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2020 Daily Trail Markers: U.S. Postal Service warns states that mail-in ballots might not be counted in time

Due to COVID-19, most states are going to see a tenfold increase in mail-in ballots this November. The United States Postal Service is the crucial lynchpin to ensuring those ballots are received and processed on time. That promise is looking bleak. It was revealed on Friday that in late July and early August, several U.S. states and territories received a letter signed by USPS general counsel warning the windows they currently have in place for vote-by-mail deadlines are incongruent with USPS capabilities - essentially warning states that if they don't change potentially hundreds of thousands of votes could not be counted. In a statement to CBS News, a USPS spokesperson said, "The Postal Service is well prepared and has ample capacity to deliver America's election mail. However, the increases in volume and the effect of when volumes were mailed in the primary elections presented a need to ensure the Postal Service's recommendations were reemphasized to elections officials."

CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte says USPS cannot mandate a state change its policies, however these letters did made it clear certain timelines currently in place ought to change. "There is a significant risk that, at least in certain circumstances, ballots may be requested in a manner that is consistent with your election rules and returned promptly, and yet not be returned in time to be counted," the letter to Arizona's Secretary of State Katie Hobbs reads. In Arizona, a ballot must be received by Election Day to be counted. But the situation is also apparently dire in states like California, where mailed ballots can be returned up to 17 days after Election Day. In the letters, the USPS advised states to encourage residents to register, apply, and fill out mailed ballots as soon as possible to avoid processing backlog. CBS News reached out to every state and territory and can confirm that at least 23 states received guidance to rethink their windows - including the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Colorado. At least two, Nevada and Oregon, were told USPS has adequate time to process their mailed ballots.

President Trump told reporters Friday he would be willing to greenlight $25 billion in funding for the U.S. Postal Service, including $3.5 billion toward bolstering mail-in voting efforts, if congressional Democrats agreed to his legislative demands on combating the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic downturn, CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga reports. "Sure if they gave us what we want," Mr. Trump remarked. "And it's not what I want. It's what the American people want." In the battleground state of Florida, CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell notes that Florida voting records show that Mr. Trump and the First Lady requested absentee ballots ahead of the state's primary election on Tuesday and those ballots were mailed to Palm Beach on Wednesday. This comes a week after the president encouraged Florida voters to vote by mail in the state. Earlier this week, Mitchell reported that 2016 Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi also urged voters to register to vote by mail during the first stop of the Trump campaign bus tour throughout the Sunshine State. According to University of Florida Professor Michael McDonald, who specializes in elections, more than 2 million absentee ballots have been requested by Democrats for the general election in November and more than 1.3 million absentee ballots have been requested by Republicans.

FROM THE CANDIDATES

JOE BIDEN

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris quickly appeared together Friday afternoon to sign documents required to receive the Democratic nomination for president and vice president, CBS News campaign reporters Bo Erickson and Tim Perry report. As she signed, Harris was asked about the floated false birther-ism questions from Mr. Trump. She responded: "I'm signing this because I'm in this race to win with that guy right there. And we are gonna get it done." Biden and Harris were seated at different tables in their new campaign studio at the Hotel Du Pont in Wilmington, Delaware. The pair did not respond when asked if they have recently been tested for COVID-19. Their campaign also launched a new ad on Friday sharing their call for a 3-month, nationwide face mask mandate. The ad is part of the $20 million dollars the campaign says they intend to spend this week in battleground states.

The campaign is also seeing a massive surge in fundraising after announcing Harris as his running mate, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice. On Thursday, the Democratic presidential ticket hauled in $48 million in just 48 hours. After the news broke Tuesday that Harris was joining the ticket, a Biden-Harris campaign aide tweeted that the hour of the announcement had been the best single hour of fundraising for the entire campaign. It quickly became the best fundraising day for the campaign so far, too, with the team raking in $26 million in 24 hours, including contributions from 150,000 first time donors. Of the $48 million cash haul over two days, $39 million of it poured in online, according to the campaign, touting its grassroots momentum heading into the final few months before the election. The two-day influx of donations is nearly half of what Biden and Harris' primary campaigns raised in all of 2019 combined. Last year, Harris' bid brought in a total of $40 million before she exited the race. Biden's campaign raised $60 million through December.

Harris herself held her first interview since being selected as Biden's running mate with Errin Haines, editor-at-Large for The 19th* News. Perry reports that Harris praised Biden for her selection saying, "Joe Biden had the audacity to choose a Black woman to be his running mate. How incredible is that? And what a statement about Joe Biden that he decided that he was going to do that thing that was about breaking one of the most substantial barriers that has existed in our country and that he made that decision with whatever risk that brings." Harris added that Biden's historic selection "pushed forward," something that might have otherwise taken decades. During the interview, Harris noted that she is currently the only Black woman in the Senate, and just the second Black woman to hold a seat in the chamber. When asked if there was a Black woman who should take over her seat, if Biden and Harris were to win in November Harris said, "There are 100 United States senators, this should not just be about California." Harris added, "We should be saying this across the nation because there are so many talented black women and women of color, period, who are who are on that path."

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP

During a White House briefing Friday, Mr. Trump declined to answer a reporter's question about whether he believes in the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, but defended his decision to endorse Republican congressional candidate from Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene. Greene has a history of amplifying QAnon and September 11th conspiracy theories, as well as racist and anti-Semitic statements.

"Well, she did very well in the election. She won by a lot. She was very popular. She comes from a great state and she had a tremendous victory so absolutely, I did congratulate her," Mr. Trump remarked.

Mr. Trump will be visiting his younger brother, Robert Trump, in a New York hospital on Friday, a senior administration official confirmed to CBS News. The reason for the hospitalization is unclear, but he is said to be very ill. CBS News digital White House reporter Kathryn Watson reports Mr. Trump said Friday ahead of his visit that he's a "wonderful brother, we've had a great relationship."

"Hopefully he'll be all right, but he's having a hard time," the president remarked. Robert Trump is about two years younger than the president. Over the summer, Robert Trump requested a temporary restraining order in an attempt to stop a book by Mr. Trump's niece Mary Trump from being published. Her memoir, which is about Mr. Trump, was published in July.

Mr. Trump said Thursday that he will deliver his acceptance speech for the Republican nomination for president at the White House CBS News digital politics reporter Grace Segers and campaign reporter Nicole Sganga report, flouting critics who called the location inappropriate for a campaign address. "I'll probably be giving my speech at the White House because it is a great place. It's a place that makes me feel good, it makes the country feel good," Mr. Trump said in an interview with the New York Post. He added that he would deliver the speech outside "on one of the lawns" so people could practice social distancing guidelines. He said that there could be a "big group of people" to attend his address, despite the threat of the coronavirus. Mr. Trump's announcement came after the U.S. office of special counsel confirmed federal law does not preclude the president from delivering his acceptance speech at the White House. "The president and the vice president are not covered by any provisions of the Hatch Act," Erica Hamrick, deputy chief of the office's Hatch Act Unit, said in a letter Wednesday. "Accordingly, the Hatch Act does not prohibit President Trump from delivering his RNC acceptance speech on White House grounds." Mr. Trump was set to accept the nomination in Jacksonville, Florida, but the in-person Republican National Convention events there were canceled due to the virus. The president had moved his speech from Charlotte, North Carolina to Jacksonville in June because of coronavirus guidelines set by the North Carolina governor restricting the number of people who could attend the convention. The RNC is still planning three nights of programming for the convention that will feature a combination of live events and virtual livestreams. Mr. Trump will also be featured each day of the Republican National Convention, senior Trump campaign officials told CBS News. Ahead of his White House address, the president will honor doctors, nurses and other frontline workers on one of the nights. The week will feature speeches from Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Tiffany Trump, plus first lady Melania Trump, who will speak on August 25, according to campaign officials. Vice President Mike Pence will speak on August 26 from Fort McHenry. Other speakers during the week will include Senator Tim Scott and Joni Ernst, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and former ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley.

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM


CENTER STAGE

Some of entertainment's biggest names are set to appear at next week's Democratic National Convention. John Legend, Billie Eilish, Jennifer Hudson, Common, Billy Porter, The Chicks, and more will perform during the four-day event that will make the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket official, according to CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice and campaign reporter Adam Brewster. The entertainment heavyweights will be joining some of the party's biggest names. Michelle Obama is set to speak Monday night, Bill Clinton will be giving an address Tuesday night and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will speak Wednesday night. Harris is scheduled to accept the party's vice presidential nomination that night and Biden will formally accept the presidential nod on Thursday. Other performers just announced include Leon Bridges, Prince Royce, Maggie Rogers and Stephen Stills. According to the convention planners, the performances will range from renditions of the national anthem and American classics to new songs with the idea of drawing in viewers who may not have tuned in before. The Democrats have been preparing for a largely virtual event since they announced plans in June for a scaled-back, in-person convention.


ON THE $$$


STATE LEGISLATURES

Forward Majority, a Democratic PAC dedicated to state legislature races, is sounding the alarm about state legislature fundraising gaps. In a memo, they point to the narrative of Democrats at the federal level fundraising significantly, while state legislature Democrat candidates in crucial states are seriously lagging their Republican opponents. "These expectations of a down-ballot rout in November are divorced from fundraising realities on the ground in the most strategically valuable state chambers, where Republicans could very well maintain their stranglehold on power after the 2020 election if Democrats don't direct more resources to the most competitive challenger races - fast ," the memo reads. The gaps are especially prevalent in Florida and Texas, where Democrats are within 9 seats of flipping the state house ahead of redistricting. Vicky Hausman, the group's founder and co-CEO, told CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro this fundraising trend happened in 2018 as well, when Congressional Democrat campaigns raised money at a high clip, but it simply doesn't "trickle down to the most competitive state chambers and races." In the next couple months, Hausman said Democrat fundraisers should prioritize state legislature contests, but added there tends to be a bias for Democrats toward federal races and federal power, in contrast with Republicans who "have long understood that state legislatures are a core foundational piece of our Democracy." "If you want to win in a place like Texas, you don't necessarily need to be outraising Republicans, but you do need to be funding serious campaigns and seriously competing to flip seats that are competitive but still require resources to win," she said.


ISSUES THAT MATTER


SOCIAL SECURITY

Democrats in Florida and Georgia celebrated the 85th anniversary of the Social Security Act being signed into law by hosting virtual events where seniors in both battleground states criticized President Trump for vowing to permanently cut the payroll tax if re-elected, reports CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell. Mr. Trump has announced he is deferring payroll taxes to provide economic relief amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, Democratic seniors in Florida and Georgia this morning said that jeopardizing Social Security funds for tens of millions of seniors could be devastating. "I started working in 1964 and you know what, I'm still working because I'm one of those people that...depends on Social Security to exist, to live and social security has kept millions of older women like me out of poverty," said Barbara DeVane of the Alliance for Retired Americans. "I still have a mortgage. I still work. My birthday is next Tuesday, August 18 -- Election Day in Florida -- and I'm still working to supplement my Social Security." Gloria Jenkins, chairperson for the Democratic Party of Georgia seniors caucus, said, "Millions of seniors in Georgia and across the country rely on social security every day. They need it to pay bills, put food on the table, to help with rent, to pay Medicare premiums, buy medicine and just a sundry of things that we use the money for." Jenkins added, "When Donald Trump was campaigning in 2016, he said again and again and again that he would not touch Social Security. But guess what? He lied." According to the Social Security Administration, Social Security is funded through a payroll tax where employers and employees each pay 6.2% of wages up to the taxable maximum of $137,700 and the self-employed pay 12.4% as of 2020.


STATE-BY-STATE

ARIZONA

In Arizona, Republican Congressman Paul Gosar joined a rush of Republicans this week criticizing a recent hire by the Joe Biden team in the state over old Twitter posts by the staffer, reports CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin. The former vice president's campaign did not respond to a request for comment over what the president's supporters in Arizona decried as "racist, sexist, and anti-cop" tweets, dating back to 2011 and 2012, by Michael Ramierz, a former Bernie Sanders campaign aide. In recent months, Republicans have denounced old tweets by other Democratic hires out West, from another former Sanders aide tapped by the Nevada State Democratic Party to a spokesperson for Congressman Steven Horsford.

Also in Arizona, a state once dominated by GOP victories, Biden has been polling ahead of Mr. Trump - a state he won in 2016 - for months. Now Biden's supporters are trumpeting growing numbers of Republicans vocally opposing the president. Democrats recently touted an open letter led by former Arizona Republican legislator (and founder of the SkyMall) Bob Worsley criticizing a "Latter-day Saints for Trump" event this week. Retired Judge Daniel Barker, appointed twice by Republican governors to Arizona courts, is rolling out yard signs and billboards to support Biden as part of "Arizona Republicans Who Believe In Treating Others With Respect." After forming the group, in an email to CBS News last month Barker said, "Our goal is to let other Arizona Republicans know that some of us have had enough of how Trump treats others, and that how one treats others is an important part of being the President of the United States."

CALIFORNIA

The USPS told California's Secretary of State Alex Padilla that "the vast majority" of voters in the state "should have sufficient time" to receive, complete and return their ballots for the General Election, reports CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar. But California was warned that some voters, specifically "new residents who register to vote shortly before Election Day" could be disenfranchised. Registered voters in California likely won't be impacted because they are automatically going to get a mail-in ballot. Those ballots will get mailed out to registered voters starting 29 days before the election. This week, Padilla announced that nearly 21 million, or roughly 84% of voters in California, the highest percentage in over six decades, are registered to vote for the General Election. Earlier this summer, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill to codify vote-by-mail into the state's law. It made California the first state in the post-pandemic era to move towards automatically sending all registered voters a mail-in ballot but it also extended important deadlines. Now instead of three days, mail-in ballots can be received up to 17 days post-Election Day, if they are post-marked by Election Day, and still count. The USPS has recommended that voters allow at least seven days for their ballots to be delivered. Counties in California that have the capacity can also begin processing ballots 29 days in advance and with a 17 day window after Election Day, most voters should have plenty of time to receive, complete, and have their ballots processed if post-marked by Election Day. While the deadline to register to vote for an election in California is 15 days before Election Day, the state allows voters to apply in person at a county elections office for a mail-in ballot up to 7 days before Election Day. That's where the USPS raised concerns with Padilla. "If a voter registers at or near that deadline, and if the election official transmits the ballot to the voter by mail several days later, there is a significant risk that the ballot will not reach the voter before Election Day, and accordingly that voter will not be able to use the ballot to case his or her vote." On Friday, Newsom said having the 17 day window period was important at the time because of uncertainties around COVID-19 adding that he didn't "realize how prescient, not just important that now appears to have been with what I would described as almost vandalism of our postal system."

Newsom also described current issues surrounded the USPS as "sabotage" that he said "clearly intentional."


MICHIGAN

Nearly 10,700 absentee ballots were rejected in Michigan's August primary, the majority of which arrived after the deadline to return ballots, according to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. According to the Michigan Secretary of State's office, 10,694 absentee ballots were rejected in the election of the record 1,638,596 absentee ballots that were returned. Michigan requires ballots to be returned by the time polls close on Election Day and 6,405 ballots were rejected because they arrived past that deadline. 1,438 were rejected because the voter didn't sign their ballot and 787 were rejected due to a signature matching issue. Overall, about 0.7% of returned ballots were rejected, which includes voters who moved or died before Election Day. A CBS News analysis of the March presidential primary in Michigan found about 0.8% of returned absentee ballots were rejected, not including people whose ballots were rejected because they ended up voting in-person. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson renewed her call for the legislature to pass a bill that would count ballots that are postmarked by Election Day if they arrived up to 2 days later and another bill that would require clerks to contact voters if their signature doesn't match one on their registration.

PENNSYLVANIA

The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee (RNC) have until Friday night to turn over evidence of voter fraud in Pennsylvania, a federal judge in the Western District of the state ordered yesterday. As of publishing, they had not yet done so, according to CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak. The Trump campaign and RNC had sued the Pennsylvania secretary of state and all 67 boards of elections there in late June over the use of mail-in ballot drop-off boxes, arguing that they violate the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions because poll watchers cannot be present to verify no fraud takes place. Lawyers for the state had requested that the plaintiffs produce "documents, data, analysis and communications relating to allegations...concerning potential or actual fraud or voter misconduct." The judge ordered them to turn that over or say if they don't have it. Spokespeople for the RNC and Trump Campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

WISCONSIN

Wisconsin's second statewide primaries, which took place Tuesday amid the coronavirus pandemic, went more smoothly than its April presidential primary, with few reported issues, according to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. It was far different than the election four months ago, which saw long lines in some cities and clerks overwhelmed by the flood of absentee ballot requests. While Tuesday's primaries for congressional and state legislative seats were a good test for clerks and voters, the number of people voting represents a fraction of what's expected in November. Since 2000, August primary turnout has ranged from about 10% to 25%. Presidential elections in that same time frame have drawn at least two-thirds of the state's voters. "In November it'll be about three to four times the scale of what we saw [Tuesday]," said Claire Woodall-Vogg, the executive director of the city of Milwaukee Election Commission. "[Tuesday] was a good test run, but we definitely have some lessons learned, ways to make it more efficient." It appears most voters cast absentee ballots in the August primary. By Friday morning, 603,445 ballots had been returned out of the 907,855 requested, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC). Just over 106,000 absentee ballots were returned in the 2018 primary. Many clerks told CBS News they felt better about handling the increased number of requests compared to previous August primaries, though it put a lot of stress on clerks, especially in smaller municipalities. Woodall-Vogg said there were issues delivering about 270 ballots to voters at the end of June, but the city canceled those ballots and sent replacements. Wisconsin Watch reported that Wauwatosa had 421 ballots ordered in late June that weren't initially delivered. Other clerks were not aware of widespread issues with absentee ballots not reaching voters before Tuesday. What's not clear yet is how many ballots will be rejected, either because they arrived after the 8 p.m. Central Time deadline on Election Day or for other reasons. A CBS News analysis of state data found 1.9% of returned absentee ballots were rejected in April. The lasting images of Wisconsin's April election were the long lines at polling sites in Milwaukee and Green Bay, when the cities could only open a few locations due to a massive shortage of workers. That was not the case Tuesday. Though turnout was lower, more polling places were open, and more election workers were available, but many more will be needed come November.

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