Headlines: November 6, 2018
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President Donald Trump is making a last-minute and baseless assertion about so-called “illegal voting,” to draw Republicans to the polls on voting day. It appears to be Trump’s final touch to a long-campaign of anti-immigrant fear mongering as a ploy to increase conservative voter turnout. On Monday he tweeted, “Law Enforcement has been strongly notified to watch closely for any ILLEGAL VOTING which may take place in Tuesday’s Election (or Early Voting). Anyone caught will be subject to the Maximum Criminal Penalties allowed by law. Thank you!” He repeated the claims in person to reporters as he continued his campaign blitz for Republicans running for Congress, saying in Ohio, “There are a lot of people — a lot of people — my opinion, and based on proof — that try and get in illegally and actually vote illegally.” According to the Washington Post, “There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the United States. Trump formed a commission to study the issue shortly after he took office that was disbanded without finding evidence of fraud after states refused to turn over voter data.”
On Monday Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department would be sending election monitors to 35 jurisdictions in 19 states on election day. In a statement Sessions said, “This year we are using every lawful tool that we have, both civil and criminal, to protect the rights of millions of Americans to cast their vote unimpeded,” but then added, “Likewise, fraud in the voting process will not be tolerated.” He made no mention of what sort of voter fraud he was worried about or what evidence there was that it was even a concern. One attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project said, “Given Trump’s past animus toward immigrants and minorities, it’s certainly not a stretch to think these warnings about illegal voting along with DOJ’s announcement could be intimidating to voters and scare them from the polls.” Voting rights groups are asking people to call 1-866-OUR-VOTE if they have any questions or problems in their attempt to vote. That’s 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
The President and his Attorney General have made no mention of possible election interference from outside actors, for which there is some evidence. But Secretaries of State around the country have taken precautions since the 2016 election to ensure protection from hackers in countries like Russia. According to the Wall Street Journal, “This year, voters will be casting ballots in what experts say will be the most secure U.S. election since the birth of the internet, thanks to steps taken since 2016.” The Department of Homeland Security is also ensuring that voting machines are protected and the FBI is apparently tackling potential interference on social media. The paper also reported that, “There is no evidence that election infrastructure, including voter registration systems or voting machines, has been targeted by Russia leading into the midterms, but Moscow is still attempting to spread disinformation on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, according to senior officials.”
An election ad that Trump debuted on his Twitter feed last week and that was running on TV stations around the country has been pulled. The ad featured an undocumented immigrant on trial for the killings of police officers. Trump’s ad attempted to conflate the murder convict with all immigrants in a manner reminiscent of the virulently racist “Willie Horton” ads that President George H.W. Bush used to push an anti-black narrative during his campaign. NBC, Facebook, and even Fox News Channel pulled Trump’s anti-immigrant ad, but not before it aired widely on multiple shows including MSNBC’s Morning Joe. NBC Universal said in a statement after deciding to pull the ad, “After further review we recognize the insensitive nature of the ad and have decided to cease airing it across our properties as soon as possible.” Facebook pulled the ad saying it violated the company’s policy on sensational content. CNN had outright rejected the ad as too racist and refused to air it.
There are storms expected to hit parts of the East Coast on Tuesday, possibly depressing voter turnout. The severe weather includes rain, wind, and thunderstorms. According to USA Today, “The heaviest rain is expected to soak New England and New York state, where flooding is possible.” Also, “Further to the south, in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, strong to severe thunderstorms are forecast to roar from Philadelphia to Atlanta,” and, “Damaging winds and a few tornadoes are possible as well as locally heavy rainfall.” Studies of past elections have shown that bad weather and especially rain tends to favor Republicans as Democrats are apparently more easily deterred by bad weather from showing up to the polls.
On the West Coast, Voting Day challenges will include tallying up votes in time. A majority of voters cast ballots by mail and those votes don’t need to reach election officials by the end of the night as long as they are post-marked before election day. In states like California and Washington, election officials could be tallying votes in competitive races for days after election day ends. The so-called “vote-at-home” laws in such states are responsible for high voter turnout. Two former secretaries of state of Oregon and Washington wrote an op-ed earlier this year explaining, “Election Day realities for other voters — bad weather or traffic jams, work schedules and family obligations — don’t thwart our voters in exercising their most fundamental of rights.”
In other news, a trial over the citizenship question on the US census has begun in New York City. The Trump administration has pushed the US Census – which is meant to simply count the number of residents of each state – to ask respondents about their citizenship status. According to Associated Press, “The trial stems from lawsuits brought by a dozen states and big cities, among others. They say the citizenship question will discourage immigrant participation and dilute political representation and funds for states that tend to vote Democratic.” The federal government has attempted to stop or delay legal challenges to the citizenship question, prompting federal judge Jesse M. Furman to start the trial without a jury.
The Trump Administration on Monday asked the Supreme Court to take up the legal challenges to the President’s ban on DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. According to Reuters, “The day before congressional elections in which Trump’s harsh anti-immigration rhetoric has taken center stage, the administration urged the justices to throw out three lower court rulings that blocked Trump’s plan.” Solicitor General Noel Francisco claimed to justices that the Obama Administration, which began the DACA program, did not have the authority to do so. Reuters also added, “The Justice Department’s move was unusually aggressive in terms of procedure, asking the justices to take action even before intermediate federal appeals courts have ruled on the three lower court rulings. The administration says a final ruling is urgently needed.”
The caravan of refugees seeking asylum from Central America has arrived in Mexico’s capital. Thousands of people began filing in to a Mexico City stadium on Monday, tired and hungry after their march – much of it on foot – across thousands of miles. Many need medical attention for their feet and children especially need aid. According to AP, “In dozens of interviews since the caravan set out from Honduras more than three weeks ago, migrants have said they are fleeing rampant poverty and violence. Many are families traveling with small children. Some say they left because they were threatened by gang members or had lost relatives to gang violence; others say they hope to work, secure a good education for their children and send money to support loved ones back home.”
And finally the Federal Communications Commission is demanding that telephone companies and service providers begin cracking down on robocalls by telemarketers. There are now billions of calls being sent to American phones every month and the number is rising. Ajit Pai, FCC commissioner, has called on more than a dozen companies, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Comcast, and Charter to develop a call-authentication system to end the scam calls.