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Mailing it in: Swing-state ballot lawsuits could shape 2024 presidential race

Four months out from Election Day, activists are still fighting over the rules that will dictate how voters cast their ballots, including in swing states. The parties are preparing for legal battles if the results are close, as they were four years ago. In this series, the Washington Examiner will look at the battles over […]

Four months out from Election Day, activists are still fighting over the rules that will dictate how voters cast their ballots, including in swing states. The parties are preparing for legal battles if the results are close, as they were four years ago. In this series, the Washington Examiner will look at the battles over election rules. Part one will look at absentee voting.

The 2024 presidential election will likely be decided by a handful of swing states, where judicial activists on both sides of the political aisle have been busy in court trying to alter the rules for a key method of casting ballots: mail-in voting.

In 2020, states across the partisan spectrum altered their voting policies to provide more options at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many states relaxed the rules for voting by mail, and some sent absentee ballot or ballot applications to all registered voters. Ballot drop boxes were installed in nearly 40 states. Others established curbside voting options, and some counted ballots received after Election Day so long as they were postmarked by the date.


Former President Donald Trump, who is heading into a rematch against President Joe Biden, blamed much of his failure to win a second term on the sweeping changes to voting procedures across the country. He accused mail-in voting of contributing to election fraud, which conditioned his supporters to distrust those methods.

This combination of photos shows Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, and President Joe Biden during a presidential debate hosted by CNN on Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Yet Trump and other ranking Republican officials this cycle have encouraged his supporters more than ever to take full advantage of any and all alternatives to voting in-person, including early voting and casting ballots by mail.

“If we swamp them with votes they can’t cheat,” the campaign said in a press release in early June. “You need to make a plan, register, and vote any way possible. We have got to get your vote.”

With nearly every possible voting method now endorsed by the Trump campaign, lawsuits backed by conservative voter integrity groups are still underway in swing states. But rather than filing lawsuits to block alternative voting methods, these suits take aim at what these groups consider dubious rules, such as relaxed instructions for verifying ballot signatures and outdoor ballot drop boxes.

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Chester County, Pennsylvania, election workers process mail-in and absentee ballots at West Chester University in West Chester on Nov. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Here’s a look at where absentee ballot legal challenges stand in seven key swing states:

Arizona

11 Electoral Votes

In late April, a state court judge upheld Arizona’s signature matching and drop box procedures for mail-in voting, rejecting two lawsuits from the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, a conservative legal group founded by Bill Barr, the former attorney general under Trump.

One lawsuit contested signature verification methods, which the judge found compliant with state law following a recent clarification from the secretary of state. Signature verification is the process of matching the signature on a voter’s ballot with his or signature on voter registration records. The other lawsuit challenged the use of unmonitored drop boxes, which the judge also ruled as lawful.

Despite the setback for Republican-backed efforts to make the Grand Canyon state’s elections more secure, Trump recently had a 5-point lead above Biden, according to a June 30 poll from 538.

Georgia

16 Electoral Votes

In late February, the U.S. Department of Justice intervened in a lawsuit challenging the Georgia State Election Board’s deadline for absentee ballot applications under the Voting Rights Act.

The lawsuit, filed by the International Alliance of Theater Stage Employees union, argued that Georgia’s deadline violates the VRA’s mandate for absentee ballots in presidential elections if applied seven days before the election.

The Peach State’s law requires applications 11 days before, which the union says is unlawful under Section 202(d) of the VRA.

Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr (R) contended that Section 202’s provisions are not privately enforceable and that only the U.S. attorney general can sue under the VRA. The DOJ asserts that the VRA’s provisions are privately enforceable.

On June 13, a federal judge found that the union should not have sued the state election board and dismissed them from the case, though the case has been permitted to continue against Fulton County defendants. The county is also where Trump is facing criminal charges over an alleged election subversion plot, and it is the state’s most populous county.

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As of June 30, Trump held 6.4-point lead over Biden in Georgia, according to 538.

Michigan

15 Electoral Votes

A Michigan judge on June 12 partially sided with a Republican National Committee bid to tighten signature verification rules for absentee ballots. The judge ruled that election officials can continue using most current signature matching guidelines but cannot apply a “presumption of validity” standard.

The ruling was applauded by RNC Chairman Michael Whatley, who said it confirms that safeguards are required for absentee ballots. 

“The Secretary of State’s covert attempts to sidestep these rules were rightfully rejected by the court, exposing that her attacks on election integrity have no substance. This win is just the latest development in our ongoing fight to promote fair and transparent elections in the Great Lakes State,” Whatley wrote in a press release.

But the ruling does still allow most of Michigan’s current mail-in voting procedures to remain largely intact for the 2024 election. The judge acknowledged that a voter’s signature can change one time due to age or disability, or if it was made in haste, or was written on an uneven surface.

Trump held a narrow 1.8-point lead above Biden in Michigan as of June 30, according to 538.

Nevada

6 Electoral Votes

The Trump campaign, with the RNC and Nevada GOP, filed a lawsuit in early May to challenge Nevada’s mail-in ballot receipt deadline, arguing it violates federal law.

The lawsuit seeks to invalidate ballots received after Election Day, claiming this dilutes votes and harms Republican candidates. In the 2022 midterm elections, Clark County officials say about 40,000 ballots came in after Election Day.

Trump lost the state against Biden by about 33,500 votes in 2020.

While no ruling has been made in the Silver State case, the Biden campaign has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and is also seeking to become a party to the case. The motion argues that the receipt deadline law would disenfranchise Nevadans.

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Trump sported a close 3.7-point polling advantage above Biden in Nevada as of June 30, according to the 538 average.

North Carolina

16 Electoral Votes

A federal judge in January blocked part of North Carolina’s new election law concerning same-day voter registration at early voting sites.

The ruling affects the procedure of verifying voter addresses, which critics argue could disenfranchise voters due to potential errors in address verification.

The decision comes amid litigation filed by progressive groups and the Democratic Party against the law, which overall remains largely in effect. Republican backers of the suit plan to appeal the ruling, asserting their commitment to election integrity.

Trump held a 7.2-point advantage over Biden in North Carolina according to a June 30 poll.

Pennsylvania

19 Electoral Votes

A coalition of grassroots organizations sued Pennsylvania officials in late May to end the disqualification of mail-in ballots lacking a handwritten date on the envelope.

The 3rd Circuit Court ruled that such ballots should not be counted, conflicting with previous rulings favoring ballot inclusion.

The lawsuit argues the date requirement is arbitrary and disenfranchises voters. This case follows another federal suit by the NAACP challenging the date requirement as a violation of the Civil Rights Act.

Trump held a narrow 1.9-point average lead over Biden in Pennsylvania as of June 30.

Wisconsin

10 Electoral Votes

The liberal-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court in early May signaled a willingness to overturn a 2022 ruling that restricted absentee ballot drop boxes to election clerk offices.

The court’s potential reversal could reinstate the broader use of drop boxes, which Democrats argue are essential for secure absentee voting, while Republicans say they make elections less secure.

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The case, brought by Priorities USA and the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Voters, challenges the interpretation of state law by the previous conservative majority. A reversal may significantly affect the 2024 election in this key swing state.

Trump held less than 1-point average advantage over Biden in Wisconsin as of June 30.

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