
A successful signature drive would suspend the law until voters decide the law’s fate, meaning ranked-choice voting would not be used for the presidential election on November 3, 2020.
LD 1803 was passed by the legislature on August 26, 2019. Gov. Janet Mills (D) said she would hold LD 1083 until the following year. By holding the bill until the next legislative session, LD 1083 did not go into effect until after the state’s presidential primary election on March 3, 2020.
The veto referendum would be the third ranked-choice voting ballot measure in Maine since 2016. Voters approved Question 5, which established a first-in-the-nation statewide system of ranked-choice voting, in 2016. In 2017, the legislature passed a bill that was written to postpone and repeal ranked-choice voting unless the legislature referred and voters approved a constitutional amendment. The Committee for Ranked-Choice Voting, which sponsored Question 5, launched a veto referendum campaign to overturn LD 1646. On the ballot as Question 1, the veto referendum was approved with 53.9 percent of the vote. Therefore, LD 1646 was repealed and ranked-choice voting remained in effect, except for general elections for state legislative and executive offices.
At the election on November 6, 2018, ranked-choice voting (RCV) was used for the first time in a general election. Both Sen. Angus King (I) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) won their respective seats without the need for ranked-choice tabulations. In the 2nd congressional district, the initial vote count showed that incumbent Bruce Poliquin (R) had received 46.3 percent of the vote, and challenger Jared Golden (D) had received 45.6 percent of the vote. Independents received 8.1 percent of the vote. On November 15, 2018, Dunlap announced that after the lowest vote-getters were eliminated and votes were reallocated, incumbent Rep. Poliquin received 49.4 percent of the vote, and challenger Golden received 50.6 percent of the vote. The race was the first in U.S. history where ranked-choice voting was used to decide a congressional election.
Voters in Alaska and Massachusetts could also decide ranked-choice voting ballot measures in November. In Alaska, a measure is certified for the ballot that would, among other policies, establish ranked-choice voting for general elections. In Massachusetts, a ranked-choice voting campaign is expected to file a second round of signatures before the deadline on July 1, 2020.
June 2 primaries mark highest concentration of voting activity since March
On June 2, nine states held statewide primary elections (and the District of Columbia conducted its district-wide primary). This represented the busiest single day of voting since March 3. The reason? The COVID-19 outbreak prompted a series of election postponements and other modifications.
How many of the June 2 primaries were postponements?
Of the 10 jurisdictions conducting statewide or district-wide primaries on June 2, five had originally scheduled their primaries for an earlier date:
Idaho (originally May 19)
Indiana (originally May 5)
Maryland (originally April 28)
Pennsylvania (originally April 28)
Rhode Island (originally April 28)
How did voter turnout on June 2 compare to turnout in 2016?
The table below compares voter turnout in primary elections in 2020 versus 2016. In the five states for which information is available, turnout increased between 6.24 and 15.10 percentage points between 2016 and 2020.
Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island are not included in this table because the figures needed to calculate voter turnout in those states have not yet been fully released.
How many votes were cast by mail, relative to 2016?
Most of the jurisdictions that held primaries on June 2 have not yet released complete information on the number of votes cast by mail. In the District of Columbia, 71.11 percent of all votes cast on June 2 were cast by mail, an increase of 62.82 percentage points over 2016. In Idaho, 57.51 percent of all votes cast were cast by mail, an increase of 43.41 percentage points over 2016.
Of the remaining eight states, seven modified their absentee/mail-in voting procedures, suggesting a possible increase in the share of votes cast by mail in those states:
Indiana: Absentee/mail-in voting eligibility requirements suspended, allowing all voters to cast ballots by mail.
Iowa: Mail-in ballot applications automatically sent to all voters.
Maryland: Mail-in ballots automatically sent to all voters (at least one in-person voting center open in each county).
Montana: Counties authorized to automatically send mail-in ballots to all voters.
Pennsylvania: In Allegheny, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties, absentee ballot receipt deadline extended to June 9.
Rhode Island: Mail-in ballot applications automatically sent to all voters.
South Dakota: Mail-in ballot applications automatically sent to all voters.
Although New Mexico did not modify its absentee/mail-in voting procedures for the June 2 primary, it already provided for universal absentee voting eligibility (i.e., no excuse required). Iowa, Maryland, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island likewise already allowed for no-excuse absentee voting.
Absentee/mail-in voting modifications
Since our June 3 edition, we’ve tracked the following absentee/mail-in voting modifications:
Alabama: On June 15, Judge Abdul Kallon, of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, issued a preliminary injunction barring election officials from enforcing witness and photo ID requirements for select voters casting absentee ballots in the July 14 runoff elections.
Missouri: On June 4, Gov. Mike Parson (R) signed SB631 into law, permitting any registered voter to cast an absentee ballot in any 2020 election, subject to a notarization requirement.
New York: On June 7, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law legislation extending the submission deadline for absentee ballots in the June 23 election to June 23.
North Carolina: On June 12, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) signed HB1169 into law, reducing the witness signature requirement on completed absentee ballots from two to one.
Tennessee: On June 4, the Chancery Court for Tennessee’s Twentieth Judicial District ruled that Tennessee’s absentee voting law, which limits eligibility to those meeting certain criteria, “during the unique circumstances of the pandemic, constitutes an unreasonable burden on the fundamental right to vote guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution.” The court ordered the state to extend absentee voting eligibility to all Tennessee voters during the course of the pandemic.
Texas: A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed a district court decision ordering that all eligible Texas voters be allowed to cast absentee ballots in order to avoid transmission of COVID-19.
To date, 32 states have modified their absentee/mail-in voting procedures. These modifications can be divided into five broad categories:
Automatic mail-in ballots: Five states (California, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, and New Jersey) have opted to automatically send mail-in ballots to all eligible voters in certain elections to ensure that most voting takes place by mail. These states are shaded in yellow in the map below.
Automatic mail-in ballot applications: Twelve states (Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and West Virginia) are automatically sending mail-in ballot applications to all eligible voters in certain elections. These states are shaded in dark blue in the map below.
Eligibility expansions: Nine states (Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia) have expanded absentee voting eligibility in certain elections. These states are shaded in light blue in the map below.
Deadline extensions: Four states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Wisconsin) have extended absentee/mail-in ballot request or submission deadlines in certain elections. These states are shaded in dark gray in the map below.
Other process changes: Two states (Alabama and North Carolina) have made other modifications to their absentee/mail-in ballot procedures in certain elections. These states are shaded in light gray in the map below.
To date, we have tracked 98 lawsuits and/or court orders involving election policy issues and the COVID-19 outbreak. Beginning this week, in each issue of The Ballot Bulletin, we’ll shine a spotlight on what we think is one of the more interesting recent events in this area. Click here to view the complete list of lawsuits and court orders.
This week, we turn our attention to a case out of California, Gallagher v. Newsom.
Case name: Gallagher v. Newsom
Case number: CVCS-20-0912
State of origin: California
Court: Sutter County Superior Court
Summary: On June 12, Judge Perry Parker, of the Sutter County Superior Court, issued a temporary restraining order suspending Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) Executive Order N-67-20. The order, issued June 3, had permitted counties to consolidate polling places in the Nov. 3 general election, provided they offer three days of early voting. Parker’s order came as the result of an action filed by two Republican state Assembly members, James Gallagher and Kevin Kiley. Gallagher and Kiley alleged Newsom’s order usurped the legislature’s authority, in violation of the state constitution. Parker enjoined Newsom’s order pending further proceedings in the case.
To date, we have tracked 196 bills that make some mention of both election policy and COVID-19. States with higher numbers of relevant bills are shaded in darker blue on the map below. States with lower numbers of relevant bills are shaded in lighter blue. In states shaded in white, we have tracked no relevant bills.
On June 16, the Democratic Party of Texas appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court an appellate court order staying a district court decision that had extended absentee voting eligibility in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
On May 19, Judge Samuel Frederick Biery of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ordered that all eligible Texas voters be allowed to cast absentee ballots in order to avoid transmission of the coronavirus. The state appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. On June 4, a three-judge panel of the appeals court stayed the district court decision, allowing election officials to enforce state laws limiting absentee voting to those meeting specified eligibility criteria.
In its appeal to the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs presented the following question: “Does Texas’s limitation of the right to cast a no-excuse mail-in ballot to only voters who are ’65 years of age or older on election day,’ Tex. Election Code § 82.003, violate the Twenty-Sixth Amendment’s directive that the right to vote ‘shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age’?”
Ellen Hobbs Lyle, a judge on the Davidson County Chancery Court in Nashville, Tennessee, ruled on June 4 that the state must give all eligible voters the option to vote by mail in upcoming elections because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision is expected to be appealed.
In Tennessee, voters can request an absentee ballot if they meet certain requirements. For example, voters who will be outside their county during the early registration period and all day on election day and voters over the age of 60 are eligible for absentee ballots.
The Secretary of State’s office has put together a coronavirus plan for upcoming elections that focuses on sanitary measures and social distancing.
Tennessee is holding a primary on August 6. The general election is scheduled for November 3. Tennessee has a Republican state trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.