May 21, 2020 5:20 am
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Categories: Washington Post

with Brent D. Griffiths

Good morning, Power People. It’s Thursday. Tips, comments, recipes? You know the drill. Thanks for waking up with us. 

The Campaign

YOU GOT MAIL: President Trump’s disinformation campaign against mail-in balloting is putting him increasingly at odds with some Republican governors and state elections officials. It’s a standoff only likely to escalate before November as state officials in both parties grapple for ways voters can safely cast their ballots during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Trump yesterday threatened to withhold money from two battleground states if they continue to expand their vote-by-mail efforts, though he erred in describing their efforts and ended up attacking a Republican secretary of state while he was at it. 

And Trump’s unsubstantiated fraud claims ignore the strategy of the Republican National Committee and some GOP state parties, including Nebraska, Texas and Arkansas, among others.

In a series of Tuesday tweets, Trump falsely claimed Nevada and Michigan acted illegally and committed voter fraud by sending ballots to registered voters. He later corrected himself by tweeting it was ballot applications sent by Michigan rather than the ballots themselves.

Fact check: Michigan’s Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has sent all registered voters absentee ballot applications and Nevada’s Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske announced an all-mail June 9 primary where all registered voters will be sent a ballot automatically. 

  • Cegavske “lawfully declared the 2020 primary election as a mail-in election, according to a statement responding to Trump’s tweet.
  • “Nevada has many safeguards in place to ensure the integrity of an all-mail election, including signature requirements and verification processes, preprinted ballot return envelopes, barcode tracking, and laws against ballot harvesting,” the statement continued. “Voters concerned with mailing in their ballot may drop off their ballot at any designated drop-off location in their county.”
  • Benson corrected Trump via tweet on two separate occasions: first responding to Trump’s original tweet by saying she has sent “applications not ballots. Just like my GOP colleagues in Iowa, Georgia, Nebraska, and West Virginia.”
  • Trump eventually corrected his tweeted but did not back off his inaccurate claim  the “rogue” secretary of state had acted illegally. She responded again:

Asked about his claims later in the day, Trump defended them to reporters, claiming without evidence that “mail-in ballots are a very dangerous thing. They’re subject [to] massive fraud.” During a meeting with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) and Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D), he would not specify what funding might be withheld from Michigan or Nevada. 

  • “You’ll be finding out that we finding out very soon if it’s necessary” to withhold funding, Trump said. “I don’t think it’s going to be necessary.”
  • Pressed by Trump to weigh in, Hutchinson said Arkansas is looking at expanding mail-in voting: “If there is continued worry from a health standpoint and we want to be able to use no excuse absentee voting as a way to do it,” he told reporters. 

Other Republican-led states have done the exact same thing: Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), who Trump has repeatedly praised during the pandemic, encouraged Nebraskans to vote by mail before the state’s May 12 primary, though he also opened some in-person polling sites. 

  • “It’s a great way for people to be able to vote,Ricketts told reporters in April.
  • He and Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen (R) had previously announced for the first time in state history every voter would receive an absentee ballot request either through his office or from their county election official.
  • Nebraska later set a turnout record: Nearly 400,000 voted by mail or dropped off their ballot before the May 12 primary. Sen. Ben Sasse (R), who is running for reelection and faced a GOP primary challenger, broke the state’s record for the most primary votes ever received for a federal office. (He even brags about that feat in a new.)

Texas Republican Party Chairman James Dickey told Power Up last week the state party has sent out mailers for voters 65 and over, letting them know of ability to request vote by mail if they so desire and there is no reason we wouldn’t do it also this year. We’ve done that for years.” 

  • Dickey, however, argues the push to vote entirely by mail is “irresponsible and the latest in a very long trend of voter disenfranchisement” by Democrats, as we reported earlier this week. 
  • A federal judge ruled earlier this week that voters under the age of 65 who normally would not qualify for an absentee ballot are now eligible to vote by mail to “avoid transmission of the virus.”
  • The Republican National Committee also has been mailing registered voters absentee ballot applications in Pennsylvania, per the New York Times’s Nick Corasaniti:

Several Trumpvisers told Amy, Josh, Jeff and John  Trump’s tweets caught them by surprise, “including Republican National Committee chair and former Michigan state party chair Ronna McDaniel, as well as campaign manager Brad Parscale, according to people familiar with their reactions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.” 

  • they viewed the president’s attacks on Michigan in particular as unwise, given internal GOP polling showing he is trailing in the state.” 
  • “The first version of his tweet that erroneously said Michigan was sending out ballots — rather than ballot applications — was deleted after hours of internal conversations with Trump and others concluded that it was not a good idea, a Republican with knowledge of the discussions said,” my colleagues report.

Trump’s assault on absentee balloting also conflicts with scant evidence to support the claim that vote-by-mail increases the risk of fraud.

  • “Multiple studies have shown that Republicans and Democrats both can benefit with increased mail-in voting. Cases of ballot fraud are rare, report my colleagues Amy Gardner, Josh Dawsey, Jeff Stein and John Wagner. “Republican officeholders in at least 16 states that do not have all-mail elections have encouraged people to vote absentee during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a tally last month by The Washington Post.”
  • “Trump seems to think that anything that makes it easier for people to vote is going to hurt him,” Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, told the New York Times’s Reid Epstein, Nick Corasaniti and Annie Karni. “and he’s consistently expressed the view that anything that makes it easier to vote leads to voter fraud when there is absolutely no evidence to support that claim.”
  • The Heritage Foundation has been compiling a database of vote by mail fraud. “But Amber McReynolds, chief executive of Vote at Home, and Charles Stewart, an MIT political scientist who studies electionministration, contend that the database actually shows how rare fraud is,” ProPublica’s Jessica Huseman and Mike Spies report. “In late April, the pair wrote for The Hill that, of the 1,200 cases in the database, ‘204 involved the fraudulent use of absentee ballots; 143 resulted in criminal convictions.’” 

Legal battles over the issue of mail-in voting are playing out in several states that currently don’t offer no-excuse absentee voting. Earlier in February, the RNC announced it was “pumping more than $10 million into a legal campaign challenging Democratic voting-related lawsuits and building a massive Election Day operation,” per Politico’s Nolan McCaskill. 

Sixteen states still require an excuse to vote absentee, per the National Conference of State Legislatures. Indition to Texas, that includes New Hampshire, South Carolina, Massachusetts, and West Virginia, among others.

But: The swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona do not require an excuse to request an absentee ballot. But only one of them is set up for “most people to vote by mail,” according to the New York Times’s Emily Bazelon, “Arizona, where 79 percent did so in 2018.” 

  • “To fundamentally change the way voting has been done in those states, they will have to move quickly to sign contracts with vendors and then order supplies, like specially certified paper for envelopes and ballots, high-speed scanners to count votes and secure drop-off boxes. If they wait, they’ll risk running into shortages like the ones that have troubled the country’s efforts to fight the virus, Bazelon reports. 
  • “Wisconsin shows that you can’topt vote-by-mail overnight,” says Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford law professor and the head of the Healthy Elections Project, told Bazelon. “It’s not as easy as people think. The boring stuff matters — the scut work of supply chain and logistics and management is crucial. ”

Outside the Beltway

WHITMER SAYS STATE TO SEEK ‘LEGAL RECOURSE’ OVER FAILED DAM: “Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said that the state will ‘pursue every line of legal recourse’ against entities responsible for the failure of a river dam that forced thousands of residents to flee gushing floodwaters amid the pandemic,” Jacob Carah, Frances Stead Sellers, Andrew Freedman and Steven Mufson report from Midland, Mich.

  • What happened: “Homes downstream from the dams were inundated by as much as nine feet of water, as the surge compromised a second structure along Michigan’s Tittabawassee River. As 10,000 residents evacuated the city of Midland, a central Michigan community of about 40,000 people, the river reached a level more than a foot higher than the previous record.”

The disaster was attributed to historic rainfall and deferred maintenance at the dam: “Federal regulators revoked the Edenville Dam’s license to produce hydroelectric power in 2018 over whether it could handle big floods,” our colleagues write. “In a scathing report, the agency said Boyce Hydro, [which owns the dam], had an ‘extensive record of noncompliance’ over the previous 13 years.”

The Policies

DELAY IN LOCKDOWNS LED TO AT LEAST 36,000 MORE AMERICAN DEATHS: “If the United States had begun imposing social-distancing measures one week earlier in March, about 36,000 fewer people would have died in the pandemic, according to new estimates from Columbia University disease modelers,” the New York Times’s James Glanz and Campbell Robertson report.

Researchers found the earlier the action, the more American lives could have been spared “… If the country had begun locking down cities and limiting social contact on March 1, two weeks earlier than most people started staying home, the vast majority of the nation’s deaths — about 83 percent — would have been avoided, the researchers estimated. Under that scenario, about 54,000 fewer people would have died by early May.”

  • Key quote: “It’s a big, big difference. That small moment in time, catching it in that growth phase, is incredibly critical in reducing the number of deaths,” Jeffrey Shaman, a Columbia epidemiologist and the research team’s leader, told the Times.

The People

PPE SHORTAGES NEVER FULLY WENT AWAY: “Front-line health-care workers still experienced shortages of critical equipment needed for protection from the coronavirus into early May — including nearly two-thirds who cited insufficient supplies of the face masks that filter out most airborne particles, according to a Washington Post-Ipsos poll,” Lenny Bernstein and Alauna Safarpour report.

The dearth in supplies extended to even less protective gear: “More than 4 in 10 also saw shortages of less protective surgical masks and 36 percent said their supply of hand sanitizer was running low, according to the poll,” our colleagues write. “Roughly 8 in 10 reported wearing one mask for an entire shift, and more than 7 in 10 had to wear the same mask more than once.”

  • About the poll: “The survey interviewed a national sample of 8,086 U.S.ults, including 278 people who work with patients in health-care settings, such as doctors’ offices, clinics, hospitals and nursing homes. The poll was conducted from April 27 to May 4; results among health workers have a 6.5-point margin of sampling error.”

In the Agencies

POMPEO DEFIANT OVER IG FIRING: “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brushed aside questions Wednesday about his request that [Trump] fire the State Department inspector general, saying he knew nothing about investigations the office was carrying out and blaming leaks about them on a Democratic senator once accused of ‘taking bribes,’” Karen DeYoung and Carol Morello report.

  • The embattled secretary refused to explain why he recommended IG Steve Linick’s ouster to Trump: “I frankly should have done it some time ago,” Pompeo told reporters. “Pompeo said he would share his rationale about “personnel matters” with “the appropriate people.” He did not respond to a question about whether the State Department would meet a congressional request to supply communications and records related to Linick by Friday.”

Pompeo undermined one of his own defenses: “Pompeo’s defense basically boiled down to this: It couldn’t possibly have been retaliation, because I didn’t know what he was investigating. Except then Pompeo acknowledged that he might well have known that he was under investigation. And his explanation glosses over other ways in which the firing could have been retaliatory,” Aaron Blake reports.

  • Pompeomitted he knew of Linick’s probe of an arms deal with Saudi Arabia: “That’s a deal in which Linick was examining whether it illegally bypassed a congressional block on arms sales to the country. The New York Times reported Tuesday that Pompeo had declined an interview in the probe but instead offered written responses to Linick’s questions,” Blakeds.
  • Senior Trump officialsvised against that arms deal: Pompeo disregarded thevice of high-level officials at the State Department, Pentagon and within the intelligence community …,” Politico’s Lara Seligman, Andrew Desiderio and Betsy Woodruff Swan report.

In the Media

WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW:

A devastating cyclone hit India and Bangladesh: “One of the most powerful cyclones in decades slammed into low-lying coastal areas of the two countries, marking its path with destruction and leaving at least 14 dead, according to local officials,” Joanna Slater and Niha Masih report from New Delhi.

The Supreme Court stops House Democrats from accessing Robert Mueller’s documents for now: “The court, without noted dissent, agreed to a request from the Justice Department to put on hold a lower court’s decision granting the House Judiciary Committee some previously undisclosed material from Mueller’s probe,” Robert Barnes and Ann E. Marimow report.

  • What it means: “The action could mean that Congress will not receive the full Mueller report — without redactions of certain grand jury material — until after the November election, or perhaps not even during lawmakers’ current term, which ends Jan. 3.”

Graduating into a pandemic: A dozen high school and college seniors reflected to our colleagues on the uncertainties of heading into a world upended by the coronavirus. You can read all of their stories here.

  • Here’s a peek at the two-page spread in today’s paper:

Global Power

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