WASHINGTON (CN) — With one week until Election Day and questions growing over voter suppression and the process for a final count, a panel of legal experts on Tuesday called for calm and a tempering of expectations around results.
Over 60 million votes have already been cast for the 2020 presidential election, shattering early voting totals from 2016. The unprecedented early turnout is spurred largely by the still-raging Covid-19 pandemic that has killed over 225,000 Americans.
Also spreading from state to state are lawsuits filed by civil rights organizations and political parties alike who, in many cases, are angling to either uphold existing election laws or expand them to make voting easier.
Some legal efforts to expand voter access in 2020 have been successful. Groups like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, League of Women Voters and Campaign Legal Center, among others, have helped open up absentee and early voting in states like Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina.
“The result is across the country and in places in the South, voters are standing in long lines with masks, preparing to vote. On one hand, that’s bad news. On the other hand, that’s good news because the turnout is something like we’ve never seen before,” NAACP Legal Defense Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill said Tuesday during a teleconference hosted by the National Task Force on Election Crises, a bipartisan group of experts focused on ensuring a free and fair presidential election.
“There is a tremendous interest and determination to participate in this election despite the obstacles,” she added.
Chief among those obstacles happens to be the incumbent candidate in the presidential race, Ifill said.
President Donald Trump’s disinformation campaign over mail-in voting, suggestions he won’t accept results that don’t fall in his favor and his continued encouragement for supporters to monitor polling places on Election Day has created a uniquely pressurized atmosphere for Americans, according to Ifill.
Regardless, she said, voters must “concentrate and be focused in the lead up to Election Day, but also what happens after Nov. 3.”
Trump falsely stated on Twitter Monday that the “final total” of all ballots must be counted by Nov. 3, prompting the social media platform to flag the remark as misleading.
Trevor Potter, director of the Campaign Legal Center, explained Tuesday that the president’s tweet was factually and legally inaccurate.
“There are a couple of deadlines,” Potter said, pointing first to the so-called safe harbor deadline of Dec. 8.
Established under the Electoral Count Act of 1887, the safe harbor provision allows votes to continue to be tallied from Nov. 3 until the first week of December. This became an issue in the 2000 election when Florida argued it would miss the safe harbor deadline if it committed to a recount in the Bush-Gore race.
The next deadline is the meeting of electors to cast their votes on Dec. 12. If a state misses that deadline and electors have not cast their votes by then, the next key date is Dec. 29, which is the final deadline for states to get their certifications into the Senate and House of Representatives for counting.
On Jan. 6, 2021, a new Congress is sworn in, which Potter said creates a new opportunity for electors to be designated by states past the initial deadlines.
“But the longer a state waits, the greater the chance there will be a dispute in Congress, particularly if the House and Senate are held by different parties, on whether to count electoral votes as they come in. The other possibility lawyers worry about is that you could end up with competing certifications from a state,” Potter said.