An Early-Voting Cascade

      Oct. 28, 2020, 7:01 a.m. ET

      As early voting surges well past 2016 levels, court rulings continue to make an impact on ballot access. It’s Wednesday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

      An Early-Voting Cascade

        Early voting is surging, with ballots being cast in large numbers in every state in the country. The turnout has been remarkable, even accounting for the fact that early voting — especially mail voting — was bound to be more popular amid the coronavirus pandemic.

        As of yesterday, roughly 70 million ballots had already been cast nationwide — more than 50 percent of the overall turnout in 2016. Since about half of respondents in national polls have said that they plan to vote early, and there’s still another week to go of early voting, these totals appear to augur a big increase in turnout.

        Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist and an expert on voter turnout, called the numbers “stunning.”

        Democrats and civil rights advocates are up in arms over an opinion by Justice Brett Kavanaugh that they say gives credence to one of President Trump’s more pernicious falsehoods about voting — that mail ballots received after Election Day are somehow more prone to fraud.

        Kavanaugh, a Trump appointee, wrote his own concurring opinion in the court’s decision on Monday preventing absentee ballots from being counted in Wisconsin if they are received after Election Day. He went further than his fellow members of the court’s conservative wing, arguing that accepting ballots after Nov. 3 could lead to “chaos and suspicions of impropriety that can ensue if thousands of absentee ballots flow in after election day and potentially flip the results of an election.”

        Justice Elena Kagan wrote in dissent of Kavanaugh’s opinion, stating that “there are no results to ‘flip’ until all valid votes are counted.”

        In other voting-related news, a federal judge yesterday barred South Carolina from throwing out absentee ballots because of a mismatch in signatures. The highly subjective process has been used to disqualify voters in a range of states.

        Judge Richard Mark Gergel of the United States District Court in Charleston wrote that signature-matching involved a “high risk of erroneous deprivation of the right to vote by unskilled and untrained election officers attempting to match voter signatures.”

        The decision echoed a similar ruling the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued last week, saying that ballots in that state could not be rejected because of mismatched signatures.

        An attempt by the Justice Department to shield Trump from a lawsuit stemming from a decades-old rape accusation was shot down yesterday by a federal judge.

        Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court ruled that the writer E. Jean Carroll, who has accused Trump of raping her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s, had the right to sue him for defamation over comments he made denying her allegations. The government had argued that he was defending himself in the course of doing his job as president and was therefore shielded from litigation.

        “His comments concerned an alleged sexual assault that took place several decades before he took office, and the allegations have no relationship to the official business of the United States,” Kaplan wrote.

      Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

      Supporters cheered on Joe Biden at a drive-in campaign rally in Atlanta.

      The Supreme Court has, once again, issued a pivotal ruling involving Wisconsin election law that appears detrimental to Democrats.

      Keep up with Election 2020

      On Monday, even before Justice Amy Coney Barrett had taken her seat on the Supreme Court, the court ruled 5 to 3 in denying a six-day grace period for receipt of mail ballots in Wisconsin.

      The ruling means that, even as Wisconsin sets state records for coronavirus cases and deaths, mail ballots must be received by next Tuesday, Election Day, to be counted.

      Republicans cheered the decision. “Democrats’ attempts to get the courts to rewrite Wisconsin’s election laws have failed,” said Andrew Hitt, the state party chairman.

      With the mail also slow, the Democrats vowed to double down on making sure that 320,000 absentee ballots that have been requested by Wisconsin voters — but not yet received by election officials — are counted.

      Wisconsin Democrats believe it is too late to mail them. Instead, they are urging voters to take them to their local clerk’s office or place them in official drop boxes around the state — a potential hurdle for some voters who fear catching the coronavirus.

      “We’re phone banking,” Ben Wikler, the Democratic Party chairman in Wisconsin, tweeted after the Supreme Court decision, describing his party’s plan to get out the word. “We’re text banking. We’re friend banking. We’re drawing chalk murals, driving sound trucks through neighborhoods & flying banners over Milwaukee. We’re running ads in every conceivable medium.”

      Record turnout is expected in the state for the presidential election. More than 1.45 million people have already voted, nearly half the total turnout in 2016.

      Virus rates spiking. Revelations about Trump’s taxes. Long lines for early voting. With just a few days to go until Nov. 3, our deputy politics editor, Rachel Dry, will welcome our political reporters Astead Herndon and Lisa Lerer to discuss what to watch for, what it all means and their best guess as to what will happen next.

      Join us on Thursday, Oct. 29, at 6 p.m. Eastern. You can R.S.V.P. here.

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