Photo by Christian Gooden for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
- Eight states voted Tuesday in the biggest primary since the pandemic started and what many considered a “dry-run” for November.
- Despite issues here and there, election officials said the biggest problems leading up to Election Day were related to the large increase in demand for mail-in ballots, which were requested in record numbers in multiple states.
- Rep. Steve King (IA), who has a long history of making racist remarks, lost the Congressional seat he has held for nearly 18 years.
- Ferguson, Missouri, where large protests erupted six years ago that helped propel the Black Lives Movement to national standing, elected its first black mayor.
Cues for November
Eight states and Washington D.C. held primary elections on Tuesday as protests over the killing of George Floyd continued all across the country.
Tuesday’s elections marked the biggest day of voting since the pandemic began, and served as the first large-scale test of what voting might look like in November.
All of the states holding primaries either encouraged or expanded mail-in ballots, and many significantly reduced the number of in-personal polling locations.
But both of those precautions created some major problems.
Numerous polling locations reported long-lines and poor social distancing. In, Washington D.C., where only 20 of the usual 143 polling places were open, people reported wait times of more than an hour at 7:30 p.m in all locations.
Videos posted to social media showed lines that stretched on for blocks, even as the city’s curfew took effect.
There were also reports of confusion in some places over which polling places were open and where mail-in ballots needed to be dropped off.
Deadlines for mail-in ballots also created problems in some states like Indiana, where the clerk of the state’s most populous county said last week that thousands of ballots might not be counted because they would not reach their office by the noon deadline on Election Day.
Issues With Mail-In Ballots
However, in general, election officials have said that most of the major issues were related to a huge increase in demand for mail-in ballots, which was reportedly up by 1,000 in some places.
Tuesday’s elections saw record numbers of mail-in ballots both requested and cast in a lot of the states. Those requests, however, were also accompanied by numerous complaints about delayed ballots.
According to reports, a judge in one Pennsylvania county ordered the mail-in deadline to be extended for as many as 500 people who had requested their ballots but not received them. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf also extended the mail-in ballot deadline by a week in six counties hit hardest by the coronavirus and protests.
People in D.C., Maryland, and Rhode Island also reported that they did not receive their mail-in ballots or had a hard time submitting requests.
In D.C. election officials reportedly resorted to hand-delivering ballots and even accepting emailed ballots. Security experts have warned that emailed ballots are incredibly vulnerable to hacking, because there is no way for voters to verify that they were accurately recorded.
But those problems could just be a small taste of what could happen in November if more states do not prepare for the massive surge in mail-in voting.
Some states are used to only 10% of voters or even less casting mail-in ballots, and experts say it us absolutely essential that they immediately start preparing to receive a lot more.
“These decisions need to be happening now. It’s a June kind of thing, and July is even pushing it,” Amber McReynolds, the chief executive of the National Vote at Home Institute told the Washington Post.
High Costs and Partisan Barriers
Unfortunately, expanding mail-in voting is an incredibly expensive feat, and currently, there are a lot of questions about whether or not states have enough money to do so.
In March, Congress appropriated $400 million for elections in the stimulus bill, but experts have said the cost of operating safe elections during the pandemic could be up to $2 billion.
While Congressional Democrats have pushed for another $3.6 billion for election funding for the next stimulus bill, it is unclear if Republicans, who have been hesitant to even discuss any new legislation concerning pandemic stimulus, will support the idea.
Leaders in Washington are also facing pressure from President Donald Trump, who has been increasingly vocal about his opposition to mail-in voting.
Trump has repeatedly insisted that expanding mail-in voting will lead to more voter fraud, despite the fact that his claims have been repeatedly debunked and he himself voted by mail in the last two elections.
But Trump’s efforts to undermine expanding vote-by-mail, at least at the national level, are still going strong. Recently, his campaign teamed up with the Republican National Committee to dump millions of dollars into lawsuits against states that are trying to expand mail-in voting.
However, at the state level, the debate is a lot less partisan. In fact, multiple states with Republican governors or top election officials have started the process of expanding mail-in voting.
Steve King Voted Out, Ella Jones Voted In
In addition to serving as a test-run for the general election in November, Tuesday’s primaries also brought about some other newsworthy moments.
Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who has a long history of making racist remarks, was voted out of Congress after nearly 18 years after losing his seat to State Senator Randy Feenstra by nearly 10% of the vote.
While King’s loss is significant, it was not entirely unexpected. After the 2018 midterms, it was clear that King’s seat was in jeopardy when he almost lost his seat to a Democratic challenger in an incredibly conservative district.
While Democrats have long criticized King for openly voicing and promoting racist views, he finally crossed the line with his own Republican party in January 2019, when he told the New York Times in an interview: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”
Those remarks sparked backlash within the party, and King was stripped of all his committee assignments. Even though he decided to run for re-election, he did so without the backing of the mainstream Republican establishment both in DC and Iowa, which chose to throw its support behind Feenstra, his leading opponent.
On a very different note, another major highlight from the night came from Ferguson, Missouri which elected its first black mayor, a City Council member named Ella Jones, who is now also the first woman to lead the city.
Ferguson was thrust into the national spotlight in 2014 when massive protests broke out in the city after a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, a black teenager. Those protests and the activism surrounding them was one of the major catalysts that pushed Black Lives Matter to become the national movement it is today.
And now, nearly six years later, Jones’ election comes as protests over the death of George Floyd, police brutality, and justice for black communities are being held all over the country— many of which are organized and led by BLM.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Reuters) (NPR)
NY Attorney General Says Investigation of Trump Business Found “Significant Evidence” of Fraud
The state attorney general’s office accused the former president and his family business of falsely inflating the value of assets and personal worth to lenders, the IRS, and insurance brokers.
New York Attorney General’s Filing
New York Attorney General Letitia James announced late Tuesday she had “significant evidence” that former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization “falsely and fraudulently” misrepresented the value of assets “to financial institutions for economic benefit.”
The allegations mark the first time James has made specific accusations against Trump and his business. They come as part of a nearly 160-page filing asking a judge to order the former president — along with Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — to comply with subpoenas for the investigation after the family sued James to block her from questioning them.
The filing claims that Trump and the company inflated the value of six properties, including several golf courses and Trump’s own penthouse in Trump Tower, on financial statements to obtain favorable loans, tax deductions, and insurance coverage.
The document adds that many of the financial statements were “generally inflated as part of a pattern to suggest that Mr. Trump’s net worth was higher than it otherwise would have appeared.”
James outlined several specific examples, such as a financial statement where the value of Trump’s Seven Springs estate in Westchester was boosted because it listed seven mansions on the property worth $61 million that did not actually exist.
That resulted in Trump receiving millions of dollars in tax deductions on that property, as well as another in Los Angeles.
In another notable instance, the attorney general’s office said that the $327 million value of Trump’s penthouse in Trump Tower was calculated off a financial statement that falsely reported his home was nearly triple its actual size.
While the statement claimed the apartment was 30,000 square feet, Trump had signed documents stating it was actually 10,996 square feet.
Alleged Direct Involvement
The allegation regarding the apartment is especially significant because it directly ties Trump himself to the accusations of financial wrongdoing. It is also not the only instance where Trump was implicated.
The filing additionally asserts that Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg — who was indicted last summer on multiple criminal charges relating to the business’ tax dealings — implied the former president was involved in finalizing the false valuations.
According to the documents, Weisselberg “testified that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump discussed valuations with him and that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump reviewed the Statement of Financial Condition for a particular year before it was finalized.”
Another top Trump Organization executive also testified that he was under the impression Trump reviewed the statements before they were finalized.
While the filing provides less direct links to Trump’s children, it does detail their involvement. Specifically, it alleges that Ivanka Trump rented an apartment at Trump Park Avenue and was given an option to buy it for $8.5 million, despite the fact that the property was valued at $25 million.
It also connected Donald Trump Jr. to some of the properties flagged by claiming investigators found evidence he “was consulted” on the Statements of Financial Condition.
Citing these connections, James argued in a series of tweets Tuesday that it is necessary for her inquiry to question Trump and his two children on their alleged involvement.
“We are taking legal action to force Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump to comply with our investigation into the Trump Organization’s financial dealings,” she wrote. “No one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them.”
The former president has not yet addressed the matter, but a Trump Organization attorney representing Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump responded by arguing the subpoenas violate the constitutional rights of the family and that the filing “never addresses the fundamental contentions of our motion to quash or stay the subpoenas.”
In a statement Wednesday, the Trump Organization denied James’ allegations as “baseless” and accused her of trying to “mislead the public yet again.”
As far as what happens next, James’ office has said it “has not yet reached a final decision regarding whether this evidence merits legal action.”
Because James’s investigation is civil, she can sue Trump, his company, and his children, but she cannot file criminal charges. However, her probe is running parallel to a criminal investigation into the same conduct led by the Manhattan district attorney, who does have that power.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)
Judges Uphold North Carolina’s Congressional Map in Major GOP Win
The judges agreed that the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” but said they did not have the power to intervene in legislative matters.
New Maps Upheld
A three-judge panel in North Carolina upheld the state’s new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, deciding it did not have the power to respond to arguments that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered it to benefit them.
Voting rights groups and Democrats sued over the new maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican legislature following the 2020 census.
The maps left Democrats with just three of North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats in a battleground state that is more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, Democrats held five of the 13 districts the state had before the last census, during which North Carolina was allocated an additional seat.
The challengers argued that the blatantly partisan maps had been drawn in a way that went against longstanding rules, violated the state’s Constitution, and intentionally disenfranchised Black voters.
In their unanimous ruling, the panel — composed of one Democrat and two Republicans — agreed that both the legislative and congressional maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”
The judges added that they had “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.”
Despite their beliefs, the panel said they did not have a legal basis for intervening in political matters and constraining the legislature. They additionally ruled that the challengers did not prove their claims that the maps were discriminatory based on race.
Notably, the judges also stated that partisan gerrymandering does not actually violate the state’s Constitution.
The Path Ahead
While the decision marks a setback to the plaintiffs, the groups have already said they will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
The state’s highest court has a slim Democratic majority and has already signaled they may be open to tossing the map.
There are also past precedents for voting maps to be thrown out in North Carolina. The state has an extensive history of legal battles over gerrymandering, and Republican leaders have been forced to redraw maps twice in recent years.
A forthcoming decision is highly anticipated, as North Carolina’s congressional map could play a major role in the control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they are as close as expected.
See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)
Biden Administration Says Private Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Tests a Month
The policy will apply to all the nearly 150 million Americans who have private insurance.
New At-Home Testing Policy
The Biden administration announced Monday that private health insurers will now be required to pay for up to eight at-home rapid tests per plan member each month.
Under the new policy, starting Saturday, private insurance holders will be able to purchase any at-home test approved by the FDA at a pharmacy or online. They will either not be asked to pay any upfront costs or be reimbursed for their purchase through their provider.
The move is expected to significantly expand access to rapid tests that other countries have been distributing to their citizens free of charge for months.
According to reports, nearly 150 million Americans — about 45% of the population — have private insurance.
Each dependent enrolled on the primary insurance holder’s account is counted as a member. That means a family of four enrolled on a single plan would be eligible for 32 free at-home rapid tests a month.
All tests may not be fully covered depending on where they are purchased.
In order to help offset costs, the Biden administration is incentivizing insurance providers to establish a network of “preferred” pharmacies and stores where people in the plan can get tests without paying out of pocket.
As a result, health plans that do create those networks will only be required to reimburse up to $12 per test if they are purchased out of that network, meaning people could be on the hook for the rest of the cost.
If an insurer does not set up a preferred network, they will have to cover all at-home tests in full regardless of the place of purchase.
During a briefing Monday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said tests should be “out the door in the coming weeks.”
“The contracts [for testing companies] are structured in a way to require that significant amounts are delivered on an aggressive timeline, the first of which should be arriving early next week,” she added.