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Trump Threatens to Withhold Funding From Michigan and Nevada Over Mail-In Voting

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  • 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)

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Iran and Russia Obtained Voter Data for Election Meddling, U.S. Officials Say

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  • Top officials obtained the first concrete evidence of foreign interference in the 2020 election cycle, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday.
  • Ratcliffe said Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration information for the purpose of meddling in the election.
  • Officials also said that Iran was specifically responsible for a slew of email spoofs sent to voters, including emails sent to Democratic voters in four states on Tuesday threatening them to vote for Trump “or else.”
  • Many condemned Radcliffe for claiming that Iran sent the emails to hurt President Trump and downplaying Russia’s role in election interference.
  • Other’s also accused him of selectively declassifying intelligence to benefit Trump’s campaign. 

U.S. Officials Announce Election Interference

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday that Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration information that could be used to disrupt the election, marking the first time top officials have provided concrete evidence of international interference in this election cycle.

“We have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran, and separately by Russia,” Ratcliffe said in a last-minute press briefing. “This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos, and undermine your confidence in American democracy.”

Ratcliffe also specifically claimed that Iran was behind a string of spoofed emails, including threatening messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four states earlier this week. Those emails, which were sent from a domain associated with the far-right group the Proud Boys, claimed to have “gained access into the entire voting infrastructure.” The messages also told recipients if they did not vote for President Donald Trump the group would “come after” them. 

The Proud Boys denied any involvement, and Radcliffe’s announcement appears to support that. Notably, both Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray, who also spoke at the press conference, did not indicate that either foreign country had hacked into election infrastructure or voter registration systems. They also did not say that any election results or voter registration information had been changed.

In fact, intelligence officials who spoke to reporters said that the data they claimed both Iran and Russia and Iran had obtained was largely public, such as the names, party affiliations, and some basic contact info of registered voters.

That information, Ratcliffe said, was also used by Iran to email a video “that implies that individuals could cast fraudulent ballots, even from overseas.” He added that both emails were “designed to intimidate voters, insight social unrest, and damage President Trump.” 

“Although we have not seen the same actions from Russia, we are aware that they have obtained some voter information just as they did in 2016,” he continued.

Ratcliffe Criticism

Shortly after Ratcliffe’s announcement, Google appeared to back up some of his claims about Iran. In a statement, the company confirmed that it had detected around 25,000 emails that targeted users as part of what it described as an Iran-linked disinformation campaign. Google added that about 10%, or 2,500 emails, had slipped through their spam filters.

But many people still had serious issues with Ratcliffe’s characterizations of the situation and dredged up past criticisms of him.

Many Democrats and former intelligence officials have accused Ratcliffe — who is supposed to be apolitical in his role of DNI — of being a Trump loyalist who has used his position to promote the president’s political agenda.

Those allegations are specifically concerning when it comes to foreign interference in the election because Ratcliffe has both actively spread information that the intelligence community had deemed to be false regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. and has promoted debunked conspiracies about the following investigation.

Beyond that, the DNI has also explicitly been accused of selectively declassifying intelligence pertaining to election interference to help the Trump campaign. In fact, earlier this month, many former top officials condemned him for doing just that when he released intelligence about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign that was not only unverified but also, according to intelligence experts, may have been Russian disinformation.

As a result, many condemned Ratcliffe’s announcement Wednesday as yet another example of him publicizing information to benefit Trump, specifically pointing to his claims that Iran sent the emails to “damage” the president.

Unpacking Ratcliffe’s Claims

It is true that since August, intelligence officials have said that Iran opposes Trump’s re-election. Still, Ratcliffe provided no evidence for the claim that Iran was trying to explicitly hurt Trump. On the contrary, many others have said the current evidence indicates that the country is simply trying to create general chaos and distrust.

Many pointed to the fact that the emails reported Tuesday explicitly threatened Democratic voters, and while some did argue that it was an attempt to make the Proud Boys and Trump look bad, at the end of the day, it was still an attempt to dissuade Democrat voters from either voting blue or going to the polls entirely.

Bennett Ragan, the campaign manager for a Democratic State House candidate in Florida, who claimed he received both of the threatening emails, told The Washington Post that he believed the messages were sent to intimidate Democratic voters in one of the most contested swing states.

“When you have people who have a voter roll and then send off emails, they will make a big splash,” he said. “They will scare people. That is without a doubt the intent.” 

Similarly, others also pointed to the video that Ratcliffe said Iran sent voters with disinformation about voting overseas. According to The Post, which reviewed the video, it consisted of “Trump making disparaging comments about mail-in voting, followed by a logo with the name of the Proud Boys,” then going on to document what is supposed to “appear as a hack of voting data in an effort to produce a fraudulent ballot.” 

Regarding the video, critics of Radcliffe argued that it was not intended to make Trump look bad because it was an attempt to spread disinformation about fraud in mail-in balloting by drawing from false statements the president himself made to undermine confidence in voting systems.

This general idea about undermining confidence is also another reason used to dispute Ratcliffe’s claim that this was meant to hurt Trump. The president has spent months trying to undermine the election results. Critics argued that, as a result, these alleged attempts by foreign actors are just them playing off the distrust and discord the president has already created.

That idea was also echoed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) who said that based on a classified briefing he received, he “had the strong impression it was much rather to undermine confidence in elections and not aimed at any particular figure.”

“I’m surprised that DNI Ratcliffe said that at his press conference,” he added.

The official Twitter account for the House Homeland Security Committee also hit on a similar point, directly contradicting Ratcliffe, and calling his credibility into question.

“These election interference operations are clearly not meant to harm President Trump,” the committee tweeted. “Ratcliffe has TOO OFTEN politicized the Intelligence Community to carry water for the President.” 

“You can’t emphasize one threat over another to suit the President’s ego,” it added.

To that point, many other people also accused Ratcliffe of playing down Russia’s role in election interference. In his announcement, Ratcliffe mostly focused on Iran and claimed that while Russia had the same information, they were not using it the same way. However, multiple U.S. officials who spoke anonymously to The Post “stressed that Russia still remained the major threat to the 2020 election.”

As for Iran and Russia, both have directly disputed the claims that they are interfering in the U.S. election. In a statement to the media, and Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the country strongly rejects “American officials’ repetitive, baseless and false claims.”

A spokesperson for Kremlin also denied Russia’s role in influencing the election in a similar statement. 

“The accusations are poured out every day, they are all absolutely groundless, they are not based on anything, rather it is a tribute to the internal political processes associated with the upcoming election,” they said.

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

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Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court Nomination Despite Democratic Boycott

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  • Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee bypassed rules Thursday, voting to advance the nomination of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Justice pick, Amy Coney Barrett.
  • The vote was 12-0 because Democrats boycotted the session in protest, leaving posters in their seats of people they say will be negatively impacted if Barrett joins the Supreme Court and helps strike down the Affordable Care Act in a case the court will hear November 10.
  • The nomination now will move to the full Senate, with a final vote to confirm Barrett happening as soon as on Monday, only a month after Trump nominated her and just eight days before the election.

Democrats Protest Amy Coney Barrett’s Nomination

The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-0 Thursday to advance the nomination of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Justice pick, Amy Coney Barrett.

Republicans skirted the panel’s rules to recommend her confirmation as Democrats boycotted the session in protest. The committee requires two members of the minority party to be present in order to conduct business, but Democrats remained firm in their opposition to selecting a new Supreme Court Justice before the election. 

Instead of attending the hearing, Democrats put large posters around their seats of individuals they talked about during last week’s hearing– people who they argued would be negatively affected if Barrett joins the Supreme Court and possibly helps it strike down the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

That’s significant because on November 10, the court is set to hear arguments in a case that challenges the constitutionality of Obamacare. 

However, their protest was largely symbolic since Democrats don’t have the votes to block Barrett in either the committee or the full Senate. 

Experts say they’re mostly trying to tarnish the legitimacy of her confirmation and show the party’s progressive base they had fought until the end.

What Comes Next?

As far as what comes next, the nomination now moves to the full Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already indicated that he’s taking the rare step of keeping the chamber in session over the weekend in order to limit the opportunities for Democrats to delay the vote.

By Friday, procedural votes are expected, with a final vote to confirm Barret happening as soon as on Monday, only a month after President Trump nominated her.

If all goes to plan, Trump and his fellow Republicans will have raced to win this battle just eight days before the election, making Barrett the first justice in history to be confirmed so close to Election Day.

See what others are saying: (AP News) (CNBC) (The New York Times)

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Voters in 4 States Received Emails Threatening Them To “Vote for Trump or Else!”

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  • Democratic voters in Alaska, Florida, Arizona, and Pennsylvania received threatening emails telling them to vote for Trump or else the Proud Boys would “come after” them. 
  • The email came from a domain associated with the Proud Boys, but the group denied that it had any involvement and said that the website in question was no longer in use because it had been dropped by Google Cloud services.
  • According to The Washington Post, when the hosting service dropped the domain, it left it unsecured, meaning anyone online could take control of it.
  • Multiple outlets that reviewed the emails also reported that the messages did not come from the email address listed, but rather from foreign internet servers.

Threatening Emails

Registered Democrats in four different states — including three hotly contested swing states — were sent threatening emails Tuesday from an address that appeared to be affiliated with the far-right group the Proud Boys. The message warned recipients that if they did not vote for President Donald Trump, the group would “come after” them.

According to a screenshot of the email obtained by CBS News, the subject line of the message reads “Vote for Trump or else!”

“We are in possession of all your information (email, address, telephone… everything),” the body of the email said. The sender went on to claim they know the recipient of the email is a Democrat because they “gained access into the entire voting infrastructure.” 

Source: CBS News

“You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you,” the email continued. “Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply. We will know which candidate you voted for. I would take this seriously if I were you.”

Outlets that obtained copies of the email also reported that it concluded with the home address of the recipients they were sent to. Currently, voters in Alaska, Florida, Arizona, and Pennsylvania have reported receiving the threatening messages.

It remains unclear how many went out in total, but it does appear that most of them were sent to people in Florida and Alaska. In Alaska, local news outlets reported that the emails went out to over a dozen people. In Florida, a University of Florida spokesperson said that they knew of at least 183 Floridians who got the messages.

Officials in both states also announced that they have launched investigations, and the FBI was also looking into the matter.

Proud Boys Deny Involvement

While the sender’s address is listed info@officialproudboys.com, a domain associated with the Proud Boys, the group’s chairman, Enrique Tarrio, immediately denied that they had any involvement.

“We don’t send emails. This is someone spoofing our emails and website,” he told reporters. “We have spoken to the FBI and are working with them. I hope whoever did this is arrested for voter intimidation and for maliciously impersonating our group.”

Tarrio also told The Washington Post that the group has been in the process of migrating from officialproudboys.com to another site. In fact, they said officialproudboys.com has not been used for weeks because that domain was recently dropped by a hosting company that uses Google Cloud services after concerns were raised about the group.

According to The Post, when the hosting service dropped the domain, it appeared to just be left unsecured, and thus “allowing anyone on the Internet to take control of it and use it to send out the menacing messages.”

Numerous outlets that reviewed the emails also said that they did not come from the email address that was displayed, but rather from foreign internet servers. According to CBS, the metadata from the emails they analyzed showed that the messages originated from IP addresses connected to servers in Estonian, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

While experts noted that the IP addresses do not necessarily mean that the senders were based in those countries because they could have routed the emails from almost anywhere, some cybersecurity experts have pointed to the possibility of foreign interference to sow chaos in the election.

“We’re 2 weeks from the last day to vote! This is also the perfect time for adversaries to create chaos by spreading bogus claims or overstating activity,” Chris Krebs, the director of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency tweeting, noting that his office was aware of the emails.

“Ballot secrecy is guaranteed by law in all states,” he continued. “These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters’ confidence in our elections.”

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

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