Voting 2020 updates: Supreme Court rejects quick review of Penn. extension; millions of early ballots still outstanding

John Bacon and Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY
·12 min read

Wildfires roaring through California and Colorado that have forced hundreds of thousands of residents to flee their homes have raised questions about if and how the displaced will be able to vote.

In Southern California, where 100,000 people have fled fires, Neal Kelley, the Registrar of Voters for Orange County, told Fox News that Nov. 3 remained a “firm deadline” but that election officials were closely monitoring the situation for a possible extension.

“That decision will depend on conditions as we move closer to opening our voter centers on Friday,” Kelley said.

Some context: The National Interagency Fire Center reports that more than 50 major fires are burning across 10 western states – including 19 fires in California.

In Colorado, state and local election officials are scrambling to help thousands of voters in Larimer and Grand counties who evacuated from the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fires.

The Secretary of State’s Office this week announced that voters affected by the fires can vote using Colorado's emergency electronic ballot delivery system. The secure, online system allows voters to print out a ballot and all the necessary paperwork, including an envelope, needed to submit a ballot at a drop box. Officials encourage voters not to mail their ballots to ensure they arrive on time and get counted.

More news to keep in mind: We're just six days from Election Day. USA TODAY is keeping track of what's happening as voters around the country cast ballots. Keep refreshing this page for updates.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Wednesday to expedite a review of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision to allow a three-day extension of the deadline for mail-in ballots.

  • A Michigan judge on Tuesday struck down the secretary of state's directive banning the open carry of guns at polling places on Election Day.

  • Two men facing voter intimidation charges in Michigan have been indicted in Ohio for a voter-suppression scheme.

  • Know your voting rights: If you encounter intimidation at the polls on Election Day, here's what to do.

An in-depth look: As the race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden focuses on a few swing states, some Americans are asking why their votes are being taken for granted. A long-running effort to make the presidential election a "one person, one vote" system is gaining favor among Democrats angry that Trump won in 2016 despite losing the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes.

Voters are already casting ballots: Numbers compiled by the U.S. Elections Project website show at least 73 million people have already voted. In other numbers, The Guardian reports 24.3% (15.2 million out of 62.6 million) of registered voters in swing states have had their mail-in ballots accepted.

Supreme Court leaves in place Pennsylvania decision to extend deadline for mail ballots

Democrats scored a major victory late Wednesday when the U.S. Supreme Court declined a request from Pennsylvania Republicans seeking an expedited review of the state Supreme Court's decision to allow a three-day extension of the deadline for mail-in votes to be received and counted.

The high court had deadlocked 4-4 on Oct. 19 on a request for an emergency stay of the Pennsylvania court's order. Given the addition of conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the court Tuesday, Republicans hoped she would become the swing vote. But a court spokesperson said that because of the need for a quick resolution and the lack of time to review the filings, Barrett did not participate.

The court did not explain its decision to deny the review. Justice Samuel Alito issued a statement -- joined by justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch -- saying, "I reluctantly conclude that there is simply not enough time at this late date to decide the question before the election,'' and leaving the door open for a post-election review.

Pennsylvania is generally regarded as perhaps the most critical battleground state in the presidential election for both sides.

Millions of mail ballots still outstanding as time runs short

For all the early voting enthusiasm that has shattered records this year, there are still millions of mail ballots that have yet to be returned, and election officials are warning that time is running out for those who want to avoid going to a polling site on Election Day. The U.S. Postal Service, which has consistently missed its goal to have more than 95% of first-class mail delivered within five days, encouraged voters who are mailing their ballots to send them no less than a week ahead of Tuesday's election.

At least 35 million mail ballots had been returned or accepted as of early Wednesday, according to data collected by The Associated Press, already surpassing the 33.3 million in the 2016 election. Yet an estimated 1.9 million ballots were still outstanding in Florida, along with 962,000 in Nevada, 850,000 in Michigan and 1 million in Pennsylvania. In most states, the deadline for ballots to be received is Election Day.

“Don’t wait until Election Day,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said this week. “Hand-delivering your own ballot now will give you the peace of mind that your vote will be counted, and your voice will be heard in this historic election.”

-- The Associated Press

Florida man charged with altering governor's voter registration

A Florida man who allegedly accessed the voter registration of several well-known figures stands accused of changing Gov. Ron DeSantis' address in the state's voter database.

Anthony Steven Guevara, 20, of Naples was charged with unauthorized access of a computer and altering a voter registration without consent, both felonies. Authorities say he also accessed the voter registrations for U.S. Sen. Rick Scott and sports celebrities Michael Jordan and LeBron James, but made no changes.

Police arrested Guevara on Tuesday, a day after the governor discovered the issue while trying to cast a ballot.

-- Frank Gluck, Fort Myers News-Press

Texas judge overrules governor, voids mask exception at polling places

A federal judge in San Antonio has voided Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's exception to statewide mask mandates and ruled that everyone who enters or works at a polling place in the state must wear a face covering.

U.S. District Judge Jason Pulliam, appointed by President Donald Trump, said the exemption for polling sites violates the Voting Rights Act “because it creates a discriminatory burden on Black and Latino voters.”

The pandemic has disproportionately affected minorities, placing them at higher risk of severe illness and death and forcing them to make “the unfortunate choice required between voting and minimizing their risk” of exposure under Abbott’s poll exemption, the judge wrote. “This discriminatory effect can be eliminated, or at least mitigated, if all people wear masks at polling sites.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he will ask the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to block the order.

-- Chuck Lindell, Austin American-Statesman

Judge tosses out Michigan ban on open carry of guns at polling places

A Michigan judge has struck down Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's directive banning the open carry of guns at the state's polling places on Election Day. Michigan Court of Claims Judge Christopher Murray said Benson did not follow the proper procedure and issued a preliminary injunction against her directive.

"This case is not about whether it is a good idea to openly carry a firearm at a polling place, or whether the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevents the secretary of state’s ... directive," Murray said in a written opinion.

Murray handed down his ruling the same day the Detroit branch of the NAACP said its members and area attorneys will monitor polls across the city and state on Election Day and will report to police and prosecutors any instances of voter intimidation or voter suppression.

Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press

Texas Supreme Court upholds Abbott limit on mail ballot drop-off sites

The Texas Supreme Court upheld Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting counties to one mail-in ballot drop-off location, overturning two lower courts. The unanimous ruling dissolved an injunction issued by a Democratic district court judge in Travis County that sought to bar enforcement of Abbott’s limit of drop-off locations as an impermissible burden on voting rights.

The all-Republican court determined that although Abbott restricted voters to one site per county to deliver their completed ballots, the governor actually had expanded voting opportunities. Under Texas law, voters can hand-deliver mail-in ballots only on Election Day, but Abbott used his emergency powers during the pandemic to allow deliveries for more than five weeks before Nov. 3, the court said.

-- Chuck Lindell, Austin American-Statesman

Florida county to guard vote drop-off boxes around the clock

The supervisor of elections in Florida's Brevard County has deployed security personnel to guard vote-by-mail drop-off boxes outside her four offices around the clock. Supervisor of Elections Lori Scott said she took the action after hearing Sunday of the contents of a ballot box being set on fire in Boston, a week after a similar incident in Baldwin Park, California. Scott said the Florida Division of Elections last week had suggested — but not required — that such drop-off ballot boxes be guarded.

She said the county plans to pay for the private security through money it received from a federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act grant.

Dave Berman and Tyler Vazquez, Florida Today

Two accused of fraud, bribery in multistate voter intimidation case

Two men accused of voter intimidation against minorities in Michigan have been indicted on felony charges of telecommunications fraud and bribery in Ohio. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley said John "Jack'' Burkman, 54, of Arlington, Virginia, and Jacob Wohl, 22, of Los Angeles, were indicted for an alleged robocalling scheme meant to intimidate voters in minority neighborhoods into not voting. More than 67,000 calls were made in August targeting areas of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- three battleground states.

"The calls purported to advise the people on the other end of the call that they ought to be very careful about asking for an absentee ballot because bill collectors were going to mine that information and come after them,'' Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said.

Rick Rouan, The Columbus Dispatch

Tennessee to prep voting sites for people with COVID-19

Tennesseans with COVID-19 or those showing symptoms should be able to vote in person with new safety measures if they choose to, state elections officials told counties this week. Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins laid out precise guidelines on how counties could use election commission offices to safely let those voters who are quarantining or who have tested positive for COVID-19 cast a ballot.

"Because normal polling locations are not suitable for voters with COVID-19, for the November 3, 2020, election, I grant statewide approval for the county election commission office to be designated as a voting site for any voter with COVID-19 symptoms," Goins said in a memo to the counties.

Mariah Timms, Nashville Tennessean

Headlines from elsewhere and resources on voting:

☑️How to make sure your mail-in ballot is counted and not discarded.

🗳️ USA TODAY's Voter Guide has everything you need on registering to vote, when your state begins voting and what the candidates think about the issues.

📧For updates to your inbox, subscribe to our daily On Politics newsletter.

Report warns five states are at high risk of activity by armed groups

Five states are at high risk for activity by armed groups of self-styled militias around Election Day, according to a new report. The analysis by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) and MilitiaWatch identified the states as Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Oregon. All but Oregon are regarded as tightly contested in the presidential race.

“Militia groups and other armed non-state actors pose a serious threat to the safety and security of American voters,” the report said. “Throughout the summer and leading up to the general election, these groups have become more assertive, with activities ranging from intervening in protests to organizing kidnapping plots targeting elected officials.”

J.D. Prose, Beaver County Times

Huge early-vote totals encouraging – and spreading out election workload

The 73 million-plus votes already cast have eclipsed the 58.3 million early votes from 2016 and represent 52% of the 139 million total in that election. All this is good news, according to University of Florida Professor Michael McDonald, who runs the U.S. Elections Project.

Concerns about the ability to conduct an election during a pandemic appear mostly allayed. Not only are people voting, but they are voting over a longer period of time, thereby "spreading out the workload" election officials face, McDonald says.

"Yes, there have been problems, and in many places lines are intolerably long," McDonald says. "But, people are voting. And there are more opportunities for them to do so by Election Day. Americans’ resilience and support for their democracy is very heartening in these trying times."

Contributing: The Associated Press

People cast their votes in Baltimore, Maryland on October 27, 2020.
People cast their votes in Baltimore, Maryland on October 27, 2020.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Voting 2020: Supreme Court won't expedite Pennsylvania review