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Intelligence Officials See No Signs of Foreign Interference in Mail-in Voting

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  • 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)

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Supreme Court Sides With High School Cheerleader Punished for Cursing on Snapchat

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The justices ruled that the student’s year-long suspension from her school’s cheer team over an expletive-filled Snapchat was too severe because her post was not disruptive.


SCOTUS Rules in Free Speech Case

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a Pennsylvania school district violated the First Amendment when it handed a cheerleader a year-long suspension from her team after she sent friends an expletive-filled Snapchat outside school grounds.

The case in question centered around a snap sent in 2017 by now-18-year-old Brandi Levy in which she expressed frustration at not making her high school’s varsity cheer squad. The snap, sent on a Saturday from a convenience store, shows Levy and a friend flipping off the camera with the caption: “F— school, f— softball, f— cheer, f— everything.” 

That post was sent to around 250 people, including other cheerleaders at her school. When her coaches were alerted to the post, they suspended her from cheerleading for a year.

Levy and her family, represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the school district, arguing that it had no right to punish her for off-campus speech.

A federal appeals court agreed with that argument, ruling that schools could not regulate speech outside school grounds. That decision marked the first time that an appeals court had issued such a broad interpretation of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1969 student speech ruling.

In that case, SCOTUS allowed students to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War, declaring that they do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” 

The high court did specify that disruptive speech on school grounds could be punished.

Off-Campus Speech Questions Left Unresolved

In Wednesday’s decision, the justices agreed that Levy’s punishment was too severe because her speech did not meet the test of being disruptive. However, they did not uphold the appeals court decision that schools never have a role in disciplining students for off-campus speech.

“The school’s regulatory interests remain significant in some off-campus circumstances,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the opinion for the court’s majority. “Thus, we do not now set forth a broad, highly general First Amendment rule stating just what counts as ‘off campus’ speech and whether or how ordinary First Amendment standards must give way off campus.”

Breyer also added that specific question would be left for “future cases.”

In the sole dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas objected to that approach, arguing that Levy’s language met the threshold for speech that is disruptive and thus can be regulated off-campus based on past precedent. His colleagues’ ruling, he wrote, “is untethered from anything stable, and courts (and schools) will almost certainly be at a loss as to what exactly the court’s opinion today means.”

Both opinions are significant because while the majority decision focused more narrowly on whether the speech, in this case, was disruptive, the justices appear to be opening up space for a case that centers more specifically around the power of schools to regulate student speech off-campus.

Still, Levy and the ACLU cheered the decision as a victory for student speech off-campus, despite the court’s lack of ruling on the subject.

“Young people need to have the ability to express themselves without worrying about being punished when they get to school,” Levy said in a statement.

“The school in this case asked the court to allow it to punish speech that it considered ‘disruptive,’ regardless of where it occurs,” ACLU’s legal director David Cole added in separate remarks. “If the court had accepted that argument, it would have put in peril all manner of young people’s speech, including their expression on politics, school operations, and general teen frustrations.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The Associated Press)

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Biden To Outline Actions Aimed at Combatting the Recent Rise in Violent Crime and Gun Violence

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The president’s orders come the same day the Associated Press released data showing that a record number of gun sales were stopped last year because of background checks. 


President Biden Issues Orders on Violent Crime Rise

President Biden will outline several actions on Wednesday that his administration plans to take to curb the recent rise in violent crime and gun violence. 

That includes tougher enforcement policies for federal gun control laws, as well as new guidelines for how cities and states can use COVID-19 relief funds to combat gun violence. For instance, those guidelines will allow for the hiring of more police officers, paying officers overtime, buying equipment, and funding additional “enforcement efforts.” 

Biden’s plan also includes investing in community-based intervention programs for both potential perpetrators and potential victims of gun violence and helping felons adjust to housing and work after leaving prison.

Background Checks Stop Record Number of Sales

Hours ahead of Biden’s announcement, the Associated Press reported that background checks blocked a record 300,000 gun sales last year, according to newly obtained FBI data provided by a nonprofit that advocates for gun control.

In fact, the numbers are staggering compared to previous years. For example, background checks that successfully blocked gun sales last year amounted to nearly twice that of 2019. 

Notably, about 42% of those blocked sales were explicitly because would-be buyers had felony convictions on their records. 

Still, it’s important to note that these stats don’t necessarily mean less guns are being successfully bought. While the rate of barred buyers has increased somewhat from around 0.6% to 0.8% since 2018, the U.S. also saw a record number of gun sales last year.

Nearly 23 million guns were bought in 2020 alone, according to the consulting firm Small Arms Analytics. Alongside that record, the country saw another record when it came to the rate of gun violence. 

Because of that, Everytown for Gun Safety — the group that gave the AP the new background check data — reiterated its belief in the need for stronger gun control regulation.

“There’s no question that background checks work, but the system is working overtime to prevent a record number of people with dangerous prohibitors from being able to buy firearms,” Sarah Burd-Sharps, the group’s director of research, told the AP. “The loopholes in the law allow people to avoid the system, even if they just meet online or at a gun show for the first time.” 

Unsurprisingly, gun rights advocates have pushed against that idea, and some have even pushed against this new data on background checks. As Alan Gottlieb — founder of the group the Second Amendment Foundation — argued, the higher number of denials could be partially because of false positives.

“A day doesn’t go by that our office doesn’t get complaint calls from people who’ve been denied wrongly,” he told the AP.

See what others are saying: (USA Today) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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California Plans Unprecedented $5.2 Billion Rent Forgiveness Program

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State lawmakers are also debating on whether to extend the eviction moratorium, which is set to end next week, to ensure that Californians are not evicted before their debts can be paid off by the state.


Rent Relief in the Works

The California State Legislature is in the final stages of negotiating an unprecedented $5.2 billion rent forgiveness program to pay off unpaid rent accumulated during the pandemic.

It is not entirely clear yet who would receive the money, which comes from an unexpected budget surplus and federal stimulus funds. After speaking to a top aide for Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), the Associated Press reported that the $5.2 billion figure would cover all rent.

However, the same aide told The New York Times that the state had federal funds “to help pay the rent of low-income people.”

The outlet also explicitly reported that the program “would be available to residents who earn no more than 80 percent of the median income in their area and who can show pandemic-related financial hardship.”

Newsom offered little clarity, retweeting multiple stories and posts on the matter, including The Times article as well as others that said “all” rent would be paid.

Regardless, the program would be the most generous rent forgiveness plan in American. Still, there remains an unresolved question of extending the statewide eviction moratorium that ends June 30.

Eviction Ban Complications

Starting the new program and distributing all the money will take some time, and California has been struggling to keep up with demand for more modest rent relief programs.

According to a report from the California Department Housing and Community Development, just $32 million of $490 million in requests for rental assistance through the end of May had been paid.

State legislators are debating extending the protections and are reportedly close to a deal, but nothing is set in stone yet.

Tenants rights groups say the move is necessary to ensure struggling Californians are not evicted before their debts can be paid off by the state, and some housing advocates want to keep the moratorium in place until employment has reached pre-pandemic levels.

Landlords, however, have said it is time to end the ban, pointing to the state’s rapid economic recovery, which added 495,000 new jobs since February, as well as Newsom lifting all restrictions on businesses last week. 

But according to Opportunity Insights, an economic tracker based at Harvard, while it is true that employment for middle- and high-wage jobs has now surpassed pre-pandemic levels, the rates for low-income workers are down nearly 40% since January of last year.

As a result, many of the people who have months or even a year of unpaid rent have barely been able to chip away at what they owe.

State Recovery Spurred by Revenue Surplus

Newsom’s new program comes as the governor has proposed a $100 billion recovery package — also drawing from the budget surplus and unspent federal funds — that would pour funds into numerous sectors including education, homelessness, and much more.

California is not the only state that has newfound reserves. According to The Times, at least 22 states have surplus revenue after pinching pennies during the pandemic. Some are still deciding what to do with the funding, but others have already begun to invest it into education, construction, the arts, and more.

While many economists have said these funds will be incredibly helpful tools to get economic recovery back on track and aid those hurt most by the pandemic, Republicans in Congress have argued to those surpluses should go towards paying for President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan.

The Biden Administration and most Congressional Democrats have remained adamant that the states keep their extra funding to implement recovery-centered programs. White House spokeswoman Emilie Simons reiterated that belief Monday, telling reporters that state surpluses will not alter America’s infrastructure needs and emphasizing that many states are still struggling economically.

“This crisis has adversely impacted state and local governments, and that is not fully captured by one economic indicator,” she said.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Associated Press) (The Hill)

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