• ...And Are Already Trying in Wisconsin
• Texas' Law Could Disenfranchise Millions
• States Raid Election Security Funds to Pay Costs Related to COVID-19
• Trump Pursues Pet Projects in the Middle of a Pandemic
• Gretchen Whitmer Is Gaining Traction as a Possible Veep Candidate
• Forty Percent of Trump Voters Unhappy with His Response to the Coronavirus Crisis
• The "Trump Bump" Is History
• A 2013 Decision by Rick Scott May Hurt Trump in Florida
• Georgia Beaches Have Become a Flashpoint
• Some of Sanders' Top Allies Want Him to Drop Out
Experts say that the COVID-19 public health crisis will end when one of two things happens: (1) a vaccine is developed, billions of doses are manufactured, and most people on the planet get the vaccine, or (2) populations develop herd immunity (but this requires that 80-95% of the population become immune, either through vaccination or through having and surviving the disease). Estimates vary of when the crisis will end, but most experts peg it at 12-18 months. There is close to zero chance it will be over by Election Day on Nov. 3.
For this reason, public health experts are afraid that having people stand in line in close proximity to other people for hours on Election Day will reactivate the spread of the disease, even if the rate of infection has dropped by November. To avoid massive infections and yet preserve democracy, many public health and political leaders are calling for a mail-in election this year in all states, not just the five that already do their elections by mail (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington). Having people vote by mail instead of standing in line and spreading disease would seem like a no-brainer, but there is a big problem here: Republicans are strongly against widespread absentee voting and will fight tooth and nail to prevent its expansion.
The reason is clear and Donald Trump foolishly said it out loud last week when commenting on the $2.2-trillion relief bill he signed: "The things they had in there were crazy. They had things, levels of voting that if you'd ever agreed to it, you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again." Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R) echoed Trump shortly thereafter when he said that any expansion of absentee voting would be "extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia." Republicans, including Trump, intuitively understand that if every eligible voter actually voted, Republicans would probably lose at every level, so they try to erect as many barriers to voting as they can. But one of the unwritten rules of the game is that they are not supposed to say this when the mics are switched on.
Historically, higher turnout leads to Democratic victories because the additional people voting in a high-turnout election tend to be young people and minorities, groups that skew Democratic. Allowing nationwide vote-by-mail will make it easier for these groups to vote, and that could help the Democrats, so the Republicans oppose it. However, this year is like no other year. Old people, who skew strongly Republican, may be afraid to vote in person for fear of getting COVID-19 and dying, so blocking absentee voting might hurt Republicans more than Democrats this time. On the other hand, city dwellers (who skew Democratic), who have to vote at crowded polling places, may be more inclined to skip in-person voting this year than rural voters (who skew Republican), who often vote in much less crowded polling stations. Which of these factors is more important is hard to say, but the growing Republican resistance to mail-in ballots suggests that the prevailing view is: "Low turnout due to COVID-19 helps the GOP."
The Democratic push for mail-in voting and the Republican efforts to block it will come to a head in the fourth COVID-19 relief bill that Congress is starting to work on. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wants to include $2-4 billion in it to make it easier for states to increase absentee voting. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is dead set against this. What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object remains to be seen. It may depend on Pelosi and McConnell's respective views about who will get the blame if the bill fails. It may not take that long to find out, since Pelosi wants to pass the bill by the end of April. If the House passes a bill, McConnell will have to decide how bad it would look to simply not bring it up for a vote when the country is hurting and the Democrats are screaming that Republicans are blocking badly needed help. (V)
Continuing with this theme, a federal judge was asked to cancel tomorrow's primary in Wisconsin and refused. However, in light of the pandemic, he extended absentee voting until April 13. Wisconsin Republicans don't like having more people vote (see above) so they appealed the decision. The appeals court declined to take the case, so they have now asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the judge's ruling, which will allow them to throw out all ballots arriving after tomorrow.
The Supreme Court doesn't have to decide today. If all the ballots arriving after tomorrow are tallied separately, then the final decision will just determine whether the total of the late-arriving ballots are added into the total of the earlier ones, or not. The Republicans understand that trying to stop people from voting doesn't look good, but given a choice between looking bad and losing an election, they will take the first option every time.
The decision to allow or not allow late-arriving ballots is crucial, because Democratic-leaning Milwaukee has so few poll workers available that only five polling stations will be open in a city of 600,000. The lines will be immense and people will be discouraged from voting. Some of those people may have already received absentee ballots and could take one look at the lines and decide to go home and fill in the absentee ballot, thinking that it will count. If the Republicans can get the Supreme Court to order all the ballots received starting Wednesday to be discarded, they could win a key race for the state supreme court that is on tomorrow's ballot. Currently, the Republicans have a 5-2 majority, but if the Democrat challenging one of the sitting judges wins, the Republican edge will be reduced to 4-3. If that happens, the Democrats could get a majority in 2023.
One imagines that SCOTUS will be loath to get involved, and in particular to get involved and order ballots to be discarded, since voters in Wisconsin have already been told that ballots are legal as long as they are received by April 13. In the end, it's possible they won't have to make a decision at all. Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) called a special session of the legislature this weekend, and strongly implied that if Republicans did not agree to do what he wants and to postpone the election, he would issue an executive order (despite not necessarily having the authority to do that). The Republicans in the legislature shut the session down as soon as it began, essentially daring Evers to do his worst, and he blinked and backed down.
However, a group of 10 mayors, representing 1.3 million Wisconsinites, has sent a letter asking Department of Human Services Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm to prohibit all public gatherings in Wisconsin (which would then, of course, make holding an election impossible). At least one of the mayors is a Republican (Tim Hanna of Appleton); with many of the rest it's hard to tell because their mayoralties are non-partisan. Palm hasn't responded yet, though it's worth noting that it was a similar maneuver (the top public health official declaring an emergency) that ultimately allowed Ohio governor Mike DeWine (R) to move that state's primary. On the other hand, because Palm is only a designee at this point, maybe Badger State Republicans will file suit and challenge her authority on that basis. In short, it's going to be a real soap opera in Wisconsin for the next 24 hours or so. (V & Z)
As long as we are on the subject of keeping people from voting, let's take a look at Texas, a state that has always been good at that. Texas law allows voters to get absentee ballots only under certain conditions. These are that the voter will be outside his or her county on Election Day, have a "sickness or physical condition" that prevents them from voting in person, are over 65, or are in jail awaiting trial or convicted of a misdemeanor. The $64,000 question is whether a healthy person who is afraid of being infected with the coronavirus meets the "physical condition" test for getting an absentee ballot.
Guess how the parties line up on this question? You nailed it! The Texas Democratic Party has filed a suit in state court demanding that the state interpret "physical condition" to include anxiety about catching a deadly illness as a side effect of voting. Texas AG Ken Paxton (R) has filed a motion opposing the Democrats' efforts. The case will undoubtedly make its way to the Texas Supreme Court, all nine of whose members are Republicans.
Currently, Texas residents are strongly discouraged from leaving their homes except to buy food and go to doctors. If that continues to be the case on July 14, when Texas has runoff elections, we could have a situation in which millions of Texans have de facto been ordered by the governor not to vote. In-person turnout could be microscopic and the elections could be decided almost entirely by old people and sick people and prisoners (i.e., people entitled to an absentee ballot). If current conditions hold until November, general-election turnout could also be tiny.
Until recently, laws about absentee voting were not partisan. Red Utah mails every voter an absentee ballot while blue Massachusetts has a law even more restrictive than that in Texas. Fundamentally, no state has a law concerning absentee voting that takes into account the possibility that large numbers of healthy citizens who want to vote might not want to do it in-person for fear of getting sick. The law concerning what states can and cannot do is murky, but in 2006, the Supreme Court handed down Purcell v. Gonzalez, which warned judges not to change the election rules when an election was looming. The decision doesn't give judges specific guidelines, but any judge who doesn't want to make a special exception on account of a pandemic could certainly cite Purcell and have it upheld on appeal. (V)
OK, this is the last story on elections for today—but it definitely will not be the last one this year. Or this week, for that matter. The $2.2-trillion relief fund Congress passed provides $400 million for election security. This was intended to be used for upgrading voting equipment to foil hackers, hiring consultants to advise election officials how to secure the integrity of the election, and things like that. However, some states are raiding the piggy bank to buy protective equipment for doctors and paying for ventilators whose costs have gone up because states are engaged in a bidding war to get the scarce machines. Those things are important of course, but that was not Congress' intent in providing specific funding to secure elections. When Congress wants the states to decide how to spend federal money, it gives the states block grants and tells the governor to spend it as he or she sees fit. That wasn't the case here. The consequence could be a small number of additional lives saved, but corrupted elections.
Some people may see that as a good tradeoff, but taken to extremes, it would be an argument to cancel all upcoming elections, let current office holders stay on indefinitely, and use the money saved to buy N95 masks and ventilators. Democracy, after all, doesn't save lives the way ventilators do, so maybe it is expendable. (V)
When faced with a crisis whose best case is 100,000 Americans dying, just about any other president would spend all of his time planning how to deal with it, talking to congressional leaders about legislation required to solve it, and calling agency heads to see how they were doing, and asking how he could help to save more lives. Donald Trump is a different kind of president, though, and has his own agenda. We saw part of that last Friday, when he took time out from his busy schedule to fire Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who did his job informing Congress about Trump's asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to help with his reelection by investigating the Bidens. Requesting election help from a foreign national violates federal law, so the IG told Congress, as he is required to do.
But this is by no means the only thing Trump is doing now to achieve long-standing goals (such as getting revenge on people who cross him) that have nothing to do with dealing with the public-health and economic crises the country is facing. Another thing Trump has actively been doing in the past weeks is rolling back Obama-era regulations he doesn't like, such as auto-emission standards. He has also worked to continue the construction of the controversial Keystone pipeline. In addition, he is moving funds around to finance building part of his much-promised wall on the Mexican border. He is also focused on getting tough with China, even to the extent of insisting on calling the coronavirus the "Wuhan virus," and blaming China for its spread. This insistence resulted in the recent meeting of the G7 foreign ministers not producing a final statement of unity, precisely when international cooperation is essential to halting the spread of the coronavirus. (V)
In contrast to Donald Trump, who has been distracted by his pet issues, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) has been spending all her time on dealing with coronavirus infections in Michigan, the third most infected state. Her work has attracted the attention of Joe Biden, and he said this weekend that she is on his list of possible running mates. Democratic donors also like her and her combative approach to Trump while fighting for her state.
Whitmer's star began to rise in February, when she delivered the Democratic response to the State of the Union address. Now she has experience dealing with a health crisis directly and thus would be a good person to talk about health care during the campaign, an issue Democrats hope to ride to victory.
Whitmer brings in something that only a few other possible running mates bring in: A key swing state. Trump won Michigan by only 11,000 votes in 2016 and with the popular Whitmer on the Democratic ticket, the state would be virtually guaranteed to go blue in 2020. In addition, the Upper Peninsula borders on Wisconsin, another must-win state for the Democrats. People living in Wisconsin near the Michigan border undoubtedly know about her. The only other plausible veep candidates who might be chosen for their ability to bring in a state are Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), the former Orlando Chief of Police who got national attention with her well-argued points during the House's impeachment hearings, and Stacey Abrams. Whitmer is white while Demings and Abrams are black and that could play a role in Biden's choice. If his focus is winning over the resentful, angry white men in the Midwest, Whitmer might be a better choice, but if it's trying to increase minority turnout to win North Carolina and Florida, Demings or Abrams might be better. Of course, Biden also has many other choices, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), as well as two Latinas: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).
Picking running mates to win a specific state used to be more common than it now is. One of the most famous examples is John Kennedy picking Lyndon Johnson in 1960, despite his strong dislike for the man he saw as a boorish oaf, because Kennedy needed to win Texas and believed Johnson could bring it in, which he did. In the nineteenth century, most veeps were chosen with an eye toward bringing in their home state, which is why so many of them came from the (then-) swing states of New York and Indiana.
One problem that Whitmer would face if she made the cut is that campaigning for vice president and trying to run Michigan in the face of massive public-health and economic crises are incompatible activities. She would have to seriously consider resigning the governorship to run. That would give Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II (D-MI) a promotion and make him the only current black governor in the country. Republicans would attack Whitmer as a quitter, but having Whitmer put a very young (37) black man in a top position might make her even more popular with the state's sizable black population and make it even harder for Trump to carry the Wolverine State. (V)
We noted this in passing yesterday, but it deserves a closer look. A new poll from progressive-leaning polling firm Navigator Research has an interesting result about what 2016 Trump voters are thinking. When we start the electoral-vote scorekeeping later this year, we won't use polls from pollsters who specifically work for progressive or conservative candidates, but this poll is not a horse race poll and may give some insight into what 2016 Trump voters are thinking. The most recent number is that 40% of them think Trump "did not take it seriously enough" when COVID-19 began to spread. What is most interesting is the poll results over the past 3 weeks:
This poll doesn't ask if the 2016 Trump voters want an encore, but the near doubling of people who are upset with Trump in the past 3 weeks has to be troubling for him. If the country continues to go downhill, some of them are bound to blame Trump for the troubles and may eventually decide to switch teams, especially if they are directly affected, either by getting sick or losing their job (or both), or having that happen to a friend/loved one. (V)
Whenever there is a national crisis, people always rally around the president and his approval goes up. The big question is: For how long? For the case of Donald Trump and his handling of the coronavirus, the answer is now in: 2 weeks. A new ABC News/Ipsos poll taken March 11-12, had 43% of U.S. adults approving of how he was handling the virus. Then March 18-19, it shot up to 55%. There's your Trump Bump; well done, Mr. President. In the April 1-2 poll, it had dropped to 47%, with 52% saying he wasn't doing a good job. End of bump. It was nice while it lasted. If people continue to die and the economy continues to suffer, it will surely drop more.
The poll also showed that 91% of people said their daily routine changed since the virus showed up. People said they miss their freedom most (20%), followed by their friends (19%), their family (11%), dining out (10%), shopping (9%), church (6%), entertainment (2%), and sports (1%).
Also noteworthy is that 44% think they can go back to the normal routine by June 1. To us, that seems more than a tad optimistic. And if disruptions continue for many months, people's opinions of Trump are only going to get worse. (V)
When Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) was governor of his state, he signed a bill ordering and funding a new system for people to file for unemployment benefits. It cost $78 million, a fair amount of cash for a piece of software. Fortunately for Scott, it functioned well and did exactly what Scott wanted: it made him look good. It even helped get him elected to the U.S. Senate. That sounds like a successful project—at least, from Scott's point of view.
However, from Donald Trump's point of view, it may be less than a sterling success. With hundreds of thousands of Floridians suddenly trying to file for benefits, the system is doing exactly what it was designed to do: Make it hard to get benefits. Unfortunately, the people who desperately need the benefits and can't get them are blaming Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Scott, Trump's closest allies in the Sunshine State. Having the popularity of two of the state's top Republicans go south, and fast, is not going to help Trump in the fall.
DeSantis at least recognizes the problem. He has now said that the state will accept paper applications, build a mobile app, and deploy thousands of state workers to provide stopgap help. One of DeSantis' advisers told Politico: "It's a sh*t sandwich and was designed that way by Scott. It wasn't about saving money. It was about making it harder for people to get benefits or keep benefits so that the unemployment numbers were low to give the governor something to brag about."
In addition to having a system that makes it hard to get unemployment benefits, Florida also has one of the most stingy payouts in the country. An unemployed worker can get at most $275 a week, which is tough to live on. Back when hardly anyone was unemployed, a system that made it hard to get the miserly benefits didn't have any political downside. Now it has a huge one as 400,000 people have managed to file claims and countless others failed to do so, waiting as much as nine hours on the phone before giving up.
Former Florida governor Charlie Crist, who led the state as a Republican during the 2008 downturn but who has since switched teams, said: "If unemployment continues to go up, and if so many people stay unemployed, it's a nightmare for the president in this state." An unnamed adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) agreed with Crist, saying: "We've got unemployed, pissed-off people. They can't get benefits. And when they get them, it's not going to be enough. They're there for the taking by the Democrats. We killed Charlie with the bad economy in 2010. Democrats are gonna repay the favor." (V)
Public-health crisis or no public-health crisis, Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) has overridden "shelter in place" instructions from local officials and ordered some of the state's most popular beaches to reopen. In principle, people are supposed to stay 6 feet apart, but if enough people crowd the popular beaches, they may have to get closer, which could spread the coronavirus and infect more people. It already happened with Florida spring breakers, in fact.
While the decision may be popular with some beachgoers, it is not popular with local politicians who are going to be on the line if people in their communities come down with COVID-19. Shirley Sessions, the mayor of Tybee Island, Georgia, was livid with Kemp's decision. She had closed all the beaches 2 weeks ago, only to have Kemp reopen them. She said: "Tybee City Council and I are devastated by the sudden directives and do not support [Kemp's] decisions. The health of our residents, staff and visitors are being put at risk and we will pursue legal avenues to overturn his reckless mandate." The takeaway here is that decisions about what to open and what to close are going to set some politicians against other politicians and lead to fights. If nobody gets sick, the politicians who want to open things will come out looking good, but if a lot of people get sick (and some die), the ones who put the health of the public first are going to say "I told you so." And the noteworthy thing about this kind of conflict is that winners and losers are generally known in a couple of months, not a couple of years. (V)
Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, and his top strategist, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), want him to drop out of the Democratic primary, according to a report in the Washington Post.
On the other hand, Sanders' national campaign co-chair, Nina Turner, and his longtime ally, Larry Cohen, want him to continue. This reflects the Senator's dual role as a politician trying to win a specific office and as the leader of a movement. The advisers with strong ties to the Democratic Party want Sanders to do what is best for the Party, namely drop out to unify the Party. The advisers who are not tied to the Democrats are merely using them as a convenient vehicle to advance their movement want him to, well, keep moving.
According to the report, if Sanders is crushed in Wisconsin tomorrow, he might begin to realize himself that the end is nigh because in 2016 he won the state handily. A big loss there would be very discouraging for him.
Absent COVID-19 and the economic collapse it caused, Sanders would no doubt have slogged on. After all, there was no personal downside for him to continue campaigning. He has plenty of money in his campaign account and under normal conditions, would continue to get thousands of people to attend his rallies. But under the current conditions, he can't get any attention and is beginning to look like a sore loser who is mostly helping Donald Trump by continuing to strive for a nomination he has virtually no chance of getting.
One argument for Sanders to keep going is to give his supporters in the states that haven't voted yet a chance to express their feelings. If he stays in until the end and then quits, saying: "I fought but lost. Biden simply got more votes than me. It was a fair fight and I didn't win," his supporters are not likely to be angry as they got their chance. If he drops out before the last state has voted, some of his supporters are going to assume that the establishment forced him out and begin researching what the Green Party has to offer this year. (V)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr04 While You Weren't Looking, Part I
Apr04 While You Weren't Looking, Part II
Apr04 Wisconsin Governor Changes His Mind
Apr04 Saturday Q&A
Apr03 Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
Apr03 Unemployment Figures Are Ghastly
Apr03 Democrats Officially Reschedule Convention
Apr03 Vote-by-mail List Grows
Apr03 National Vote-by-mail Is Going to Be Tough
Apr03 Can Trump Postpone the Election?, Part II
Apr03 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part V: California Statehood (1850)
Apr02 Biden: Difficult to Imagine Having Democratic Convention as Scheduled
Apr02 Sanders Wants Wisconsin to Postpone Its Primary
Apr02 Can Trump Postpone the Election?
Apr02 Trump Confronts a New Reality
Apr02 Pentagon Has 2,000 Ventilators, but Doesn't Know Where to Ship Them
Apr02 Pelosi Wants Vote-by-Mail Provision in Next Coronavirus Bill
Apr02 The Coronavirus Is Affecting Different Socioeconomic Groups Differently
Apr02 "Trump Bump" Fizzles
Apr02 Schiff Is Drafting Legislation to Study Why Nation Was Unprepared for Coronavirus
Apr01 Trump Gets Real about COVID-19
Apr01 A Grim Mortality Milestone
Apr01 A Grim Economic Milestone
Apr01 Obama Is Not Happy
Apr01 Maybe Biden Shouldn't Worry about Appeasing Sanders
Apr01 Mike Francesa Slams Trump
Apr01 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part IV: Missouri Statehood (1819-20)
Mar31 Social Distancing Gets Political
Mar31 COVID Relief Bill v4.0 Dance Has Begun
Mar31 Trump Really Hates pro-Biden Commercial
Mar31 About that "Trump Bump"...
Mar31 Voting and Pandemics Don't Mix Well
Mar31 Cuomo Moves New York Primary
Mar31 Meadows Makes it Official
Mar30 Fauci Predicts 100,000 to 200,000 COVID-19 Deaths in America
Mar30 Is Trump Blackmailing Blue-State Governors?
Mar30 Trump Wipes Out the Anti-Corruption Measures in the Corornavirus Relief Bill
Mar30 Poll: Biden and Trump Are in a Statistical Tie
Mar30 Trump Brags about His Ratings
Mar30 Coronavirus May Help the Democrats Indirectly
Mar30 Where's the Libertarian Party?
Mar30 Governors Are Blocking Off Their States
Mar30 Highlights and Lowlights of the $2 Trillion Relief Law
Mar30 Liberty University Has Become a Flashpoint
Mar29 Sunday Mailbag
Mar28 COVID Relief Bill v3.0 Is a Go
Mar28 Saturday Q&A
Mar27 No Relief Bill Yet
Mar27 About Trump's Approval Rating...