Vote-by-mail applications have become the latest flashpoint as states move to help an unprecedented number of voters prepare to cast ballots remotely in the November presidential election amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawsuits have erupted in multiple states as Democrats and Republicans jockey for advantage, with challenges to forms sent out by officials as well as from third-party groups.
How to vote
The latest action is in Iowa and New Hampshire.
In late August, a state judge in Iowa’s second-largest county invalidated more than 50,000 pre-filled applications for absentee ballots after President Donald Trump’s campaign filed a challenge, citing a violation of the secretary of state’s orders. The ruling forced Linn County to send fresh applications to thousands of voters in Cedar Rapids and surrounding areas.
Linn County elections officials said after the ruling on Thursday that they planned to void the first round of absentee ballot request forms and had sent more than 44,000 replacements.
“There’s certainly no way I would have anticipated the judge would find fault with what I did and punish the voters,” Linn County auditor Joel Miller told CNN. “I mean, that is the craziest thing that I’ve ever heard of.”
In New Hampshire, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald – a Republican – sent the state state Republican Party a cease and desist letter because it sent faulty vote by mail ballot application mailers to over 200,000 voters – twice.
The two mailings lacked the required language that voters can request an absentee ballot for both the upcoming September primary and November general election and didn’t include language about the state’s witness requirement.
“Voters may complete the purported absentee ballot forms believing they will receive absentee ballots for the state primary, only to discover that the forms are only a request for absentee ballots for the November general election,” MacDonald said in an August 28 cease and desist letter issued to the New Hampshire GOP.
In Tennessee, the state NAACP and other voter advocacy groups are challenging a state law that makes sharing the absentee voter application form a felony.
“And so what it really says is that we can not give training on how to complete it, how to apply for it or any of those things and we think that is voter disenfranchisement,” said Gloria Sweet Love, president of the NAACP’s Tennessee chapter, to CNN on Thursday.
Tennessee in particular has moved to restrict absentee voting headed into the fall including not expanding the option to all eligible voters amid pandemic. The Volunteer state is one of six states that still requires an excuse in order to cast a ballot by mail this fall.
Despite the legal controversies in several states, absentee application mailers are legal and do count when filled out and returned to local election officials properly. The mailers have been a tool used in previous election cycles to turn out the vote but this year have increased as states shift to vote-by-mail as a pandemic friendly option.
“We know with Covid, we’re going to have a lot of people that are going to want to vote absentee … [and] Now more than ever, that we have that absentee ballot and we dare to use it. And that we be able to promote it and tell people about it,” said Love.
CNN’s Katelyn Polantz and Paul P. Murphy contributed to this story.