- President Trump accused Michigan and Nevada of illegally sending voters absentee ballots in the mail and threatened to withhold funding from the two states.
- Michigan’s Secretary of State clarified that she is sending applications for the ballots, not the ballots themselves.
- Nevada is sending actual ballots to active registered voters, but Trump’s attack perplexed many because the policy is spearheaded by Nevada’s Republican Secretary of State.
- Numerous other states are also expanding absentee voting, so it is unclear why Trump chose to go after these Nevada and Michigan. Some speculate it is because the two states are likely to be contested in the 2020 election.
Trump’s Twitter Threats
President Donald Trump threatened to withhold funding from Michigan and Nevada Tuesday over efforts by the two states to expand absentee voting.
“Breaking: Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election,” the president tweeted. “This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!”
“State of Nevada ‘thinks’ that they can send out illegal vote by mail ballots, creating a great Voter Fraud scenario for the State and the U.S. They can’t!” he wrote in another tweet shortly after.
“If they do, ‘I think’ I can hold up funds to the State. Sorry, but you must not cheat in elections.”
However, Trump’s remarks about Michigan are false. On Tuesday, the Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Tuesday that she plans to mail an absentee ballot application to voters, not an actual ballot.
She noted that in a response to Trump herself, and pointed out that several Republican-led states plan to do the same thing.
Trump later deleted the tweet, then reposted it so it included the word “applications.”
Nevada, on the other hand, will actually send mail-in ballots to active registered voters for the state’s entirely mail-in primary on June 9. Still, many found Trump’s attack confusing because the move to switch to a vote-by-mail election was made by Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican.
In fact, Cegavske’s policy has faced significant backlash and even lawsuits from Democrats, who do not want all of the in-person polling locations to be closed and are pushing for all registered voters, not just active voters, to be sent ballots.
But that is not the only thing that is perplexing about this situation. Michigan and Nevada are only two of the numerous states that have started to expand vote-by-mail during the pandemic.
States like Georgia and even cities like Milwaulkee have already said they will do the exact same thing that Michigan is doing with sending vote-by-mail applications. A lot of these efforts are supported or even led by Republicans.
Just two days before Trump’s remarks, the chair of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniels, said she is fine with absentee ballot applications being sent to registered voters, though she does not support the actual ballots being sent.
In fact, the CDC specifically recommends that states “encourage mail-in methods of voting if allowed in the jurisdiction” given the coronavirus threat.
Trump and The 2020 Presidential Election
With a wide variety of other states working to make absentee voting easier, it is unclear exactly why Trump is singling out these two right now.
Some speculate that it is because Michigan and Nevada are states likely to be contested in the 2020 election. In 2016, Trump barely won Michigan and he lost Nevada by less than 3 points.
While Trump has said that voting by mail means Republicans would not get elected, a new study by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research found that there is no evidence that vote-by-mail benefits one party over another.
Trump has frequently opposed expanding mail-in voting, often by falsely claiming that the process is riddled with fraud and corruption, but numerous experts and studies say that cases of election fraud in the U.S. are rare.
In fact, a 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice said the rate of voter fraud in the U.S. was somewhere between 0.00004% to 0.0009% off all votes. An exhaustive analysis, it conducted of all known voter fraud cases only identified 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud from 2000 to 2012 — billions of votes were cast during that period.
As far as what “funds” Trump is threatening to withhold from Michigan and Nevada, that remains actually unclear. He is likely referring to “Election Security Grants” provided under the CARES Act, which are designed to help states deal with the coronavirus as it relates to the 2020 election cycle.
Michigan received about $11.2 million in funds and plans to use some of that for the absentee ballot applications. Nevada received $4.5 million and wants to use that to transition to a system where registered voters automatically receive a ballot.
In other words, both states are using the money for the purposes laid out by congress, which makes it easier to cast votes during the pandemic.
However, according to the New York Times, election officials said that money is already “out the door” on the way to states, and there is no way for Trump or his administration to stop them.
Accusations of Hypocrisy
While these attacks from Trump may seem of out of left field, it is not the first time in the last few weeks he has lashed out against states expanding mail-in voting.
About a week ago, he slammed California’s decision to send ballots to every voter for November, calling the move “scam.”
But on the same day, he also told California voters to mail-in their ballots and vote for a congressional candidate he supported.
Some have also viewed his comments as hypocritical since Trump himself cast an absentee ballot by mail in Florida’s Republican primary this year and in the 2018 midterms.
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 Times, including Vice President Mike Pence.
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 an election outcome will likely be detected.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (Politico)
Federal Court Orders Immigration Officers to Stop Enforcing Trump’s Asylum Ban
- On Tuesday, a U.S. Circuit Judge in D.C. ruled that the Trump administration’s third-country asylum rule is illegal.
- That rule went into effect last year and bars immigrants from claiming asylum in the United States if they pass through another country on their way to the U.S.
- In his decision, Judge Timothy Kelly said the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act by not giving Americans enough time and opportunity to weigh in on policy changes.
- On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security ordered asylum officers to stop applying the policy for new applicants, as well as those currently awaiting a decision.
Judge Rules Third-Country Asylum Rule Illegal
The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday ordered asylum officers to stop applying a controversial asylum policy meant to greatly diminish the number of migrants seeking refuge at the United States’ southern border.
The announcement came a day after Timothy J. Kelly, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled that the policy is illegal.
The policy, imposed by the Trump administration in July 2019, was aimed predominantly at Central Americans crossing through “third” countries to get to the U.S. border. For example, to get to the U.S. from Guatemala, migrants would first need to cross through Mexico.
Under that policy, if a migrant crossed through Mexico to get to the U.S. border, they would not be able to immediately qualify for asylum. In fact, to be able to even potentially qualify for U.S. asylum, they would first have to apply for and be denied asylum in Mexico.
Immigrant nonprofits and asylum seekers argued that the rule violated a number of laws, including the Immigration and Nationality Act. That act generally allows anyone arriving to the U.S. to apply for asylum, though there are some exceptions for people with criminal records.
In his ruling, Kelly didn’t give a decision either way on the Immigration and Nationality Act. Instead, he agreed with immigrant rights groups that the Trump administration violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act, which requires that Americans be given ample time and opportunity to voice their opinions on policy changes.
In fact, Kelly ruled that the administration also gave an insufficient explanation as to why it didn’t allow the public to see and comment on a draft of the policy before it was enacted.
For its part, the Trump administration argued that it didn’t give advance notice of the third-country requirement because that would have triggered a surge of applicants seeking to evade the rule before it took effect.
However, Kelly said almost all of the government’s argument was based on one newspaper article from October 2018. That article suggests that when the Trump administration ended its policy of separating immigrant families at the border, the proportion of asylum seekers with children increased.
“There are many circumstances in which courts appropriately defer to the national security judgments of the Executive,” Kelly said in his decision. “But determining the scope of an APA exception is not one of them.”
This is not the first time Trump’s third-country restriction has been halted. Last July, a federal judge in San Francisco entered a preliminary injunction against the ban because of a “mountain” of evidence suggesting migrants couldn’t safely seek asylum in Mexico. In September, the Supreme Court then reversed that injunction and allowed the administration to keep enforcing the policy.
Praise From Immigrant Rights Groups
Following this ruling, ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt praised Kelly’s decision.
“The court properly recognized that the Trump administration has once again skipped important steps mandated by Congress to ensure transparency and input from the public,” Gelernt said. “This is yet another instance in which this administration has sought to bypass Congress where the lives of asylum seekers are at stake.”
Human Rights First executive Hardy Vieux also praised the outcome, saying that Kelly’s ruling “is proof that the administration cannot do an end-run around the law. In the United States of America, we follow the rule of law, even when it benefits asylum-seekers demonized by this administration.”
Conversely, the Justice Department stressed that Kelly’s ruling was “a matter of procedural mechanics.”
“It was not a ruling on the substance of the asylum policy,” an official added.
That much seems to be backed up by the basis of Kelly’s ruling, which was made because the Trump administration failed to follow procedure when announcing the policy. Therefore, the administration will likely try to appeal this decision.
Impact of New Ruling May Be Limited
The order handed down from DHS on Wednesday applies not only to new asylum applicants but also to applicants waiting to receive their final decisions.
Still, even as Kelly noted in his decision on Tuesday, the impact of this ruling appears to be limited—at least for now. That’s because DHS has already been turning away thousands of asylum seekers at the border.
Those restrictions began earlier this year in response to the coronavirus outbreak. In May, the Trump administration then extended the measure indefinitely, arguing that the move was necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
In fact, according to The Washington Post, between March 21 and May 13, the U.S. granted asylum to just two people.
See what others are saying: (CBS News) (NBC News) (The Los Angeles Times)
Despite Limited Polling Stations, Kentucky Is On Track for Record-Breaking Voter Turnout
- Kentucky’s state primary is on track to see the highest voter turnout of any primary in the sate’s history, despite the fact the polling locations were slashed by 95%.
- During a normal election, there are around 3,700 polling locations, but on Tuesday less than 200 were open because of coronavirus precautions.
- Jefferson County, where Louisville is located, had one polling location for 600,000 voters. Because many of the state’s Black voters live there, some called it an attempt at voter suppression.
High Turnout Despite Limited Locations
Despite hiccups in big cities and incredibly limited polling stations, Kentucky is on track to see its highest voter turnout for a primary election, with Secretary of State Michael Adams projecting that over 1 million ballots were cast.
Prior to this, Kentucky’s largest primary turnout was in 2008 when the state saw 922,000 voters. In 2016, 670,000 voters turned out.
Adams released a statement saying that Tuesday’s election “offered the nation a model for success in conducting an election during a pandemic.” However, not everyone agrees with this.
The state slashed polling locations by 95%, going from 3,700 stations in a regular election to just under 200. Stations were limited due to fear over the coronavirus, but many thought it left the state’s voters with few options.
Much of the state’s Black population lives in Jefferson County, where Louisville is located. That county was left with just one polling location for its over 600,000 registered voters. Lexington, the second-largest city in the state, was also just left with one polling station.
Leading up to the election, the choice to limit voting locations so drastically was met with criticism from many politicians who saw this as a tactic of voter suppression that would disproportionately impact Black voters.
“Voter suppression is no longer billy clubs & Jim Crow. It’s closed polling sites + 6 hr waits w/o pay. COVID is no excuse,” said Georgia’s former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
“We must make it easier to vote—not harder,” Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted. “Our job is to fight racist voter suppression everywhere.”
Issues in Lexington and Louisville
Though turnout was strong, voters still saw a variety of issues. Voters in Lexington reported waiting in lines over an hour long. In Louisville, voters saw other issues like parking traffic, and the city’s sole polling station at the Kentucky Exposition Center locking its doors right as polls closed at 6:00 PM.
According to Joe Sonka, a reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal, around 50 people were outside when the doors were locked. Voters eventually started banging on doors, demanding to be let in, as traffic made them slightly late to the location.
The Courier-Journal spoke to Don Hardison, a voter who was left outside. He told the paper that he spent 45 minutes in traffic before he could park.
“It’s our constitutional right that is being infringed on right now. I think it’s disingenuous at best that this is the only polling place in Jefferson County,” Hardison said. “It’s not (a) coincidence that this is a large urban population.”
It was not long until those voters were let inside the Exposition Center to vote. Charles Booker, a candidate for the U.S. Senate Democratic nomination, encouraged the voters to stay in line while he filed an injunction. Booker asked that the polls stay open until 9:00 PM, but the judge granted just a 30 minute extentsion.
According to CNN, this allowed another 100 voters to cast their ballots. Amy McGrath, who is running against Booker for the Democratic nomination, later tweeted that she was filing for the polls to stay open even later.
However, nothing more than the initial 30-minute extension was granted.
Results to be Called June 30
Results for Kentucky’s primary are still being counted. Many counties, including Jefferson County, have no results yet. The state also saw an influx of absentee voting. Over 800,000 were requested, and over 500,000 were received by Tuesday, with more on the way.
The races are expected to be called on June 30, when more of those absentee ballots are in. As of Wednesday afternoon, the New York Times projected that the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, was well ahead of Sen. Sanders for the presidential race.
The race between McGrath and Booker, which is more highly anticipated, is much closer. McGrath appeared to be around 8% ahead of Booker by Wednesday, though too few votes are in to call. The winner of this race will face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November.
See what others are saying: (Courier-Journal) (CBS News) (NPR)
Trump Suspends Multiple Work Visas That Could Have Allowed up to 525,000 to Work in the U.S.
- President Donald Trump signed an executive order Monday suspending multiple visa programs that allow foreign workers to enter the country.
- Notably, those suspensions will affect high-skilled tech workers, many healthcare professionals, students on work-study, and international business workers.
- Some of those visas exist as lottery systems, but the Trump administration wants to restructure them so that only the highest-paid applicants receive visas.
- Additionally, the Trump administration is also moving to prevent asylum seekers who illegally cross the border from receiving work authorization in the United States.
Trump Suspends Multiple Work Visas
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Monday that extends a halt on the issuing of green cards and now suspends several visa programs until the end of the year.
It’s a move that officials said could keep as many as 525,000 workers out of the country for the rest of the year.
In April, Trump signed an order suspending the issuance of green cards to most foreigners for 60 days. At the time, he said the order was a response to the “invisible enemy” (COVID-19) and “the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens.”
Trump stopped short of any broader immigration ban, but with this green card suspension having been set to expire on Monday, Trump sought to change that.
When suspending those visa programs Monday, Trump reiterated his original arguments, saying that these suspensions will ensure Americans are first in line for scarce jobs.
“Under the extraordinary circumstances of the economic contraction resulting from the Covid-19 outbreak, certain nonimmigrant visa programs authorizing such employment pose an unusual threat to the employment of American workers,” Trump said of the coronavirus in the order.
Who Will These Suspensions Affect?
Most notably, visa program H-1B was suspended in the executive order. That program includes a variety of skilled worker positions such as computer programmers for big tech companies.
Another visa program that is now suspended is known as H-2B. That suspension will affect seasonal workers like those in the hospitality industry; however, it won’t affect farm workers or workers in the food processing industry.
While some medical workers can also get an exemption for H-2B, that’s going to be a narrow window only allowed if they’re specifically conducting coronavirus research.
Additionally, J-1 short-term exchange visas are being suspended. Those include university students on work-study summer programs as well as au pairs who provide childcare. Professors and other scholars are not included in the order, and there will be a provision to request some exemptions.
Still, some critics have noted that even if a person is eligible to potentially apply for an exemption, there’s no assurance they’ll be approved for one.
The order also blocks L visas, which include managers and other key employees of multinational corporations. For example, American companies with global operations or international companies with U.S. branches will be unable to transfer foreign executives into the U.S.
None of these suspensions will affect workers who have already received a green card for these programs—even if those workers aren’t currently within the country. That said, their spouses will still be barred from coming into the country if they also don’t currently have a green card.
Business Leaders Push Back
Since signing the bill, a number of business leaders have pushed back against Trump. In fact, they’ve been lobbying to keep these visa programs active since the Trump administration first floated the idea of them.
One of the reasons Trump hadn’t suspended these programs earlier was because he abandoned the idea in April when he signed his original suspension after fierce backlash from business groups.
Many businesses have argued these suspensions block the United States’ ability to recruit critical workers from overseas, especially for jobs that have a lack of qualified American applicants.
“Very much disagree with this action,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk—an immigrant himself—said. “In my experience, these skillsets are net job creators. Visa reform makes sense, but this is too broad.”
Very much disagree with this action. In my experience, these skillsets are net job creators. Visa reform makes sense, but this is too broad.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 23, 2020
Other Big Tech executives such as Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft president Brad Smith, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai—also an immigrant—have also spoken out against the suspensions.
Others have argued that an outright suspension of these visas doesn’t mean they’ll suddenly be beneficial to American workers.
“Putting up a ‘not welcome’ sign for engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses and other workers won’t help our country, it will hold us back,” Thomas Donohue, the chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce, said after Trump signed the order. “Restrictive changes to our nation’s immigration system will push investment and economic activity abroad, slow growth and reduce job creation.”
Immigration advocates have also hit back, saying that the “Americans first” idea doesn’t really reflect the reality of a dynamic and changing workforce.
Even Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), known to be a fierce defender of Trump’s policies, broke with the president in a lengthy Twitter thread.
“Legal immigration is a positive for the American economy, and visa programs allowing American companies to secure qualified, legal labor throughout the world have benefitted economic growth in the United States,” he said.
“Those who believe legal immigration, particularly work visas, are harmful to the American worker do not understand the American economy,” he added.
“Before coronavirus, legal immigration and programs like these played an important role in helping President Trump create the strongest economy in generations. I have little doubt that programs like these would help him build it again.”
“Unfortunately, I fear the President’s decision today to temporarily shut down these programs will create a drag on our economic recovery.”
At the same time, advocates for restricting immigration have applauded the president.
“The work visa suspensions will put the thumb on the labor market scale in favor of U.S. workers,” Jessica Vaughan, the policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said according to The New York Times.
“It’s really heartening to see the president stand up to the special interests that pull out the stops to lobby for these visa programs,” she added.
How Does Trump Want to Revise Immigration?
Reportedly, Trump doesn’t want to stop at suspending those visa programs. According to senior administration officials, he is working to make substantial, permanent changes to a wide array of immigration regulations.
Notably, that includes scrapping the current lottery system in which some visas are awarded and replacing it with more of a merit-based one. Part of the intent with that change is, according to officials, to prevent companies from contracting midlevel foreign workers, thus making accounting, programming, and other technology-based jobs more likely to go to U.S. citizens.
“This will drive both the wage level and the skill level of the H-1B applicants up,” a senior administration official said. “It will eliminate competition with Americans.”
Reportedly, the Department of Labor has also been instructed by Trump to set higher wages for H-1B holders and to probe potential abuses in the program. This is because foreign workers are typically paid lower wages.
Another major change that is set to be enacted by the administration will bar asylum seekers who illegally cross the border from receiving work authorization. That rule is set to take effect on August 25.
Under it, even if a person legally crossed the border as an asylum seeker, their wait time to be able to apply for a job would jump from 150 days to a year.