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Expand chart
Data: RepresentUs and NCSL; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

With in-person elections on Nov. 3 the hope but no longer a certainty, states are racing to chip away age-old barriers to alternatives in time for the general election.

Why it matters: State laws and political calculations remain formidable obstacles to expanding voting options. And the price tag for changes could top $2 billion.

  • "The more people who vote early or vote by mail means fewer people standing in line on election day," California Secretary of State Alex Padilla told Axios.

State of play: Eight states still don't let all voters cast ballots by mail.

  • Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky and Connecticut require specific excuses to vote absentee and do not as of yet have early voting options in place for the general election.
  • North Carolina last year made their absentee ballot rules stricter.

But because of the coronavirus, all 50 states have declared state or public health emergencies, according to the National Governors Association (NGA) — and that's allowing some states to delay some election-related timing and change polling locations.

  • Virginia previously didn't allow vote-by-mail without an excuse. A new law will allow no-excuse absentee voting in November, and a temporary measure also allows it for local May elections.
  • Additionally, West Virginia, Indiana, Alabama, Delaware, Arkansas and Massachusetts, New York and New Hampshire are temporarily allowing anyone to vote absentee in elections this spring and summer because of the coronavirus — but not all have extended those provisions to November, yet. They're among 17 states that typically demand specific reasons for voting by mail.

Meanwhile, frustrations over delayed action have prompted lawsuits in several states.

  • Multiple lawsuits were filed in Wisconsin, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Gov. Tony Evers later signed an executive order delaying in-person voting for the state's primary election until June, but the order was blocked by a last-minute Supreme Court decision.
  • Texas Democrats are seeking to expand an existing vote-by-mail law that allows residents to vote by mail if they're disabled. The state Democratic Party filed a lawsuit on March 20 to change the vote-by-mail laws because of the coronavirus.

A report by the Brennan Center for Justice, a left-leaning nonprofit, recommends expanding early voting and giving everyone the option of voting by mail, along with setting up safe polling places and expanding online registration.

Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Ron Wyden want legislation pushing states to allow mail-in voting for all voters without an excuse — but key Republican senators haven't embraced it.

  • A Senate GOP aide told Axios that Republicans have supported bills that provide states funding for improving and strengthening elections but think decisions on election processes should be left to state and local officials.
  • "Most states have many of the measures that Democrats wanted to force in a top-down federal approach," Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) told Axios.
  • Some Democrats think higher voter turnout would help them. But various reports suggest vote-by-mail increases could benefit Democrats or Republicans.

The other side: Forty-one states now have some form of early-vote options, either by mail or in person. And 34 states will allow for absentee voting without an excuse in November, five of those automatically sending every voter a mail-in ballot.

  • Jack Noland, research manager at RepresentUs, which tracks absentee voting laws, said states that are changing have moved at a "rapid" pace — "a sign that folks are pretty concerned and taking this seriously."

States are looking at other elections changes as well, Paul Pate, Iowa's secretary of state and the president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, told Axios.

  • Iowa is consolidating voting precincts to reduce the number of poll workers, who tend to be older and thus at higher risk.
  • States are also considering extending early-voting periods and moving voting locations away from vulnerable populations.

Be smart: Despite speculation the general election could be suspended or delayed, bipartisan officials say that's not going to happen.

  • Per federal law, the general election is held "Tuesday next after the 1st Monday in November" of even-numbered years.
  • President Trump can't change that, even in a national emergency. Only Congress could, and there's no prospect for that — especially under split-party control.

Go deeper

28 U.S. citizens depart Afghanistan on Qatar Airways flight

Passengers board a Qatar Airways aircraft bound to Qatar at the airport in Kabul on September 10, 2021. Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images

The State Department on Saturday confirmed that a Qatar Airways charter flight left Kabul on Friday with 28 U.S. citizens and seven lawful permanent residents on board.

The big picture: Friday's flight is the third such airlift by Qatar Airways since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, AP reports.

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Smaller than expected "Justice for J6" rally met with large police presence

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A few hundred demonstrators were met by a heavy law enforcement presence on Saturday at the "Justice for J6" rally outside the fenced-off U.S. Capitol, AP reports.

The latest: Four people were arrested at the rally, including one person with a gun, one with a knife and two with outstanding warrants, per the U.S. Capitol Police.

DHS to increase deportation flights to Haiti from Del Rio

Migrants walk across the Rio Grande River carrying supplies back to a makeshift encampment under the international bridge between Del Rio, Texas, and Acuña, Mexico. Officials are struggling to provide food, water, shelter and sanitation, forcing migrants to cross the Rio Grande several times per day for basic necessities. Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar via Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security on Saturday announced plans to ramp up deportation flights to Haiti out of the small Texas border town Del Rio, starting as soon as Sunday.

Why it matters: Reports have emerged of more than 10,000 migrants, primarily from Haiti, crowded in a temporary camp under the international bridge in Del Rio. Hoping to find refuge in the United States, they've had to bear with filthy conditions and the scorching sun for days, per an NBC News affiliate.