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Political Wire logo Trump Solicits Donations with Antifa Warning
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Appeals Court Rules Ex-Felons Must Pay to Vote
      •  Saturday Q&A
      •  Today's Presidential Polls
      •  Today's Senate Polls

Appeals Court Rules Ex-Felons Must Pay to Vote

Most states allows former felons to vote once they have served their sentences and been released from prison. Florida was one of the states that didn't allow this, until the voters approved Amendment 4 in 2018, which added a provision to the state constitution reenfranchising former felons (except those who committed certain especially heinous crimes). Since felons skew minority and minorities skew Democratic, the will of the people was scary to Republican politicians. That led them to quickly pass a law requiring former felons to pay all fines and court costs before being allowed to vote. Since felons who are newly released rarely have a job, few of them could pay the fines and costs, and thus they were still disenfranchised. Whew! Problem solved!

That is, it was solved until a federal judge ruled that making anyone pay money to vote in a federal election was equivalent to a poll tax, something that the 24th Amendment specifically forbids. Here is the exact text of Sec. 1 of the amendment:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

The state of Florida appealed the judge's ruling. Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled 6-4 that the judge was wrong and fines aren't a tax, so Florida can require payment before the former felons can vote again. Before you can even ask, we will now answer your question. Five of the six judges who voted to overturn the lower court decision were appointed by Donald Trump. The other one, William Pryor, was appointed by George W. Bush and is on Trump's list of possible Supreme Court nominations. He also wrote the ruling. We suspect that the odds of his getting a promotion just went up, although we still believe Judge Amy Coney Barrett is the most likely nominee if Trump gets another chance, especially if Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat is the one that becomes vacant.

It almost goes without saying that the four dissenters were all appointed by Democratic presidents. They wrote scathing dissents, saying that they doubt the appeals court's decision will be looked on favorably by history. If you thought that the courts were nonpartisan and justice was blind, welcome to the real world.

About 775,000 ex-felons are potentially eligible to pay their fines and vote. However, there is a catch. There is no central database where they can even look up what their fine is to see if they can pay it. If they pay, but it turns out they paid too little because they couldn't get the state to tell them what they owe, they are ineligible to vote. And, of course, voting when you are not eligible is itself a felony for which they could go back to prison. LeBron James is running a project that is collecting money to help ex-felons pay their fines and costs, but if there is no sure-fire way for an ex-felon to find out what he owes, that project isn't going to help much.

About 85,000 ex-felons have applied to get their franchise back, but the state hasn't processed their requests yet—because the state also doesn't know what the fines and costs were so it can't tell if they paid enough. So far, the voting-rights groups that support reenfranchisement haven't announced their next move. They could try to get judges in blue counties, like Miami-Dade, to order all fines and fees wiped out, something that has already happened with some voters. They could appeal to the Florida Supreme Court or to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Florida Supreme Court currently has three justices appointed by now-representative Charlie Crist (D), one appointed by now-senator Rick Scott (R), and two by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). One seat is vacant (DeSantis tried to fill it, but his candidate was ruled ineligible). However, the voter registration deadline in Florida is Oct. 5, and courts move slowly. Also, courts are generally hesitant to interfere in elections just before they take place. Most likely DeSantis, who is a strong believer in not allowing ex-felons to vote, will get his way on this. Needless to say, this move on the part of Florida Republicans increases the chances of Trump winning the Sunshine State in November. (V)

Saturday Q&A

It would appear that Rage is in the minds of many readers right now.

Q: How is it that Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's "fixer," who should have very damning evidence on Trump can write a no-never-mind-book, while a respected journalist like Bob Woodward can ferret out a particularly damning statement from this same sitting President about downplaying the COVID-19 pandemic? S.B., New Castle, DE

A: We'll have to use a very technical term here, so hopefully we don't leave any folks who lack advanced degrees behind: Michael Cohen is a moron. He acts like one, he speaks like one, he thinks like one. At some point, if people show you who they are, believe them. And so, he wrote a dud of a book, one where all the good stuff had already been leaked—by the author. That now leaves Cohen trying to get some headlines by guessing about what Donald Trump will do if he loses the election, or what Trump really thinks about Bob Woodward, or whatever.

Woodward, on the other hand, is a battle-tested veteran who has been jousting with politicians at the highest levels for 50 years. When he was in his 20s, he outdueled Richard Nixon, who was several standard deviations of IQ smarter than Donald Trump is. And now Woodward is in his 70s. Imagine if running the 100-meter dash was a mental skill rather than a physical one. Don't you think Usain Bolt would be pretty damn good at it by the time he turned 77? When the President decided he might be able to outmaneuver Woodward, he did not appreciate how far out of his league he truly was.

Q: I watched TV news last night and heard the tapes of Donald Trump telling Bob Woodward how bad and dangerous the virus was, starting in early February. But my question is not about Trump's malfeasance and culpability; it's about Woodward's. I'd like to know your opinion on what responsibility Woodward had to release those tapes earlier instead of waiting over 6 months for his book's release. Do you think it would have changed the response of the federal government and potentially saved lives? I find Woodward's sitting on this information, seemingly for profit, to be much more surprising and galling than the president's behavior. R.J.C., Salem, OR

A: First of all, even if you think the worst of Woodward, it's a little hard to argue that the person who sat by and did nothing is more guilty than the person who committed the actual act. In any case, we addressed this a bit in our lengthy item on Woodward from yesterday. And while we understand the anger directed in the journalist's direction, we actually think his argument is pretty strong. There were plenty of people challenging the President's version of events at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. And there were also plenty of instances of Trump saying something, and then contradicting that soon thereafter. Further, the last four years have shown us that the two following dynamics are immutable: (1) The President will do whatever he thinks is best for him, and (2) His base will follow him blindly.

In other words, we just don't see what Woodward could have added to the chorus that would have changed much of anything. Trump was gonna do what he was gonna do. The people who refuse to wear masks, and who insist on going to motorcycle rallies, and who behave as if there is no pandemic, would have behaved that way regardless because, for a multitude of reasons, they are deeply and personally invested in those behaviors. Nothing Woodward might have said, no tape he might have played, would have changed that very much, if at all. And the people who took the pandemic seriously didn't need Woodward's additional encouragement. Yes, Woodward might have changed some behaviors at the margins, but a sea-change was not in his power, we think.

By waiting until now, by contrast, Woodward might plausibly help secure Donald Trump's defeat, thus helping to prevent whatever additional damage would have been done in another four years of Trump in the Oval Office. If you compare the commodities "how much damage could have been prevented in March" vs. "how much damage can be prevented in September," it can certainly be argued that the latter is the greater quantity.

Q: I really enjoyed your item discussing Bob Woodward and anonymous sources. I have a few friends who get angry about journalists having a working relationship with the politicians they report on, accepting off-the-record information and sharing quotes anonymously to protect their sources. I'm usually the one to defend this practice because, as you say, this is the reality of modern political reporting. If all political reporters were "true journalists" who reveal everything they are told by their sources, breaking confidentiality and refusing anonymity, no official would ever have a private conversation with a journalist and we'd never discover most of the news that breaks.

However, one point does come up that I often wonder: Is there any system in place to prevent a journalist from making up a quote and claiming it came from an anonymous official? Perhaps, if a journalist reports an anonymous quote, they reveal the person to some other journalist who checks with the source that they did indeed say what was claimed? Or are the consequences of being found out making up anonymous quotes just so severe that journalists don't take the risk, however unlikely it is they'd be found out?

How do you convince people who are hesitant to trust the media that we can be confident journalists aren't making up quotes?
T.J., Edinburgh, Scotland

A: To start with your last question, we find that people who harp on anonymous sources don't really want to believe the reporting anyhow, and the anonymity is just a convenient way for them to justify their position.

In any case, there is no formal mechanism for verifying a reporter's quotes, nor could there be. Sometimes, even the reporter does not know their source (any serious reporter working today has one or more means for sources to submit information that is anonymous and completely untraceable; for example, here is the list of options The Washington Post makes available to potential tipsters). Even when the reporter does know their source, it would often be highly impractical for a second reporter to follow up. What if The Los Angeles Times' James Queally ventures out on the street at 1:00 a.m. to talk to pimps and heroin dealers for a story on urban crime? Is another reporter supposed to go out the next night and find the same pimps and heroin dealers? What if the source is, say, a U.S. Senator? Is that senator expected to spend another 15 minutes of their valuable time confirming that yes, that is indeed what they told Maggie Haberman?

And so, what keeps reporters honest is: (1) the ethics of their profession, (2) the desire to protect their good name, and (3) the difficulty entailed in faking quotes. Don't undersell that third problem; if a reporter makes something up, then it's likely to ring false to folks who work on, or follow, that beat. Further, that reporter's colleagues have ways of double-checking truly newsworthy things, and if nobody can find any evidence that, say, someone on Donald Trump's staff said that the President snorts three lines of coke every morning, then it's going to raise serious questions about the original reporting.

Also important is the role of the editor-in-chief. If a reporter has a blockbuster story that could get the paper sued, the editor-in-chief will talk to the reporter to try to figure out if the story is true. He or she probably won't ask who the sources are and the reporter probably wouldn't tell even if asked. But just by talking about the story and the process of how it was put together for a while, the editor-in-chief can probably get a feeling for whether the reporter really has a scoop or is making it up.

The system doesn't always work. The famous story in The New York Times about the murder of Kitty Genovese (which gave rise to the term "bystander effect") was a gross misrepresentation of the truth. The story headlined "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night," which ran in New York Magazine, and was the basis of the movie "Saturday Night Fever," was a complete fabrication. On occasion, a serial faker of stories and quotes has been outed, among them Jayson Blair (NYT), Stephen Glass (The New Republic), Jack Kelly (USA Today), and Claas Relotius (Der Spiegel). That said, the fact that instances like these are very rare, and that these folks all got caught is, we would say, proof of concept: It's hard to fabricate news stories/quotes and get away with it.

Q: I've always heard that the President can't be sued for acts undertaken as President—is this true? I think a lot of people have not fully grasped the magnitude of the Woodward tapes. I would really like to see the press follow up with questions regarding Trump's policies about COVID-19 and why he admits in private to the deadly airborne nature of the disease and yet still continues to encourage his followers not to wear masks. The same kind of questioning needs to be applied to his apathy for testing, holding rallies, and trying to get schools to reopen. Even someone as verbally inept as Trump could have encouraged the wearing of masks and social distancing without giving rise to panic.

I initially put Trump's inadequate response to the pandemic down to monstrous ignorance and gross incompetence. But now the Woodward tapes show that Trump fully understood the nature of the disease and that he made a deliberate decision to put forth lies. That's not stupidity or incompetence but rather criminality. So, is it that far of a jump to say that Trump is trying to commit genocide? Could Trump be tried for crimes against humanity by the World Court?
D.E., Lancaster, PA

A: Let us start by noting that genocide specifically refers to a systematic attempt to eliminate most or all members of a particular race, religion, or culture. Merely being the agent of a large number of deaths does not clear that bar, so charging Trump with genocide is not justifiable and, in any event, the U.S. is never going to let a current or former president be put on trial by the World Court, no matter what that president does.

As to U.S. courts, it is true that a president cannot be held civilly liable for official acts undertaken in their capacity as president. That does not mean they cannot be held criminally liable, and former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner has been all over the place this week arguing that Trump has met the elements for a second-degree murder prosecution. Other lawyers disagree, as they feel it will be hard to connect any specific death to Trump. In the end, we doubt that the President gets popped for COVID-19 fatalities. But it is obviously not impossible.

Q: I've begun to see a lot of reports that Donald Trump is gaining ground on Joe Biden, and the election outcome is increasingly in doubt. I know the news media has obvious reasons for wanting to generate suspense, but I don't feel comfortable totally discounting these reports. So, what is your opinion? How close is it right now? And how close is it likely to be in November, barring an October Surprise? C.S., Wantagh, NY

A: The Economist's model has gotten a bit more bearish, yes, and the Cook Political Report nudged a couple of states (Nevada and Florida) a little bit in the Republicans' direction this week. But this feels a little bit like doing something so they are not just sitting there and twiddling their thumbs and, in any event, it's all movement within the margin of error.

If we are going to get behind the notion that the race has significantly tightened, we'd really want two things: (1) much clearer movement in the numbers, both in state-level polls and nationally, and (2) a plausible explanation for why that movement has taken place. After a series of pretty bad weeks, we don't see what would be allowing Trump to make up ground, especially since there is also compelling evidence he's losing ground in some places (like, say, with active-duty military). Also don't forget that current polling doesn't fully reflect the impact of the article in The Atlantic, and doesn't yet reflect the impact of Bob Woodward's revelations at all.

Q: I have several friends who claim they have access to "internal" Democratic polls that show Joe Biden in deep trouble in swing states (they claim it is "grey data"). They have Biden behind by 5 to 8 points in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. They also claim Florida is basically a lost cause for Biden, and that the DNC is rushing resources there (moving them from Texas, another lost cause.) This is obviously not in line with the mainstream polls your site has. Thoughts? J.J., Des Moines, IA

A: Without being able to examine exactly what they are talking about, we'll say it sounds like a load of garbage to us. To start with, "grey data" is a computer term that refers to metadata produced in the construction of large databases. "Grey literature" is scholarly work created by people outside the bounds of the traditional scholarly establishment. Neither of these terms is commonly applied to polling, and so the use of that term is something of a red flag (a grey flag?) to us. It sounds like someone trying to sound "expert" and "in-the-know," the way that, say, Infowars' Alex Jones constantly throws out fancy-sounding technical terms whose meaning he doesn't really understand. We also struggle to understand why the Democratic Party would share such adverse polling with outsiders.

In any event, those states have been polled so many times that there is no way these hypothetical Democratic pollsters have somehow come up with a more accurate sample than all the other pollsters. That might be possible with a state that had only been polled once or twice, but not ones that have been polled dozens of times. This being the case, the only way to generate results like these would be to radically alter the model of the electorate—say, by assuming that 100% of old, wealthy, evangelicals are going to vote, or by guessing that one voter in 10 is actually a "shy" Trump voter. We cannot imagine any reason that a Democratic pollster would tweak their model in this fashion. The campaigns' pollsters are not averse to learning hard truths if they need to be learned, but they are also trying to be accurate, and they're not going to take a hammer to their model of the electorate just 'cause.

Q: Can you see a possibility that Texas may be an early indicator? Due to the fact that they've prevented additional absentee ballots from being used, it's going to force the under-65 population to still show up at the polls. That would mean that results from Texas may come in a lot sooner than from other states. And if Joe Biden wins, or Donald Trump wins Texas by only a percent or two, that's going to be a canary in the coal mine for what will happen. Even Fox News couldn't defend Trump being ahead for weeks of counting if he only has Texas by 1%. K.W., Austin, TX

A: It's possible, but we would proceed very cautiously. Because Texas is going to conduct their election a fair bit differently from everyone else, we would want to look at the numbers very closely and, in particular, to see county/city level data from places like Houston, Dallas, and Austin.

Q: Can you explain the rationale for what appears to be a publicity-stunt presidential candidacy by Kanye West? In particular, why does the Trump camp seem to be promoting it? I've heard they think he will take votes from Joe Biden among Black voters, yet West has been more with Trump politically. In my experience, Black voters are among the most sophisticated around. The Trump camp doesn't really think they will just vote for someone who shares their skin color, do they? C.J., Lowell, MA

A: That is exactly what the Trump camp thinks, which is more revealing about Team Trump's understanding of race than it is about what is going to happen in the Election of 2020.

Q: I'm curious to know why no credible third-party candidates are getting any type of significant media attention (sorry, Kanye) this year. In 2016, even with Donald Trump's crazy campaign, there were still significant stories about Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.

Millions of votes this time around will be cast for third-party candidates and yet, other than the occasional mention on this site, I rarely see or hear anything about any of them. Your thoughts?
R.M., Pensacola, FL

A: The 2016 third-party candidates were much better known; Stein because she was a longtime activist (having also been the Green candidate in 2012) and Johnson because he was the former governor of New Mexico. Further, because both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton made people's skin crawl, there was a sense that a lot of "protest" votes would go third party, which turned out to be the case (with Evan McMullin in Utah being another beneficiary).

Howie Hawkins (Green) and Jo Jorgensen (Libertarian) are not known beyond the other members of their party, and serious politics-watchers (like readers of this blog). Further, there is a general sense that few voters will dare to cast "protest" votes. We'll see if that proves correct.

Q: As a Democrat, would it be a good idea to sign up with the Trump campaign and have them send you flyers and other campaign material to your home address? This will siphon away some money from his campaign. Are there any negative consequences to this? M.K., Dallas, TX

A: The two downsides we can see are: (1) You will be contributing to the negative environmental impact of producing and delivering all that junk mail, and (2) You will end up on every Republican and right-wing mail list in existence, and will be bombarded with candidate solicitations, and requests for donations, and ads for cheesy political "collectibles," and information about shady investment schemes until your dying day (and then 10 years beyond). Only you can decide if the cost-benefit analysis works for you.

Q: You noted that you are skeptical about the efficacy and cost effectiveness of TV ads in 2020 and implied that directing that money towards online advertising could be more effective (at least, if done properly). Is there any evidence that online advertising would be more effective at moving the needle as opposed to TV advertisement, or is it simply because online advertising is much cheaper to buy? M.T., Boston, MA

A: There isn't a lot of great research, since there is no great way to know what would have happened if this million dollars was spent on option A vs. option B. There is some, but it's still an area of inquiry that is in its infancy. That said, online advertising is cheaper, primarily because it can be laser-targeted to your desired audience. TV, by contrast, is like shooting buckshot—you're going to hit a lot of targets that don't actually benefit you.

This is not to say TV advertising is worthless. There are some people who don't use the Internet, and so can only be reached via TV and other longer-standing media. But if a campaign has to triage, our strong feeling is that online advertising, done properly, stretches a buck further than TV advertising does.

Q: Why aren't Democratic leaders loudly encouraging voters to use drop-off boxes instead of USPS to return their absentee ballots? I keep waiting for an all-hands-on-deck call to action in this regard. Am I missing something? Is there a downside? D.E., Baltimore, MD

A: The downside is that drop-off boxes can be stolen or sabotaged. That said, we suspect there will be a big push to use drop boxes, particularly as the election grows close. At the moment, USPS is probably the better option because there's still plenty of time for ballots to arrive. Once that ceases to be the case, then the chorus will presumably commence. Also, if dropboxes are placed in a bunch more libraries, some of the objections to them may disappear, and encouragement to use them will become more widespread. However, that may or may not happen.

Q: This past Wednesday, Donald Trump added more names to a list of potential Supreme Court justices should he be re-elected. Given that, should Joe Biden do a similar thing to get his base ginned up for the election? I was thinking in particular of one Michelle Obama. She's 56, a constitutional lawyer, and would fulfill one of Biden's promises of nominating a black woman to the Court. If he did this, I think it would seal the election for him. K.S., Sun City Center, FL

A: Michelle Obama does not want to be on the Supreme Court. We do not think she would be pleased to be used as a pawn in this way, nor do we think Democratic voters would be pleased to find out they had been duped, should the time come, only for her to refuse to serve. Further, "here is my list of potential SCOTUS picks" is, as everyone knows, code for "here's what I will do the moment RBG keels over." Donald Trump is willing to go there because he's crass, and because his base does not feel warmly about RBG anyhow. We're not so sure Biden is willing to go there, or that Democratic voters would react kindly if he did.

Q: Here in the Philippines, I hear nonstop about how the U.S. is going to protect the Philippines, and has sent warships to the South China Sea, and how there are ongoing confrontations with the Chinese. Here, it seems like this is going to be Trump's October Surprise—war with China. And I certainly don't put World War III past him if he thinks it will help him get reelected. But when I talk with my friends in the States, the U.S. military in the South China Sea isn't even on their radar. What gives? J.C., Binan, Laguna, Philippines

A: Because, as a general rule, American voters don't actually care about foreign policy until bullets start flying. Sometimes, not even then. Plus, there are a vast number of stories closer to home that are sucking up all the oxygen.

Q: You mentioned that the Trump campaign has family, friends and supporters on its payroll. Is this customary for campaigns? K.A., Miami Beach, FL

A: It's not unheard of, particularly if a family member is going to make campaigning their full-time job. That said, many presidential family members work for free, just so they don't appear to be on the take. Further, there is no precedent for the great number of friends and family members that Donald Trump has added to the payroll, nor for the generous salary he's paying to people who have no particular expertise as political operatives.

Q: Is there any member of the President's Cabinet who is not corrupt or tainted in some way? K.S., Sun City Center, FL

A: We would guess that the "cleanest" member of Donald Trump's cabinet is still dirtier than the dirtiest member of Barack Obama's cabinet. Some of the more recent additions, like Dan Brouillette (Energy) and Robert Wilkie (Veterans' Affairs) may be the exception, or it may just be that there hasn't been time for their skeletons to emerge yet. To a large extent, though, it's really just a matter of degree with that cast of characters. Some of them have only been guilty of relatively minor offenses, like using governmental planes for personal purposes (Steven Mnuchin). Others appear to be lucky that they're not already behind bars (Wilbur Ross).

Q: I am fearful that QAnon is going to logarithmically expand should Joe Biden (and downballot Democrats) win. Is there anything that could or should be done to address this? E.E.P., Bailey, Colorado

A: We assume you mean exponentially. Shutting down QAnon would be impractical. To start, they post to sites (4chan, 8chan/8kun) that are largely hosted outside the United States, and that are specifically designed to be beyond the reach of government authorities. Further, while the posts may be nutty, they aren't illegal. The right to say nutty stuff is protected by the First Amendment.

In addition, shutting down QAnon would be counterproductive. It would give lots of publicity to that person, and would also give credence to the notion that they really know something that "has the feds scared." Better to not throw fuel on the fire.

Q: Could you explain what is meant by "identity politics"? T.M., Downers Grove, IL

A: What it literally means is something like "forming, or catering to, political groups organized around a shared racial, cultural, religious, or other identity."

In common usage, it is often deployed dismissively in order to suggest that (usually) Democrats are pandering to (usually) minority voters. The folks who use the term in this way, who are usually white and Republican, do not appear to recognize that Donald Trump's culture wars are also a form of identity politics used to unify primarily white noncollege men around their shared grievances.

Q: If the November election results in a Joe Biden presidential win and a 50-50 Senate, what potential is there for last-minute mischief up to the day Mike Pence stops being the one who breaks the ties?

Trump nominations would die with his term, but I suppose Kamala Harris would time her Senate resignation for 11:59 a.m. on Jan. 20, rather than some days before as Biden did in 2009.
L.E., Rheinbeck, NY

A: Virtually no mischief. Bills would still have to be passed by the House and, as of the moment, the filibuster still exists. This being the case, the only thing that 50 or 51 Republican senators can do all by themselves is approve certain officeholders, most obviously judges. They are already doing that as rapidly as possible.

There would also be no need for Harris to game the time of her resignation. Her replacement would be appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA). If Harris, Newsom, et al. thought it was really necessary, Harris could resign at 10:00 p.m. any night, and her replacement could present themselves at the Senate with the correct credentials the next morning, thus leaving the seat effectively vacant for only a few minutes (the amount of time it takes the Secretary of the Senate to review the credentials, and then for the new senator to be sworn in).

Q: What would happen if the Electoral College tied at 270, sending it to the House, where—if there are two not unlikely shifts in PA and FL delegations—we get a 25-25 state tie? Who then chooses the President? A.K.P., Huntsville, AL

A: There is no authority beyond the House. They keep voting until they reach a decision.

If the House was still working on resolving their deadlock on Jan. 20, and had not made a choice, then the vice president-elect would be up. Presumably the Electoral College would be tied on that one, as well, which would leave the choice in the hands of the Senate, with each senator getting one vote. If that one ended up tied 50-50, Mike Pence might be legally allowed to break the tie, but probably not.

If we assume the Senate also remains tied on Jan. 20, and that Pence is not allowed to break that tie, then the presidency and vice presidency would both be vacant, and the presidency would devolve on the next person in the line of succession, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Q: What would be the status of the early ballots and absentee ballots that are cast for Joe Biden in the event that he were to die early enough for the party to change the name at the top of the ticket? J.B., Findlay, OH

A: To start, the ballot deadline has now passed in all states. No matter what happens with Joe Biden—death, sickness, scandal, arrested and convicted of a crime, announces that he's a Russian agent—his name will be on every ballot this year.

However, when you vote for "Joe Biden," you are actually voting for a slate of electors pledged to cast their electoral votes for Biden. Some states make this explicit (listing the electors' names), most don't. If Biden dies, or anything else happens to disqualify him, the Democratic National Committee would identify a preferred successor, probably Kamala Harris, and would ask the electors to vote for the successor in Biden's place. They would probably do it, but you never know.

Q: You once noted that Eldridge Cleaver was 33 years old when he ran for president in 1968. So what happens if a candidate younger than 35 wins the presidential election? I thought that you have to be at least 35 years old to be on the ballot for the presidential election. F.S., Cologne, Germany

A: You do have to be 35 to be on the ballot. So, he could not be elected as a regular candidate. He could not be elected as a write-in candidate, either. Nine states do not allow write-in candidates at all, and another 33 require would-be write-in candidates to file paperwork proving they are presidentially eligible in order to be a valid write-in option. So, an underage candidate would only be able to collect write-in votes in 8 states plus D.C.

That means the only possible way an underage candidate could be elected, short of getting a fake birth certificate from Kenya, would be for the Electoral College to ignore the voters' wishes, and to choose the underage candidate by fiat. If so, the act of rebellion would not last for long. It is well established that if the presidential line of succession devolves upon a candidate, and that candidate is not eligible, then they get skipped. Doesn't matter if they are first in line or 20th. And so, President-elect Cleaver, were he still alive and underage, would promptly be skipped in favor of the VP.

Today's Presidential Polls

This is the first poll of Oregon this cycle, and it confirms exactly what you think. (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
North Carolina 48% 49% Sep 07 Sep 08 Pulse Opinion Research
Oregon 51% 39% Sep 03 Sep 08 DHM Research
Wisconsin 51% 44% Sep 06 Sep 08 Emerson Coll.

Today's Senate Polls

That's the best poll, by a fair bit, that Sara Gideon has gotten in several months. So, it's probably an outlier. That said, Collins hasn't come out on top in a poll of Maine since last year. She's in deep trouble. So is Thom Tillis, who's even getting bad news from a house with a decided Republican lean. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Maine Sara Gideon 49% Susan Collins* 41% Sep 04 Sep 07 Citizen Data
North Carolina Cal Cunningham 47% Thom Tillis* 44% Sep 07 Sep 08 Pulse Opinion Research

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep11 Trump Reaps the Woodward Wind
Sep11 Senate COVID-19 Bill Dies a Quick Death
Sep11 The August Fundraising Numbers Are In
Sep11 Whistleblower: I Was Told to Ignore Russia
Sep11 Trump Renews His Nobel Peace Prize Push
Sep11 Trump Bans Drilling off the Coast of Southern States
Sep11 COVID-19 Diaries: Do or Die
Sep11 Today's Presidential Polls
Sep11 Today's Senate Polls
Sep10 Ipsos National Poll: Biden 52% and Trump 40%
Sep10 Trump Is Gaining among Latinos in South Florida
Sep10 HHS Tried to Muzzle Fauci
Sep10 Trump Releases a List of Possible New Supreme Court Justices
Sep10 Senate Races Are Almost All Filled in Now
Sep10 Why Predicting The Election Is So Difficult This Year
Sep10 Eight Questions That Could Decide the Election
Sep10 Anonymous Sources Are Essential to Modern Political Reporting
Sep10 Democrats Are Looking Down
Sep10 Ginsberg Comes Clean
Sep10 Today's Presidential Polls
Sep10 Today's Senate Polls
Sep09 Another Bad Day on the COVID-19 Front
Sep09 The Justice Department Confirms It Is Indeed Trump's Personal Legal Team
Sep09 Cohen Book Is Released
Sep09 McConnell Prepares for Some Senatorial Kabuki Theater
Sep09 Trump Yet Again Encourages Supporters to Take the Law Into Their Own Hands
Sep09 Trump Campaign Has Cash Flow Problems
Sep09 DeJoy Investigations Are Coming
Sep09 Today's Presidential Polls
Sep09 Today's Senate Polls
Sep08 Trump Blames the Democrats for...Everything
Sep08 Trump Attacks the Military's Leadership, Too
Sep08 Trump Tosses Out Some Very Red, Culture-Wars-Flavored Meat
Sep08 DeJoy Gets Introduced to the Underside of the Bus
Sep08 Poll: Voters Think Trump Is More Likely to Win the Debates
Sep08 Judge to Census Bureau: Keep Counting
Sep08 Chris LaCivita Will Try To Rescue Trump
Sep08 Today's Presidential Polls
Sep08 Today's Senate Polls
Sep07 National Poll: Biden Leads Trump by 10 Points
Sep07 Trump Is Betting on YouTube This Time
Sep07 Trump Is Going after Harris
Sep07 Kevin McCarthy: Trump's War on Absentee Ballots Could Screw Us
Sep07 Jeffrey Goldberg: I Stand by My Reporting
Sep07 DeJoy May Have Broken the Law
Sep07 Barr Is Trump's Lap Dog
Sep07 When Will Absentee Ballots Be Processed and Counted?
Sep07 Secretaries of State Warn that Election Day Could Become Election Week
Sep07 Anita Hill Will Vote for Biden
Sep07 Sensitivity of Our Map Algorithm