Report Says States’ Age Limits on Absentee Voting Are Unconstitutional

In this May 27, 2020 file photo, processed mail-in ballots are seen at the Bucks County Board of Elections office prior to the primary election in Doylestown, Pa.

In this May 27, 2020 file photo, processed mail-in ballots are seen at the Bucks County Board of Elections office prior to the primary election in Doylestown, Pa. AP Photo/Matt Slocum

 

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Seven states that require voters to provide an excuse in order to vote by mail allow older voters to cite their age as a reason to vote absentee.

Seven of the 16 states that require voters to provide an excuse in order to cast an absentee ballot allow older residents to cite their age as a reason, according to a new report.

The discrepancy may be unconstitutional because it discriminates against younger voters by denying them the option to vote absentee, particularly while the coronavirus outbreak remains a public health threat, concludes the report, which was authored by the University of California, Los Angeles Voting Rights Project, National Vote at Home Institute, and several advocacy organizations and scholars.

“Even though many younger voters would prefer to vote at home—like so many other Americans—many states do not make it easy for them to do so,” the report states.

The exact restrictions vary by state with Texas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee, allowing voters over the age of either 60 or 65 to request absentee ballots because of their age. Kentucky does not define what age qualifies as an older voter, instead allowing people of an “advanced age” to request absentee ballots.

“These laws use age to create two classes of voters—one with easier access to the ballot box than the other—and work to abridge the voting rights of younger voters,” the report said, alleging the practice violates the 26th Amendment.

States across the country have sought to make it easier for residents to vote by mail this year in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus infections at polling places. But despite efforts to boost absentee and early voting, many states that held primary elections last week still saw long lines at the limited number of polling places that were open.

Similar problems occurred during Georgia’s primary election on Tuesday as poll workers struggled with new voting machines even though the state proactively mailed 6.9 million registered voters absentee ballot request forms.

The report finds that where younger voters are allowed to vote absentee, they do so in much greater percentages than states that regulate absentee ballot access by age.

Nationally, the report found that 23% of voters ages 18 to 24 and 21% of voters aged 25 to 34 used absentee ballots in 2018.

In the seven states cited as having discriminatory absentee voting practices, the report found only 7% of voters ages 18 to 24 and 3% of voters ages 25 to 34 voted by mail.  

“In states where voters under 65 cannot vote at home without an excuse, voters who are 65 and older comprise nearly 65% of all such ballots,” the report states. “But in states without these provisions, the use of at-home ballots is much more evenly distributed, as older voters make up only 39% of the votes from home in those states.”

In Texas, multiple federal lawsuits are challenging the legality of the state’s restrictions on absentee voting.

The Texas Republican party has fought efforts to expand access to absentee voting, arguing in court that expanding vote-by-mail options can increase voting fraud.  The claims have been widely debunked by legal experts and scholars.

A federal lawsuit filed in Indiana also seeks to expand no-excuse absentee voting in the state ahead of the November presidential election.

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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