- The California GOP has installed multiple, unofficial ballot drop-off boxes in Southern California, but Secretary of State Alex Padilla says those boxes are illegal and could result in felonies.
- Padilla has also argued the existence of such boxes could lead to confusion for absentee voters.
- The GOP, citing a 2016 law allowing third parties to collect and deliver ballots, argued that the boxes are legal. The GOP has repeatedly condemned this law before now.
- Padilla has said the 2016 law referenced by the GOP requires voters to designate a specific person to collect their ballot, something a drop box cannot do.
California GOP Sets Unofficial Drop Boxes
Republicans in California have illegally set up multiple, unofficial absentee ballot drop boxes in at least three counties, according to Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
Despite those drop boxes not being official locations established by local election offices, the GOP has listed them as such, reportedly setting them up outside of churches, gyms, gun stores, and gas stations.
On Sunday, Padilla said these drop boxes — which have been found in Los Angeles, Orange, and Fresno Counties — mislead voters and violate state law.
“My office is coordinating with local officials to address the multiple reports of unauthorized ballot drop boxes,” he told the Orange County Register. “Californians should only use official ballot drop boxes that have been deployed and secured by their county elections office.”
According to Padilla, it’s even possible that these drop boxes could result in felony charges, with his office noting that criminal charges for erecting or advertising unofficial ballot boxes could result in a two to four-year prison sentence.
GOP Defends Putting Up Ballot Boxes
The California GOP has defended setting up the drop boxes. It has argued that it is operating under a law that allows third parties to collect and deliver ballots to election officials.
For example, in California, the law allows volunteers and campaign workers to go directly to the homes of voters to collect completed ballots. State Democrats have even held “ballot parties” where attendees fill out their ballots before leaving them with volunteers who later return them to election officials.
Because that law was written by state Democrats and later signed into law by then-Governor Jerry Brown in 2016, the GOP said on Twitter that it was “not sure why people are all of a sudden surprised.”
“If a congregation/business or other group provides the option to its parishioners/associates/ or colleagues to drop off their ballot in a safe location, with people they trust, rather than handing it over to a stranger who knocks on their door – what is wrong with that?” it added.
California Democrats wrote the law (Assembly Bill 1921). Democrats voted for the legislation and Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law. This procedure has been in place since 2016 – not sure why people are all of a sudden surprised. https://t.co/2EB1PLuZCt— CAGOP (@CAGOP) October 11, 2020
The National Republican Congressional Committee also suggested that Democrats are “only ok with ballot harvesting” when they’re the ones doing it.
Since the introduction of this law, the GOP has criticized it extensively. In May, the GOP sued Governor Gavin Newsom over the practice ahead of a special election.
Democrats have justified the law by saying that it can increase voter turnout for people living with disabilities, as well as for other people who might not be able to make it to the polls.
Still, there is a key difference between how that 2016 law works and how the California GOP is using it. Specifically, Padilla said these drop boxes are illegal because that law requires a voter to designate a person to return their ballot; however, no one is present at these drop boxes.
On top of that, Padilla said the unofficial drop boxes don’t meet security requirements.
Now, Padilla’s office has said that it will be sending updated guidance to both Democrats and Republicans, warning them that they could face criminal charges if they use unsanctioned drop boxes.
If you’re a California voter, you can go to the secretary of state’s website to find official drop-off locations.
Confusion in Other States Over Absentee Voting Rules
COVID-19 has brought about unprecedented change to the American voter system. In return, that has brought with it confusion over how voters in each state are allowed to cast ballots.
In North Carolina, at least 6,800 ballots are in limbo because of errors voters made while filling out those ballots. Notably, almost half are from people of color.
While the state’s Board of Elections said last month that it would allow voters to fix those errors, a federal judge halted the plan on Oct. 3, arguing that it changed the rules too close to Election Day.
North Carolina is a key swing state where both President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden are running a tight race. In fact, in 2008, Barack Obama only won it by 14,000 votes.
In Pennsylvania, a federal judge has now denied the Trump campaign and the Republican Party’s attempts to make drop boxes in Pennsylvania unconstitutional.
In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott issued a proclamation at the beginning of the month that blocked Texas counties from setting up more than one absentee ballot drop box location during the early election period.
That order was overturned on Friday by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, who called the order “perplexing” since it didn’t affect counties’ abilities to set up multiple drop-off locations on Election Day and since multiple drop-off locations had already been set up.
Pitman also argued that Abbott’s proclamation created confusion among voters and disproportionately affected elderly voters, voters living with disabilities, and voters in populous counties.
On Saturday, Pitman’s injunction on the proclamation was temporarily halted by an appeals court judge. The order will now stay in effect until the court rules on the matter.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Newsweek) (The Hill)
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.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Biden Administration Unveils Plan To Replace All Lead Pipes
The effort builds on the $15 billion allocated under the bipartisan infrastructure bill for lead pipe replacement, but industry leaders say $60 billion will be needed for nationwide revitalization.
White House Outlines Actions on Lead Pipes and Paint
The Biden administration rolled out a sweeping plan on Thursday to remove all the nation’s lead pipes over the next decade and take other steps to prevent lead paint contamination.
Lead, which was commonly used in piping for municipal water systems all over the country until it was banned in 1978, is a dangerous neurotoxin that can cause serious nervous system damage, especially in children.
Contamination from lead pipes seeping into water supplies has caused multiple high-profile public health and environmental catastrophes over the last decade, including the notorious crisis in Flint, Michigan.
According to a White House factsheet, an estimated 10 million households are connected to water through lead pipes. Children and teenagers in 400,000 schools and child care facilities also risk exposure to lead-contaminated water.
“Because of inequitable infrastructure development and disinvestment, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to these risks,” the factsheet stated.
To address those disparities and revitalize water systems across the nation, the White House outlined 15 new action items the Biden administration is taking, including:
- Launching “a new regulatory process to protect communities from lead in drinking water” through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- Clarifying that state, local, and Tribal governments can use the $350 billion aid allocated under the American Rescue Plan to replace lead service lines.
- Establishing federally-operated regional technical assistance hubs “to fast track lead service line removal projects in partnership with labor unions and local water agencies.”
- Awarding federal grants through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to remove lead paint in low-income communities.
- Directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand childhood lead testing.
- Establishing “a new Cabinet Level Partnership for Lead Remediation in Schools and Child Care Centers.”
The White House also said it will direct the EPA to allocate $3 billion for state, local, and Tribal governments to replace lead pipes through funding that was approved under the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden last month.
A Matter of Funding
In total, Congress provided $15 billion to revitalize the nation’s lead-pipe systems under the infrastructure bill.
However, industry experts have estimated that it will cost $60 billion to entirely overhaul all the remaining lead pipes in the U.S.
As a result, the Biden administration has proposed several additional funding mechanisms in the social safety net package, known as the Build Back Better Act, that is currently being negotiated by Congress.
Specifically, the legislation would set aside $9 billion for lead remediation grants to disadvantaged communities, $1 billion for rural water utilities to remove lead pipes, and $5 billion for mitigation efforts such as removing lead-based water fixtures in low-income households.
The Build Back Better Act would additionally provide $65 billion for public housing agencies and $5 billion for other federally-assisted housing organizations to improve housing quality, including by replacing lead pipes and service lines.
The status of that legislation, as well as what provisions will remain in the final version, remain in limbo. While Democratic leadership has pushed to pass the sweeping social bill before the new year, all 50 of the party’s members in the Senate will need to sign on, and moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) has continued to withhold his support.