The Ultimate (Dangerous) October Surprise

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WhoWhatWhy’s Election Integrity Weekly is written by Gabriella Novello, and edited by William Dowell and Sue Rushford. Have a tip or want to suggest a story? Send us an email at ei@whowhatwhy.org.

Several questions remain unanswered about President Donald Trump testing positive for the coronavirus and what the 2020 election will finally look like.

We are far beyond politics at this point. Voters are casting their ballots now and the White House continues to dance around the incumbent’s health. We don’t even know whether the second presidential debate will take place on October 15. 

Via New Yorker’s David Remnick: “It was assumed that an autumn drama would entail the President challenging the legitimacy of the ballot, and he has done that repeatedly. At the debate, he retailed false and exaggerated stories about mail-in ballots, all in a seeming effort to sow confusion and cast doubt on a contest that he appears to be losing.”

“But now that October surprise is here, and it involves something no less alarming — the state of the President’s health and that of his wife and senior advisers, and what it all will mean for the governance of the United States, a nation that has been suffering multiple crises for so many months.” (read more

Speaking of the First Debate: Can we even call it a debate when it felt like watching a cage fight between two mixed martial arts fighters?

Trump and Biden could not be further apart regarding where they stand on election integrity. Trump repeatedly slammed voting by mail as being riddled with fraud, while Biden encouraged anyone who wants to vote absentee to do so because there is no evidence to back Trump’s claim.

Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah — have offered universal mail-in voting for more than a decade. California, Nevada, New Jersey, Vermont, and the District of Columbia also intend to mail registered voters a ballot this year. Find more information about voting in your state here. (h/t Reuters University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics)

Trump also suggested that the Supreme Court may be the final arbiter of the 2020 election. He said that he hopes the Court does not have to decide the outcome, but it could. Trump also insisted that election officials are not equipped to handle the historic influx of absentee ballots this November. He’s not wrong about that — but the Senate is sitting on a House-approved bill that would give officials $3.6 million in election assistance to address that concern. (read more)

Election Update for Voters: Registration and absentee ballot request deadlines are approaching in several states. Here’s the lowdown:

  • If you live in New York, North Carolina*, or Oklahoma, the deadline to register to vote is October 9.
  • If you live in Delaware, the deadline to register to vote is October 10.
  • If you live in Kansas, New Jersey, or Oregon, the deadline to register to vote is October 13.
  • If you live in Louisiana, Virginia, or West Virginia, the deadline to register to vote online is October 13.
  • If you live in Alabama, Pennsylvania, or South Dakota, the deadline to register to vote is October 19.
  • If you live in Massachusetts, the deadline to register to vote is October 24.
  • If you live in Missouri, the deadline to register to vote is tomorrow, October 7.
  • If you live in Nebraska, the deadline to register to vote is October 16 by mail or online and October 23 in person.
  • If you live in Arizona, the deadline to register to vote is October 23.
  • If you live in New Mexico, the deadline to register to vote in person is October 31.
  • If you live in California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, or Wyoming, you can register to vote in person on Election Day.

*If you live in North Carolina, you can register to vote in person from October 15 to October 30. And, if you live in North Dakota, you are not required to register at all. Just bring a valid form of ID if you plan on voting in person. (read more)

Virtual Event Announcement: The only vice presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris airs commercial-free Wednesday night from 9-10:30 pm EDT. Join WhoWhatWhy on Twitter as we fact-check in real-time and provide analysis of the candidates’ responses. If you have a question or an issue you would like our team to fact-check, contact us at the hashtag #WWWFactCheck.

Dirty Tricks to Hamper Voter Registration Efforts: Conservative tricksters are attempting to distract nonprofit organizations from registering voters in North Carolina. Our reporter Scott Smith reports:

“In the battleground state of North Carolina, James Fortune … presented as a naive gym owner from New York looking to relocate his business to the Tar Heel State, seemed to show a keen interest in helping four nonprofits with sizable donations heading into Election Day…”

“Angeline Echeverría, executive director of Fortaleza NC … and a colleague were in the middle of a second coffee shop meeting with Fortune, who had already made two donations of $1,500 each to the group…”

Fortune asked whether Fortaleza could be used to register undocumented people to vote, prompting Echeverría to call the authorities. 

“She traced Fortune’s donation … back to a Georgia political operative, Jason Boles. Boles is listed as a registered agent for dozens of right-wing causes and candidates, including QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene, the GOP nominee in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District. The tentacles reached as far as a former Trump administration deputy White House counsel, Stefan Passantino, who is now helping build a new pro-Trump coalition preparing for a potential contested election.” (read more)

Because, Florida: The Sunshine State has been under intense scrutiny since voters passed a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights for ex-felons in 2018 and the GOP-controlled state legislature passed a law requiring those folks to pay any outstanding court fees or fines first. Many of them have received assistance from nonprofit organizations to be able to register, but some eligible voters found themselves in yet another pickle last night.

With just hours left to register to vote, the state’s voter registration website crashed without explanation. It reportedly lasted for roughly 15 minutes, and law enforcement is now investigating the incident to determine whether there were any “deliberate acts against the voting process.” (read more)

ICYMI — WhoWhatWhy’s latest ebook by yours truly and investigative reporter Celeste Katz-Marston, Is This Any Way to Vote?: Vulnerable Voting Machines and the Mysterious Industry Behind Them, is now available on Amazon.

Despite the surge in mail-in voting, nearly 40 percent of Americans will still cast a ballot in person this year. With that in mind, WhoWhatWhy set out to answer critical questions about the state of election infrastructure in the United States and how vulnerable our voting machines are.

We spoke with Jeff Schechtman last week about our ebook about some of those vulnerabilities, how the industry has become a virtual monopoly, and our biggest takeaways throughout our reporting. (listen here)

In the Courts

  • Mi Familia Vota, et al., v. Hobbs: A federal judge issued a ruling late-last night extending the voter registration deadline in Arizona due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Voters originally had until yesterday to register, but can now register until October 23.
  • Arctic Village Council v. Meyer: The Anchorage Superior Court ordered yesterday that absentee voters in Alaska do not need to have a witness signature on their ballot return envelope for the general election.
  • Missouri NAACP v. Missouri: A coalition of civil rights groups went to trial today at the Missouri State Supreme Court to challenge a notary signature requirement on mail-in ballots.

What We’re Watching

It’s possible that Pence will be asked about the president’s health during the VP debate tomorrow night. I spoke with several election lawyers that are concerned about what happens if a candidate is incapacitated and unable to govern. Expect more on that Thursday.

We’re also closely monitoring census gathering efforts. A federal judge ordered the Census Bureau to continue collecting data until October 31 after it decided to cut things short last month. Why does this matter? Well, census data is used to draw legislative districts and allocate federal resources. This year, a major concern is that children under the age of five could be severely undercounted.

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