As the election draws nearer, political observers are increasingly turning attention to poll results in states across the country. But of course, poll numbers don’t decide elections — votes cast and ballots counted do.
News reports continue to pile up describing efforts not just to make it harder for people to vote, but also to cast doubt on the voting process or on the actual ballots themselves. Perhaps the most vocal source of election-related scare tactics is President Donald Trump, who continues to push his debunked claims that increased use of voting by mail will lead to widespread voter fraud.
He’s not alone in trumpeting those claims, of course. The Daily Beast reported on Wednesday that Fox News’ research team has launched an “Election Integrity Project,” ostensibly to try to dig up stories about alleged voting irregularities to stoke alarm about potential fraud. Mail-in ballots have also been the subject of multiple lawsuits in various states, with the Trump campaign and Republican lawyers challenging efforts to expand access to voting during the coronavirus pandemic and securing court decisions that limit the window in which ballots can be counted. Confusion over absentee ballot requirements — including South Carolina’s witness signature requirement, recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court — could also deter people from exercising their right to vote.
Some states have also instituted “voter fraud task forces” that purport to be designed to ensure the integrity of elections, but serve to reinforce the narrative that voter fraud is a far bigger threat than it actually is. This week, American Oversight, represented by Georgia law firm Caplan Cobb LLP, sued Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for failing to respond to multiple records requests not only about the state’s Absentee Ballot Fraud Task Force, but also about voter roll maintenance and the impact of the pandemic on voting access.
Election officials in Georgia and across the country are also preparing for potentially high levels of voter intimidation at polling places. Trump has directed his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully,” and his campaign has been coordinating a massive effort involving tens of thousands of poll watchers that has alarmed voting-rights advocates. And the 2018 lifting of a consent decree that had prohibited the Republican National Committee from coordinating poll-watching operations means this is the first presidential election in decades in which the RNC can send people to monitor polling locations.
Some other related news items:
As Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett dodged simple questions from senators during this week’s confirmation hearing, on topics like climate change and voter intimidation, new information about her past work not listed on her Senate paperwork has continued to trickle out.
“There has never been a nominee about whom we know so little,” said Austin Evers, American Oversight’s executive director, quoted by NBC News. As the Senate leadership forces her nomination through, “the public has a right to understand who has been nominated to fill the most consequential Supreme Court vacancy in recent memory.”
This week, American Oversight called upon the Department of Agriculture’s inspector general to investigate Secretary Sonny Perdue’s financial assets to determine whether they violate the ethics commitments he made when he was nominated in 2017. Politico reported on the complaint, and quoted Evers: “The secretary’s numerous and labyrinthine financial interests in agribusiness and land development makes it essential that his ethical commitments be rigorously enforced so as not to create a conflict of interest.”
‘The Swamp That Trump Built’: This week, the New York Times published an extensive account of how businesspeople and foreign politicians seeking to ingratiate themselves with the Trump administration have found access at the president’s hotels and clubs — with, of course, the requisite entrance fees. “Trump did not merely fail to end Washington’s insider culture of lobbying and favor-seeking,” wrote Times reporters. “He reinvented it, turning his hotels and resorts into the Beltway’s new back rooms, where public and private business mix and special interests reign.”
The article references records of correspondence obtained by American Oversight, showing Australian billionaire Anthony Pratt emailing Secretary Perdue after spending the holidays at Mar-a-Lago in 2017, as he sought to expand his business.
Trump’s Twitter: Two sets of documents we obtained show federal agencies approved or were aware of the president’s tweets prior to his sending them. One shows DHS officials giving the OK on a tweet about the so-called migrant caravan in April 2018; the email requesting clearance is forwarded to a group that included White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller and acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, who was then chief of staff. And in January 2019, Trump tweeted that FEMA should not send any more money to California to help combat forest fires (or as he first said, “Forrest fires”) “unless they get their act together.” “Tweet is out,” wrote FEMA’s external affairs director afterward.
When Trump’s tweets create confusion or controversy, officials have often depicted them as rogue statements, sometimes arguing that they are presidential actions, sometimes the opposite. These documents show that sometimes those tweets are vetted through an agency — and that officials may know about the statements in advance. Read more over at our Twitter.
Migrant Protection Protocols: The Trump administration has made it harder for people fleeing violence and persecution to obtain asylum, including making asylum-seekers remain in Mexico while waiting for their cases to proceed. We obtained documents showing an early version of this controversial policy, called the Migrant Protection Protocols.
‘A D.C. Conservative Power Couple’: The New York Times published an article about Carrie Severino, the head of the Judicial Crisis Network, and Roger Severino, a senior official at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights. We’ve previously written about Roger Severino’s work at HHS, including his involvement in rewriting a key health-care nondiscrimination regulation so its protections would not apply to transgender patients or women who have had abortions.
Trump Loyalists in Top Jobs: Foreign Policy reported this week that the Trump administration has tapped Joshua Whitehouse, a former Trump campaign official, to be the new White House liaison at the Defense Department, a position that, one source told the publication, can help write career job descriptions to directly match the experience of political appointees. The move is the latest in the White House’s efforts to purge officials suspected of being insufficiently loyal to the president, and to install Trump devotees into permanent career positions. We obtained Whitehouse’s resume from 2017.
CDC: Almost all of the U.S. kids and teens who’ve died from Covid-19 were Hispanic or Black (Business Insider)
U.S. virus cases climb toward a third peak (New York Times)
As virus spread, reports of Trump administration’s private briefings fueled sell-off (New York Times)
Democrats urge watchdog to rush review of Trump drug cards (Politico)
FDA pushes back on Trump administration attempt to rebrand ‘emergency authorization’ (Politico)
Supreme Court allows Trump administration to end census counting on Oct. 15 (NPR)
Postmaster General DeJoy’s six-figure donations to GOP convention align with Senate probe of wife (Salon)
‘Unmasking’ probe commissioned by Barr concludes without charges or any public report (Washington Post)
Watchdog group seeks ethics probe of Oshkosh project by Sen. Johnson children (Wisconsin Examiner)
Move over, Hunter Biden. Meet Eric Branstad, the China ambassador’s son who got rich in Trump’s swamp. (The Intercept)
California kept prison factories open. Inmates worked for pennies an hour as Covid-19 spread. (Los Angeles Times)
Barr tells Republicans Durham report won’t be ready by election (Axios)
The feds moved migrants in unmarked vans overseas (Foreign Policy)
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