• Look Me in the Eye and Tell Me Voter ID in the Time of COVID Isn’t Absurd

    A voter wears a full face chemical shield to protect against the spread of coronavirus, as he votes Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in Janesville, Wisconsin.Angela Major/The Janesville Gazette/AP

    Despite most of the country being under lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Wisconsin is going ahead with in-person voting today. The state’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, who defeated Scott Walker in the 2018 midterms, tried to delay the election and switch to absentee voting, but he was stymied by the GOP majority in the state legislature, the Republican-controlled state Supreme Court, and even the US Supreme Court. So Wisconsinites who didn’t request an absentee ballot in time will have to trek to a physical polling location—which is certain to be more crowded than usual because the state has sharply reduced the number of polling places, given the pandemic.

    Back when Scott Walker was in charge, Republicans implemented a host of voting restrictions and gerrymandered the state so thoroughly that a federal court said the redrawn maps violated the voting rights of Democrats. As my colleague Ari Berman wrote in 2017, those anti-democratic measures might have been the pivotal factor that tipped the state to Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Those voting restrictions are still on the books, and their absurdity is only heightened in the age of social distancing, as Tuesday’s election shows.

    On Sunday, Madison, the state’s second-largest city, put out a guidance for how the election would unfold, including urging voters to keep a safe six feet apart and assuring them that it’s okay for them to bring their own pens. The city offers a quasi-drive-thru voting system for people with underlying health issues, allowing them to get a ballot at the curb, but certain precautions must be observed: “Crack your window open just enough to receive your ballot from the poll workers.”

    But the instructions for enforcing the voter ID restrictions are the most, um, eye-catching. “Poll workers have been instructed to verify the identity of a voter wearing a facemask by comparing the eyes in the voter’s ID to the eyes of the voter before them. Poll workers should not ask voters to remove their facemasks.”

    Instances of the kind of in-person fraud that would be caught by voter ID laws are vanishingly low in normal circumstances, and it’s even harder to fathom people choosing to subject themselves to repeated exposure at a polling place during a pandemic. But the laws, which disenfranchise Black voters at far higher rates than their white counterparts, still exist, forcing poor poll workers to stare deeply into voters’ eyes to assess if it’s truly them in their ID.

  • This Is What It Looks Like When Republicans Use a Pandemic to Disenfranchise Voters

    Morry Gash/AP

    On Monday, Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Supreme Court struck down an emergency order from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to suspend in-person voting for Tuesday’s elections, as several states have already done, due to the coronavirus. Later, with just hours to go before polls opened in the state, the US Supreme Court dealt another blow to voting rights in the state when it reversed a lower court’s decision to extend the deadline to return absentee ballots because of the crisis. 

    Those eleventh-hour rulings, which will effectively disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters, came as the number of voting locations had already been significantly reduced out of concerns about exposure to the virus. In Milwaukee—the state’s largest city, with a population of 600,000 people—just five out of an original 180 polling places were set to open for Tuesday’s elections. The state’s national guard has been called on to assist election officials after volunteer poll workers quit amid the pandemic.

    It was against this dramatic backdrop that voters—faced with the choice of risking their health and exercising the right to vote—began lining up on Tuesday to cast their ballot. Many were seen practicing social distancing measures and wearing protective face masks.

    As my colleague Ari Berman explained, this seems to be the nightmare scenario Republicans had intended, as they fight to secure the reelection of a conservative member of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court:

    Republicans may be counting on low Democratic turnout to help them win a statewide contest on Tuesday’s ballot, between incumbent state Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly, who has been endorsed by Donald Trump, and progressive challenger Jill Karofsky. While Republicans currently have a 5 to 2 majority on the court, a win on Tuesday could set Democrats up to flip the balance of power in 2023. 

    With the election scheduled to take place as normal, turnout among key Democratic constituencies could fall precipitously, particularly among college students, whose schools have moved to online-only classes, and in Milwaukee, the epicenter of the state’s outbreak and home to 70 percent of the state’s black population.

    The extraordinary clash is a likely preview of what’s in store for the November presidential election, with Democrats and voting rights experts now racing to expand vote-by-mail and absentee voting systems in the event that outbreaks return in the fall. President Donald Trump has already rejected calls for widespread mail-in voting.

  • Voters Are Finally Starting to Notice the Trump Administration’s Botched Response to the Pandemic

    President Donald Trump at a press briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic White House on April 3, 2020. Gripas Yuri/Abaca via ZUMA

    As the country was gripped by the coronavirus pandemic in March, President Donald Trump saw some of the best approval numbers of his presidency. Multiple polls showed that a small majority of Americans approved of his handling of the crisis, while his personal approval ratings ticked up slightly. For a polarizing leader whose personal approval has never cracked 50 percent, it looked like the national urge to trust a leader in times of crisis might just benefit the president eight months from the 2020 elections.

    But as we enter April, those numbers have reversed course. Navigator Research, a progressive survey project operated by two Democratic polling firms, began a daily tracking poll two weeks ago to measure how the public viewed the crisis and Trump’s response to it. In their first tracking poll, released on March 24, 52 percent of Americans approved of the president’s handling of the pandemic. But in the two weeks since, those numbers have declined. Their polling shows that a growing number of Americans feel that Trump downplayed the crisis, was unprepared, and failed to respond quickly. In the latest poll out Saturday, 59 percent of respondents said they had “serious concerns” that Trump failed to take decisive action in the early stages of the outbreak. Even 40 percent of voters who supported Trump in 2016 now believe he failed to take the crisis seriously enough early on. The number of people saying Trump was honest about the crisis has declined, the poll showed, and 53 percent now believe he has been dishonest.

    There are obvious sources for these concerns. The pandemic is growing rapidly in the United States—by Saturday there were nearly 300,000 cases—while the medical community has been left without basic medical equipment to handle the growing demands in hospitals. In New York, the epicenter of the epidemic in the US, calls for additional ventilators have been rebuffed by Trump. With nearly 8,000 deaths by Saturday, fatalities are on the rise and public health officials warn that a terrifying shortage of hospital beds and ventilators will likely mean the mortality rate will go up. Meanwhile, unemployment is soaring, with 10 million new jobless claims since mid-March.

    As more reporting analyzes administration’s response, the more evidence there is that the president shirked his responsibilities while the virus spread. According to a new report by the Washington Post, it took Trump 70 days from the first time he was notified of the coronavirus and its grave implications to treat it as a public health crisis. That’s more than two months of wasted time during which the White House failed to grasp the threat and turned down requests for emergency funding from health officials.

    Though it shut down travel from China at the end of January—where the virus first appeared in the city of Wuhan in November—it had allowed 300,000 people to enter the country from there during January. And the administration rebuffed calls from health care officials and White House aides to limit travel from Europe for over a month as it became another hotspot for the virus. Trump himself compared the coronavirus to the flu and a political act by the Democrats to undermine his election chances, as he predicted it would soon disappear. 

    Perhaps the most consequential failure was the administration’s bungling of testing, which hobbled the country’s response and blinded it to the potential enormity of the outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed to produce a good test, causing likely fatal delays in tracking the spread of the virus. As the Post reported:

    [In February] federal medical and public health officials were emailing increasingly dire forecasts amongst themselves, with one Veterans Affairs medical adviser warning, ‘We are flying blind,’” according to emails obtained by the watchdog group American Oversight.

    Later in February, U.S. officials discovered indications that the CDC laboratory was failing to meet basic quality-control standards. On a Feb. 27 conference call with a range of health officials, a senior FDA official lashed out at the CDC for its repeated lapses.

    Jeffrey Shuren, the FDA’s director for devices and radiological health, told the CDC that if it were subjected to the same scrutiny as a privately run lab, “I would shut you down.”

    The real implications of those delays and missteps were not fully apparent during early polling regarding the White House response. But now, as the death toll mounts and more state governors have stepped up their responses to the emergency, it appears the slow response is now eating away at the public’s confidence in the president. 

    On February 25, Kayleigh McEnany, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign, told Fox News, “We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here.” Meanwhile, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the virus was “contained.” More than a month later, comments like these are no longer inspiring confidence. 

  • President Trump Argues That More Voting Means More Republican Losses

    President Trump just flat-out admitted that Republicans will lose elections if more people vote.

    “The things they had in there were crazy,” Trump said on Monday morning, discussing voting provisions pushed by Democrats in a coronavirus response package. “They had things, levels of voting that if you ever agreed to it you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

    Watch the clip from “Fox & Friends” below:

    As states around the country postpone elections, congressional Democrats have pushed for funding and legal authority to institute vote by mail and other procedures to ensure broad and safe democratic participation in a pandemic. While Republicans have complained about how the crisis is being used to “federalize elections,” the president’s comments suggest those protests are actually motivated by GOP lawmakers’ fear of losing their jobs.

     

  • HBO’s Latest Scary Movie Is Actually a Documentary on Election Hacking

    Harri Hursti.Courtesy of HBO

    Not going out for a while? How about a scary movie?

    Amid widespread concerns about election safety in a pandemic, on Thursday night, HBO will show a new documentary on a more familiar topic: election security. “Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections,” which debuts on March 26 at 9pm eastern, argues that the Russian election meddling operation of 2016 was both worse than you probably remember and has likely never ended. The film links pieces of the last four years of the election security story into one long, troubling, and coherent chain of events that filmmaker Sarah Teale told me she found “terrifying,” and “very scary.”

    Teale has followed the issue for more than a decade, going back to “Hacking Democracy,” a 2006 film she helped create to document voting machine hacking and irregularities following the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. That film featured a scene showing a hacker named Harri Hursti demonstrating a vulnerability on a Diebold voting machine. For “Kill Chain,” Teale and her team worked for three years tracking Hursti’s work, who, as part of his mission to radically improve voting equipment by searching out its faults in coordination with election officials and other computer security experts, helped create the Voting Village at the annual DefCon hacker conference, where attendees try to hack and evaluate various types of voting machines.

    “Kill Chain” also includes interviews with key national security officials like Michael Daniel, a former senior cybersecurity official in the Obama White House, and a trio of US Senators focused on election security: Democrats Amy Klobuchar, Mark Warner of Minnesota and Virginia, respectively, and James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma. Each warn about America’s fragile voting system and reiterate the seriousness of what happened in 2016, and what could happen going forward. Teale says all three lawmakers were knowledgable about the issue, noting that Klobuchar had urged Americans to consider the risk as an ongoing cyber war.

    The film helps viewers who may generally know that the Russian government “meddled” in the 2016 election but haven’t followed the minutiae of election security developments understand that there have been several major incidents over the last several years. These include the scanning and probing of state election registration databases, but also lesser-discussed events like the breach of the Election Assistance Commission, where an apparent Russian hacker pilfered and sold access to a database maintained by a federal agency that maintains key details and data on most of the voting technology across the country. The film also features an interview with a hacker who claims he penetrated Alaska’s election website in 2016, and who says the access he obtained would have allowed him to alter votes.

    Hursti told Mother Jones that one improvement since 2016 has been more states pushing for and adopting voter-verifiable paper trails. But at the same time the points to negative developments, like the widespread adoption of e-poll books, networked tablet devices used to check in voters but that can be vulnerable to attack. He says the general public will probably never know the full extent of what happened in the 2016 elections, and warns that 2020 could be a major target.

    The way to improve election security, he says, is for the average voter to get more involved—by voting, by learning more, by taking part in election administration, and advocating for key reforms.

    “This is not reason for apathy,” he said. “This is not a reason for [not voting] because you think your vote doesn’t count. More people vote, bigger are the volumes, harder it is to hide a fraud, especially [in down-ballot] races.” Also, he said, “become a poll worker, become part of the system, and try [to push] for risk-limiting audits and hand-marked paper ballots.”

  • The “Single Most Important DA Race in the Country” Is Headed to a Runoff

    District Attorney Jackie Lacey and former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, at a candidates' debate in JanuaryDamian Dovarganes/AP

    In the sweeping progressive movement to elect district attorneys to reform the criminal justice system, there’s perhaps no greater prize than Los Angeles. It’s home to the biggest district attorney’s office in the country by far, and to the biggest jail system. Weeks after the March 3 primary, the final ballots are still being counted, but enough are in to know the next step, and progressives are cheering: Candidate George Gascón, running on a platform of lowering the prison population, clinched just enough votes to proceed to a runoff in November against the more moderate incumbent, Jackie Lacey.

    In Los Angeles, the top two candidates in a primary qualify for a runoff unless one wins more than half the total vote. As of last Friday, Lacey, the first African American and first woman to serve as district attorney in Los Angeles, had received 48.7 percent of the vote. Gascon, the former district attorney in San Francisco, had 28.2 percent, and public defender Rachel Rossi had 23.1 percent. There were still about 20,100 ballots left to count as of late last week, but even if Lacey won them all, it would not be enough for her to meet the threshold to avoid the runoff.

    Thank you, LA. I hope to earn your vote this November,” Gascón tweeted Friday.

    The district attorney’s race in Los Angeles has been described by Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors as “the single most important DA race in the country.” It’s important not only because of the city’s size, but also because Los Angeles sees so many police shootings—more than almost anywhere else in the country—and because prosecutors at the district attorney’s office decide whether to press charges against cops who kill. Lacey has faced protests for years from Black Lives Matter activists because her office has only filed charges against one of more than 500 officers who fatally shot people since she took office in 2012. Cullors endorsed both Gascón and Rossi, who each made police accountability a centerpiece of their campaigns. “Jackie Lacey promised reform but has continued…fueling mass incarceration and destroying black and brown communities in Los Angeles,” Cullors tweeted ahead of the primary.

    Around the country, it’s rare for district attorneys to prosecute police, since the law is heavily weighted in favor of law enforcement. But district attorneys in other cities have lost reelection in recent years after police shootings of unarmed Black teens like Michael Brown and Laquan McDonald. “It could be a real liability for her,” Rachel Barkow, a law professor at NYU who writes about efforts to reform district attorney’s offices, told me recently when I asked about Lacey’s campaign.

    Gascón’s background is not what you might expect from someone championing himself as a reformist: He worked for decades as a police officer and chief before becoming San Francisco’s district attorney in 2011. And like Lacey, he struggled with police accountability during his tenure. In fact, he did not charge any officers accused of fatal shootings. But in other ways, he proved to be a leader in the progressive prosecutor movement: He co-authored a ballot measure that reduced penalties for certain drug offenses, to keep more people out of prison. (Lacey opposed the measure.) In 2019, he supported state legislation that would make it easier for district attorneys to prosecute police. And unlike Lacey, he has pledged to create a “do not call” list of disreputable officers, to avoid relying on their testimony in court proceedings. 

    The top candidates also diverge in other ways. While Lacey has sent 22 people to death row, all of them people of color, Gascón promises not to seek the death penalty. And though Lacey supports bail reform, she does not go as far as Gascón, who wants to abolish cash bail. Lacey has criticized Gascón for being soft on crime, citing rising car break-ins in San Francisco.

    Before the runoff, Lacey will look to capitalize on her strong support from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, and the local union that represents police officers. In a sign of how much is at stake for law enforcement in November, the union representing the LAPD has donated $1 million to an anti-Gascón super-PAC. Lacey, meanwhile, is benefiting from police donations: Almost all of the $2.2 million in contributions to outside committees supporting her have come from law enforcement unions.

  • Biden Blasts Trump for Trying to Cut Obamacare During a Pandemic

    Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

    As the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 30,000 people in the United States, rages around the world, President Trump continues to support a lawsuit raised by several Republican attorneys general that could invalidate the Affordable Care Act and leave more than 8 million people uninsured.

    In a letter released Monday to mark the 10th anniversary of former President Obama’s signing of the Affordable Care Act, former Vice President Joe Biden urged the plaintiffs to drop the Texas v. United States lawsuit. “At a time of national emergency,” Biden wrote, “which is laying bare the existing vulnerabilities in our public health infrastructure, it is unconscionable that you are continuing to pursue a lawsuit designed to strip millions of Americans of their health insurance and protection under the Affordable Care Act, including the ban on insurers denying coverage or raising premiums due to pre-existing conditions.”

    Trump has repeatedly and falsely espoused his commitment to protecting people with preexisting conditions while working to remove their protections under Obamacare. And, as the anti-Obamacare lawsuit awaits review by the Supreme Court, the ACA remains a vital tool for ensuring that Americans have access to care during an unprecedented public health crisis.

    As Kaiser Family Foundation points out, the Affordable Care Act will allow people who lose their employer-based insurance because of layoffs caused by the coronavirus to purchase coverage on the health insurance marketplace. In some cases, it’s also allowing currently uninsured Americans to get covered in anticipation of the coronavirus outbreak: Nine states, including New York, an epicenter of the pandemic, have opened special enrollment periods to allow people to sign up for insurance outside of the normal open enrollment period, which ended December 15. The Trump administration has even considered launching a national special enrollment period, the Wall Street Journal reports, allowing residents of the 32 states that rely on the federal insurance exchange, rather than state-based marketplaces, to access care.

    That’s right: Trump is considering using the Affordable Care Act to provide coverage to the nearly 28 million uninsured non-elderly individuals in the United States, while at the same time backing legislation that could remove the coverage altogether.

    “You have in your power the ability to make life safer, healthier, and a little bit easier for your constituents,” Biden wrote in his letter. “All you have to do is drop your support for this ill-conceived lawsuit, which is even more dangerous and cruel in this moment of national crisis.”

  • In Another Big Night for Joe Biden, the Former Veep Sweeps Florida, Illinois, and Arizona

    Matt Rourke/AP

    Former vice president Joe Biden won decisive primary victories in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona on Tuesday, adding to his nearly insurmountable delegate lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, in what may be the last election of its kind for weeks.

    Biden, who emerged as Sanders’ chief rival after winning the South Carolina primary on February 29, put the race out of reach by winning 10 states on Super Tuesday, followed by big wins in Michigan, Missouri, and Mississippi last week. But the results in Tuesday’s three primaries, where Biden’s success was never really in doubt, will likely be overshadowed by the circumstances in which they occurred. In an unprecedented move due to the nationwide coronavirus pandemic, the Sanders campaign told its voters that the decision to show up to vote in-person was their own to make and declined to deploy traditional get-out-the-vote efforts. A fourth state, Ohio, where Biden was also expected to perform well, postponed its primary at the last minute on Monday, after Gov. Mike DeWine argued that it would impossible to hold an election citizens would consider “legitimate” when senior citizens and others residents are being instructed by the government to stay at home.

  • Ohio Aims to Shut Down In-Person Voting and Extend Its Primary to June

    Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. TNS via ZUMA Wire

    Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine declared on Monday that he was recommending “that we postpone in-person voting until June 2, 2020,” detailing plans to delay the state’s primary election that was originally scheduled for Tuesday.

    The announcement would overrule a Friday statement from Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, made along with the top election officials of the other three states slated to hold primaries, that Tuesday’s elections would go forward as planned.

    “We cannot tell people to stay inside, but also tell them to go out and vote,” DeWine, a Republican, tweeted Monday. “I’m making this recommendation because we must also look out for our poll workers.”

    The governor explained that that the state would be filing a lawsuit to delay voting, but that it “will be up to a judge to decide if the election will be postponed.” In the meantime, DeWine said voters would still be able to request absentee ballots. 

  • Joe Biden Just Pledged to Pick a Woman as His Vice President

    Former Vice President Joe Biden at the Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios in Washington on March 15, 2020.Evan Vucci/AP

    Joe Biden made a big promise during the CNN debate stage on Sunday night: If he became the Democratic party nominee, he would choose a woman to be his vice president.

    The promise came out of a question about what Biden’s and Bernie Sanders’ would-be cabinets would do to ensure the best advice on issues that affect women’s physical and financial health. Sanders began by noting that his cabinet would look “like America,” in that half of his cabinet would be women appointees.

    Biden took it a step further. “I would pick a woman to be my vice president,” he volunteered.

    CNN’s Dana Bash asked him to clarify.  “Just to be clear, you just committed tonight that your running mate, if you get the nomination, will be a woman?” she asked.

    “Yes,” the former vice president said, unequivocally.

    It was a big promise from Biden, who leads Sanders in delegates and is heavily favored to be the Democratic party’s nominee. A woman hasn’t been the running mate on a Democratic presidential ticket since 1984, when New York congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro unsuccessfully sought the vice presidency alongside Minnesota senator Walter Mondale. The 2020 race had been defined by a historic field of Democratic women who sought the presidency, but failed to reach the nomination; all but Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who has only two delegates and did not qualify for the debate, remains in the race.

    The moderators asked Sanders if he’d pick a woman running mate. The senator answered with less certainty. “In all likelihood, I will,” Sanders said, after a pause. If he did, he said, he would make sure “it is a progressive woman.”

  • Louisiana Delays Primary Election Citing Coronavirus

    Bill Clark/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom via ZUMA Press

    Election officials in Louisiana said Friday that primary elections scheduled for next month in the state would be delayed over concerns around the coronavirus.

    The state was set to hold its presidential preference primary on April 4, along with down-ballot local elections. But election officials, citing public health concerns related to elderly poll workers, have postponed the primary until June 20, according to Tyler Brey, the press secretary for Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin.

    “We obviously care very much about people exercising their right to vote, but at a certain point it was getting to be a public safety concern,” Brey told Mother Jones, noting that half of Louisiana’s early voting and Election Day poll workers are over the age of 65. “That weighed heavily into the decision.”

    Brey said the Secretary of State’s office was concerned about how many of them would be willing to serve, and also about the potential that those that felt they could would change their mind as Election Day drew closer, possibly at the last second, a situation that would put the election “very much in trouble.”

    “Obviously we don’t like to do this, but these kinds of things don’t happen every day,” he said.

    In Louisiana, all voters over the age of 65 can vote absentee or by mail for any reason excuse, while those younger cannot. While Brey said the state is encouraging those older voters to take advantage of that privilege, but that it wouldn’t be possible to expand equal access to mail in ballots to all voters by June 20. 

    “Logistically we just don’t have enough time to get the ballots printed, the envelopes, the scanning equipment—that would need to be certified before we could use it—and quite frankly we didn’t want to have the Louisiana voters be a guinea pig for something that we were putting together so last minute and so outside of our expertise,” Brey said, adding that there had not yet been discussions about the November elections.

    After Louisiana’s announcement, a bipartisan group of made up of the top voting officials in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio—all of which hold primaries on Tuesday—issued a joint statement saying that the elections would go ahead and that they were working “to ensure that our poll workers and voters can be confident that voting is safe.” The statement noted that “Americans have participated in elections during challenging times in the past.” 

    Kate Bedingfield, a spokesperson with former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign, said in a statement that “our elections can be conducted safely in consultation with public health officials,” and that if “voters are feeling healthy, not exhibiting symptoms, and don’t believe they’ve been exposed to COVID-19″ they should “please vote on Tuesday.”

    “If voters are members of an at-risk population, exhibiting symptoms, or have been exposed to a diagnosed case of COVID-19, we encourage them to explore absentee ballots and vote by mail options,” she added. Representatives from Sen. Bernie Sanders and President Trump’s campaigns didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

    Aimee Allison, the founder of She the People, a political advocacy group for women of color, called for hastened implementation of a national vote-by-mail system, issuing a statement that called Louisiana’s decision “a threat to democracy” that “set a dangerous precedent” 

  • Will the Coronavirus Make Voting by Mail the New National Reality?

    It seems that the steps to address the spread of the Coronavirus are becoming more intense with every hour. The NBA is putting its season on “hiatus,” as other sports leagues around the world are doing or have done the same. The president is canceling speaking engagements, and banning certain travel from Europe. Everybody is buying all the toilet paper they can.

    With that in mind, it is worth noting that the US is in the midst of its primary election season, with general election candidates of all parties being selected up and down the ballot. Given that elections generally bring together large groups of people in relatively confined spaces like hallways, rec rooms, and gyms—in some cases for hours on end—some have asked whether it’s smart to make people gather this way in the current moment.

    Enter a proposal from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon). His bill, introduced Wednesday, would require all states to offer voters a vote-by-mail option, or to allow for the drop-off of hand-marked paper ballots, once 25 percent of states and/or territories declare a state of emergency related to the coronavirus. The bill would kick in $500 million in federal funding to help states make this happen.

    In a normal environment such a bill would have trouble moving forward. Congressional Republicans are loathe to do anything that makes it seem as though the federal government is telling states how to handle elections. Even though 34 states and the District of Columbia already offer the equivalent of a vote-by-mail option—and some have been doing it for nearly 20 years—when past national vote-by-mail bills have been introduced into Congress, they gained support mostly only from Democrats, and got nowhere.

    A spokesperson for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate majority leader and a leading crusader against federal election mandates, hasn’t responded to a request for comment on Wyden’s bill. But given this crisis, and with the next major set of state primaries coming up in Florida, Arizona, Illinois, and Ohio on March 17, it’s worth asking if this dynamic—like so many others stressed by the burgeoning pandemic—could change. 

  • Donald Trump Gave a Speech Tonight. After It Ended, He Kept Talking. A Microphone Caught What He Said.

    Fernando Cortes/Shutterstock

    Donald Trump gave a very scary speech to the country tonight about coronavirus. I watched it on CNN and was very shook and afterwards CNN cut to a panel of people who were also very shook.

    If you were watching on CSPAN however, that’s not what happened. Apparently when the speech ended the CSPAN feed didn’t cut away and delivered some choice hot mic moments.

    These next two seem to be from before the speech? Hard to tell. (I assumed these were fake when i first saw them but Daily Caller, an organization that is quite fond of Donald Trump, even wrote about them.)

    Please wash your hands.

  • Sorry, Jeff Sessions: Trump Wants Tommy Tuberville, Not You, in the Senate

    Trump endorsing the opponent is not great news!Vasha Hunt/AP

    Tommy Tuberville describes himself in a tumble of Cs: “Christian,” “Conservative,” “Coach.” This alliterative bit is a catchy slogan for the political outsider and former head coach of the Auburn Tigers football team who last week forced a somewhat surprising runoff against former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. On March 31, the two will compete to be Alabama’s Republican nominee for the Senate, vying for the seat that Sessions held for 20 years and is now occupied by Democrat Doug Jones.

    Tuberville came out on top last week in the sprawling field, besting Sessions, as well as Rep. Bradley Byrne and Roy Moore, but still came short of a majority needed to clinch the nomination.

    Then, last night, he won the real prize: President Trump’s endorsement

    While the endorsement is a somewhat juicy piece of political theater, it’s too simplistic to consider it a pure act of vengeance against Trump’s former confidante (although, of course, Trump does love a good grudge). Tuberville is no chump here; he is in many ways the model Trump candidate.

    Back in 2017, Jones took Alabama by sheer force of Republican fuck-ups; as my colleague Pema Levy wrote at the time, “Republicans managed to screw everything up.” So it might be confusing that Alabamans, and even the president, would risk anything but steady Sessions. Tuberville has never held public office. He’s never even donated to a federal campaign, according to FEC data. He is so inexperienced—as Jason Zengerle noted in a piece over at New York Times Magazine—that several months ago Republicans worried Tuberville could very well lose to Jones (this would be a Democrat winning in Alabama—twice!), prompting politicos to bug Sessions to jump into the race in the first place.

    But here’s the key context: As I’ve written previously Tuberville has a folksy Trumpism, spanning a long career as a coach, which he parlayed into sports radio spots that appealed to a GOP electorate that doesn’t mind the demonization of abortion, communists, and the 1960s, mixed with a bit of football analysis. He then built on that base with campaign ads featuring him either on a football field or in an actual field, with a gun. When Sessions entered the race in November last year, the primary devolved into a battle for who can pledge fealty to Trump more convincingly. Tuberville has excelled there, too. His ads hit simple Trump talking points: “Build The Wall,” “open borders,” “socialists.” His campaign has happily focused (almost exclusively) on his love for Trump, serving up policy only when it means talking about the greatness of Our Dear President. Tuberville’s history of spewing birtherism and xenophobia are played as advantages. And telling someone they’re divine helps, too. “God sent us Donald Trump,” Tuberville informs the camera in one ad. “Because God knew we were in trouble.”

    Sessions famously has a more complicated relationship with the president, to say the least. The first senator to endorse Trump, Sessions was picked as attorney general, then recused himself from the investigation into Russia and, finally, resigned after months of attacks from Trump. He’s now hated by the White House, a punching bag. Though in a bit of restraint—Alabama, after all, is critical to guaranteeing Republicans’ Senate majority—Trump didn’t declare a clear choice in the race until after the first round of voting. But you could feel it coming. He couldn’t help but gloat at Sessions’ inability to win back his seat without a run-off.

    The nativist platform that Sessions built and that (unfortunately) worked for decades in Alabama evolved as Trump adopted it. These ideas have succeeded throughout American history, mostly disguised by the neatness and false civility of people like Sessions. Trump allowed it to be open, public, and shamefully obvious. The shift in the state, and what Tuberville adds to the mix, are the pieces of the Trump stew that are missing from Sessions’ clean-cut, lawyerly racism: “REAL LEADERSHIP.” Tuberville, like Trump, is not of the “establishment.” He’s a coach. 

    Football coaches have always been revered in the South, and especially in Alabama. These are fundamentally political positions. As Howell Raines, a writer for the New York Times, noted upon the retirement of Paul “Bear” Bryant—the legendary leader of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide—the coach is a figurehead just as much as any politician.

    In fact, longtime Gov. George Wallace actually feared Bryant running against him. At the 1968 Democratic convention, Bryant received 1.5 votes to be the party’s nominee for president, seemingly from nowhere. And famously, in 1971, Bryant integrated the University of Alabama’s football team over the objections of Wallace. Yes, it took until 1971. Bryant had been pushing for it for years, roadblocked by the segregationist governor (or, at least that’s the convenient narrative for Bear). Wallace relented after Alabama got torn up by the Black running back Sam “The Bam” Cunningham from USC—3 touchdowns, 200-plus yards. An Alabama assistant coach compared Cunningham’s role in integration to that of Martin Luther King Jr.

    Still, Tuberville is not Bear Bryant. But his use of name recognition, celebrity, and whatever policy is popular on conservative radio and TV (even if it happens to be the one Sessions invented) is very Trump.

  • Primary Recap: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Advice for Brokenhearted Bernie Voters on Instagram

    Kristin Callahan/Ace Pictures/Zuma

    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to her favorite medium last night to heal wounds and give mourning Bernie supporters some guidance amid the Vermont senator’s primary losses to former Vice President Joe Biden in Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, and Idaho—striking a tone of resilience and hope.

    In the roughly 45-minute video, the representative from New York and avid Sanders supporter answered questions from her Instagram followers, even adding a bit of punditry about generational divides in the Democratic party.

    “There’s a generational divide in the Democratic Party on health care, on climate change, on foreign policy, on pretty much every policy imaginable, and as a younger person in this movement, I take a lot of that as information for how we navigate the next decade,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

    The video, which was broadcast live to her 4.2 million Instagram followers, sparked commentary about AOC’s healing powers as a young progressive in the Democratic Party. Her message was clear: While she may be disappointed, she’s certainly not bitter.

    “The number one enemy that anybody has… in politics is cynicism,” she said. “We have a lot of victories that we can claim, and I believe that we have won over the generational argument, enormous constituencies, decisive arguments. And now is the time to ask for accountability.”

    Watch the video below:

  • Republican Darrell Issa, Once One of Congress’ Richest Members, Is a Step Closer to Regaining the Title

    Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

    More than a week after voting concluded in California, it is looking like the showdown for disgraced former Rep. Duncan Hunter’s vacant congressional seat will come down to Hunter’s past Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, and a wealthy retired Republican congressman, Darrell Issa, who previously represented a neighboring district. While final votes are still being counted, Campa-Najjar holds a comfortable lead over the field, with Issa in second; the candidate currently in third place conceded on Tuesday.

    If the next few months are anything like the past few, the race could get really ugly. The primary for California-50 was marred by infighting among Republicans for the longtime GOP-held seat. Issa, a Trump confidante who was known as one of the wealthiest congressmen, retired in 2018, as a record number of Republicans left office. He and Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego City Councilman and firebrand radio host, jockeyed to show how aligned they were with President Donald Trump while spending more than $2 million apiece on their campaigns. As the Los Angeles Times reported, in TV ads ahead of Super Tuesday, DeMaio accused Issa of “quitting” on Trump when he left his congressional seat, while Issa called DeMaio a “Never Trump liberal.”

    Issa drew significant backlash, even from fellow Republicans, for an attack ad against DeMaio, who is gay, that featured headlines calling out DeMaio’s sexuality. A San Diego Union-Tribune editorial criticized the ad as “despicable,” adding that Issa “lost some of his humanity” and that “gay-baiting is unacceptable and unforgivable.” Neither Republican received the Union-Tribune‘s endorsement.

    Issa’s spending thus far eclipses that of Campa-Najjar, who lost to Hunter in 2018 while Hunter was under indictment for federal corruption charges. (My former Mother Jones colleague Bryan Schatz profiled Campa-Najjar back then.) Hunter resigned from Congress in January after he pleaded guilty to conspiring with his wife to illegally spend more than $150,000 in campaign funds for personal use—a long and absurd list of expenses that includes flights for his pet rabbit, Eggburt, as Bryan chronicled. Hunter and his wife face a maximum of five years in prison, though they are expected to serve far less than that. Federal prosecutors have recommended that Hunter serve 14 months in prison.

    Campa-Najjar and Issa will be now vie for one of just six House seats that Republicans still hold in California two years after a wave of Democrats snagged a slew of seats. If Issa, who Mother Jones profiled back in 2009, prevails in November, the former Oversight Committee chair will be one of the most senior Republicans in the House, given his years of prior service. And Issa might even serve alongside Democrat Mike Levin, who flipped his former seat in 2018. 

  • Biden Wins Mississippi and Missouri Primaries

    MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

    Joe Biden won the primaries in Mississippi and Missouri, two of six contests on Tuesday that will add to his delegate lead over Bernie Sanders. Both races were called as soon as polls closed.

    Biden’s campaign has been propelled forward by African American voters who make up the majority of the Democratic Party in Mississippi. Sanders, by contrast, has struggled with this black voters, especially older black voters, since 2016. He canceled an event scheduled in Mississippi, signaling that he had all but given up on winning many delegates. As the Washington Post noted, the mayor of Jackson, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, a Sanders supporter, spent the weekend campaigning for the senator not in Mississippi but in Michigan. Initial exit polls showed Biden winning the state overall with a nearly 60-point margin.

    Missouri, on the other hand, was less obviously in Biden’s column. Sanders nearly won the state four years ago against Hillary Clinton. But early exit polls showed Biden ahead by more than 20 points, an indication that voters have continued to shift away from Sanders and toward Biden.

  • No Audience at Biden-Sanders Debate Due to Coronavirus

    Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Vice President Joe Biden at the Democratic presidential primary debate in Charleston, South Carolina on February 25, 2020.Win McNamee/Getty Images

    The Democratic debate on Sunday won’t just feature fewer candidates than before, it will also be without an audience. To limit the spread of the coronavirus, the Democratic National Committee and CNN announced Tuesday that the upcoming debate on Sunday between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden will no longer have a live audience, nor will reporters meet with campaign representatives after the debate in what is referred to as the spin room, nor a designated area for reporters to file stories.

    Both Sanders and Biden canceled rallies in Cleveland on Tuesday over growing fears about the coronavirus.

    But President Donald Trump seems to be throwing caution to the wind. On Tuesday, his campaign announced it would hold a rally in Milwaukee on March 19.

  • Who Said It: A “Bachelor” Contestant or a 2020 Presidential Candidate?

    Will you accept this rose?ABC/Maarten de Boer

    Last week, ABC’s The Bachelor revealed the final two contestants competing for the love of airline pilot Peter Webber during this lackluster season. A day later, Democratic voters also revealed their final two: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. 

    It was a dramatic week. (Perhaps, dear viewers, the most. dramatic. week. ever?)

    As it turns out, the longrunning reality show and our democratic process may have more in common than you’d expect. It’s not just that both are competitions—with each week, the cast getting smaller and smaller (and whiter!) as the contestants vie for America’s heart. But they also share in the spectacle: The debates, with their petty attacks and canned zingers, feel like group dates, only with moderators. The Democratic caucuses are like cocktail parties with delegates instead of roses. There are villains and fan favorites, personal feuds and public drama, and always someone who is there for the wrong reasons. 

    Before this season’s Bachelor comes to an end Tuesday, we pulled quotes from contestants and candidates, past and present, and from both sides of the aisle, to see if you can tell the difference between the 2020 candidates and Bachelor Nation.

    1. “If there was a hot-air balloon that was rising and you needed to try and keep it on the ground, he would be better than me at that, because he is so fat.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Andrew Yang, about Trump

    2. “If you don’t know me, watch your mouth, I will put you in your place. If you don’t want to talk about it, don’t bring it up.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Marshana, Bachelor Season 12

    plotting chris harrison GIF

    3. “I had a cat, but it died.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Marianne Williamson

    4. “Gonna start adopting cats now.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Jami, Bachelor Season 20

    The Bachelor Ok GIF

    5. “Suddenly, eating those eggs for me was something that didn’t align with my spirit.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Cory Booker

    I Love You Speech GIF

    6. “Michael Jordan took naps. Abraham Lincoln took naps.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Corinne, Bachelor Season 21

    women tell all wta GIF by The Bachelor

    7. “I like Abe Lincoln.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Donald Trump

    8. “You’re getting fucked…and I want to unfuck you.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Andrew Yang

    Andrew Yang Netflix GIF by Patriot Act

    9. “You have to take responsibility for your own equanimity.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Marianne Williamson

    10. “Like seriously, can we just bag this and go play blackjack?”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Bentley, Bachelorette Season 7

    11. “Deep, intellectual things are just my jam.” 

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Olivia, Bachelor Season 20

    week recap GIF

    12. “Mike can telepathically communicate with dolphins.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Mike Bloomberg’s campaign, on Twitter

    Democratic Debate GIF by MSNBC

    13. “Listen, I’m not an idiot. I run a multimillion-dollar company!”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Corinne, Bachelor Season 21

    episode 4 corinne GIF by The Bachelor

    14. “I know that this girl right here is tough and strong and she is powerful and she is beautiful and she knows what she deserves more than anything.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Mykenna, Bachelor Season 24

    Lets Go Abc GIF by The Bachelor

    15. “As women, especially in these times, we should be building each other up, not trading each other down.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Liz, Bachelor Season 21

    episode 8 thats kinda the whole point GIF

    16. “Now, I am Asian, so, I know a lot of doctors.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Andrew Yang

    17. “I may be white, but I’m still a minority.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Nick, Bachelorette Season 13

    Season 21 Smile GIF by The Bachelor

    18. “It’s a shame to find out you’re full of shit. And I’m looking around the room and seeing a lot of people full of shit.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Leo, Bachelor in Paradise, 2018

    leo GIF by The Bachelorette

    19. “I put a lot on hold for this…I got a dog at home.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Ben, Bachelor in Paradise, 2017

    Bachelor in Paradise season 4 bachelor in paradise bip ben z GIF

    20. “I’m a little worried. I can’t possibly smell like cabbage.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Shushanna, Bachelor Season 20

    im not crazy season 5 GIF by Bachelor in Paradise

    21. “I wish everyone was as perfect as you.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Amy Klobuchar, to Pete Buttigieg

    22. “You know, I wanna make art. I wanna write. I wanna make music. I wanna create things.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Beto O’Rourke

    23. “I’m particularly fond of green grapes.”

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    Answer: Marianne Williamson

  • The Best Thing About Elizabeth Warren Dropping Out Is She Can Now Spend Time at SNL

    Screenshot Saturday Night Live/NBC

    Three days after ending her presidential campaign, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made a surprise appearance on Saturday Night Live. The skit pretty much has everything you want right now: Warren making fun of herself, mocking the endless, mind-numbing electability debate, knocking the New York Times double endorsement, and, finally, comparing herself to the true star of the campaign—Bailey, the dog—who this week couldn’t help but steal someone’s burrito.   

    At the end of the sketch, Kate McKinnon does a quick change from her Laura Ingraham costume into her Warren one. “I wanted to put on my favorite outfit to thank you for all you’ve done in your lifetime,” she said.

    “I’m not dead, I’m just in the Senate,” Warren deadpanned.

    Watch the full clip:

     

    And one more thing we need but don’t deserve: