- 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)
Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations
The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter
Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.
Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.
Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.
DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools
On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.
The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.
DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.
At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.
Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)
Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance
News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.
While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective
The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.
Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.
While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab.
Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective.
No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.
According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.
While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.
“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.