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Abby Livingston - Alexa Ura - Valeria Olivares August 2, 2020 6:02AM (UTC)

This article originally appeared on The Texas Tribune.

WASHINGTON — In a rare moment in the Trump era, several Texas Republicans pushed back against President Donald Trump on Thursday when he floated in a tweet the idea of delaying the presidential election in November.

The president does not have the legal authority to move Election Day; that power resides with Congress.

Trump's tweet came just 16 minutes after the U.S. Commerce Department released data showing the nation's gross domestic product had fallen 33% in the second quarter of 2020. In it, he said, "With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???!"

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Like voter fraud overall, examples of fraudulent voting using mail-in ballots remain rare. And there's no difference between mail-in voting and absentee voting, despite the framing in the tweet.

Democrats and Republicans respond

Democrats have long worried that Trump would move in that direction. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump's Democratic rival, predicted as much in April. "Mark my words, I think he is gonna try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can't be held," he said at the time. "That's the only way he thinks he can possibly win."

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Republicans, however, were privately stunned. Publicly, a cascade of Texas GOP officeholders pushed back against the president's suggestion.

Most notably, the state's junior senator — who devoted much of his childhood years studying the Constitution — responded immediately. CNN quoted U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz as saying that, while election fraud is a "serious problem" that needs to be fought, "the election should not be delayed."

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn downplayed the president's remark.

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"I think it's a joke, I guess, I don't know how else to interpret it," he told reporters. "Obviously he doesn't have the power to do that.

"So, I mean, so, all you guys in the press, your heads will explode and you'll write about it. I don't know what his motivation is. He can't do it," he said.

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There are few documented cases of absentee voting fraud in Texas in recent years, representing a minuscule sample in a state where millions of legitimate votes are cast in every general election. The Texas Legislature has taken action to reduce the likelihood of fraud even further. In 2017, state lawmakers passed a measure to widen the definition of mail-in ballot fraud, boost penalties for certain offenses and strengthen rules for signature verification on those ballots. The legislation, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law, also requires local election officials to notify voters when their ballots are rejected and limits who can assist voters using the vote-by-mail option.

Abbott asserted the integrity of the Texas election system in a statement. "Texas has adopted procedures and guidelines to ensure safe and fair elections, including extending the early in-person voting period, and the elections in Texas will occur on November 3rd," he said.

In the House, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, pressed his Republican colleagues to clarify where they stood on the issue.

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"An urgent question for every Republican officeholder and candidate: Do you support President Trump's unconstitutional effort to postpone the November election for the first time in American history in order to continue his march to tyranny?" Doggett tweeted early Thursday.

"No, it's not even a question. No delays. We should demand safe and secure elections. If you requested an absentee ballot, you should use it. And states should not use universal mail-in, which is indeed vulnerable to mistakes and abuse," U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, tweeted in response to Trump.

GOP state legislators also weighed in.

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"No sir. @realDonaldTrump this is not even up for discussion," tweeted state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler.

"We must do all we can to ensure election integrity. Absolutely. But, no way we should entertain delaying the election. Should not even be up for discussion," tweeted state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth.

State Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, responded to Trump's tweet with a GIF that read, "That's not how this works! That's not how any of this works!"

Privately, Texas Republicans expressed more pointed astonishment and worry that the president's comments reinforced Democratic charges that Trump is trying to unduly influence the election. One exasperated Texas GOP delegation staffer compared the moment to World War II and noted that even then, the country was able to conduct elections.

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Can Trump legally delay Election Day? 

Setting the date for Election Day is not within the presidential powers. The Constitution empowers Congress to set the election date. That tradition stretches back to 1845, when Congress first established that Election Day would be the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November in every fourth year.

Elections are overseen by state officials but mostly run by local election officers who are responsible for managing polling places and counting votes. Their responsibilities include fielding applications from absentee voters and processing those ballots.

Democrats and civil rights organizations openly fear that statements like the one Trump made Thursday will undermine the legitimacy of the November election, when an increased number of voters are expected to vote by mail during the pandemic.

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"Suggesting the possibility of moving the General Election is an extraordinary statement from a sitting President and is sure to create confusion amongst voters about presidential powers in relation to the election," Trevor Potter, president of Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement. "The country has voted in general elections in the middle of a Civil War, two World Wars and the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, not to mention the Great Depression."

While universal mail-in voting has been in use in other states for many years, absentee voting is typically lightly used in Texas. People who are registered to vote in Texas must meet strict eligibility criteria to apply for a ballot they can fill out at home and mail in. The option is generally reserved for voters who are 65 and older, those who cite a disability or an illness, and those who will be out of the county they're registered in during the election period.

As voters grapple with the risks that could come from casting their ballots in person, the pandemic has ushered in a growing debate over whether to expand the parameters of who qualifies to vote absentee. In other states that also require voters to present an "excuse" to obtain a mail-in ballot, Democratic and Republican officials have either moved to expand absentee voting due to the pandemic or allowed voters to use the coronavirus as a reason to vote by mail during the upcoming elections. Texas' Republican leaders, by contrast, have refused to budge on the issue and have successfully fought off efforts by state Democrats and civil rights groups to force an expansion through the courts.

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 


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Voting in Alaska Will Look Different Amid Pandemic

By BECKY BOHRER, Associated Press

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Voting in Alaska will look a bit different amid the coronavirus pandemic, with sanitizing and masking stations expected at polling sites and markings to promote social distancing during Tuesday’s primary.

A large number of requested mail-in ballots also could mean some races won’t be settled on election night. Election officials are aiming to begin counting absentee ballots on Aug. 25, though the count could start earlier.

The recurring challenge of recruiting election workers has been complicated by the pandemic. Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, who oversees elections, said some of the older Alaskans the Division of Elections traditionally relies on had been reluctant to commit because of virus concerns, which forced the division to get more creative.

The state upped the pay, allowed nonprofits or organizations raising money for charity to “adopt” and run a precinct and offered state workers a paid day from their usual jobs to work polling sites. There also was a hokey cat meme meant to attract high school students.

A week ahead of the primary, Division Director Gail Fenumiai said voting is expected to take place at all precincts.

Workers will be required to wear protective gear, such as face masks; regularly disinfect high-touch areas; try to keep voting booths 6 feet (2 meters) apart and encourage waiting voters to maintain social distance and wear masks. One early voting site, sprawled in the lobby of a state building in Juneau, had a table offering voters masks, gloves and squirts of hand sanitizer before they sign in.

The division said distancing guidelines could limit the number of booths in some locations and that, along with potentially fewer workers at some sites, could mean longer wait times.

Joshua Decker, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, said he’s concerned about potential long lines that could discourage people from waiting to vote. Lawmakers gave the division the option to conduct elections by mail during the pandemic, but Meyer opted to stick with the state’s current hybrid system, which includes in-person sites and the ability to vote absentee for any reason.

Decker said there are concerns with an all-mail voting system, particularly in rural Alaska, where mail service can be spotty. The state also is required to provide language assistance to voters, including in a number of Alaska Native languages.

He described as unfortunate the division's decision to send, unprompted, absentee ballot applications to registered voters 65 and older when he said the distribution should have been broader. His group is not part of a pending lawsuit challenging the division's actions as discriminatory. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk for severe illness with COVID-19 increases with age.

It's not clear how brisk the in-person vote will be. The division said it has mailed about 54,000 requested ballots; that doesn't include ballots requested by email or fax for return by mail or fax. For comparison, it mailed about 9,800 for the 2018 primary.

Voter turnout in primaries the last 10 years has been as high as 39% in 2014 and as low as 17% in 2016, according to division statistics. Tuesday's election will decide the party nominees for U.S. Senate and House. There also are some closely watched legislative races.

Karen Rehfeld, a retired state worker in Juneau, said she is a consistent voter and figured when she retired she should be a poll worker.

“It's a really important thing to do,” she said. “You see people that you don’t see all the time and you just make it available for our democracy to work.”

Rehfeld said she's worked several election cycles and will help run a polling site at the state ferry terminal Tuesday. She said she takes care of her grandchildren and wants to be careful.

“I don’t want to get sick and I don’t want them to get sick. It is something that you think about,” Rehfeld, who recently turned 66, said, adding later: “I think we're going to follow the rules and I think we should be able to take care of ourselves. That's the plan.”

Lisa Keller's organization Running Free Alaska, which leads running programs for incarcerated women and seeks to provide support for them in the running community when they're released, has adopted a precinct in Anchorage's Government Hill area. Keller said she recalled seeing generally older women when she has gone to vote in the past and felt this year she should “step up.”

Keller, a self-described “hyper-social distancer," said she is co-chairing the precinct with her 20-year-old daughter, and other members of the organization will be working, too. She said she feels good about the plan, the division's training materials and what she expects to be a roomy location in a school gym.

“I feel like the state Division of Elections has done everything they possibly can to make it as safe as possible,” Keller said. “I think I have more nervousness associated right now with being a first-time chairperson, just making sure everything is done correctly. That's my biggest worry at this point.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tags: Alaska

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