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Early Voting Sees Record-Breaking Turnouts, Some States Already Surpass 2016 Numbers

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  • Early voting turnout for the 2020 Presidential Election, both by mail and in-person, has broken records across multiple states.
  • California and Texas, for example, have each surpassed 1 million votes cast, smashing previous records at this point in an election.
  • Battleground states have been particularly affected, with many having either surpassed their 2016 early voting numbers or are on the verge of doing soon.

Record Breaking Turnout

The 2020 Presidential Election has set records with its early-voting turnout in multiple states and is on track to do the same in nearly all of the 39 states where early voting has started.

Likely fueling this trend is the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has prompted states to expand mail-in voting efforts to accommodate those who wish to lower their chance of exposure.

California, for instance, reported that as of Thursday, over 1.7 million ballots have already been cast for 2020 Presidential election. That’s the most number of confirmed ballots collected at this point in any state election. Around 435,000 of those ballots are from Los Angeles county alone, so that number may skyrocket as the other populous areas of the state start having their ballots collected.

It’s possible that this election will have the highest voter turnout in the state because California still has 20 million more ballots to go.

Early Voting in General

Outside of California, there’s been historic early voting numbers. While not every state has sent mail-in ballots to all voters, many have opened up for early voting by mail or in-person. Texas, for example, opened up early in-person voting Wednesday while mail-in voting has been happening for about a month now. As of Wednesday, about 649,000 ballots have been cast either by mail or in-person in the state’s 10 largest counties.

Those counties represent 57% of registered voters. To put that in perspective, as of the first day of in-person voting in 2016, only about 497,000 ballots were cast in those same counties. Across the entire state, over 1 million votes have been cast so far.

Democrats are hoping that these historic numbers are a good sign for them; Texas Democratic Party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement, “Texas Democrats are rising. After the first day of early voting, it’s clear that energy is on our side and Texans are ready to turn our state blue.”

“With the energy seen among Texas Democrats, we will win the White House, take our John Cornyn, flip several Congressional seats, break the supermajority in the Texas Senate, flip the Texas House, and win hundreds of local elections across the state.”

Republicans weren’t too worried, saying that these numbers seemed to be on-par with a competitive election. Their voter-data expert told the Texas Tribune, “Right now all we have is one day of early voting under our belts, and we have many more to go, so I’d equate it to a horse race. The Democrats got a good start out the gate, but we’ve still got a whole race to run.”

While Texas is unlikely to flip, there are some important battleground states that have seen huge early-voting numbers. Take Pennsylvania, which has seen more early voters this election than in the entirety of 2016.

Other battleground states, such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Florida, and Michigan are also on par to pass their 2016 early-voting numbers according to local election data.

In Florida, this is particularly notable because so far the state has only had absentee voting. In-person early voting doesn’t begin until October 19.

See What Others Are Saying: (Los Angeles Times) (Texas Tribune) (Wall Street Journal)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

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

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Biden To Block Trump’s Order Lifting COVID-19 Travel Ban

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  • President Trump issued an executive order Monday lifting a ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil. 
  • Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when the CDC will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
  • The move was cheered by the travel industry; however, incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki warned that Biden’s administration does not intend to lift the travel restrictions. 

Trump Order End To COVID-19 Travel Ban

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday ending his administration’s ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.

That ban was put in place last spring in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. In his announcement, however, Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into effect.

Starting that day, the CDC will require all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.

The recommendation to lift the ban reportedly came from Alex Azar, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Trump’s proclamation, “the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.”

It’s worth noting that the ban will stay in place for travelers from Iran and China. Still, Trump’s announcement was generally cheered by members of the travel industry who have been pushing to lift the ban and require preflight testing instead. 

Biden To Block Trump’s Order

Soon after the news broke, the incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer Psaki, warned that Biden would block Trump’s order.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she wrote on Twitter.

“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.  In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she added.

With that, it seems unlikely that Trump’s order will actually take effect. 

It’s also worth noting that this is one of many executive orders Trump has issued just before inauguration day.

Source: Whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions

Some of these orders could soon be overturned once Biden takes office Wednesday. Biden is also expected to roll out his own wave of executive orders in his first 10 days as president.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns

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  • The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
  • The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
  • The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.

CDC Issues Warning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.

While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus. 

The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.

Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.

Mitigating Spread of Variant

“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”

The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.

“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.

“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)

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