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Voting Disputes Amount To Hundreds Of Lawsuits Before Election Day

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're now 3 1/2 weeks away from Election Day. But as you surely know, election season is already well underway, both because of the number of people who have already submitted ballots and because of the hundreds of lawsuits that have been filed, mainly over who should be allowed to vote and how they can vote.

We wanted to hear how this flood of lawsuits could be affecting this election, so we called Jessica Huseman. She covers voting rights and election administration for ProPublica. And we started by asking if there are patterns to these legal challenges.

JESSICA HUSEMAN: So, by and large, left-leaning activists are asking courts to change longstanding voter requirements - for example, getting a witness signature on an absentee ballot - to meet the moment, to meet the needs of the moment for the pandemic. And on the other side, the Republican-leaning folks who are filing these lawsuits are taking issue with some of the changes that are being made to accommodate people during the virus.

MARTIN: Has there been an effect to these challenges so far? Because I can - you can see where, because this is such a fast-moving area and because there are so many of these lawsuits, I can see where it could be very confusing for voters to keep track of. I mean, of course, say, in Texas, where you live, for example, there's litigation over moving ballot drop boxes. So has there been a kind of an overall effect of these challenges so far?

HUSEMAN: You know, I think it's been a bit of a mixed bag across the country. And I think different federal courts have ruled differently, which suggests to me that we might have some Supreme Court involvement in the coming weeks. But, you know, by and large, the courts have been in favor of a lot of the changes necessary to have an election during a pandemic.

There are, of course, exceptions to that. But mostly, judges have found that it's entirely reasonable that we would need to change some of our basic voting procedures to accommodate the growing pandemic that we find ourselves in. So I think that that's really the takeaway for me.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask you about the whole question and history of mail-in voting because, as in so many things, this has become something of a partisan issue, that the Democrats are now in most places, in many places, are sort of insisting that more people get a chance to vote by mail because it's safer.

And in - generally - generally, not completely - but Republicans have been saying that this is, you know, fraught with potential for fraud. And many people have scoffed at that, saying that they're just trying to sort of suppress the vote and keep people from voting who they think would, you know, vote for - would not vote for them.

Your reporting suggests that the picture's a little bit more complicated than that. You - talk a little bit about that. What's the problem with mail by vote? How common is it, and what is the problem with it, if there is one?

HUSEMAN: Yeah, that's a really good question. I think that at the beginning of - stages of the pandemic, especially left-leaning folks were very eager to embrace vote-by-mail as the panacea for all of the problems that we would face during the election.

And for a lot of reasons, that was never a realistic goal. And I think that if you look at the advocacy for vote by mail over time, they've become less and less insistent on vote by mail being the solution, and more and more they realize that what is actually the solution is to provide voters as many options as possible.

And there's a couple of reasons why it's difficult to just immediately move to vote-by-mail. A universal vote by mail system is simply too complicated, too costly and too voter education-intensive to have stood up full vote-by-mail systems in states that had not embraced vote-by-mail before.

MARTIN: That's Jessica Huseman, a reporter at ProPublica who covers voting rights and election administration.

Jessica, thanks so much for talking to us.

HUSEMAN: Thank you. I appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLUM VILLAGE'S "CLIMAX INSTRUMENTAL MIX") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.