- 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 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.
Viral Photo of Crowded Reopened Georgia High School Sparks Concerns
- A viral photo showing students at North Paulding High School in Georgia walking in a crowded hallway without masks has sparked widespread concerns about schools reopening safely.
- According to BuzzFeed News, there is at least one football player that has tested positive for the coronavirus, as well as several staff members.
- Students who choose to not go to school can be suspended or expelled. Additionally, students who share content criticizing the school can be punished as well, and two have already been suspended for sharing photos of crowded halls, according to BuzzFeed.
- This school is just one of many in Georgia making headlines for seeing positive COVID-19 cases. In Cherokee County, there are four schools with confirmed cases that have forced dozens of students to quarantine within their first week back.
Viral Photo in North Paulding High School
When North Paulding High School in Georgia opened back up on Monday, kids were crammed in the hallway between classes, shoulder to shoulder, many without masks.
A photo that captured one of these crowded halls quickly went viral, prompting widespread outrage as it highlighted just one of several concerns many have about schools reopening throughout the state.
Paulding County Schools Superintendent Brian Otott addressed the photo in a letter early this week, claiming that it lacked larger context. Masks are not mandatory at North Paulding, as the school district said that the choice to wear a mask is a personal one, and claim enforcing a mandate is not realistic. Otott also said that students are not passing one another in the hallway to transmit COVID-19.
Health experts, however, do not believe this is true. With such close proximity and a lack of masks, transmission in situations like this is still possible. The school’s first day also comes as both new cases and deaths in the state of Georgia are in their peak. So far, the state has had a total of 186,395 cases and 3,899 deaths.
If that photo did not spark enough concerns, there is also already at least one confirmed coronavirus case on North Paulding’s football team. According to BuzzFeed News, footballers at the school are not the only ones at risk.
Teachers told the outlet that there are positive cases among the staff, including an employee who came into contact with most teachers while they were symptomatic. Still, the school will not confirm cases among employees for privacy reasons.
“That was exactly one week ago, so we are all waiting to see who gets sick next week,” one teacher told BuzzFeed.
Most who are nervous about attending school are left with essentially no other option than to face their fears and risk infection. Virtual learning was an option for students at North Paulding, but the limited slots filled up quickly. On top of this, BuzzFeed News learned from a set of parents who wanted to keep their son home upon seeing the photo, that any student who chooses to not attend school could face suspension or expulsion.
On top of this, the school made an announcement warning students that anyone who shared negative content about the school online would face disciplinary action. According to BuzzFeed News, two students have already been suspended for sharing now-viral photos of crowded halls.
North Paulding is not the only school in the state making headlines. In Cherokee County, a second grader tested positive for the virus on the first day of school. Now, their class of 20 students will be quarantining for 14 days.
On Wednesday, officials announced that three additional schools in the county had positive cases. Those cases involved a first grader, eighth grader, and Kindergarten teacher. Several students and staff at each of these schools now must undergo a two week quarantine as well.
Statewide, school officials are concerned about what the school year will look like.
“So long as COVID-19 runs rampant, there will be too many bodies in close quarters for us to co-exist in a traditional setting,” Dooly County Schools Superintendent Craig Lockhart telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are not ready to return to in-person schooling and be highly confident that we can protect employees and students.”
But on the other side of this, there are parents and students eager to get back to in person classes, either because they trust their school district to handle things well, or because online learning at home just was not working well for them.
“There is a really strong case for trying to reopen schools because there are so many benefits, both for children, not only academic benefits but health and social-emotional health, and also for families, many of whom are trying to get back to work to restart the economy,” Charlene Wong, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Duke School of Medicine also told the AJC.
Can Kids Spread the Virus?
Still, Wong believes that safety opening schools is complex and requires a multitude of safety measures. The risk is especially high because experts are still in the early stages of learning what role children play in spreading and getting this virus, especially in a crowded space like a school. Currently, most studies and research have not focused on children, so there is not enough data to prove anything just yet, despite the widespread belief that children are less likely to get and transmit the virus.
In fact, one case out of Georgia proves that idea wrong. One summer camp in Georgia was forced to close after there were 260 coronavirus cases on site, the majority of which came from people aged 17 and younger.
Another study done in South Korea concluded that while children nine and under do not transmit the virus as frequently as adults, the risk of them doing so still exists. That study also claims that people between the ages 10 and 19 actually spread COVID-19 at the same rate as adults.
See what others are saying: (BuzzFeed News) (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (Washington Post)
NJ Woman Charged for Assaulting Staples Customer Who Asked Her to Correctly Wear a Mask
- New Jersey Police have charged 25-year-old Terri Thomas with second-degree aggravated assault for violently tossing a woman with a cane to the ground at a Staples store last Wednesday.
- Thomas attacked 54-year-old Margot Kagan for telling her to wear her face mask properly.
- Kagan, who police say had a liver transplant four months ago, was hospitalized and is recovering from a leg injury that required surgery as a result of the incident.
Police in New Jersey said Tuesday that they arrested and charged a woman caught on surveillance video attacking a fellow Staples customer who told her to correctly wear her mask.
The dispute happened inside a Hackensack Staples store last Wednesday when 54-year-old Margot Kagan was using the copy machine. Kagan, who police said had a liver transplant four months ago, noticed 25-year-old Terri Thomas walk by with her mask below her mouth.
Kagan told a local news station that she told Thomas, “You should really put a mask on,” and warned her that she was endangering everyone. However, the remarks made Thomas angry she reportedly began yelling.
The surveillance footage shows Thomas walking towards Kagan, who lifts her cane to keep Thomas away. Thomas then reaches for the cane and violently tosses Kagan to the ground.
Thomas walks out of view for a few seconds and when she returns, Kagan sticks her leg out to trip Thomas, but Thomas ultimately walks away unharmed and leaves the store.
Injuries and Charges
Kagan was hospitalized after the attack and police said she left with a fractured left tibia that required surgery. However, Kagan later told ABC 7 she suffered a broken knee and required a steel plate to be put in. She also claims she’s been told by doctors that she won’t be able to put weight on her leg for seven to 10 weeks.
As far as Thomas, police have charged her with second-degree aggravated assault and she was released on a summons pending a court appearance on August 24. In New Jersey, the charge is punishable by 5-10 years in jail, and fines as high as $150,000.
Hackensack police are encouraging anyone who witnessed the crime or have any information to reach out to them.
Aurora Police Apologize for Drawing Weapons on Black Family in Mistaken Stop
- Police drew guns on a Black family in Aurora, Colorado on Sunday who they believed were in a stolen vehicle, ordering the group out of the car and facedown down on the ground.
- The passengers were girls between the ages of 6 and 17 and video shows them sobbing in fear during the incident, with at least two minors in handcuffs.
- The adult female driver was able to confirm that the car was not stolen and police explained that the car had the same plate information as a car reported stolen in a different state. They also blamed the mixup on the fact that the family’s car was reported stolen earlier this year, even though Aurora police returned it back to them a day later.
- The city’s new police chief apologized and offered them therapy resources. She also said officers followed protocol but should be allowed to use discretion to deviate in situations like this and has ordered her team to look at new training practices.
Police in Aurora, Colorado apologized Monday for drawing weapons on a Black family after mistaking their car for another stolen vehicle.
On Sunday, August 2, Brittney Gilliam decided to take her 6-year-old daughter, 12-year-old sister, and 14 and 17-year-old nieces out to get their nails done. Gilliam told CNN that her niece had just gotten back in the car after looking to see if the nail salon they wanted to go to was open. At this point, she and the girls were parked in a parking lot with the car turned off.
That’s when Aurora police pulled up behind the vehicle with guns drawn. Then, police allegedly yelled at the group to put their hands out of the window and get out of the car.
She said the family exited the vehicle and were told to lay face down on the ground. At that time, police handcuffed Gilliam, her 12-year-old sister, and 17-year-old niece. Gilliam claims that police would not explain why she was pulled over until she was handcuffed. Then, they pulled her away to verify her claim that the car was not stolen as the children remained on the ground.
A bystander named Jennifer Wurtz began recorded the incident after the family was handcuffed. The footage is about 12 and a half minutes long, but a shorter minute in a half-second clip went viral on Twitter. That clip shows the minors facedown on the floor sobbing as police try to keep onlookers away.
Eventually, police sit the children up and in the longer video, Wurtz can be heard pressing the officers about why they had drawn guns on children.
Police repeatedly asked her to stop interfering, however, they did say she had the right to film. Wurtz stopped pointing the phone towards the scene, but continued to criticize the stop and asked for the officers’ names.
As frustration from onlookers grew, one officer explained that this was a “high-risk stop” and that police were following procedure.
The onlookers were still angry about the policy being used against children and became angrier after learning that the car was in fact, not stolen.
What Caused the Confusion?
As far as what the mixup actually was, Gilliam explained that she had reported her car stolen in February, but that case was cleared up. In fact, her attorney told CNN that when her vehicle was stolen, it was actually returned to her the next day by Aurora police.
In a statement late Monday, Intern Chief of Police Vanessa Wilson said that after the stop, police realized the car Gilliam was driving was not stolen. Instead, another vehicle with the same plate information but from a different state had been. The Associated Press reported that the vehicle was a motorcycle from Montana.
In her statement, Wilson said “The confusion may have been due, in part, to the fact that the stopped car was reported stolen. After realizing the mistake, officers immediately unhandcuffed everyone involved, explained what happened and apologized.”
“I have called (Gilliam’s) family to apologize and to offer any help we can provide, especially for the children who may have been traumatized by yesterday’s events,” she continued. “I have reached out to our victim advocates so we can offer age-appropriate therapy that the city will cover.”
Outrage and Apology
Still, that did little to put the community at ease, especially since the incident comes amid widespread frustration over how Black people are treated by police. Frustrations are especially high in Aurora, where police have faced security for the 2019 death of Elijah McClain. McClain was an unarmed Black man who was stopped by officers as he walked home after he was reported as a suspicious person in a ski mask.
During the confrontation, officers placed him in a chokehold and paramedics injected him with ketamine to sedate him. He then suffered a heart attack in the ambulance and was declared brain dead days later before being taken off life support.
Just last month, two officers were fired for reenacting the chokehold in a photo near the memorial site for Elijah McClain A third officer was fired for not alerting supervisors about the photo while a fourth resigned before a disciplinary hearing about the incident.
So this latest incident piled on the existing outrage against the local department and police policies in general. And many, including Gilliam, felt that the stolen car mixup did not justify how the young girls were treated.
“That’s police brutality,” she told KUSA. “There’s no excuse why you didn’t handle it a different type of way. … You could have even told them, ‘Step off to the side let me ask your mom or your auntie a few questions so we can get this cleared up.’ ”
In her statement, Chief Wilson confirmed that a suspect in a stolen vehicle is a high-risk stop, and said officers followed procedures they are trained to carry out. However, she added that the department, “must allow our officers to have discretion and to deviate from this process when different scenarios present themselves.”
Wilson added that an internal investigation into this incident has been opened and said she had directed her team to look at new practices and training. Her promises to reexamine department practices are especially significant because that same Monday night, Aurora’s city council voted to make Wilson the city’s permanent police chief.