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Protestors Call for Puerto Rico Governor’s Resignation

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  • Protestors in Puerto Rico have been demonstrating for the last three days calling for Governor Ricardo Rosselló to step down.
  • The demonstrations come after 900 pages of leaked private messages showed the governor and other officials using sexist and homophobic slurs against political opponents, women, and others.
  • Many of Rosselló’s political allies have withdrawn their support and two government officials involved in the chat resigned this weekend, but the governor has said he will not step down.
  • The chats were first leaked just one day after six government officials were arrested and charged with funneling $15.5 million worth of federal contracts to politically connected consultants. 

Protests

Thousands of people took to the streets of Puerto Rico on Monday in the third consecutive day of protests calling for Governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign.

The protests took a turn after demonstrators gathered near the governor’s mansion, and police fired tear gas and pepper spray into the crowd. The island’s police commissioner later told reporters that protesters had thrown rocks, bottles, and tear gas canisters at the officers.

Demonstrators are calling for Rosselló to step down after leaked messages from a group chat on Telegram showed the governor and 11 men in his inner circle repeatedly using sexist and homophobic slurs to insult political opponents, women, and others.

The excerpts from the messages were first leaked to the media by an anonymous source on Thursday. Then on Saturday, Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published nearly 900 pages of messages from that group chat.

In those chats, Rosselló himself reportedly used sexist slurs to describe the former New York City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and used profanities when talking about the federal oversight group working Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.

Rosselló and others joked about shooting Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan. They also made homophobic comments about Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin, and talked about manipulating public opinion and discrediting journalists and other opponents of the governor.

All of the individuals involved in the scandal, which has been dubbed “Chatgate” and “Rickyleaks,” were either current or former administration officials.

Notably, that included Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marín, Interior Secretary Ricardo Llerandi, Public Affairs Secretary Anthony Maceira, and Cheif Financial Officer Christian Sobrino.

Response

In addition to the protests, Rosselló has also seen significant political backlash.

Many of the governor’s political allies have withdrawn their support for him. Puerto Rico’s Senate president and House majority leader said they lost faith in Rosselló. Both those leaders were mocked in the messages even though they are members of the same political party.

Representative Jenniffer González-Colón, Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member in the U.S. Congress, said that Rosselló should not run for re-election in 2020, and that he should “immediately reflect on his role as governor.”

Other political figures and members of the island’s House and Senate have also come out against the governor. Prominent Puerto Rican celebrities like Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and singer Ricky Martin have also voiced support for the protests and condemned Rosselló.

Over the weekend, Secretary of State Marín Puerto and Cheif Financial Officer Sobrino resigned. Rosselló, however, is refusing to step down.

After the messages were leaked, Rosselló released a statement where he apologized for the comments, and said he had been under a lot of pressure and working long hours, adding that the messages were just him releasing tension.

He said he would fire the members of his administration who were in the chat, though he also said he would keep the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Public Affairs- meaning the two highest-ranking officials in the chat that did not resign would still be in office.

Rosselló also said in the statement that he will announce a government reorganization and anti-corruption measures in the next few days.

This is a very painful situation for me, as governor, as a human being and as a Puerto Rican,” he added. “But I recognise there is no other way out and there is no worthwhile forgiveness on my part that does not include corrections and clear signs of intent to change.”

During a radio interview Monday, Rosselló insisted that it is in Puerto Rico’s best interest for him to stay in office. “I have to lift myself up. And I have to move forward to do what’s best for Puerto Rico,” he said.

The Tip of the Iceberg

Part of the reason these messages are such a big deal and have created such a big response is that for many Puerto Ricans, this is the result of a lot of built-up frustration with a governor who ran as an anti-corruption and pro-transparency candidate.

The first leak to the media came just one day after federal authorities revealed a massive corruption investigation into high levels of the island’s government when they arrested six people and filed criminal charges against them for illegally directing nearly $15.5 million in federal contracts to politically connected consultants.

Those arrested included Rosselló’s former education secretary and the former executive director of the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration. After that scandal, there were already calls for Rosselló to step down.

Both of these incidents only add to the frustrations over how Rosselló handled the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which killed upwards of 4,645, according to a new Havard study.

Puerto Ricans are also upset about Rosselló’s controversial education policies, as well as the country’s nearly 12-year-long economic recession that many feel he has done little to fix.

On Monday afternoon, a lawmaker introduced legislation to bring impeachment charges against Rosselló.

However, leaders in Puerto Rico’s House and Senate, both of which are controlled by the governor’s party, said that they will give him more time to think about his future before starting impeachment proceedings.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Al Jazeera) (The Los Angeles Times)

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Facebook Struggles With Roll Out of Election-Week Political Ad Ban

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  • Facebook announced in September that it would ban all new political ads the week before the election, but the company’s first day enforcing the policy was met with a number of issues. 
  • Both Republicans and Democrats reported having ads banned that were approved before the deadline, a factor that could be very harmful to small, local campaigns that rely on the platform to share their messages.
  • Meanwhile, a Trump campaign ad arbitrarily saying “Today is Election Day” and encouraging people to “vote TODAY!” — in violation of the platform’s rules — was allowed to run before Facebook removed it. 

Facebook Rolls Out Election-Week Policy

Facebook implemented its new policy on Tuesday prohibiting any new political ads from running the week before the election in a rollout that was riddled with glitches.

The company first announced the ban in September as part of a broader set of policies aimed at combatting misinformation ahead of the election. Notably, the rule does not prohibit all political ads — campaigns can still run old ones.

In fact, political advertisers are even allowed to change the budget of those ads and decide when they would run. Under the election week ban, anyone running a political ad is simply required to submit and run any new ads before midnight Pacific Time on Monday.

But on Tuesday, both Democratic and Republican strategists reported immediate problems and told reporters that ads they had previously run, and thus met Facebook’s guidelines, had been banned.

Eric Frenchman, the chief marketing officer at Republican digital firm Campaign Solutions, told Reuters that several campaigns he was working with were hit. A spokesperson for the campaign of Democratic nominee Joe Biden also informed the outlet that an undisclosed number of the former vice president’s campaign ads had been impacted.

In a statement on Twitter, Biden’s digital director Rob Flaherty slammed Facebook and called the company’s ban a “silly, performative pre-election hoop-jumping exercise.”

Big Issues for Small Campaigns

That criticism was also echoed by Maddie Kriger, the Integrated Media Director at the progressive advocacy organization and super PAC Priorities USA, who told CNBC the organization’s previously-approved ads had been blocked too.

“Even [with] accidental errors, an error like this has a huge impact on our program and our ability to communicate to voters,” she said. “It’s really unacceptable at this stage of the election. It’s just such high stakes that 12 hours in a week left situation is a real loss.”

Facebook has been one of the cheapest and most effective ways for candidates — especially in local races — to share their messages with voters. At the end of the day, glitches like this may not be a big deal for campaigns like Biden’s or President Donald Trump’s, which have a lot of money and manpower. 

However, these technical issues can seriously impact those smaller campaigns that might not have enough financial and physical support for alternative outreach like emails and phone banking during this key final stretch before the election. This is especially important during the coronavirus pandemic when in-person outreach like door-knocking and campaign events are limited.  

It is unclear if these problems persisted into Wednesday, though Facebook spokesperson Rob Leathern said in a tweet that the company was looking into it.

“We’re investigating the issues of some ads being paused incorrectly, and some advertisers having trouble making changes to their campaigns,” he said. “We’re working quickly on these fixes, and will share an update once they are resolved.”

Trump Campaign Ads

The glitches were not the only backlash Facebook experienced Tuesday over the policy. While strategists for smaller, local campaigns worried about communicating with voters, others noted that the Trump campaign had been allowed run ads that appeared to violate Facebook’s rules on election misinformation and declaring victory before all votes are counted.

In one ad, a picture of Trump with the text “Election Day is Today” implored people to “vote TODAY!” without any further context. 

CNBC also reported that the campaign also had an ad boasting about GDP figures that have not yet been released, as well as another that the outlet described as a “victory ad.”

“A video in the ad shows the president’s face superimposed on a sun, with a voiceover pulled from various sources,” CNBC reported. “‘It’s morning in America. Donald J. Trump is still president of the United States,’ the video says. Flowers rise from the ground and open to faces, who scream, ‘NOOOO!’ as the smiling president, now also a hummingbird, flits around.”

According to reports, those ads are not currently being run. They are, however, visible in Facebook’s ad library as pre-approved ads, which means that in order to have met Facebook’s rules for election week ads, they had to have been run at some point before now. As a result, some outlets claimed the messages appeared to be the Trump campaign’s way of getting around the ban.

Despite having previously approved the ads and even letting them run at some point, a few hours after media reports about the technical issues began to surface, Facebook told reporters that it would be removing the “vote TODAY!” ads.

“As we made clear in our public communications and directly to campaigns, we prohibit ads that say ‘Vote Today’ without additional context or clarity,” the company said in a statement.

However, a spokesperson also told CNBC Facebook would not take down the ads where Trump claimed he was “still your president” because regardless of the election outcome, Trump will still be president until Jan. 20.

In a statement, Trump’s Deputy National Press Secretary Samantha Zager condemned Facebook for removing the “vote TODAY!” ads and accused the company of censoring political messages to sway the election in favor of Biden.

“This is election interference at the hands of the Silicon Valley Mafia, and it is dangerous for our democracy,” she said.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNBC) (Reuters)

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Amy Coney Barrett Sworn In As Newest Supreme Court Justice. Here’s What Comes Next

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  • On Monday, Amy Coney Barrett was officially sworn in as the new justice on the Supreme Court, ending a highly contentious partisan battle just a week before the election.
  • In the weeks following the election, the new justice is set to hear several landmark cases, including the most recent challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and another lawsuit that involves LGBTQ discrimination protections.
  • Many critics have expressed concerns that Barrett will push the court to overrule the ACA and try to roll back LGBTQ protections based on her previous public statements and personal views.
  • As soon as the end of this week, the Supreme Court will also decide whether or not to hear two election-related cases regarding mail-in ballots extensions in key battleground states.

Barrett Appointed to Supreme Court

The Senate officially approved the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Monday with a vote of 52 to 48.

The decison fell almost entirely along party lines, and though her nomination was hotly contested, this outcome was largely expected.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) was the only Republican to vote against the appointment. No Democrats voted to confirm Barrett, marking the first time in 151 years that not one member of the minority party voted to confirm a justice.

The confirmation marks the end of the historic, lightning-fast nomination process defined by partisan divisions. Democrats repeatedly accused their Republican colleagues of hypocrisy for breaking the precedent they themselves set when they blocked President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nomination ten months before the 2016 election.

That decision was made under the premise that the nomination came too close to the election and that the next president should get to pick the nominee.

Now, with just seven days to go before the election, Republicans have their new Supreme Court justice, as well as a solid conservative majority on the highest court for the first time since the 1930s.

Here’s a look at what happens next.

Affordable Care Act

Judge Barrett is being seated right as the court is scheduled to hear some highly consequential cases. Arguably the most significant is the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. The court will begin hearing oral arguments on starting Nov. 10, just one week after the election.

With Barrett assuming her role on the bench right as the court is set to hear the landmark case, many expressed concerns that she could still sway the court to get rid of the ACA, thus leaving more than 20 million Americans without health insurance during a pandemic.

The new justice has publicly criticized the Supreme Court decision that upheld Obamacare as constitutional. In a 2017 article, she argued that under an originalist reading of the Constitution —  interpreting it the way it was originally written — Obamacare would not be allowed.

In that same article, Barrett also criticized Chief Justice Roberts’ stance on the ACA and claimed that he considered too many factors outside of the Constitution

Notably, when pressed on the topic during her Senate confirmation hearings, she did give some supporters of the law hope when she outlined her views on the legal doctrine known as severability, which allows for parts of a law to be struck down without getting rid of an entire law.

Barrett told the Senators that the presumption is to always favor severing parts of a given law rather than scrapping the whole thing. Some argued that opinion would be favorable for how she may rule on Obamacare, but others remained skeptical.

LGBTQ Protections

Even before hearing the ACA arguments, the Supreme Court is also set to take up another key case that could allow private agencies that receive taxpayer funding to provide government services to deny those services to people based on their sexual orientation.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed against the City of Philadelphia by Catholic Social Services (CSS) in 2018. City officials canceled a contract with the agency to provide foster care services to children after learning that CSS refused to accept same-sex couples as foster parents because of its own religious objections.

A lower court ruled that the city was allowed to end the contract because it fell under the enforcement of its anti-discrimination policy, and an Appeals Court upheld that decision. Now the case is set to go before the Supreme Court, and the consequences could highly significant.

“A broad ruling could decide when religious organizations deserve exemptions from anti-discrimination laws that the groups say would cause them to violate deeply held beliefs, such as what constitutes a marriage,” The Washington Post explained.

Many Democrats and activists have criticized Barrett for her controversial views on LGBTQ rights, specifically pointing to a lecture she gave in 2016 where she defended Supreme Court justices who argued against making gay marriage legal.

Others have also noted a separate speech she gave, where she argued that Title IX — the law that protects people from sex-based discrimination in education programs or other activities that receive federal funding — does not apply to trans people. 

During the Senate hearings, Barrett was largely tight-lipped about her views on key Supreme Court decisions. At one point she refused to say whether she believed the case that established gay marriage as legal had been decided properly.

Election Cases

There are also some other legal battles that Barrett could rule on as early as later this week. This Friday, the justices are expected to meet privately to decide what cases could still be added to this term’s docket.

Two of the cases they are considering are emergency orders regarding ballot extensions in two key battleground states: Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Last week, the Supreme Court denied a request from Pennsylvania’s Republican Party to shorten the deadline in which state election officials could receive absentee ballots. The highest court took up the case after Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court sided with Democrats and allowed them to extend the deadline that mail-in ballots could be received to three days after the election.

Notably here, the Supreme Court did not directly rule against the Republicans, but instead split the decision 4-4, meaning the court was deadlocked, and thus the decision from the lower court would stand.

But now, with the ninth seat filled, Pennsylvania Republicans are asking the court to reconsider blocking the extension and to fast-track the decision.

In a very similar legal battle, the high court has also been asked to consider whether or not to hear a case brought by the Trump campaign and the North Carolina Republican Party asking them to block a mail-in ballot extension approved by the State Board of Elections last month.

The extension would allow officials to receive ballots postmarked by Election Day for nine days after the election. So far, that new deadline has already been held up by a district court and a federal appeals court.

Wisconsin and Kavanaugh

Currently, it is unclear if the court will hear either case, though it is worth noting that they have taken up a number of similar election-related legal battles in recent weeks.

On Monday, the Supreme Court voted 5-3 to reject attempts by Democrats in Wisconsin to extend the deadline for accepting mail-in ballots to six days after the election. Instead, the court ruled that mail-in ballots in the state can only be counted if they arrive on Election Day.

While the court did not provide a reason for this decision, as is normal in cases like this, some justices filed opinions including Brett Kavanaugh, who sparked controversy in his defense of his decision to strike down the extension.

“Those States want to avoid the chaos and suspicions of impropriety that can ensue if thousands of absentee ballots flow in after election day and potentially flip the results of an election,” he wrote, arguing for the importance of deadlines. “And those States also want to be able to definitively announce the results of the election on election night, or as soon as possible thereafter.”

Many condemned the justice, accusing him of issuing a shockingly partisan opinion and arguing that the situation he detailed would not be considered “flipping” the election, including Justice Elana Kagan, who took aim at Kavanaugh’s argument here in a footnote in her own opinion.

“But there are no results to ‘flip’ until all valid votes are counted,” she wrote. “And nothing could be more ‘suspicio[us]’ or ‘improp[er]’ than refusing to tally votes once the clock strikes 12 on election night. To suggest otherwise, especially in these fractious times, is to disserve the electoral process.”

Some also pointed out the fallacy in Kavanaugh’s argument that mail-in ballots that arrive after election day will change the outcome that a majority of voters wanted. 

“If Trump leads by 10 votes on Nov. 3 but 6,000 ballots arrive the day after having been sent on Oct. 24, most of them preferring former vice president and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Kavanaugh worries that this constitutes an unfair rejection of the will of the public,” The Post wrote.

Others still argued that Kavanaugh’s opinion is especially concerning given the fact that currently, election officials in at least 18 states and Washington, D.C., do count ballots that arrive after Election Day. 

“In these states, there is no result to ‘flip’ because there is no result to overturn until all valid ballots are counted,” Slate reported, noting that Kavanaugh’s opinion echoes false claims repeatedly made by President Donald Trump about absentee voting.

In fact, early that same day, the president posted a tweet that mirrored the justices’ argument almost exactly. 

“Big problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA,” he wrote. “Must have final total on November 3rd.”

The post was quickly flagged by Twitter as election-related misinformation.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Slate) (CNN)

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Boston Authorities Arrest a Man for Setting Ballot Box on Fire

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  • An official ballot drop box caught fire early Sunday morning, and authorities have now charged a man with purposefully setting it aflame.
  • This is the second suspected arson case reported at a drop box location, following a similar situation in California last week.
  • Boston authorities said most of the ballots in the box were able to be fully counted.
  • Voters whose ballots could not be saved will receive replacements and officials are encouraging those who used the box this weekend to check their ballot’s status. 

Suspected Arsonist Arrested

Authorities in Boston are investigating a potential election-related arson after a fire broke out inside of a ballot drop box Sunday morning. Later that night, they arrested the man they believe started the fire, charging him with willful and malicious burning.

Photos from around 4 a.m. show a man walking up to the box before seemingly lighting a fire. Shortly thereafter, people reportedly began to notice smoke coming from the box. 

Source: Boston Police Department 

After arriving on the scene, firefighters were able to put out the fire by flooding the ballot box with water. 

The situation in Boston follows another ballot box fire in Los Angeles County, California, last week. Like in Boston, that fire is also being investigated as arson. 

Around 10:50 p.m. on Sunday, officers reportedly spotted a man matching the description of the suspect. While speaking to that man — 39-year-old Worldy Armand — police learned that he had an active warrant for receiving stolen property.

While in police custody, members of a fire investigation unit formally accused Armand of starting the ballot box fire. 

Boston Mayor: “A Disgrace to Democracy”

In a Sunday joint statement with Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh called the act “a disgrace to democracy, a disrespect to the voters fulfilling their civic duty, and a crime.”  

“We ask voters not to be intimidated by this bad act and remain committed to making their voices heard in this and every election,” the statement added. 

Ballot box fires aren’t just meant to invalidate the votes inside; in many cases, they are likely also meant to intimidate voters and add another level of concern to a system that is already facing fears around in-person voting and ballots mailed through the U.S. Postal Service. 

Because of that, the Boston Election Department has worked to reassure voters by stressing that all ballot drop boxes are “under 24-hour surveillance and emptied on a daily basis.”

Since the fire, Galvin has also pressed officials to start emptying boxes more than once a day.

In the nearby town of Salem, Mayor Kim Driscoll said officials there “are using chemical fire suppressants inside the box to ensure ballots don’t go up in flames.”

“Sad that we have to take these measures,” she added. 

On Monday, after news of Armand’s arrest was made public, Walsh said, “From our election workers who are working hard to trace every legible ballot in that drop box, to our firefighters who quickly responded to the fire, and our police officers who launched an immediate investigation, voters can be assured that our first and foremost priority is maintaining the integrity of our elections process.”

“We remain committed to making their voices heard in this and every election, and maintaining transparency and trust with voters,” he added. 

How Many Ballots Were Destroyed?

Reportedly, there were 122 ballots inside of the box when the fire started. Of that, 87 were still legible and able to be processed; however, at least 35 were partially destroyed. 

Of those 35, Galvin said that most “probably could be read.” Still, he noted that about 5 to 10 of the ballots were unreadable. 

As for what happens to those ballots, officials are urging voters who used the box after Saturday at 2:30 p.m. to track their ballot online or contact the Boston Elections Department. 

Galvin’s office said affected voters will be mailed replacement ballots. They will also be able to vote in-person if they choose. 

Still, it’s not guaranteed that those affected voters will ever realize that their ballots are now, at least, partially unreadable. According to Galvin’s office, if those affected voters don’t turn in another ballot, their original ballot will be hand-counted to the fullest extent possible. 

See what others are saying: (WCVB) (The Boston Globe) (Fox News)

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