- President Donald Trump has repeatedly hit back against calls to expand vote-by-mail access, saying the process is corrupt with voter fraud and suggesting it favors Democrats.
- However, studies show that there is no widespread voter fraud issue in the U.S. In fact, a 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice said in the rate of voter fraud in the U.S. was somewhere between 0.00004% to 0.0009%.
- Meanwhile, Barack and Michelle Obama both publically backed expanding vote-by-mail access over the weekend, with the former president criticizing Wisconsin for holding in-person voting and encouraging the public to check the facts behind voting by mail.
Trump Speaks Out Against Expanding Vote-By-Mail
The former president and first lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, have thrust their support behind voting-by-mail during the coronavirus pandemic as the nationwide conversation about fair, safe, and accessible voting grows.
The coronavirus outbreaks have forced some states under stay-at-home orders to postpone primary elections. Because of this, several politicians and celebrities have been ramping up calls for expanded access to voting by mail.
However, President Donald Trump has been a vocal opponent against the move. Instead, he has continued to push for in-person-voting during the pandemic, despite the fact that doing so contradicts social distancing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and his own coronavirus task force’s recommendations against gatherings of more than 10.
In fact, the CDC specifically recommends states “encourage mail-in methods of voting if allowed in the jurisdiction” given the coronavirus threat.
At a press briefing last Tuesday, the president said, “Mail ballots — they cheat. OK? People cheat. Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country because they’re cheaters.”
“The mail ballots are corrupt in my opinion, and they collect them, and they get people to go in and sign them, and then there are forgeries in many cases. It’s a horrible thing.”
The president has continued to use that same rhetoric on social media and has also suggested that the process would be harmful for Republicans.
Last month, he told Fox News that he opposed funding for mail-in voting as part of the stimulus bill because, “They had things, levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Trump on March 30 on why he opposed funding for mail-in voting as part of a coronavirus stimulus bill: “They have things, levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” pic.twitter.com/kpDQX3zxY8— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 8, 2020
Some have viewed Trump’s comments as hypocritical since Trump himself cast an absentee ballot by mail in last month’s Florida Republican primary. He also voted absentee in the 2018 midterms as well. When asked about this contradiction in his messaging, he said it was fine “because I’m allowed to” vote by mail while living outside the state of Florida. At the time, he also said, “I think if you vote, you should go.”
Other prominent members of the Trump administration have also repeatedly voted absentee with mail-in ballots, according to The New York Times, including Vice President Mike Pence.
Debunking Trump’s Voter Fraud Claims
The bigger issue here, as many news outlets have since pointed out, is that Trump’s claims about voter fraud are false. Voting fraud in the U.S. is actually pretty rare.
Several studies have confirmed that there is no widespread voter fraud issue in the country and millions of Americans vote-by-mail every year without problems.
According to the Associated Press, it is true that some election studies have shown a slightly higher incidence of mail-in voting fraud compared with in-person voting, but the overall risk is extremely low. In fact, a 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice said in the rate of voter fraud in the U.S. was somewhere between 0.00004% to 0.0009% off all votes.
Ari Berman, a leading expert on voting rights told CNN. “This is a flat-out lie from the President.”
“We have tons of data on the prevalence of voter fraud in this country, and it’s a very small problem, whether you vote in-person or by mail. In Democratic-controlled states like Oregon and Republican-controlled states like Utah, there has been no evidence of significant voter fraud.”
Something important to note is that Trump has peddled theories about voter fraud before. He even set up a commission to investigate the issue, but the panel disbanded in 2018 without ever finding evidence to support his claims that millions of people voted illegally in 2016, costing him the popular vote.
Critics of Trump’s rhetoric have also pointed out that though instances are rare, one of the most serious and credible allegations of absentee ballot fraud in decades was actually designed to help a Republican.
During the 2018 race for North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District, a Republican operative was charged with election fraud after rounding up absentee ballots for the Republican candidate, Mark Harris. State election officials refused to certify the results and held a redo election in 2019.
However, experts also use this case as an example that fraud big enough to sway at election outcome will likely be detected.
Despite Trump’s claims, several Republican leaders across the country have been pushing voters to cast ballots by mail given the current health concerns. Among them are the Republican governors or secretaries of state in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Ohio, New Hampshire, and Iowa.
Obama’s Back Vote-By-Mail Expansions
The Obamas have stayed mostly on the sidelines during the 2020 election process so far, but now they’ve spoken out in support of expanding vote-by-mail access. On Friday, former President Obama weighed in on the issue while criticizing Wisconson’s decision to hold in-person voting.
“No one should be forced to choose between their right to vote and their right to stay healthy like the debacle in Wisconsin this week,” he tweeted, sharing a New York Times article.
Public health experts have warned that in-person voting during the pandemic puts voters and poll workers at risk. Last week, Wisconsin became a state at the front of the issue when it held its election amid a stay-at-home order issued by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
Evers made a last-minute attempt to postpone the election that was blocked by courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Reports and images on social media later showed voters waiting in long lines at the few open polling locations. By Friday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said it was tracking the potential spread of the coronavirus during the election, but cases that were contracted as a result of in-person voting might not be known for some time.
“Everyone should have the right to vote safely, and we have the power to make that happen. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” Obama added in another tweet.
“Let’s not use the tragedy of a pandemic to compromise our democracy. Check the facts of vote by mail,” he continued, sharing a link to a New York Times story about debunking Trump’s claims that the process favors Democrats.
Michelle Obama and her organization, When We All Vote, also announced that they will back legislation aimed at expanding vote-by-mail options, online voter registration, and early voting. She launched the organization in 2018, with co-chairs Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monáe, Chris Paul, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw.
“There is nothing partisan about striving to live up to the promise of our country; making the democracy we all cherish more accessible; and protecting our neighbors, friends and loved ones as they participate in this cornerstone of American life,” she said in a statement.
The issue of voter access brought forth during the pandemic has also inspired change in other states. In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northan announced that he signed a series of new measures into law aimed at expanding voter access.
The new legislation will establish Election Day as a holiday and expands early voting to be allowed 45 days before an election without a stated reason. It also removes the requirement that voters show ID before casting a ballot
“Voting is a fundamental right, and these new laws strengthen our democracy by making it easier to cast a ballot, not harder,” Northam said in a statement. “No matter who you are or where you live in Virginia, your voice deserves to be heard. I’m proud to sign these bills into law.”
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The New York Times) (CNN)
NY Gov. Cuomo Aides Reportedly Altered Nursing Home Death Toll Data
- Aides to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) altered a July report from the state’s Department of Health to cover up the extent of COVID-related deaths in nursing homes, according to Thursday reports from The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
- Last month, Cuomo admitted that his administration withheld death toll data in order to prevent a possible federal misconduct investigation.
- However, the new reports claim Cuomo’s staffers attempted to conceal the true numbers earlier than previously known by directly altering the DOH’s report to exclude nursing home residents who died in outside facilities.
- The DOH then used the incomplete number to claim New York had lower nursing home deaths than other states that included out-of-facility deaths when in reality their figures were much higher than everywhere else in the country.
New York Nursing Home Scandal Escalates
Advisers to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) allegedly re-wrote a report from health officials to conceal the number of COVID-related deaths in the state’s nursing homes, according to new reports published by The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Thursday.
Both Democrats and Republicans accused the Cuomo administration of intentionally withholding the full toll last month after his top aide, Melissa DeRosa, apologized to state legislators for refusing to provide data they requested in August. DeRosa explained that they had sidelined the request in order to prevent a possible misconduct investigation that stemmed from a similar inquiry by the Department of Justice.
Legislators and the DOJ had asked for the data after the state’s Health Department published a report in July detailing the impact of a controversial nursing home policy Cuomo had enacted at the beginning of the pandemic in March.
The policy, which Cuomo later rescinded in May, prohibited nursing homes from refusing to re-admit residents or admit new residents from hospitals solely on the basis that they had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
The directive was aimed at keeping hospital admittance low and mirrored similar actions other states had taken at the time, but many nursing home operators and legislators claimed the move had encouraged the spread of the virus amongst one of the most vulnerable populations.
The Health Department’s July report, however, found the policy was not to blame. Additionally, the agency also said the 6,432 nursing home residents that had died was lower than figures in other northeastern states when measured as a percentage of the population.
Lawmakers requested to see the data behind the report, and suspicions arose when the Cuomo administration refused to provide the information, launching a nearly six-month battle.
State Attorney General Report
Then at the end of January, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) published a report claiming the administration had undercounted the nursing home deaths by the thousands, and that Cuomo’s March directive may have been responsible for higher deaths.
The Health Department’s report, James said, had left out residents who had died of COVID in outside facilities such as hospitals, but still claimed New York’s tolls were lower than other states that had counted residents who died in other places.
Shortly after James’ report, the department publicized more than 3,800 unreported deaths of nursing home residents who had died of COVID-19 in hospitals.
Cuomo refused to address the controversy for weeks, only speaking out after DeRosa’s comments leaked. During a press conference on Feb. 15, he took responsibility for not fulfilling the request for data sooner, but insisted that the nursing home deaths had always been reported correctly and transparently, arguing the difference was just a matter of “categorization.”
What the New Reports Reveal
Both Cuomo and DeRosa have maintained that they withheld the data from legislators out of concern that the Trump administration would politicize the DOJ inquiry.
However, the new reports from The Times and WSJ allege that Cuomo and his aides had actually started hiding the true numbers months earlier and directly altered the Health Department’s July report.
According to a draft of the Health Department’s July report seen by the outlets and at least half a dozen people with direct knowledge, the initial version of the report contained a chart that put the nursing home death toll at 9,250 — 50% higher than the figure that was later included in the final version.
The chart also compared the full total including residents who died in hospitals to the same totals in other states, revealing that New York’s deaths far surpassed that of all others. At the time, the state with the next-highest nursing home deaths was New Jersey with 6,150.
According to The Times, the report was rewritten by three of Cuomo’s top staffers to remove the encompassing figures, including DeRosa. None of the officials had any public health expertise. The move reportedly set off a battle with health officials working on the report and further exacerbated the already tense relationship between Cuomo and his Health Department, which eventually prompted nine top officials to leave in February.
The governor’s office responded to the reporters in a statement Thursday night from Special Counsel Beth Garvey, who said the out-of-facility data was omitted because the Health Department “could not confirm it had been adequately verified.”
Gary Holmes, a spokesman for the Health Department, also told reporters the agency “was comfortable with the final report and believes fully in its conclusion that the primary driver that introduced Covid into the nursing homes was brought in by staff.”
The new allegations, however, come as Cuomo is already facing mounting political pressure and calls to resign over the nursing home scandal as well as recent accusations of sexual misconduct by three women, including two former employees.
After the third woman came forward, Cuomo apologized on Wednesday for the “pain” he caused, but rejected calls for his resignation. The FBI has opened an inquiry into the nursing home scandal, and the sexual harassment allegations will soon be investigated by state Attorney General James’ office.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal) (The Guardian)
House Passes Landmark Elections Bill To Expand Voting Rights
- House Democrats passed the For the People Act on Wednesday, a broad voting rights bill that aims to enhance voting rights.
- Among other measures, the legislation would mandate automatic voter registration, expand early and mail-in voting, restore voting rights to former felons, and impose new disclosure requirements for campaign donations and political advertising.
- Democrats say the act is necessary to ensure American’s right to vote, especially as state legislatures have proposed dozens of bills that would roll back voting access and consolidate GOP power.
- Republicans have argued that states, not the federal government, should decide how elections are run and claimed the new bill would lead to fraud that helps liberal candidates.
House Approves For the People Act
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a sweeping elections bill Wednesday that aims to significantly expand federal voting rights all over the country.
The bill, called the For the People Act, was proposed by Democrats and passed 220 to 210 almost entirely along party lines. According to reports, if signed into law, it would be the most comprehensive enhancement of federal protections since the 1960s.
The bill contains a wide variety of provisions, but the most significant fall into two broader categories: creating uniform standards for voting and increasing financial transparency.
Regarding the voting rights standards, among other things, the bill would:
- Weaken restrictive state voter ID laws.
- Mandate that state governments use existing records to automatically register voters.
- Guarantee no-excuse mail voting and at least 15 days of early voting for all federal elections.
- Make it harder to purge voter rolls.
- Restore voting rights to former felons.
- End partisan gerrymandering by requiring states to appoint independent commissions to draw congressional districts.
As for what the bill aims to do regarding expanding transparency, it would:
- Impose new disclosure requirements for “dark money” donations used to finance campaigns.
- Create a public financing option for congressional campaigns.
- Require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.
- Require tech platforms to disclose political advertising information.
Arguments For And Against
Democrats have argued that this legislation is essential to protecting and ensuring the right to vote.
The task, they say, is especially important now because Republican-controlled state legislatures have proposed dozens of bills that would roll back voting access as a reaction to former President Donald Trump’s loss and efforts to undermine the election. Many Republicans have used Trump’s false claims about voter fraud to promote their legislation.
Democrats have said these bills are a very transparent attempt by Republicans to consolidate their power because they know they benefit from lower voter turnout, and thus their strategy to win more races is just simply to make voting harder. As a result, Democrats have said the For the People Act is key to combatting these bills
“Everything is at stake,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) said Wednesday. “We must win this race, this fight.”
Republicans, for their part, have argued that states, not the federal government, should make changes to how elections are run, and that the legislation would lead to fraud that benefits Democrats.
“House Democrats do not get to take their razor-thin majority — which voters just shrunk — and use it to steamroll states and localities to try and prevent themselves from losing even more seats next time,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in response to the bill’s passage.
However, many have disputed that claim by noting that there is no evidence of widespread fraud that helped Democrats in the last election. By contrast, there are years of evidence that Republicans do benefit from making it harder for people to vote and gerrymandering districts, a fact that McConnell himself seemed to acknowledge by implying that Democrats win more when voting rights are expanded.
Despite Republican objections, recent polls have found that most Americans support having more voter protections. According to a January survey by Data for Progress, 67% of Americans back the For the People Act, including a majority of Republicans.
Still, the legislation is all but doomed in the Senate, which struck down an almost identical version passed by the House in 2019. While Democrats technically have a majority now, the current 50-50 split will require a minimum of 10 Republicans to join forces with all 50 Democrats to avoid the 60-vote legislative filibuster.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)
Texas Governor Will Reopen State “100%” and End Mask Mandate Against Expert Advice
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Tuesday that he was opening the state “100%” and ending the mask mandate starting March 10, against health guidance from federal officials.
- Abbott justified his decision by noting that nearly 6 million Texans have been vaccinated and hospitalizations are down in the state.
- Experts, however, pointed out that less than 2 million of the state’s 29 million residents are fully inoculated, and the CDC currently ranks Texas 48th for vaccination rates out of all 50 states.
- On Tuesday alone, governors in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Michigan as well as local leaders in Chicago and San Francisco also announced plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions.
Abbott Announces Major COVID Policy Changes
Starting March 10, Texas will no longer have a state-wide mask mandate or any coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses and facilities, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Tuesday.
The move represents the most expansive reopening of any state and makes Texas the largest state to lift its public masking requirement. However, it also goes entirely against the recommendation of the nation’s top experts.
During a press conference Monday, Rochelle Walensky, the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned leaders against rolling back restrictions. She cited the fact that the recent nation-wide decline in cases has been stalling and that there has been community spread of the new variants — three of which have been found in Texas, saying:
“With these new statistics, I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19,” she said.
“Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained. These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress,” she continued.
“Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of covid-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.”
Conditions in Texas
While cases have been declining in Texas, like most of the country, there is still a lot of data that makes Abbott’s decision especially concerning.
According to The New York Times tracker, Texas still ranks within the top ten states with the highest weekly cases per capita, reporting a weekly average of just over 7,200. Texas also has more hot-spot counties than any other state, according to Business Insider’s analysis of the Times data, which found that 10 counties have reported more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents on average over the last week.
Notably, that number could be skewed because of the massive drop in the testing due to a recent storm that left millions without power and clean water. In fact, experts have warned that Texas could see more COVID cases in the fallout of the storm because people were forced to shelter together.
Abbott, however, did not focus on any of that in his announcement. Instead, he cited other metrics, noting that nearly 5.7 Texans have been vaccinated. He also pointed to declines in hospitalizations.
But both of these justifications are misleading. While it is true that Texas has vaccinated close to 6 million people, according to the CDC, less than 2 million out of 29 million state residents have received both doses needed to be considered fully inoculated.
Beyond that, the CDC’s latest vaccination report ranks Texas 48th in vaccination rates out of all 50 states. Part of that is tied to the lag the state faced because of the storm, but experts still say this just proves that the state needs to be focus on catching up and vaccinating more people instead of rolling back restrictions.
To that point, public health officials have also pushed back against Abbott’s use of declining hospitalization rates as a rationale for his reopening plans. They warned that current hospitalization declines are already slowing and could reverse, and that will only get worse with reopenings.
Other States Reopen
Texas, however, is not the only state that has rolled back restrictions lately, or even just in the past 24 hours.
On Tuesday alone, the governors of Louisiana and Michigan as well as the mayors of Chicago and San Francisco all announced that they would be easing some restrictions on businesses and/or the capacity at which they operate.
Right after Abbott’s announcement, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) made a nearly identical one with an even shorter timeline. In a tweet, he said that starting Wednesday, he would lift all county mask mandates and allow businesses to “operate at full capacity without any state-imposed rules.”
The recent easing of restrictions is part of a broader trend — and not just in states that have Republican governors or large conservative populations.
While California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) slammed Abbott’s move as “absolutely reckless,” he has also been widely condemned by leaders in his state for recently rolling back numerous restrictions.
Over the last few weeks, the Democratic governors of Virginia, North Carolina, and New York have all also lifted or otherwise modified regulations to make them less restrictive.