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Politicians and Celebrities Push for Changes to Improve Vote by Mail Access

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  • Nancy Pelosi is pushing for funding to expand voting by mail as the coronavirus leaves people trapped at home, unable to go to polling locations. This has come with some pushback from several including the President, but Pelosi and others feel this is how voting should be done going forward.
  • Celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, Khloe Kardashian, Sia, and more are also joining a campaign to encourage others to vote by mail.
  • In the several states that do not allow all voters to cast ballots in the mail, these stars are telling citizens to contact representatives to make this method more accessible.
  • In addition to voting by mail, some election officials believe electronic voting could be an effective tool in the future.

Pelosi’s Vote by Mail Plan

As the coronavirus postpones primary elections and keeps people at home, politicians and celebrities alike are calling for expanded access to voting by mail.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday that she is seeking between $2 billion and $4 billion in funding for voting by mail in the next stimulus package.

She is also looking to increase funding for the post office. Pelosi initially announced her intentions to expand voting by mail on Tuesday during an interview on Morning Joe.

“The integrity of the election system is central to our democracy,” she said. “I don’t know how anyone could oppose our enabling the states to have vote by mail.”

The Speaker has faced opposition, though. Some fear that this could lead to lower-income voters who tend to move a lot not having an easy way to vote. President Donald Trump has also expressed issues with stretching voting options. On Monday, he claimed Republicans would never get elected if voting by mail increased.

Pelosi, however, does not believe the President’s claims. 

“I think that’s necessary for our country to have a Republican party and I feel sad that the President does not have confidence that his party can not convince the American people about a path to go forward,” she said on Morning Joe.

Celebrities Speak Up

On top of Pelosi’s efforts, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Ron Wyden are working on legislation that will allow more voters to vote early and by mail. Politicians are also not the only ones advocating for voting by mail. Celebrities have partnered up with Represent Us to start a #VoteAtHome campaign. Represent Us is an organization that brings people from across the political spectrum to do a number of things, including fighting political corruption and bribery, and improving our election system. 

Stars like Khloe Kardashian, Sia and Sarah Silverman have all posted to their social media channels with #VoteAtHome, encouraging their followers to apply for absentee ballots so they can vote safely while in lockdowns. 

Several states, however, do not allow people to vote from home. Right now, only 34 states will allow voters to vote absentee without any excuse come November. A handful of states are allowing extended vote-by-mail measures due to the coronavirus, but it is unclear if this will apply to November’s presidential election. There are 12 states that do not grant absentee ballots without an excuse and changing rules in those states could prove to be difficult. 

Because of this, the stars who partnered with Represent Us are encouraging people to contact their representatives and demand that voting by mail be accessible to everyone. Actress Jennifer Lawrence made a video for the group encouraging those watching to speak up. 

“A bill in congress and your Secretary of State can fix this right now,” the Academy Award winner said about voting by mail restrictions.  “So go to Represent.Us/VoteAtHome to find out how you can call your representatives in support of #VoteAtHome. This is extremely important. It’s our elections we’re talking about, so please help spread the word.” 

Voting Online

Voting by mail is not the only solution some see for voting in the age of coronavirus. Two election officials wrote a piece for TechCrunch in support of electronic voting. While the method might seem new and flashy, 23 states and D.C. already let some voters cast ballots via email, while five more allow some to do so via a web portal.

Amelia Powers-Gardner and Chris Walker, the officials who wrote the piece, believe there have always been good reasons to move to online voting. 

“Traditional voting methods simply don’t work for those living abroad, deployed in the military or those with disabilities,” they wrote. “As election officials, it’s our duty to stand up for the constitutional rights of our citizens.”

With the outbreak right now, though, the two believe this could be the time to start taking the subject seriously. 

“Expanding voter participation by ensuring ballot access for all citizens is paramount to protecting our democracy, Powers-Gardner and Walker said.

“In the 21st century, that will necessarily include electronic methods, particularly as we face challenges with voters abroad and contemplate emerging challenges at home like COVID-19, where large public gatherings — and long lines — spark new threats to consider.”

It goes without saying that electronic voting comes with a great number of security concerns. Still, Powers-Gardner and Walker think that with the developments of new technologies, it is possible.

The two cited an instance in Utah where the state’s oldest voter, at the age of 106, was able to vote from an app after she broke her ankle and could not hold a pen steadily. Pilots around the country are also showing progress and allowing for audits to ensure accurate results. 

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (Axios) (The Wrap)

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Florida Cracks Down on “Vaccine Tourism”

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  • Florida is now requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 
  • The state has been hit with “vaccine tourism” as many people, predominantly wealthy individuals, fly to the state from other parts of the U.S. and abroad just to get the shot. 
  • So far, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses administered in Florida went to out-of-staters, though it is unclear if all those people were tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents.

Florida Requires Proof of Residency

Florida is cracking down on “vaccine tourism” and requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get a COVID-19 shot.

Previously the state was allowing anyone 65 and older, including non-residents, to get the vaccine. This resulted in people flying to the Sunshine State from across the U.S. and abroad just for the purpose of receiving it. 

According to state data, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses Florida has administered have gone to out-of-staters. It is unclear if all these out-of-staters are tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents. 

Now, people must show a form of identification like a driver’s license or mortgage payment to receive it. Exceptions will be made for healthcare workers. 

Vaccine Supply Continues to Be Limited

Wealthy people in particular were quick to schedule travel plans to Florida for this reason. According to the Wall Street Journal, there was an influx of Canadians booking private jets to Florida. Some were looking to book flights there and back on the same day, leaving just enough time for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, people in Florida and across the country are waiting in long lines and struggling to book appointments on glitching websites to get their shots. Vaccine supply continues to be incredibly limited and not everyone in high-risk groups have received them.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said this rule is not made to impact snowbirds, people who live in Florida during the winter to escape cold weather up north. 

“They go to doctors here or whatever, that’s fine, DeSantis said, according to CNN. “What we don’t want is tourists, foreigners. We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (CNN) (Travel + Leisure)

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Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”

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  • Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
  • Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
  • Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.

Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. 

Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony. 

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”

Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.

“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”

What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing. 

“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  

That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”

“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”

Nation Impressed by Gorman

“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment. 

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”

Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration. 

Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation. 

Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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