FILE – In this May 12, 2020 file photo, Robb Rehfeld wears a mask as he walks to cast his vote during a special election for California’s 25th Congressional District seat in Santa Clarita, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
OAN Newsroom UPDATED 2:16 PM PT – Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Millions of California voters have turned in their mail-in ballots early amid an intense election cycle.
In Orange County, the ballot count within the first few days of early voting was up by 400 percent compared to four years ago. On Tuesday, Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley stated tens of thousands of ballots are already being scanned and sorted by machines.
“What you’re seeing here are the ballots that are coming in from mail or drop boxes and these ballots, the first stop they make is this device which captures the signature of the voter and then we make the comparison to the voter’s signature on file and then we open the ballot if it’s eligible,” he explained. “The volume you’re seeing in these trays is about 20,000 higher than it was four years ago, so it’s significantly higher in volume.”
Kelley, who has been involved in the voting process for five elections, said this year’s voter engagement has been through the roof. Despite early voter turn out, however, authorities are not allowed to begin processing the votes until election night.
“We do everything, but tally the votes — I can’t do that until election night,” said Kelley. “So we hold the data in suspense and it’s in multiple databases, and then we fuse it all together on election night to produce the results.”
When it comes to election interference, Kelley said district attorneys in the area will help election officials enforce the law and mitigate any issues that arise.
“I think one of the things to point out is that, you know, elections have a lot of moving parts, and so it’s our job as election officials to try and plug those vulnerabilities,” he explained. “…to plug those holes and to have a good response system in place because things can go wrong.”
This comes as critics of mail-in voting, including President Trump, have said the process is ripe for fraud. On Saturday, a nonpartisan voting watchdog group called the Election Integrity Project sent the California secretary of state a letter notifying him of 440,000 questionable mail-in ballots.
According to the letter, the state sent ballots to voters who have likely died or moved in the last decade. The report notes these individuals have been inactive for up to 20 years yet are still considered active voters.
Meanwhile, thousands more California voters have received two or more ballots due to individuals being inaccurately registered in multiple places in the state.
This comes as Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued an executive order earlier this year, allowing universal mail-in voting among registered voters amid pandemic concerns.
FILE – In this Oct. 15, 2020, file photo, voters line up at an early voting satellite location at the Anne B. Day elementary school in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez, File)
OAN Newsroom UPDATED 8:33 AM PT – Saturday, October 17, 2020
Millions of voters have showed up at the polls and sent in their mail-in ballots in what’s being called an “unprecedented” early voting turnout. Concerns about the coronavirus and mail-in voting have been cited for the remarkable turnout.
According to recent reports, more than 21 million voters have cast their ballots either in person or through the mail so far. Around 1.4 million people had already voted by this time during 2016, accounting for more than 15 percent of the total votes during that election.
The Georgia state secretary said nearly 130,000 people cast ballots in the state Monday, smashing the nearly 91,000 votes cast on the first day of the 2016 election. One county said it saw a 484 percent increase from the first day of voting.
Georgia voters expressed a sense of urgency driving them to the polls, saying this election seems to be more complex due to the ongoing pandemic and the candidates.
“I would strongly recommend coming early and getting it done, that way you know it’s done,” stated Georgia resident Steve Butts. “It’s in the system, you don’t have to hear about it on the 6:00 o’clock news about ‘they found a burlap bag full of ballots’ in, you know, out in the woods somewhere.”
In Texas, where early voting started Tuesday, more than 1 million votes have already been cast in a record turnout. Nearly 17 million Texans registered to vote this year, which is up nearly 2 million since 2016.
In Ohio, nearly 200,000 residents cast early votes this week compared to around 64,000 during the same week in the last election.
Meanwhile in North Carolina, voters waited for up to three hours to cast their ballots in some areas when early voting started Thursday.
It’s a beautiful day, people are eager to vote,” said North Carolina resident Jason Roberts. ” If you wait and go next week, I think you’ll see the lines will not be nearly as long as they are today and it will be a much faster process for someone who doesn’t have the time to stand outside.”
According to reports, the number of first time voters choosing to vote early has more than doubled compared to 2016. More than 2 million infrequent voters have also cast ballots compared to 658,000 during the last election.
Officials said the steps taken by states to make it easier to register to vote and cast a ballot likely contributed to the increased turnout. In Virginia, for example, voters can now vote absentee without having to provide a reason and lawmakers have made Election Day a state holiday.
Registered Democrats are reportedly “significantly” outnumbering Republicans in this early turnout and have returned nearly 2.5 million more ballots. However, GOP officials said they are not concerned while pointing out a majority of Republican voters prefer to vote in person, especially on Election Day.
“This is a pattern we are seeing across other states as well — that Democrats in particular are very motivated to turnout, but they are also very motivated to either vote by mail or vote early,”stated Seth Masket, Director of the Center on American Politics, University of Denver. “There is a good deal of enthusiasm among Republicans as well, they are more interested in voting close to or on Election Day.”
One expert who tracks polling data said Democrats may be doing Republicans a favor by voting early thus clearing out polling places for Republicans to vote come Election Day.
Huge numbers of votes have already been cast in the US election as Donald Trump and Joe Biden strive to win over those as yet undecided.
More than 22 million Americans have already cast ballots, a record-breaking number by this stage, driven by the enthusiasm of Democrat supporters and the impact of the pandemic.
The 22.2 million early votes lodged by Friday night is 16% of all the ballots cast in the 2016 presidential election, with eight states yet to report their totals.
Americans’ rush to vote is leading election experts to predict the turnout could be higher than in any previous election since 1908.
With Democrats out-voting Republicans 2-1 at this early stage, supporters of Mr Trump have been preparing for an early advantage for Mr Biden as their president has railed against postal ballots and raised unfounded concerns about fraud.
Mr Trump attacked his opponent’s family and defended his efforts to control the coronavirus on Friday as he campaigned in Florida and Georgia.
Mr Biden, who was in the Midwest, pressed home his message on health care.
In Florida on Friday, the president attacked the Bidens as “an organised crime family”, renewing his claims about the candidate’s son, Hunter, and his business dealings in Ukraine and China.
He also spoke directly to elderly people, many of whom have been unimpressed by his handling of the pandemic.
Mr Trump said: “I am moving heaven and earth to safeguard our seniors from the China virus.
“We are prevailing,” he added, as he promised to deliver the first doses of a vaccine to pensioners when it is ready.
But his actions continued to stoke controversy.
All the president’s security personnel and support staff were wearing face masks when Air Force One touched down, but Mr Trump and Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis were bare faced.
It came despite former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who coached Mr Trump ahead of the last presidential debate, saying he was wrong not to wear a mask at the White House, after he and the president both came down with the virus.
Many in the crowd at the president’s events were without masks as well.
It contrasted with Mr Biden’s arrival at a suburban Detroit community centre, where all participants wore masks throughout the event, except when they were speaking, and a small crowd of dozens of reporters and supporters were separated by social distancing.
Mr Biden attacked Mr Trump’s optimism about the pandemic, saying: “He’s living in a dream world.”
Newly released finance figures revealed Mr Trump’s campaign raised $247.8 million (£191.9 million) in September, well short of the $383 million (£296.5 million) raised by Mr Biden’s campaign.
In North Carolina, which Mr Trump won by 3% in 2016 and needs to win again if he is to triumph, a long line of people snaked around a school in Charlotte where early in-person voting was underway on Thursday.
Every one of more than a dozen people interviewed by AP said they chose to show up because they worried that postal ballots could get lost.
School formals have become a rite of passage for many Year 12 students, but the class of 2020 is being confronted with everything from cancellations to bans on dancing and even a ballot system to see which classmates can attend.
Each state has slightly different regulations that govern end of year formals, with Victoria flatly forbidding any events.
Yet schools in NSW, Queensland and even Tasmania are charting a tricky path to hosting end of year celebrations.
For students, it means a somewhat strange end to a tumultuous year.
A number of celebrities, including Donald Trump critics Sarah Silverman, Mark Ruffalo, and Chelsea Handler, have raised eyebrows with a video where they strip to explain naked ballots and encourage voting.
“I’m naked,” comedian and actor Chris Rock opens the video saying, sans a shirt. He’s followed by several other outspoken liberal performers like Amy Schumer and Tiffany Haddish announcing the same thing.
“I know what you’re thinking — you’re thinking, Ruffalo, put your clothes on,” ‘Avengers’ star Mark Ruffalo says, shirtless, in a bathroom.
The celebs go on to give a warning about naked ballots, which refers to mail-in ballots that could be voided in several states, including swing state Pennsylvania, if they are not put into two separate envelopes before being sent out.
Several of the female celebrities can be seen covering their breasts. Comedian Sarah Silverman, who does her covering with her self-described “man” hands, ends the video by baring her chest, which is blurred out, and saluting the camera after the celebs encourage “everyone” to get out and vote.
“Everyone’s voice matters in this election,” Chelsea Handler, who has claimed a vote for Trump is a vote for “white supremacy,” says.
The video was put together by RepresentUs, an anti-corruption organization. Though that group’s CEO, Josh Silver, said in a statement naked ballots are “not a partisan issue,” the PSA is stuffed with anti-Trump celebrities, including a clothed Sacha Baron Cohen as his film character Borat, who will be the center of a movie critical of the president set to be released weeks before the November 3 election.
The video’s nude celebrities gimmick has made plenty of critics cringe on social media.
“I’m not mad celebrities got naked. I’m mad they aren’t hot,” podcaster Bridget Petasy tweeted.
“No one asked for this,” Fox News contributor Sarah A. Carter responded.
I don’t know if there is anyone in America who will be convinced to vote because of a montage of horrifically naked celebrities, but if there are, they are precisely the sorts of people who shouldn’t be voting at all pic.twitter.com/RZm48r3Cwg
“Thank you all for helping Trump win again,” tweeted conservative filmmaker Nick Searcy, who made a satirical version of a similarly-maligned video with liberal celebs singing a cover of ‘Imagine’ in May, a video many compared the new “naked” PSA to.
In the next video, the naked liberal celebs sing “Imagine”
PARK TAVERN anchors the south-east corner of Atlanta’s charming Piedmont Park. It offers eclectic bar food, home-brewed beer, abundant outdoor seating, and a warm welcome to dogs. Like most bars, it usually comes to life in late afternoon. But on June 9th this year the queue stretched out of the door and round the building before 7am, and did not thin out until well after the dinner rush ended.
Atlantans were lined up not for Cowboy Rolls or (shudder) Unity Triple-Goddess Ginger Kombucha Beer. They were lined up to vote. No polling place served more Georgians in the June primary than Park Tavern, though the experience of waiting hours to cast a ballot was sadly common across the state. Whether this experience is repeated in November could matter a great deal.
In Georgia the secretary of state’s office certifies candidate eligibility, oversees voter registration and creates ballots, but leaves electoral administration to the state’s 159 counties—more than any state except Texas. The state maintains voter rolls, which many complain it does too rigidly, rejecting registrations, for instance, because, in the judgment of an election official, an applicant’s signature fails to precisely match a signature already on file. But counties choose and staff polling places, set electoral budgets and tabulate results.
Georgia was one of just nine states wholly subject to the “pre-clearance” requirement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965—meaning it had to seek federal approval for any changes to its voting practices—imposed on jurisdictions with a history of racially discriminatory voting practices. Since the Supreme Court invalidated that requirement in a ruling in 2013, Georgia’s counties have closed hundreds of polling places; between 2012 and 2018, only Texas and Arizona closed more.
According to data-crunching by Georgia Public Broadcasting News, more than 10% of Georgia’s polling places in the June 9th primary had to remain open past official closing time to accommodate voters (anyone in line when polls officially close can still vote). Two-thirds of them were in majority-minority precincts. Many black Georgians have grown accustomed to waiting hours to vote. Wanda Mosley, Georgia’s senior coordinator for Black Voters Matter, visited a precinct in a wealthy suburb north of Atlanta on June 9th. “When we pulled up,” she explained, “I thought we were in the wrong place. There were no lines. That’s not something I’m used to seeing.”
Georgia’s secretary of state’s office has a benign explanation for this. First, the primary took place during a pandemic; voters in other states also faced long waits because of higher-than-expected turnout, poll-worker shortages and a reduction in voting machines to maintain social distancing. For November’s election, Georgia has recruited more poll workers. Many of its counties have added polling places and will have trained technicians on hand to help with voting-machine problems. Second, in June’s primary, all Georgia’s counties used new voting machines for the first time. Some poll workers had problems operating them, which led to delays.
All this may be true. But many Georgians—particularly Democrats—view them sceptically. They remember, for instance, 2018, when the then secretary of state, Brian Kemp, defeated Stacey Abrams in an election plagued by irregularity that he oversaw. They may also remember Mr Kemp’s devotion to a regulation that rejected voter-registration applications because of discrepancies between names. A professor named Carlos del Rio, for instance, was erroneously registered as “delRio,” and, according to a lawsuit filed by Ms Abrams’s group Fair Fight, had to “navigate a lengthy process” to be able to vote. This exact-match system tends not to affect voters with names like Brian Kemp.
Perhaps the closures were a budgetary matter, and measures such as exact signature-matching are needed to prevent voter fraud. That is what Georgia’s Republicans would like their voters to believe. Perhaps the governor’s race was stolen, and Georgia’s electoral system is tainted by systemic racism. That is what Democrats would like their voters to believe. The state’s two Senate races (one is a special election) are on a knife’s edge: a lot hangs on which story motivates more voters.■
A judge has cleared the way for more absentee ballots to be counted in Michigan
DAVID EGGERT and ED WHITE Associated Press
September 18, 2020, 5:18 PM
• 3 min read
LANSING, Mich. — A judge on Friday cleared the way for more absentee ballots to be counted in Michigan, saying envelopes postmarked by the eve of the Nov. 3 election are eligible, even if they show up days later.
The decision is significant in a state that is anticipating waves of absentee ballots this fall; about 2.3 million have already been requested. For absentee ballots to be counted, Michigan law requires them to be received by the time polls close on Election Day.
Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens said there’s a crucial need for flexibility in November, especially after more than 6,400 ballots were disqualified in the state’s August primary election.
“The evidence in this case stands uncontroverted and establishes that the mail system is currently fraught with delays and uncertainty in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Stephens said.
An absentee ballot can be counted if postmarked by Nov. 2 and received within 14 days after the election, said Stephens, who noted that it can take two weeks to certify Michigan election results anyway.
The judge’s order could cause a delay in declaring winners in some races. President Donald Trump won Michigan by only 10,000 votes in 2016.
The state doesn’t plan to appeal Stephens’ decision or a ruling from a different judge about driving voters to polling places, said Ryan Jarvi, a spokesman for Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat.
“With the November election quickly approaching, voters and local clerks need certainty — and these decisions provide that,” Jarvi said. “Therefore, we do not intend to appeal but rather will use this time to educate and inform voters of their rights.”
The state’s top election official, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, also a Democrat, had been urging the Republican-controlled Legislature to allow the counting of absentee ballots that arrive two days after the election.
Separately, a federal judge on Thursday blocked Michigan’s longstanding ban on transporting voters to the polls.
It’s a misdemeanor to hire drivers to take voters to polling places unless they’re unable to walk. Michigan was the only state where ride-hailing company Uber did not offer discounted rides to the polls on Election Day in November 2018, according to the lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis suspended enforcement of the law. A form of the ban has been on the books since 1895.
“Congress implemented a statutory scheme and gave citizens the right to spend money on transporting voters to the polls,” Davis said.
The ban had been challenged by groups including Priorities USA, a liberal super PAC that has said it plans to spend millions mobilizing and turning out voters in the battleground state.
Late in August, a weekly mail plane touched down on a cattle station on the remote Barkly Tablelands to deliver welcome cargo: a handful of postal votes for the Northern Territory election.
Bush voters are worried their postal votes didn’t make the counting deadline
The electoral commission says the issue has been raised up to 30 times
Some seats came down to just a handful of votes
That night, family members, station hands and contractors at Elkedra Station gathered to fill out the ballots ahead of a mammoth plan to make sure they met a fast-approaching election deadline.
“Sometimes you do just have to go the extra mile to make sure the vote counts,” pastoralist Amber Driver said.
For the eligible voters on the vast property — roughly halfway between Mt Isa and Alice Springs — the extra mile was an 800-kilometre round trip along remote and unsealed roads to hand-deliver their votes in Alice Springs.
“We weren’t prepared not to count,” Ms Driver said.
“We actually didn’t think it would be viable to hold onto them until the following Thursday to return them on the [mail plane] service.
“We actually sent someone to town with the votes to ensure they would be reached on time.”
For Ms Driver, the stakes were high.
The group is among numerous bush constituents concerned that delays in postal voting may have prevented them from having a say in a closely fought election.
“As it so happens, I think we had about eight registered voters at the station,” Ms Driver said.
“For the seat of Barkly, with the two-candidate preferred, it came down to seven votes.”
Mail arrived but votes didn’t: NTCA
Under NT election legislation, postal votes need to be returned within a two-week window before they’re declared invalid.
But industry group the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association said many members were left with only about a week for votes to be returned on mail planes and make their way to the NT Electoral Commission.
“Those complaints came in from right across the Northern Territory, so from areas around Katherine down to Central Australia into areas closer to the Queensland border and across,” NTCA CEO Ashley Manicaros said.
More than 2,200 postal votes were outstanding by the deadline last Friday, and an NTEC spokesman said the commission had been contacted between 20 and 30 times about delays.
An NTEC review of the 2016 election acknowledged that the short election timetable and declining postal services made it difficult to meet the needs of some remote voters.
Could any results be challenged?
In four seats, voting was so close that the outcome wasn’t clear until after the voting deadline on Friday.
Hundreds of legitimate postal votes were returned after the deadline in each of the previous three elections.
But according to ABC chief election analyst Antony Green, close results could only be annulled if the NTEC did not take sufficient steps to dispatch votes as quickly as possible.
“If there’s a challenge on the basis of postal votes that haven’t been returned in time, the return date is not the problem,” he said.
“The question is whether they dispatched them properly and that’ll be the issue, not the return.”
The NTEC spokesman said prospective postal voters were targeted through radio and social media campaigns to apply for postal voting packs as soon as possible, so they could receive them in a mail-out on Monday, August 10.
He said all NTEC mail during the election period is prioritised by Australia Post staff.
Push for voting changes
Some rural voters are now asking whether secure electronic voting could be considered in future elections.
“Another option is that the mail plane actually goes into each cattle station, so is it possible for an NT Electoral Commission officer to be on that mail plane and filling out the votes as they go,” Mr Manicaros said.
Ms Driver suggested an improvement that would effectively send rural constituents receipts for their votes.
“We don’t receive a notification that it’s got there in time and that it’s being counted,” she said.
President Donald Trump, Attorney General William Barr and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf arrive at Andrews Air Force Base after a trip to Kenosha, Wis., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
OAN Newsroom UPDATED 8:14 AM PT – Thursday, September 3, 2020
Attorney General William Barr vowed to prevent voter fraud related to mail-in ballots in a heated interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
During the exchange, Barr said the Department of Justice has reviewed hundreds of claims of fraud and coercion with mail-in ballots over the past 10 years.
“The only time the narrative changed is after this administration came in, but elections that have been held with mail have found substantial fraud and coercion,” he explained. “For example, we indicted someone in Texas…1,700 ballots collected from people who could vote, he made them out and voted for the person he wanted to.”
Watch: “Let me talk!” AG Bill Barr just clashed with CNN’s Wolf Bitzer in a heated segment over mail-in voting: “This is cheap talk to get around the fundamental problem” pic.twitter.com/1PzHm9qN6l
Individual US states control their own voting rules for federal elections – and many are looking to increase postal voting to prevent large gatherings at polling stations on election day.
There are now six states planning to hold “all-mail” ballot elections this November – after California recently joined Utah, Hawaii, Colorado, Oregon and Washington – and more could follow.
These states will automatically send all registered voters postal ballots, which then have to be sent back or dropped off on election day – although some in-person voting is still available in certain limited circumstances.
About half of US states allow any registered voter to vote by post on request.
There was also a case earlier this year in New Jersey which saw two Democratic councillors charged with alleged fraud in relation to postal voting, after hundreds of ballots were found stuffed in a post box.
In August, election officials said that nearly one in five postal votes had to be disqualified due to arriving late, not having the right postmark or lacking a signature.
But there has been no evidence of widespread fraud, according to the New York Times.
What about safeguards?
There are provisions in place to prevent people from impersonating voters or stealing ballots – such as authorities checking that ballots have come from voters’ registered address and requiring signatures on envelopes.
President Trump has claimed that the the signature for mail-in voting “doesn’t have to be verified.”
However, most states do specifically compare signatures on the ballot with one on file and all have steps in place to verify postal votes, according to National Public Radio.