An Early-Voting Cascade

By Giovanni Russonello

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.

Where things stand

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.

Photo of the day

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

Wisconsin Democrats regroup after a Supreme Court ruling on voting that favored the Republicans.

By Stephanie Saul

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

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