Election officials across the U.S. have been sounding the alarm that the country may need to wait longer than usual to know the winner of the presidential election. But in key battleground states, some officials are calling for a change to begin processing absentee ballots before Election Day, which they say could speed up the results in November, according to CBS News campaign reporters Adam Brewster and Zak Hudak.
At least 18 states allow mail ballot processing before Election Day, beyond just signature matching, according to Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. But that doesn’t mean they’ll have a tabulated number ahead of the election. However, depending on the state, officials are able to open envelopes or even matching ballot numbers against poll books — giving them a head start on Election Day. But Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — three states that could decide the presidency — must wait. Each of these states were decided by razor-thin margins in 2016, and each has seen unprecedented increases in mail-in voting in primaries this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Local election officials say they’re facing an overwhelming workload that could be eased by early processing, and some say they won’t have conclusive results on November 3 unless they can begin opening ballots early.
FROM THE CANDIDATES
In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania this afternoon, Joe Biden likened President Trump to a poison that the country can dispose of in November, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports. “Donald Trump has been a toxic presence in our nation for four years, poisoning how we talk to one another, poisoning how we treat one another, poisoning the values this nation has always held dear,” Biden said. “Poisoning our very democracy. Now in just a little over 60 days, we have a decision to make: Will we rid ourselves of this toxin? Or will we make a permanent part — we make it a permanent part of our nation’s character?”
The Democratic presidential nominee also rebutted claims Republicans made all last week during their convention that the country would not be safe under President Biden. “Ask yourself, do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters. Really?!” Biden said while condemning the ongoing violence and looting in some American cities amid protests over racial justice. “I want to be clear about this: Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting,” Biden said. He asked, “Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is re-elected?” He then followed with his own answer, saying, “This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country. He can’t stop the violence because for years he has fomented hate. You know, he may believe mouthing the words ‘law and order’ makes him strong, but his failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia in this country shows how weak he is.”
Biden’s stop in Pittsburgh comes 490 days after he held his first campaign stop in the same city, announcing his “battle for the soul of America.” The Biden team in the past few days said voters will start to see more of the candidate in battleground states and promised any campaign events will be done following local public health guidelines related to COVID-19.
Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien outlined his plan Thursday for getting President Trump across the 270-electoral vote finish line come November: Defend the 2016 map and win either Pennsylvania, Wisconsin or Michigan, reports CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. “Not two of three. Not three of three. Just one of three,” Stepien told CBS News on a call with reporters.
“The president didn’t win with 270 electoral votes on the floor. He won with over 300,” Stepien said of the 2016 map. The president’s new campaign manager also pointed to opportunities to flip Minnesota, New Hampshire and Maine. “We talk about defending territory, but those states that were near misses in 2016 provide optionality and additional pathways to 270,” he added. President Trump lost the Granite State by just over 2,700 votes. Trump campaign senior advisor Jason Miller announced the president’s reelection bid will launch an ad buy in Minnesota this week. The Trump campaign has reserved more than $200 million worth of TV ads between Labor Day and Election Day, though aides can cancel or adjust spending any time. The Trump campaign announced a rally Thursday at an airport hangar in Letrobe, Pennsylvania. Campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh says the campaign event will be “partially inside, but largely an outdoor event,” and will adhere to local and state guidelines. Last week’s Trump rally drew over a thousand attendees in New Hampshire, but outdoor gatherings of more than 250 people are prohibited in Pennsylvania under state law, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced a statewide initiative aimed at registering voters and recruiting poll workers ahead of the November election, reports CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman. The secretary of state is partnering with Ohio barbershops and salons. LaRose said that barbershops and beauty salons are the centers of communities across the state. “It is important that Ohio’s poll workers reflect the diversity of the state,” LaRose said. Pastor John T. Coats II, who was at the announcement, noted that this initiative presents people with a way to engage in the democratic process and to ensure that fair voting occurs.
“When you volunteer to work the polls, you will never forget that experience of helping men and women participate in the democratic process,” Coats said. LaRose told reporters that it is not too late to implement reforms for voting this fall, including when it pertains to postage paid on absentee return envelopes. LaRose noted that is one reform he is pushing the state legislature to pass. In addition, LaRose, who faces criticism for limiting mail ballot drop boxes to one per county, said he would “love” to see more ballot drop boxes, but added that he does not believe he has the legal authority to add more. “The best program for returning your absentee ballot is to put a stamp on it or even better, if we can provide that postage paid, then it is really easy,” LaRose said.
Pennsylvania counties received nearly 100,000 mail-in ballots after election day in the state’s primary, according to a tally from the secretary of state presented in a court case over counting late ballots in Pennsylvania today. CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak reports that’s over double the number of votes President Trump won the state by in 2016. All but about 9,000 of those ballots were counted in this year’s primary due to an executive order from the governor that allowed a half dozen counties facing civil unrest at the time to count ballots they received a week after election day.
For now, any ballots that arrive after 8 p.m. on Election Day in November won’t be counted. The Pennsylvania secretary of state originally opposed a lawsuit asking that counties count ballots received a week after Election Day so long as they’re postmarked by Election Day. But after a warning from the Postal Service in July that its “delivery standards” and the mail-in ballot return timeline in the state are inconsistent, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar requested that the state Supreme Court let counties count ballots received three days after the election if postmarked by Election Day.
Before a Commonwealth Court judge acting as special master for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Monday, she said her position changed because the USPS letter showed that all counties will be affected by mail delays. “This is not six counties,” she said. “This is an even distribution with the fact that people’s ballots are delivered late.” A lawyer for the state Senate’s Republican leaders questioned whether the timeline issues outlined in the July letter were new changes, but Boockvar was adamant the agency was making changes. “It may not use the word delays, but it means delays,” she said. Top Republicans in the state House are intervening in the case; they strongly oppose the request for third parties to return ballots. They plan to bring to the stand Bruce Marks, who won a term as a state senator after a judge found his opponent had engaged in ballot harvesting and voter fraud in a 1993 election. Senate Republican leaders have introduced a bill to move the ballot request deadline a week earlier rather than moving the return date back, and plan to argue against the plaintiffs as well. The special master is slated to turn over her findings to the state Supreme Court Friday.
The House Oversight Committee is not done with Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. A week ago, DeJoy testified before the committee where he was repeatedly asked to provide documentation and data used to justify recent changes to USPS policy. Today, Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney notified committee members of her intent to subpoena DeJoy for those documents, reports CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte. According to a statement today, DeJoy “has not produced a single additional document since the House and Senate hearings were held.”
IN THE SENATE
A year ago, Senator Ed Markey faced two challengers and was behind in polling by double digits to Congressman Joe Kennedy, who hadn’t entered the race yet, but in the past year, Markey has put on a fight to make Tuesday a more competitive race than many expected, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. Markey is facing off Tuesday against Congressman Joe Kennedy III, the 39-year-old grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, in the Democratic Senate primary for a seat that will likely remain Democratic no matter who wins.
Recent public polling has Markey up, but the Kennedy campaign hopes a coalition of voters will show up on Election Day to put the legacy into the Senate. “We are feeling the higher this turnout goes, the better the turnout for Joe Kennedy is,” Kennedy’s campaign manager Nick Clemons told CBS News. “We know our voters are more likely to vote on Election Day. They’re not early voters, they’re not vote-by-mail folks, so we’re pushing our coalition out the door, phone banking, texting, everything we can do to get them out to vote.” If Kennedy loses, he would be the first Kennedy to ever lose an election in Massachusetts since John F. Kennedy entered Congress in 1947.
IN THE HOUSE
Monday was the last day for incumbent Congressman Richard Neal and challenger Alex Morse to make their pitches to voters. The two are running in a competitive Democratic primary for the 1st District, the state’s largest Congressional seat. Morse has established himself as the progressive candidate, backed by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Justice Democrats group, who is trying to continue their streak of upsets.
Neal has been in office since 1988 and holds a powerful role as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He’s been backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and has received multiple campaign contributions from pharmaceutical and medical companies, a central criticism from Morse’s campaign.
Like other progressive challengers, Morse has tried to frame the race as a referendum on the future of the party. Stevie O’Hanlon runs communications for the Sunrise Movement, a group focused on climate change that has helped with ground operations for prior progressive challengers. He told CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro that hundreds of Sunrise Movement volunteers are working to help Morse’s campaign.
“2020 has been a big year for progressives. After the Bernie Sanders campaign, there were so many headlines saying the progressive movement is over. And the last six months have shown there’s a lot of energy and momentum,” O’Hanlon told Navarro.
Morse’s campaign was sidetracked earlier this summer, after allegations of inappropriate behavior with students during his tenure as a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. But reporting by The Intercept showed the allegations were part of a larger plan by members of the college’s Democratic party to get a position working in Neal’s office. Neal has denied any involvement, while Morse called the situation a “backroom coordinated political smear.”
During debates, Congressman Neal has gone after Morse’s record as mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts. Neal, who helped write the CARES Act coronavirus relief package, attacked Morse for saying he would vote against it, calling it “the most irresponsible statement during the course of this campaign” and pointing to support Holyoke has received from the act. Neal has easily led Morse in fundraising, with $3.85 million raised and $2.7 million cash on hand. Morse’s campaign announced over the weekend it had reached the $2 million mark, and received recent donations from Ocasio-Cortez’s Courage to Change PAC and from actress Susan Sarandon. As of Monday morning, at least 22,000 Democrats in the district have been mailed a ballot, with 17,476 returned. The district has just over 91,961 registered voters.
On Tuesday, freshman Democrat Abby Finkenauer is releasing her fifth campaign ad this cycle. Navarro obtained an early release of the ad, which will run on broadcast and cable and features Finkenauer’s grandfather, who served in the Dubuque Fire Department. “I think of him when I’m working to lower drug prices and fighting to help family farms survive. For me – like my Grandfather – serving others is personal,” she says in the ad. Finkenauer flipped Iowa’s 1st District in 2018 by about 5 points, after Trump won it by 3 points in 2016. Finkenauer is facing Republican Ashley Hinson, a former journalist turned state representative, in the general election this November.