- President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that mail-in voting will lead to voter fraud, suggesting that foreign countries will print counterfeit ballots, among other unsubstantiated concerns.
- On Wednesday, top intelligence officials told reporters they have seen no coordinated voter fraud efforts from any nation but did warn the public about covert and overt influence operations.
- That same day, Trump claimed that election officials could cause ballot miscounts, not the USPS. His statement came after the Postmaster General agreed to temporarily suspend changes that many felt would have prevented some mail-in ballots from being counted on time.
- Several investigations have found that mail-in voting is safe, and Trump’s claims about the potential for a rigged election have now been rejected by top officials in his own administration, state officials from both parties, and nonpartisan voting experts.
Election Security Officials Rebuke Trump’s Claims
Top intelligence officials said Wednesday that there is no evidence of foreign interference in mail-in voting, a major rejection of warnings shared by President Donald Trump and others in his administration.
For several months now, Trump has routinely warned against mail-in voting, falsely claiming that the process will lead to widespread voter fraud.
He’s given a variety of claims for this belief, arguing that mailboxes will be robbed and ballots will be forged, among other things. He’s even said the 2020 election will be “rigged” by foreign countries printing counterfeit ballots.
Other members in his administration, including Attorney General William Bar, have appeared to defend that last claim. Still, several experts, studies, and investigations have explained that voting by mail is safe. On top of that, news outlets and social media platforms like Twitter have been working to warn the public when Trump makes unsubstantiated comments about mail-in voting.
However, arguably one of the most important statements against Trump’s remarks came from high ranking officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Those officials spoke on the condition that they not be named.
According to several different outlets, one senior intelligence official said: “We have no information or intelligence that any nation state threat actor is engaging in activity … to undermine any part of the mail-in vote or ballots.”
A senior FBI official also reportedly claimed that even if there is fraud, it won’t be enough to tip the scales of the election results. “We have not seen, to date, a coordinated national voter fraud effort during a major election and it would be extraordinarily difficult to change a federal election outcome through this type of fraud alone, given the range of processes that would need to be affected or compromised by an adversary at the local level,” they said.
The range of processes includes things like being able to find every registered voter’s address, forging signatures, and replicating the barcodes and special stock the ballots are printed on.
FBI officials also noted that the agency is ready to tackle any potential voter fraud that could occur, given that the number of mail-in ballots is expected to increase because of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, while there might not be any visible threat towards mail-in ballots, intelligence officials did continue to warn that a number of foreign countries, including Russia, China, and Iran, continue to engage in overt and covert influence operations aimed at the 2020 presidential race.
To that point, a seniors intelligence official said, “We encourage Americans to consume information with a critical eye.”
“Check out your sources before reposting messages,” they added.
With these remarks, Trump’s claims about a rigged election have now been rejected by top officials in his own administration, state officials from both parties, and nonpartisan voting experts. Still, major rebukes like this haven’t stopped the president from peddling his voter fraud claims in the past.
Trump Blames Local Election Workers
At the same time, many politicians, especially Democrats, argued that Trump and Post Master General Louis DeJoy have been working to hurt the U.S. Postal Service in an effort to slow mail delivery and in turn influence the election in his favor.
This is actually something many felt Trump admitted himself when he said he opposed stimulus funding for the agency. In an interview with Fox Business earlier this month, he said, “They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots.”
“If they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.”
Afterward, the post office making huge changes, including removing or locking up several mail drop boxes, cutting overtime hours, and decommissioning many sorting machines. Though the moves were blamed on the general decline of mail, DeJoy later agreed to temporarily suspend those plans until after the November election. Since then, the post office has worked to assure the public that it can handle all the election ballots to make sure they are counted in time.
However, it seems that now the president is saying problems with counting ballots actually lie with election officials, not the post office. In an interview with The Washington Examiner Wednesday, the president was asked to confirm that he is not worried about the USPS’s ability to deliver ballots.
“It’s not the post office,” Trump said. “No, it’s the elections office. The post office — look, this is a con job. It’s like the Russian hoax. The post office has run the way it’s been run forever.”
He went on to claim that DeJoy will do a good job, saying, “but the post office is the post office.”
He said that even if mail delivery were a day late, “that’s not the problem. The problem is when they dump all these [ballots] in front of a few people who are counting them, and they’re going to count them wrong. The post office is not to blame.”
The only thing I’m concerned about is the unsolicited ballots, where they’re going to send 80 million unsolicited ballots to people that they don’t even know if they’re alive or if they’re living there. I think it is a catastrophic disaster for this country.”
As of now, it seems like the president may be reangling his issues with mail-in voting, shifting concerns from the foreign countries, and the post office to local election workers. However, once again, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the country. Still, many warn that with the election just around the corner, Americans who wish to vote by mail should submit their ballots as early as possible.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Examiner) (CNN) (CNET)
As Unemployment Claims Rise, CA Officials Report Inmates Collected Millions in Benefits
- Unemployment numbers spiked for the second week in a row, marking the highest amount of new claims made since early October with 778,000 people filing. Over 20 million Americans are still collecting some kind of joblessness aid.
- Experts say this will only get worse as COVID cases continue to rise and states impose more restrictions. However, unlike during the spring shutdowns, struggling Americans and small businesses will likely not have any help from the federal government.
- Meanwhile, law enforcement officials in California reported that tens of thousands of inmates received upwards of $1 billion in unemployment benefits as part of a scam that officials described as “the most significant fraud on taxpayer funds in California history.”
Unemployment Numbers Spike
Another 778,000 Americans filed for unemployment this week, the Department of Labor reported Wednesday, marking the highest spike since early October and the second week in a row that new claims have risen.
According to experts, this data signals that the massive coronavirus spikes the U.S. has seen in recent weeks are slowing the economy once again. On Wednesday, the country reported a record 2 million new cases in the same two weeks that joblessness claims also went up, bringing the official case count to more than 12.6 million Americans infected and over 260,000 dead.
As the COVID-19 spikes continue, and with more state and local governments imposing new restrictions on public gatherings, limiting hours and operations for restaurants and bars, and temporarily closing down some businesses entirely, economists say this situation will get worse before it gets better.
Unlike the first wave of shutdowns this past spring, it seems almost certain that struggling Americans will have to weather these latest closures without any help from the government.
Already, many of the programs that gave trillions of dollars to unemployed Americans and small businesses under the CARES Act have expired, and most of the few remaining programs will run out soon.
That is especially concerning when it comes to unemployment benefits. According to a recent report from the progressive think tank The Century Foundation, unless Congress and the White House sign off on a deal to extend key programs, roughly 12 million Americans will lose these benefits entirely the day after Christmas.
But after months of deadlock, any hopes for a new stimulus package petered out when the election came around. Democratic leadership is reportedly attempting to restart those talks, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he wants to approve some kind of bill before the end of the year.
However, it remains unclear how all the problems that had deadlocked the lawmakers for months during the earlier negotiations will be resolved in time.
Inmate Unemployment Fraud
Meanwhile, states are still continuing to struggle with distributing unemployment benefits to jobless Americans.
On Tuesday, a task force lead by nine district attorneys across the state of California reported in a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) that tens of thousands of prison and jail inmates — including more than 100 people on death row — have collected hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment benefits as part of a scam that the officials say “appears to be the most significant fraud on taxpayer funds in California history,”
According to the task force, between March and August, inmates housed in every single California prison and in jails throughout the state filed 35,000 claims totaling at least $140 million in benefits, though the alleged crimes could total as much as $1 billion.
In most cases, officials said that the payments were given out in the form of prepaid debit cards sent to friends or family on the outside who would then later deposit the proceeds to inmate accounts.
In some cases, the joblessness benefits were sent directly to the jails and prisons. Sometimes the inmates used their real names, but other times, they used fake names and fake Social Security numbers.
In fact, prosecutors were tipped off to some of the cases by listening to inmates recorded phone calls, where they bragged about how easy it was the game the system.
As far as how such widespread fraud could happen, law enforcement officials blamed California’s Employment Development Department, which has been swamped with processing more than 16.4 million unemployment claims since March, resulting in a massive backlog of unfilled claims that, according to reports, has totaled upwards of more than 1.6 million people at times.
However, the task force also said that part of the problem was due to the fact that unlike at least 35 other states, California does not have the technology to crosscheck inmate rosters against unemployment claims.
In their letter, the officials called on Newsom to crack down on the rampant fraud and provide “significant resources” to do so.
Newsom, for his part, responded in a statement by calling the fraud “absolutely unacceptable,” and ordering the Office of Emergency Services to create a task force to help the prosecutors with their investigation.
However, as The New York Times pointed out, Newsom had already formed a “strike team” a few months ago to help the state’s employment department speed up claims and address other issues, including fraud at correctional facilities.
The district attorneys were still forced to form their own task force with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation after the reports of fraud in the employment department continued and the “strike team” failed to uncover the large amounts of fraud the other groups had seen.
Currently, it is unclear how Newsom’s new task force is different from the largely unsuccessful “strike team.”
These problems also go beyond unemployment. There have been frequent reports of CARES Act funding being misused, including by people using small business loans to buy luxury cars, as well as large companies or businesses connected to President Donald Trump Trump and members of Congress improperly receiving funding.
As Congress considers another much-needed stimulus package, these issues of transparency and accountability have now become paramount.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NBC News) (USA Today)
COVID-19 Cases Expected To Surge After Thanksgiving
- With coronavirus cases already on a steep rise in the U.S, experts are warning that Thanksgiving travel and gatherings will likely make things worse. Canada, for example, saw a jump in cases after its citizens celebrated the holiday last month.
- Surgeon General Jerome Adams said that Americans should hold out for a vaccine, which is on the horizon, and be safe this Thanksgiving.
- A family in Texas is also waring against gathering, saying they learned how dangerous it is the hard way. After celebrating a birthday together, all 15 people who attended the party tested positive for the virus.
- On top of this experts are also warning against thinking a negative test clears you for socialization. In reality, you can test negative for the virus and still have and transmit it.
Warning From Surgeon General
As Thanksgiving looms closer, warnings against family gatherings are being echoed by experts and everyday people alike.
Health officials have been vocal about the threat the Thanksgiving holiday poses when it comes to the coronavirus. The U.S. has seen 12.4 million cases and lost 257,000 lives to the virus, and cases have been on a steep increase this month. The CDC has already warned against travel and experts have said that based on the spike Canada saw after its October Thanksgiving, America is set to go down a similar, or even worse path.
“I want the American people to know that we are at a dire point in our fight with this virus by any measure,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Monday on Good Morning America. “Cases, positivity, hospitalizations, deaths. We’re seeing more Americans negatively impacted than ever before.”
Adams said that with a vaccine on the horizon, Americans should just wait out this homestretch and stay put for the holiday.
“I’m asking Americans, begging you, hold on just a little bit longer,” he said. “Keep Thanksgiving and the celebration small and smart this year.”
Family in Texas Urges Caution
Health officials are not the only ones preaching this advice. In Arlington, Texas, a family that has lived the consequences of gathering without regard for public health is urging people to not make the same mistake as them. The Aragonez family celebrated a birthday earlier this month indoors without masks or distancing. Now, all 15 people who attended tested positive for the virus.
“We feel guilty for gathering,” members of the family said in a video encouraging caution. “All this pain that my family is feeling, this loneliness, this sickness, this longing to be healthy could have been prevented.”
“Please don’t be like my family and ignore the CDC guidelines,” one person said. “By staying apart we can fight this virus together.”
While most cases in the family were mild, one person was hospitalized for over a week.
“One moment of carelessness has cost us a month of peace, has cost us sleep, has cost us laughs, has cost us a lot of money,” one family member told the Washington Post.
Testing Negative is Not Enough
Many have still forged on with their gathering plans under the false idea that if everyone tests negative before attending, they are in the clear to socialize. However, experts warn this is far from the case.
Just because a person tests negative does not necessarily mean they do not have the virus. Tests are not 100% accurate and it can take days or even a week to test positive for the virus after exposure. Not to mention, people could come into contract with the virus between their test and the family event.
“A negative result is a snapshot in time,” Dr. Paige Larkin, a clinical microbiologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Chicago explaining to the New York Times. “It’s telling you that, at that exact second you are tested, the virus was not detected. It does not mean you’re not infected.”
While it might slightly minimize the risk of spread, it certainly does not eliminate it. More than anything, it gives people a false sense of security that they have a free pass to go wherever and see whoever they want, despite the fact that it still poses a large health threat.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Washington Post) (Associated Press)
Over 1 Million People Traveled Through U.S. Airports Friday, Despite COVID-19 Warnings
- Over 1 million people traveled through U.S. airports on Friday, marking the second-highest single day of airport traffic since the coronavirus pandemic began.
- The new record comes despite the fact that the CDC has issued a warning against travel for Thanksgiving, encouraging people to stay home instead because COVID-19 cases are already on a steep rise.
- In Canada, cases spiked after the country celebrated their Thanksgiving holiday in October.
- While cases were already increasing in the country, contact tracing has linked outbreaks to holiday gatherings, which likely accelerated the speed of spread.
Cases and Travel Both Increase
The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday is expected to worsen the already increasing coronavirus outbreak in the United States.
Currently, the country has seen over 12.3 million cases and lost more than 256,000 lives to this virus. On Friday, the U.S. broke its record for new cases in a single day, reporting 198,500 cases. The daily average has reached 171,462 cases a day and roughly one-quarter of all cases in the U.S. have come from just the month of November.
These circumstances paint a grim picture of what could come after all of the traveling and large gatherings that are expected to happen over the holiday, even after repeated warning against doing so.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned against traveling and advised that “postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.”
The CDC told travelers to ask themselves questions, like if cases are high in their home or destination, if their method of travel makes social distancing difficult, and if there are travel restrictions in their area. If the answers to any of those questions are yes, people should “consider making other plans, such as hosting a virtual gathering or delaying your travel.”
Despite these warnings, air travel is on the rise in the country. On Friday, more than 1 million people passed through airports, marking the second-busiest day of air travel since the pandemic began. While this is 1.5 million people less than the same day last year, the travel surge troubles health officials who fear the virus could spread as people gather with their families.
Case Spike After Canada’s Thanksgiving
All the U.S. has to do is look to its neighbor to the North in order to find out just what kind of impact Thanksgiving can have on coronavirus cases. Two weeks after Canada’s Thanksgiving in October, the country saw a spike in cases. While cases were already on the rise at the time, experts believe that holiday gatherings contributed to and accelerated the spread.
“Cases were indeed increasing already, but we definitely saw an increase in the rate of transmission after Thanksgiving. And we know that Thanksgiving is important for a couple of reasons. One is through contact tracing data,” Dr. Laura Rosella, an associate professor and epidemiologist at the University of Toronto told CBS News.
Contact tracing in the country showed a significant transmission from household gatherings stemming from Thanksgiving.
“One local health unit that reported about 12 people being infected because of a Thanksgiving gathering,” Rosella explained.
“It’s not the only reason the cases are increasing, it’s not the only setting in which transmission is occurring, but definitely when people gathered indoors it did transmit COVID.”
Still, people are more likely to feel safe with their family, no matter how high the COVID-19 risk actually is. Superspreading weddings are among the strongest examples of this, as numerous have led to significant outbreaks because couples thought it was safe to gather with friends, family, and other people they trust.
“Many people don’t believe that you can actually catch it from your family and friends. They feel safe when they are around people that they know,” Karen Potts, the director of the Adams County Health Department in eastern Washington explained to NBC News. “And I think that’s why this sort of event happens. People just feel safe, and they go to the event, and it just spreads so rapidly.”
One August wedding in Maine, for instance, was liked to 177 coronavirus cases and 7 deaths. Many of those cases include people who did not attend the wedding. In fact, none of the deaths traced back to the wedding were attendees.
An October wedding in Cincinnati led to 32 of the 83 guests getting COVID-19, including grandparents of the bride and groom. In Washington, a 300 person wedding earlier this month has led to 17 people getting the virus so far.