- Current data shows that millions of absentee ballots sent to voters have yet to be returned, and with mail delays continuing, many Americans are now unable to mail in their ballots and still be sure their vote counts.
- While officials and the USPS are warning people not to send in ballots less than a week before their state’s deadline, there have been some mixed messages.
- A postmaster in Michigan directly contradicted the Secretary of State and told voters it was still safe to mail in their ballot. In Texas, a county administrator admitted that many absentee ballots have not even been delivered to those who requested them yet.
- At the same time, the USPS is reporting incredibly alarming delays, with some key battleground states reporting on-time mail delivery rates lower than 60%.
Millions of Votes Yet to Be Cast
With less than a week until the election, nearly 40 million of the 90 million mail-in ballots that American voters have requested have not yet been returned, according to data reported Thursday by the U.S. Elections Project, a nonpartisan vote tracking site.
The number of unreturned ballots are especially high in several key swing states like Florida, where over 1.7 million requested ballots have not yet been sent back. Nearly 1 million requested ballots in Pennsylvania have also not been returned.
While experts say it is possible that many people who requested ballots have since decided to vote in person instead, these numbers are still significant because for many of those millions who have not yet returned their ballot, their options are now much more limited.
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has warned that voters should mail in their ballots a full week ahead of the deadline for counting set by their state in order to ensure that their vote will be counted.
In other words, if you live in one of the roughly 30 states that require ballots to be received by Election Day and have not yet voted, it is too late to safely mail in your ballot. To ensure your vote is counted, vote in person or use a ballot drop box if your state offers them. For more information on how to vote in your state, go to vote.org.
The USPS and many election officials have been issuing these same warnings, but there are still mixed messages being sent in some key states.
For example, on Tuesday, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson warned voters that it was too late for them to safely rely on the Postal Service. The next day, however, Grand Rapids Postmaster William Rowe contradicted the state’s top election official and encouraged voters to trust the Postal Service.
Rowe said that he himself mailed his own ballot the same day he received it, which was a day later than the USPS recommendation. Notably, the fact that he received his ballot less than a week before the deadline to mail it in is also something that is cause for alarm.
If the city’s postmaster did not get his ballot until then, how many others also did not get their ballots until a week before the election? That concern is also not just limited to Grand Rapids or Michigan. Plenty of voters all over the country have not yet received their mail-in ballots, and in some places, that is not an accident.
In Texas, election officials have outright said mail-in ballots are still being sent to voters through the end of this week, even though their votes will not be counted unless they are postmarked by Election Day and arrive no later than Nov. 4.
In an interview with the Texas Tribune, Jacque Callanen, the elections administrator in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, said that some voters might not even get their ballots until Halloween. Callanen even acknowledged that this is a “tight window,” for many voters adding, “We’re pushing it. But that’s how it works.”
For many voters “that’s just how it works” is an entirely unacceptable argument, especially in a state like Texas, which limits absentee requests to people who are genuinely limited in their ability to vote in-person like the elderly, people with disabilities, and overseas voters.
On top of that, the delay in getting voters their absentee ballots is also troubling because the USPS is still experiencing slow-downs as a result of the changes that Postmaster Louis DeJoy implemented over the summer.
According to The Washington Post, before DeJoy took office in June, the USPS delivered upward of 90% of first-class mail on time. After DeJoy implemented his so-called “cost-cutting” measures in July, those numbers plummeted, and they still remain alarmingly low, even after many of the policies were rolled back.
DeJoy, for his part, has promised to make election mail his main priority and supply additional resources, but the current data seems to indicate that he has not followed through at all.
The agency has repeatedly missed its goal to have more than 95% of first-class mail delivered within five days. In fact, according to USPS data filed in court as part of a lawsuit and accessed by The Post, as of Tuesday, exactly one week before the election, the office reported that only 69.8% of mail was on time nationally.
That is just the national average. Key postal districts in many swing states failed to reach even that mark. According to The Post, 17 postal districts that represent 10 battleground states reported the average on-time delivery rate for first-class mail was just 64%. That is nearly 30% lower than the delivery rate at the beginning of this year.
In some areas, the Postal Service reported that delivery rates fell below 60%, with one of the most extreme examples being the Philadelphia Metro postal district, where only 43% of Tuesday’s mail was delivered on time.
According to the Los Angeles Times in certain parts of the country, on-time delivery rates have dropped to levels lower than July, “when millions of Americans went days, even weeks, without mail.”
In an attempt to address these concerning numbers, Federal Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the District of Columbia on Tuesday ordered DeJoy to boost mail services in the week before the election. Under the order, the postmaster is required to increase the number of late mail trips and extra deliveries, in order to ensure election mail is on time.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Los Angeles Times) (The Texas Tribune)
Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains
Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.
Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston
Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.
Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.
Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.
Signs That Went Unnoticed
The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.
On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.
Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.
“I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.
She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.
Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.
Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.
“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”
Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges
According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.
After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.
At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.
Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.
ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.
On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.
Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.
See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.