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National
AP
Record avalanche of early votes transforms the 2020 election

More than 22 million Americans have already cast ballots in the 2020 election, a record-shattering avalanche of early votes driven both by Democratic enthusiasm and a pandemic that has transformed the way the nation votes.

The 22.2 million ballots submitted as of Friday night represents 16% of all the votes cast in the 2016 presidential election, even as eight states are not yet reporting their totals and voters still have more than two weeks to cast ballots. Americans’ rush to vote is leading election experts to predict that a record 150 million votes may be cast and turnout rates could be higher than in any presidential election since 1908.

“It’s crazy,” said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who has long tracked voting for his site ElectProject.org. McDonald’s analysis shows roughly 10 times as many people have voted compared with this point in 2016.

“We can be certain this will be a high-turnout election,” McDonald said.

So far the turnout has been lopsided, with Democrats outvoting Republicans by a 2-1 ratio in the 42 states included in The Associated Press count. Republicans have been bracing themselves for this early Democratic advantage for months, as they’ve watched President Donald Trump rail against mail-in ballots and raise unfounded worries about fraud. Polling, and now early voting, suggest the rhetoric has turned his party’s rank and file away from a method of voting that, traditionally, they dominated in the weeks before Election Day.

That gives Democrats a tactical advantage in the final stretch of the campaign. In many critical battleground states, Democrats have “banked” a chunk of their voters and can turn their time and money toward harder-to-find infrequent voters.

But it does not necessarily mean Democrats will lead in votes by the time ballots are counted. Both parties anticipate a swell of Republican votes on Election Day that could, in a matter of hours, dramatically shift the dynamic.

“The Republican numbers are going to pick up,” said John Couvillon, a GOP pollster who is tracking early voting. “The question is at what velocity, and when?”

Couvillon said Democrats cannot rest on their voting lead, but Republicans are themselves making a big gamble. A number of factors, from rising virus infections to the weather, can impact in-person turnout on Election Day. “If you’re putting all your faith into one day of voting, that’s really high risk,” Couvillon said.

That’s why, despite Trump’s rhetoric, his campaign and party are encouraging their own voters to cast ballots by mail or early and in-person. The campaign, which has been sending volunteers and staffers into the field for months despite the pandemic, touts a swell in voter registration in key swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania — a sharp reversal from the usual pattern as a presidential election looms.

But it’s had limited success in selling absentee voting. In key swing states, Republicans remain far less interested in voting by mail.

In Pennsylvania, more than three-quarters of the more than 437,000 ballots sent through the mail so far have been from Democrats. In Florida, half of all ballots sent through the mail so far have been from Democrats and less than a third of them from Republicans. Even in Colorado, a state where every voter is mailed a ballot and Republicans usually dominate the first week of voting, only 19% of ballots returned have been from Republicans.

“This is all encouraging, but three weeks is a lifetime,” Democratic data strategist Tom Bonier said of the early vote numbers. “We may be midway through the first quarter and Democrats have put a couple of points on the board.”

The massive amount of voting has occurred without any of the violent skirmishes at polling places that some activists and law enforcement officials feared. It has featured high-profile errors — 100,000 faulty mail ballots sent out in New York, 50,000 in Columbus, Ohio, and a vendor supplying that state and Pennsylvania blaming delays in sending ballots on overwhelming demand. But there’s little evidence of the mass disruption that some feared as election offices had to abruptly shift to deal with the influx of early voting.

But there have been extraordinary lines and hourslong wait times in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina as they’ve opened in-person early voting. The delays were largely a result of insufficient resources to handle the surge, something advocates contend is a form of voter suppression.

Republicans argue that these signs of enthusiasm are meaningless — Democratic early voters are people who would have voted anyway, they say. But an AP analysis of the early vote shows 8% of early voters had never cast a ballot before, and 13.8% had voted in half or fewer of previous elections for which they were eligible.

The data also show voters embracing mail voting, which health officials say is the safest way to avoid coronavirus infection while voting. Of the early voters, 82% cast ballots through the mail and 18% in person. Black voters cast 10% of the ballots cast, about the same as their share of the national electorate, according to the AP analysis of data from L2, a political data firm. That’s a sign that those voters, who have been less likely to vote by mail than white people and Latinos, have warmed to the method.

Mail ballots so far have skewed toward older voters, with half coming from voters over age 64. Traditionally, younger and minority voters send their mail ballots in closer to Election Day or vote in person.

The mail ballots already returned in several states dwarf the entire total in prior elections. In Wisconsin, more than five times as many mail ballots have been cast compared with the entire number in 2016. North Carolina has seen nearly triple the number so far.

In-person early voting began this week in several major states and also broke records, particularly in crowded, Democratic-leaning metropolitan areas. In Texas, Houston’s Harris County saw a record 125,000 ballots cast. In Georgia, hourslong lines threaded from election offices through much of the state’s urban areas.

Tunde Ezekiel, a 39-year-old lawyer and Democrat who voted early in Atlanta on Thursday, said he wanted to be certain he had a chance to oust Trump from office: “I don’t know what things are going to look like on Election Day. ... And I didn’t want to take any chances.”

The obvious enthusiasm among Democrats has cheered party operatives, but they note that it’s hard to tell which way turnout will eventually fall. Republicans may be just as motivated, but saving themselves for Election Day.

“High turnout can benefit either side,” Bonier said. “It just depends.”

———

Associated Press writers Kate Brumback in Atlanta and Pia Deshpande in Chicago contributed to this report.


Politics
AP
Justices to weigh Trump census plan to exclude noncitizens

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed Friday to take up President Donald Trump’s policy, blocked by a lower court, to exclude people living in the U.S. illegally from the census count that will be used to allocate seats in the House of Representatives.

Never in U.S. history have immigrants been excluded from the population count that determines how House seats, and by extension Electoral College votes, are divided among the states, a three-judge federal count said in September when it held Trump’s policy illegal.

The justices put the case on a fast track, setting arguments for Nov. 30. A decision is expected by the end of the year or early in January, when Trump has to report census numbers to the House.

Trump’s high court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, could take part in the case if, as seems likely, she is confirmed by then.

Last year, the court by a 5-4 vote barred Trump from adding a census question asking people about their citizenship. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last month, was part of that slim majority. Barrett would take Ginsburg’s seat.

“President Trump has repeatedly tried — and failed — to weaponize the census for his attacks on immigrant communities. The Supreme Court rejected his attempt last year and should do so again,” said American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Dale Ho, representing a coalition of immigrant advocacy groups that challenged Trump’s plan in court.

Trump left it to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, to figure out how many immigrants are not living legally in each state.

The outcome of the census case could affect the distribution of political power for the next 10 years. The census also helps determine the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal funding annually.

The administration told the court that the president retains “discretion to exclude illegal aliens from the apportionment based on their immigration status.”

Trump’s violation of federal law is “not particularly close or complicated,” the ACLU said in a court filing arguing that the court shouldn’t hear the case.

The Supreme Court separately allowed the administration to end the actual census count this week, blocking a court order that would have kept the count going until the end of the month.

The court did not take action on two other administration appeals of controversial policies on asylum seekers and the border wall that also were ruled illegal by lower courts.

Since early last year, the administration has made asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings, which has forced tens of thousands of people to return to Mexico.

Known informally as “Remain in Mexico,” the policy became a key pillar of the administration’s response to a surge of asylum-seeking families from Central America at the southern border. It also drew criticism for having people wait in dangerous cities.

The administration also is appealing a ruling that the administration can’t spend more than Congress authorized for border security. After Congress refused to give Trump all the money he wanted for the wall, he declared a national emergency at the border and Defense Department officials transferred billions of dollars to the project.

Lower courts sided with states and environmental groups that challenged the transfer as a violation of the Constitution’s provision giving Congress the power to determine spending. A separate suit from members of Congress also is making its way to the court.

The justices blocked the court rulings in both the asylum seekers and border wall cases, leaving the policies in effect. Arguments wouldn’t heard before next year and the issues would have much less significance if Joe Biden were to become president. He could rescind Trump’s policy forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico, for example.


Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett speaks during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP)


Local
Yakima County auditor reports "strong returns" for first day of voting
  • Updated

The Yakima County Auditor’s Office reported strong returns on the first day of voting.

The elections office had received 6,958 ballots as of Friday, a return rate of about 6%.

That count is more than double the number of ballots received in the first few days of returns during the 2016 presidential election. The county received 2,960 ballots as of Oct. 24 of that year. Turnout in that election was 71%.

Yakima County has conducted elections by mail since 2005. Ballots were mailed to voters earlier this week, and are due at 8 p.m. Nov. 3. They can be returned to red county drop boxes or through the U.S. Postal Service. Mailed ballots need to be postmarked by Nov. 3.

The Yakima County election teams will be collecting from the red box drop sites twice as often as usual. Any voter who sees anything “out of the ordinary” should call the elections office at 509-574-1340, County Auditor Charles Ross said.

The office is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for anyone interested in viewing the process. Voters can check the status of their returned ballot at the website VoteWa.gov.


Ld13
spotlight
13th District: Democratic challenger faces uphill fight against GOP incumbent
  • Updated

Based on electoral history, Democratic challenger Eduardo Castañeda Diaz is facing a steep hill in his attempt to unseat Republican incumbent Tom Dent in the state’s 13th Legislative District.

The district, which covers all of Kittitas and Lincoln counties and parts of Yakima and Grant counties, is considered solidly Republican. Dent won his last election, in 2018, with 71% of the vote. More recently, in last year’s special election to replace former Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, Republican Alex Ybarra beat Democrat Steve Verhey by a roughly three-to-one margin.

Dent, a rancher and flight instructor, also has a significant money lead with $129,000 in his campaign fund, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. Castañeda Diaz, a National Guard combat engineer, has $21,335.

Those aren’t their only differences. They have contrasting approaches to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic; funding education; accepting corporate campaign donations; and solving the state budget, which is projected to face a $4.5 billion hole over the next biennium.

The following will address how each of them feels on those and other issues.

COVID-19 pandemic

Dent: The incumbent believes the state started well in its reaction to the novel coronavirus. Shutting down in March was necessary, he said, but he has issues with how the response has progressed.

“We did not want to overwhelm our health care system,” Dent said. “It made a lot of sense. We didn’t exactly know how what the virus was about or how contagious it would be or how widespread it would become. ... As the curve began to flatten, our communication level — and I mean with the Legislature — with the governor was nil, I mean nonexistent at best.”

It’s important to follow social distancing guidelines and take personal responsibility for not spreading the virus, but that can be done with fewer restrictions, he said.

“We can open up and still follow many of those guidelines,” Dent said.

Castañeda Diaz: The levels of unemployment and hardships faced by small businesses are tragic, the challenger said, but the alternative is the loss of more lives. He believes Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start plan, though not perfect, has provided a framework for protecting as many people as possible.

Castañeda Diaz believes those harmed economically need economic relief and said he’d support that, but he doesn’t believe the state should reopen faster than necessary to provide it.

“It’s unfortunate that a lot of small businesses have been affected,” he said. “But the other side of the coin is people dying at out-of-control rates.”

He pointed to an April Facebook poll Dent posted asking constituents whether they wanted to “restart Washington’s economy” as an example of bad policy research.

“The state’s response should be done in accordance with the advice of scientific experts and the medical community,” Castañeda Diaz said. “We should be listening to epidemiologists, doctors, public health experts.”

State budget

Castañeda Diaz: The Democrat believes the root of the state’s budget problem is on the revenue side, with a tax system that the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy last year deemed the nation’s most regressive. That means low- and middle-income people are carrying a disproportionate amount of the state’s tax burden.

As a child of formerly undocumented immigrants who grew up in poverty and “bootstrapped my own education,” Castañeda Diaz doesn’t believe the state needs to cut programs to balance its budget.

“In the long term we can avoid these kinds of issues by advocating for a just tax system,” he said.

Dent: The Republican believes that, with the current budget projecting an 18% increase in spending over the last budget, there must be fat that can be trimmed. He hears that consistently from constituents, he said.

“They do not want a tax increase,” Dent said. “They want us to live within our means. And I think it’s very important that we do so.”

The pandemic has left too many people out of work to even consider raising taxes right now, he said.

“If we were able to increase our budget by 18%, we should be able go in there and trim it back without hurting people,” he said.

Funding K-12 education

Dent: Dent believes the state, as mandated by the Washington Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision , is adequately funding education.

“We met our responsibility and satisfied the Supreme Court,” he said. “We did what we had to do. ... We have other things to fix and we need to do that. We went way out there and put a lot of money into education. We did the right thing.”

Castañeda Diaz: Castañeda Diaz argues that McCleary isn’t enough. He has a teacher on his campaign team and said the reality is there are still funding shortages, especially in areas with higher rates of poverty.

“Teachers shouldn’t be buying school supplies for students,” he said.

Campaign donations

Castañeda Diaz: The funding gap between the two campaigns is due in part to corporations and political action committees. The PDC shows that more than half of Dent’s money has come from businesses and PACs.

All of Castañeda Diaz’ has come from individuals, something he’s proud of.

“I know I have an uphill battle,” he said. “And it might not be this time around, but this is a movement we’re creating.”

Dent: The incumbent argues that lobbyists and businesses support him based on his record, not on the promise of any kind of quid pro quo.

“I don’t ask for those contributions; they come,” Dent said. “Different companies, corporations, lobbyists give us money because they feel like we’re doing a good job and we’re reasonable people they can sit down and deal with. I’m not beholden to anybody. Nobody. My 140,000 or so constituents, that’s who I represent, that’s who I work for. And everybody knows that. People in Olympia know that. These corporations know that.”

The better candidate?

Castañeda Diaz: As a member of the military and a Second Amendment advocate, Castañeda Diaz believes he’s a different sort of progressive than those who have struggled previously in the 13th. His background as a farmworker has informed his politics, making him an advocate for traditionally marginalized groups. That combination — support for gun rights and the military alongside support for immigrant workers and LGBTQ people — makes him unique as a candidate, he said.

“I’m pro-Second Amendment, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to sacrifice civil rights,” he said.

Dent: As an incumbent with a record to point to, Dent is a known quantity, one he says his constituents know they can trust. He shares the region’s conservative values and has emphasized seeking public input on policy.

“My legislative priorities were formulated from actively listening to the community over the last several years and I am dedicated to fulfilling my legislative responsibilities,” he said.


Governor
spotlight
Inslee faces Republican challenger Culp in bid for third term as governor

Washington’s gubernatorial race will pit Jay Inslee, who is seeking a third term, against Republican Loren Culp.

Culp, police chief for the city of Republic, bills himself as a defender of individual rights and the Constitution. He said on his website that he would bring real-world experience and a common-sense approach to the position.

“Career politicians have been running the government in Olympia for too long,” Culp said on his website. “It’s time we elect more ‘We the People’ into government positions.”

Inslee, who has served as the state’s governor since 2013, said he’ll remain focused on jobs, education, and clean energy if elected to a third term. A top priority is growing Washington’s innovative industries — including clean energy, information technology, and life sciences — and strengthening existing industries such as aerospace and agriculture.

“As governor, I have worked with legislators across Washington to make progress, including record investments in education, expanding health care to nearly 800,000 Washingtonians, and creating a first-in-the-nation long-term care benefit program for seniors,” Inslee said. “I know that every part of Washington is connected by the values we share and a belief that together we can build a bright future in every corner of our great state.”

The position comes with a four-year term and a salary of $187,353.

Inslee took the time to respond to several questions about his continued plan to combat COVID-19 and issues specific to the Yakima Valley.

Culp declined comment, with his staff instead referring people to his website.

Q&A with Gov. Jay Inslee

YHR: How should the state approach economic recovery over the next six months? Over the next year?

Inslee: Out of the Great Recession we built one of the strongest economies of any state for both businesses and workers. We are poised to rebuild stronger than ever because we have enacted key policies like the best-paid family and medical leave in the country, overtime protections for workers, expanding health care for hundreds of thousands, historic investments in K-12 and higher education, and passage of the largest transportation package in our state’s history. We must continue on our path to defeating the COVID by masking up and following health experts and reopening our economy responsibly. Our approach to rebuilding our economy will be built around the same innovative spirit Washington state has always stood for.

What’s the best way to navigate enforcement of coronavirus restrictions and mandates, and encouraging voluntary compliance?

Inslee: This is about saving lives and Washingtonians coming together to protect one another. The vast majority of Washingtonians are following health guidance and science to mask up and socially distance. That’s why we are having success beating back this virus. No area more than Yakima has been a symbol of this success.

What needs to be done next on the Yakima River basin integrated water management plan?

Inslee: Founded on 10 years of successful collaboration, the Integrated Plan now has the state and federal authority needed to proceed with both the program and the specific needed projects. The implementation team has made great strides in advancing projects that restore salmon and their habitat, protect shorelines and reduce flooding, conserve municipal water and natural lands, and provide needed water storage and irrigation supply.

The support provided to the Yakima plan is affirmation of what can be done when a community comes together. They have shown a commitment to build a brighter future for agriculture, salmon, and recreation, and to securing that future by enhancing the basin’s water supplies. The plan will allow the basin to be prepared for future droughts and to changes to our snowpack resulting from climate change.

Going forward, we must sustain our collective commitment and demonstrate that we can implement the plan. We have to prove up on the first 10 years of projects, in order to secure authorization for future phases, and to continue to grow the funding needed to make the Plan a reality. With the funding we have in hand, it is time to finish the designs and turn dirt on the authorized projects.