By Fredreka Schouten and Kelly Mena, CNN
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Over the next week, voters in 10 states are heading to the polls to pick nominees for this fall’s midterm elections.
But pitched battles persist over how to conduct elections in key battleground states with high-stakes primaries.
In Pennsylvania, for instance, disputes have erupted over the continued use of ballot drop boxes. And in Georgia, local voting rights groups are scrambling to help voters navigate new voting restrictions enacted last year.
Partisan divide over mail-in voting
In Pennsylvania, a swing state that President Joe Biden flipped in 2020, voters today are picking party nominees for an open governor’s seat, now held by term-limited Democrat Tom Wolf, and deciding competitive GOP and Democratic primaries in the contest to replace retiring US Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican.
But fights continue over election administration in the Keystone State.
Republicans have sued to throw out a bipartisan law approved in 2019 that allowed no-excuse mail-in voting in the state.
The law became a target for conservatives as voting by mail became a popular option, particularly for Democrats, in 2020 amid the pandemic. In all, more than 2.6 million mail or absentee were counted in that year’s general election, state data show.
(Former President Donald Trump helped create a partisan divide on its usage by falsely claiming in the run-up to the election that mail-in voting was fraudulent.)
While the legal battles play out in Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court has allowed the use of mail-in voting in the primaries, and it has remained a more popular choice among Democrats than for Republicans.
Democrats accounted for more than 695,000 of the roughly 910,000 Keystone State residents who had requested either mail or absentee ballots as of last week’s deadline, Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Leigh Chapman said during a recent news conference.
The continued partisan divide over mail voting could mean that results in the Republican primaries will be known more quickly after polls close than the outcomes for Democrats, as Jonathan Lai of The Philadelphia Inquirer recently noted.
Under state law, counties cannot begin opening and processing mail ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day, so it might take longer to count Democrats’ mailed ballots than votes cast in person by Republicans, which are quickly tabulated by machine.
Drop box disputes
Republicans and Democrats in the state also remain sharply divided over the use of drop boxes to return mail-in ballots.
In heavily Democratic Philadelphia County, for instance, 16 drop boxes are available around the clock for voters’ use. But a handful of other counties have opted to eliminate or scale back the use of such boxes in this election.
In Lehigh County in southeastern Pennsylvania, meanwhile, law enforcement is keeping an eye on drop boxes.
District Attorney Jim Martin, a Republican, has said an investigation into drop boxes during last year’s municipal elections uncovered 288 people depositing more than one ballot in a drop box in violation of state law.
No one was charged with a crime in part because people were wearing masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19, making it hard to identify most violators in video-surveillance footage, he said.
In this election, Martin is using plainclothes detectives to monitor the county’s five drop boxes, drawing objections from Chapman, who worries about the “potential for voter intimidation.”
Martin insists “there’s been no intimidation.” And he said the publicity about his decision appears to have cut down on voters turning in multiple ballots.
In addition to Pennsylvania, four other states — Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon and Idaho — hold primaries today.
You can read the full breakdown about today’s elections here.
Georgia on our minds
This battleground state is one of five that will hold primaries on May 24.
And the GOP contests there will offer high-stakes tests of Trump’s influence in his party. The former President is backing GOP challengers to two Republican incumbents: Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
Interest appears high.
More than 380,000 people already had cast ballots during in-person, early voting through early this week — setting a record pace, according to the Secretary of State’s office. By contrast, a little more than 120,000 people had voted in person at this point in the 2018 primary elections.
The Republican-controlled legislature has changed voting rules in the Peach State substantially since 2020, when Biden became the first Democratic presidential contender in nearly three decades to win Georgia.
Case in point: Absentee drop boxes are now limited to one per every 100,000 voters, resulting in large counties having fewer boxes than they did in 2020.
Fulton County, home to parts of Atlanta, now has seven boxes — down from 38 drop boxes two years ago, according to LaShandra Little, the county’s voter education and outreach manager.
And voting rights groups say they are scrambling to help voters overcome any obstacles.
A new law in the state, for instance, lets counties decide whether to allow early voting on Sundays — a popular option for Black churches who have traditionally organized “Souls to Polls” events after Sunday services.
As we wrote about recently, Spalding County — a rural area south of Atlanta — recently voted to eliminate Sunday voting.
Faith leaders in the community decided that since there wasn’t going to be Sunday voting there in Spalding County, that they would do their usual voter outreach on Saturday instead. And this year, it was a caravan of cars taking voters to the polls.
“We aren’t going to take no for an answer. We can’t do it on Sunday; we’re going to do it on Saturday,” Reginald Watts of the Urban Outreach Association told CNN’s Simone Pathe at the group’s event on this past Saturday. Watts’ burgundy van — emblazoned with “Vote Today” stickers on each side — led the way the two miles to the Spalding County Elections & Voter Registration office.
You need to read
- These stories about investigations into potential election breaches from CNN and The Washington Post.
- This story from our CNN colleague Marshall Cohen about the unorthodox and unsuccessful effort to toss firebrand GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene off the ballot in Georgia ahead of the May 24 primary.
- This New York Times story about the latest twist in the state’s redistricting process. It just got a lot easier for Republicans to compete for US House seats in the Empire State.
- This analysis in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that shows Democrats in Georgia crossing over to vote in GOP primaries — a development that could shake up key races next week in the Peach State.
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