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2020 Daily Trail Markers: Alabama voting restrictions struck down ahead of July Senate runoff

A federal judge in Alabama blocked the state from enforcing a trio of restrictions for absentee and curbside voting for the state's July 14 runoff election amid concerns from voters who say they are at a higher risk of severe illness from the coronavirus, according to CBS News digital reporter Melissa Quinn. Four Alabama voters and three organizations challenged the requirements and asked the federal district court to issue an injunction blocking the state from enforcing the measures. The voters said the Alabama election laws at issue — the requirement that absentee ballots must be signed by a notary or two witnesses, the requirement that absentee voters must submit a copy of their photo ID and Alabama's effective ban on curbside voting — ran afoul of their right to vote.

U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon, appointed by former President Obama, sided with the voters Monday in waiving the absentee ballot requirements in at least three Alabama counties and lifting the prohibition on curbside voting at in-person polling locations for next month's election. The court ruled the "burdens imposed by the challenged election laws on voters at high risk of severe complications or death from COVID-19 are not justified by the state's interests in enforcing the laws." "No one should have to risk their health to vote," Deuel Ross, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which brought the suit, said in a statement, adding that the order means "tens of thousands of vulnerable people will now have a safe means of voting in July."

The voters who challenged Alabama's absentee ballot restrictions and limitations on curbside voting argued the state's election laws forced them to choose between risking their health by leaving their homes and engaging in person-to-person contact or foregoing their right to vote during the coronavirus pandemic. But Alabama election officials said the laws were crucial to protect the integrity of its elections by preventing voter fraud and safeguarding voter confidence. Kallon wrote in his ruling that if the election laws at issue were allowed to be enforced, the plaintiffs in the case and others in similar situations "could likely face a painful and difficult choice between exercising their fundamental right to vote and safeguarding their health, which could prevent them from casting a vote in upcoming elections."

The coronavirus pandemic upended the 2020 election season as officials in many states rushed to expand vote-by-mail and limit in-person voting to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. More than a dozen states delayed their primary elections. Alabama's runoff was scheduled for March 31, but Governor Kay Ivey postponed it to July 14 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The state, which is among those experiencing a surge in infections, has had more than 25,000 confirmed cases and more than 700 deaths. 

FROM THE CANDIDATES

JOE BIDEN

With a boost from Senator Elizabeth Warren, Vice President Joe Biden's campaign had its most successful fundraising event yet Monday evening, according to CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak. A 620-person Zoom fundraiser held by the presumptive Democratic nominee and his former rival raised $6 million. "Thank you for asking your friends to help me out," Biden told Warren, according to a pool report from the event. "It's the biggest fundraiser we've ever had. And it's all because of you." Warren had sworn off private fundraising events for herself as a presidential candidate, but left open the possibility of helping another nominee. "I'm going to help the party. I'm a team player here, and I don't want to see Democrats unilaterally disarmed," she told CBS News in October. The fundraiser came as Biden searches for a running mate, a job Warren has said she would take, and a week after another with potential pick Sen. Kamala Harris, which raised $3.5 million.

PRESIDENT TRUMP

President Trump emphasized the need to respect and support law enforcement as he signed an executive order on Tuesday addressing policing reforms amid a groundswell of civil unrest, CBS News digital White House reporter Kathryn Watson reports. The president signed the order in the White House Rose Garden surrounded by representatives of law enforcement, with no representatives of Americans affected by police brutality on the White House's attendee list. Families of several victims of police brutality did meet with the president before the signing. Mr. Trump's order is shaped by three key components: credentialing and certifying police departments, boosting information-sharing to better track officers with excessive use-of-force complaints and creating services for addressing mental health, drug addiction and homelessness. But it doesn't make federal funding conditional to those reforms, but instead potentially prioritizes some grants for departments that meet all those guidelines. "Reducing crime and raising standards are not opposite goals," the president said from the Rose Garden Tuesday. Mr. Trump said chokeholds should be off limits unless an officer's life is at risk. Last week, the president said chokeholds seem "perfect" and "innocent" at first, but he'd generally like to see an end to them.

In a new Wall Street Journal op-ed, Vice President Mike Pence accused the media of "fear mongering" and said the ringing of alarm bells over a second coronavirus wave are "overblown," reports CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar. Pence touted the administration's achievements over the last few months, highlighting the country's increased testing capabilities while mentioning that "more than half of states are actually seeing cases decline or remain stable." Pence added "the media has tried to scare the American people every step of the way, and these grim predictions of a second wave are no different. The truth is, whatever the media says, our whole-of-America approach has been a success." The op-ed published while the vice president was in Iowa for a trip to highlight the country's reopening. His first stop at Sally's Restaurant, a diner in Forest City that re-opened Tuesday after shutting down because of the coronavirus, underscored that message. Pence had lunch at Sally's Restaurant with Governor Kim Reynolds and State Senator Randy Feenstra, who recently defeated long-time 4th district congressman Steve King in the Republican primary. The vice president was not wearing a mask at the restaurant but greeted patrons with elbow bumps and told them Iowa always reminds him of growing up in Indiana.  After lunch, Pence toured Winnebago Industries and, according to pool reports, he wielded a nail gun during the tour to assist some of the workers laying the foundation of a Winnebago. Following the tour, Pence promised to restore the economy by building on administration's agenda from the first three years. Pence said "together we will open up America again" and touted the 2.5 million jobs that were added in the month of May. The vice president also spoke about the death of George Floyd. He called Floyd's death, as he has several times in recent weeks, a "tragedy" and a "disgrace." It should have never happened, Pence said, adding that there is no excuse. But, the vice president said there is also "no excuse for rioting and looting." Pence said he and the president will respect the concerns of protesters, "but we are not going to defund the police." Vice President Pence said a center piece of the administration's "transition to greatness" will be law and order. The Biden campaign characterized Pence's second trip to Iowa in less than two months as "damage control." Biden's deputy campaign manager and communications director Kate Bedingfield said Pence is trying to "rewrite history today," adding the Trump administration's "corrupt recovery is leaving Iowans in the dust." Meanwhile Republican National Committee Spokesperson Preya Samsundar said Pence's trip to the Hawkeye State is "another sign of the great American comeback." 

NEWSMAKERS

PRESIDENT OBAMA

Former President Obama will have his first campaign event for Joe Biden next week. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and his old boss will both take part in a grassroots virtual fundraiser on June 23. This comes after Mr. Obama endorsed Biden with a video in April and promised to hit the campaign trail with him. But as the presidential campaign cycle remains predominantly in virtual mode, CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice says an in-person event has not happened yet. According to an email to Biden supporters promoting the virtual event, the two will use the appearance to talk about Biden's vision for the country. "This is a critical moment in our history -- and we need Americans of all backgrounds and political stripes to join together and fight to create a more just, more generous, more democratic America where everybody has a fair shot at opportunity," read the email signed from Mr. Obama.

CBS NEWS COVID CHRONICLES

NEVADA CASINOS

CBS News is chronicling what has changed for the lives of residents of some of the biggest battleground states in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. This week CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin highlights casino workers in Nevada. In April, the state posted the worst unemployment rate in the country and the nation's largest surge in unemployment, with nearly 1 in 3 workers left jobless. But some of the immigrants that make up much of the state's workforce, including the undocumented (more than 1 in 10 of Nevada's workers), the largest share of any state and those with temporary protected status, are ineligible to collect many of the benefits that have buoyed American families through the pandemic. "All of us were laid off, including me, my wife, all my relatives, my friends, everybody in this thing. How are we going to keep it up with the bills? How are going to keep food for our kids?" says Nery Martinez, who lives in Southern Nevada with temporary protected status. Martinez, a member of the Culinary Workers Union who had worked as a bartender in Caesars Palace, was one of 90% of the company who was furloughed earlier this year.  

ISSUES THAT MATTER

FEMALE LEADERS

On the heels of nationwide demonstrations calling for solutions to systemic racial inequity, EMILY's List has announced that it will launch an inaugural fellowship aimed at training women community leaders from "historically" underserved communities. CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell reports that the EMILY's List Ignite Change Fellowship will be a nine-week virtual initiative, where 30 women will learn in part, how to run for office, build community relationships and tell their personal story. According to the press release, the fellowship is focused on engaging women of color, LGBTQ women and non-binary people, women from rural communities and women with disabilities. "Now more than ever, we're seeing the need for leaders who truly have their finger on the pulse of their community," said Stefanie Brown James, vice president of training and community engagement at EMILY's List, in a statement. "As activists and community advocates lead the shift in how underserved communities and communities of color are being treated, it becomes crucial that the shift happen politically."

STATE-BY-STATE

FLORIDA

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and Congresswoman Val Demings of Florida weighed in on the president's executive order on policing during a press call on Tuesday with the Florida Democratic Party, where the party scrutinized the president's record. CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell reports that Demings — a former police chief — said that while the president is "on the right track" by calling for the creation of a national database that would create a federal database of police officers with a history of using excessive force, his executive order on policing does not go far enough to address recent events that have taken place with officer-involved killings of black men in Minneapolis and Atlanta. "He's still campaigning and not looking at the obvious problem right in front of us," said Demings. "We've got to make sure that we're number one, acknowledging that systemic racism still exists and it rears its ugly head…the president has a major role there." Demings added that the Department of Justice has a responsibility to strengthen the Civil Rights division of the department and establish federal guidelines that law enforcement agencies can use to determine how officers are hired and trained. "The president, rather than issuing executive orders, ought to order his attorney general to do his job," echoed Perez in his criticism of what he described as a "woefully inadequate" move by the president in signing the order on policing. The DNC chairman said the attorney general has a "pattern of practice tool" at his disposal that enables the DOJ's Civil Rights Division to investigate and file civil lawsuits to correct patterns of misconduct among police departments. "Attorney General Barr is not only not enforcing or using the 'pattern of practice' tool, he's affirmatively hostile to the tool," said Perez. "He has this old school belief that you're either on the side of the community, or you're on the side of the police. That is a false choice." In addition to tracking officers with excessive use-of-force complaints, CBS News reports that the president's order will also create services for addressing mental health, drug addiction and homelessness. While federal funding isn't conditional to these reforms, it potentially prioritizes some grants for departments that meet specified guidelines.

IOWA

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds told reporters on Tuesday that she will issue an executive order that restores felon voting rights before the November election, reports CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. "We're working on that right now, sitting down with various groups, listening to what they think is important what is contained in that executive order," Reynolds on Tuesday told Radio Iowa in Osage. "And then I've got my legal team working on it." Iowa is the only state that permanently bans all felons from voting unless the governor approves restoring someone's right to vote. As of 2016, about 10% of the state's African American population was unable to vote because of a prior felony conviction. Activists from Black Lives Matters have urged Reynolds to use her executive power to grant felon voting rights, but she hadn't confirmed that she planned to do that until Tuesday. "We have an important election coming up," Reynolds said. "We're working on the language to see what that looks like, but hopefully it would mirror what we would put in a constitutional amendment so that we could be consistent in what we're trying to do." The details of the order are still unclear. The Des Moines Register noted that it may include some restrictions on which felons can automatically get their voting rights back, such as those who committed certain crimes or requiring felons to pay full victim restitution before they can vote.  

OKLAHOMA

The first term mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma, G.T. Bynum issued an ominous statement expressing his anxiety ahead of the Trump campaign's rally planned for Saturday at the city's 19,000-seat downtown Bank of Oklahoma arena. "Was the nation's first large campaign rally after the arrival of COVID-19 my idea? No,"  Bynum posted on Facebook, noting that the city did not learn of the Trump campaign's plans until the BOK Center management contacted the city about police support for the event. "Do I share anxiety about having a full house at the BOK Center? Of course. As someone who is cautious by nature, I don't like to be the first to try anything. I would have loved some other city to have proven the safety of such an event already," the mayor wrote in his candid post. While some officials in deep-red Oklahoma have welcomed the rally in with open arms, CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga says Bynum has balanced national politics with a surging COVID-19 case rate and Tulsa's deep racial wounds, punctuated by the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre. The Trump campaign plans to provide hand sanitizer stations and masks and will require all attendees to pass a temperature check before entry. "We are not going to suddenly abandon the state's plan, to be either more lenient or more severe," the mayor wrote. The city of Tulsa does not plan to block state government or the president by invoking the local civil emergency authority in the city ordinance. Oklahoma State Department of Health urged senior citizens and vulnerable individuals to "stay home" Saturday ahead of the rally and "enjoy the event through live streaming or a recording." The department has tripled its contact tracing team ahead of the event. Oklahoma provides free COVID-19 testing at centers across the state, including a dozen in Tulsa county. "As outlined by the CDC, individuals looking to attend Saturday's event, or any other large-scale gathering, will face an increased risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and becoming a transmitter of this novel virus," Oklahoma Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said in a statement. Reverend Al Sharpton is planning to keynote a Juneteenth rally in downtown Tulsa on the eve of Mr. Trump's event, CBS News correspondent Nikole Killion reports. The June 19 rally will commemorate the end of slavery in the United States and take place in the historic Greenwood district. In the days after World War I, the prosperous neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was among the wealthiest black communities. In 1921, an enraged white mob burned Greenwood to the ground, killing as many as 300 black individuals. June 1st marked the 99th anniversary of what became known as the 1921 Tulsa race massacre.

TEXAS

Texas Democrats on Monday officially filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to lift a block by a lower court to allow all Texas voters, regardless of age, to request a mail ballot "to avoid transmission of the [COVID-19] virus." The plaintiffs are also asking for the Supreme Court to hear a case in the fall on whether Texas' mail ballot restrictions violate the 26th amendment, which says a vote shall not be denied on account of age. This is the latest effort by the state party to expand the mail vote in the state, which only allows "no absentee" ballot requests to come from those over 65 years old. The Texas Democrats have previously seen their state case put on hold, as well as opposition from Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro reports that on a press call on Tuesday, Texas Democrats' general counsel Chad Dunn said he'd need the Supreme Court to weigh in or lift the block put in place by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court as soon as possible, before the July 14 runoff and November election. Dunn argued the lower court's decision is an outlier, as similar cases have been ruled differently in other circuit courts, while the 5th Circuit Court also encompasses Louisiana and Mississippi, two other states with voting restrictions. "There's no logical reason for those whose 65th birthday is the day after Election Day to have to go to the polling place in person while their 65-year-old spouse can vote a mail ballot — especially during the worst pandemic in a century," Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. 

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE SENATE

ARIZONA

Over the weekend, Arizona Senate candidate Mark Kelly joined the ranks of Democrats that have criticized demands to defund or dismantle police departments, according to CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin. "That's not the approach here. We need reform of policing," Kelly told a local radio station. Earlier this month, his GOP rival Senator Martha McSally had been quick to accuse Kelly of being willing to "nod along" to a "dangerous" idea that Biden had appeared open to. But the former vice president has since distanced himself from the calls, as have other Democrats challenging vulnerable Republican incumbents in Colorado and North Carolina.  

MONTANA

The Montana Democratic party unveiled Tuesday a new site that targets incumbent Republican Senator Steve Daines on his record. In addition to the new site, the party has released a new five-figure digital ad buy targeting his record, according to the state party. The investment is the latest expense in a race that has seen more cash flow from campaigns and outside groups since former presidential candidate and Democratic Governor Steve Bullock entered the race in March. According to data from Kantar/CMAG, Senator Daines' campaign and Republican groups have spent almost $17 million and Governor Bullock and Democratic outside groups have spent over $10 million in ad reservations this year, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. Early in the cycle, Montana wasn't close to the top level of competitive races, but in recent months, Montana has moved in terms of ad spending ahead of other races that have been watched closely like Michigan, Georgia, and Texas.     

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