Home News Democrats’ voting lawsuits face tough terrain in conservative-leaning appeals courts

Democrats’ voting lawsuits face tough terrain in conservative-leaning appeals courts


There are hundreds of state and federal lawsuits related to the 2020 election, with cases brought by both political parties, trying to get the rules changed in their favor and rulings coming on a near-daily basis. But Democrats have celebrated a wave of early victories in some key battleground states.
Many of those rulings have been appealed. Democrats now find themselves in more hostile territory, and Republicans are clawing their way back in some cases, experts say. President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans have reshaped the federal judiciary by confirming more than 200 judges since 2017, and have filled dozens of vacancies specifically on appeals courts.
“The Republican side may be far more successful in blocking lower court orders sought by Democrats and voting rights groups seeking to expand voting by mail,” CNN election law analyst Rick Hasen wrote in a Slate op-ed published Monday. “Although Democrats in particular have crowed about some of their (sometimes partial) victories, things are far from over.”

Here’s a breakdown of some recent rulings that are affecting how Americans will cast their ballots this year:

Postmark deadlines in Georgia

On Friday, a federal appeals court blocked an earlier ruling that would’ve forced Georgia to accept mail-in ballots that were postmarked by Election Day but arrive up to three days later.

In a 2-1 decision in favor of Georgia’s GOP secretary of state, the appeals panel reimposed the original requirement that any ballots arriving after the polls close on Election Day be thrown out. The majority opinion said the lower court had wrongly “manufactured its own ballot deadline.”

The two judges in the majority were both appointed by Trump, including Judge Barbara Lagoa, who was one of Trump’s finalists to fill the current Supreme Court vacancy. The dissenting judge was appointed by a Democratic president, and so was the lower-court judge in the case.

Democrats filed the lawsuit in May, seeking to extend the postmark deadline, repeal a ban on third-party ballot collection, and to secure prepaid stamps for ballots. These efforts fell short.

Straight-ticket voting in Texas

A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked a previous ruling that would’ve required Texas to use straight-ticket-voting this year. The Republican-run legislature had eliminated the practice, where voters can press one button to automatically vote for all the candidates from one particular party, up and down the ballot. But Democrats sued, seeking to reinstate this policy.
Democrats were initially successful: A district judge ruled that eliminating the practice was “likely to cause confusion” and would lead to longer lines at polling places. Democrats hailed the decision as “an important victory for voters in Texas,” and hoped their downballot candidates would benefit from Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s surprisingly strong position in the state.

But after just a few days, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals stepped in and blocked that ruling from being implemented. (The three appellate judges were appointed by Republican presidents, while the lower-court decision came from a Democratic appointee.) Parts of the case are still being litigated, but time is running out as in-person early voting in Texas kicks off next week.

Witness requirements in South Carolina

A similar situation played out last week in South Carolina regarding witness requirements for mail ballots. State law says the voter and a witness both need to sign the ballot for it to count.

Democrats sued to get rid of that requirement, and they won at the district level. Republicans appealed, and the rule was reimposed in a 2-1 decision from a federal appeals panel. One day later, the full 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals nixed the witness rule again, reversing the panel.

All of the judges that wanted to uphold the witness rules were appointed by Republicans. All of the judges who ruled against it were put on the federal bench by past Democratic presidents.

After a rollercoaster week, Republicans appealed to the Supreme Court. In a ruling Monday night, the high court granted the Republicans’ request to reinstate the witness requirement during the appeal. Generally speaking, analysts believe the Supreme Court’s conservative majority will not be hospitable to Democrats’ challenges on voting issues.
Mail-in voting is underway in South Carolina, which isn’t a presidential battleground, but has a competitive Senate race between Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic challenger Jamie Harrison. The outcome could help decide which party controls the Senate next year.