Over the past six months, the number of voting rights lawsuits has skyrocketed to a record level, reports the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.
Foreshadowing what promises to be one of the most litigious election periods in American history, some 155 suits alleging violations of civil rights have been filed in federal courts across the country in the wake of election contests between February and August—an increase of 82 percent over the same period preceding the 2016 federal election, TRAC said.
“Records are being broken by the pace of filing,” the report said.
“The last six months have seen the highest number of recorded voting rights suits since TRAC’s systematic tracking of federal civil rights litigation began in October 2007.”
The cases include challenges to voter registration purges, disputes over procedural issues like long lines at polling places, questionable paper ballots and election security. TRAC did not provide information about the outcome of the suits.
In the runup to the federal election in 2016, just 85 suits were filed during the same six-month period; during the 2018 off-year election cycle, when most races concerned local, state and congressional seats, just 47 suits were filed during that period.
Over the entire 11-month period starting with August 2019, a total of 202 lawsuits have been filed.
Complaints about voting have proliferated during the primary and local elections this year, with the largest number of suits filed in the Northern District of Georgia, where a widespread breakdown of electronic voting machines led to what was described as an election “meltdown,” and raised concerns about the legitimacy of the outcome.
The Eastern District of Michigan, where Detroit is located, recorded the second-highest number of lawsuits (15) filed so far this fiscal year. The Western District of Texas (San Antonio) came in third, with 10 lawsuits.
Some 59 of the 90 federal judicial districts recorded one or more suits during FY 2020.
“Compared with two years ago, the pace of filings is more than three times greater,” TRAC said.
These figures, based on court information analyzed by TRAC researchers, are likely to be overshadowed by legal wrangling in the aftermath of the November 3 vote. Both major parties have sent high-powered teams of attorneys to key jurisdictions around the country in anticipation of voting challenges.
The Democrats alone have assembled more than 600 lawyers to fight possible “chicanery,” during the election, nominee Joe Biden revealed last month.
The former vice president promised to “fight any effort to exploit the pandemic for political purposes, [and] support the countless state and local officials working like hell to make voting safe and accessible for citizens, especially the most vulnerable, or call out local rules that don’t adequately ensure access to vote.”
Republicans have dismissed such claims as “fear-mongering”—even though the president himself has warned the vote will be “rigged.”
The results of the federal election are likely to pivot on close votes in key battleground states like Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin—where the margin of victory in some districts was a few thousand votes in 2016.
Concerns about voting civil rights violations have been exacerbated by anxiety over whether the U.S. Post Office will be able to deliver in time the massive number of mail-in ballots deployed to ease fears about in-person voting during the pandemic.
President Donald Trump and his campaign allies have claimed that mail-in ballots are susceptible to fraud, although most experts say there is no basis for such claims.
But litigators will be especially alert to close congressional races in districts where there has been a history of voter suppression. Moreover, efforts to undermine voter confidence in the results, combined with establishing stiff rules to vet voters’ qualifications, may lead to many voters not even showing up at polling places.
According to a Yahoo News/YouGov poll released this month, only 22 percent of Americans think the 2020 presidential vote will be “free and fair.”
The complete TRAC report and tables are available for download here.