The Stew Reporting on government and politics

Pandemic primaries

Politics | Wyoming’s Democratic contest could be a blueprint for the rest of 2020
by Harvest Prude
Posted 4/23/20, 05:54 pm

The results of Wyoming’s Democratic primary surprised almost no one, but the state’s ability to hold a decisive election in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic impressed observers across the country.

Former Vice President Joe Biden won by a landslide, Wyoming Democrats announced Monday after holding the contest with mail-in ballots only. Election officials in other states took note, especially after Wisconsin’s election earlier in the month caused a national controversy. Partisan wrangling in the Badger State resulted in an in-person election that was temporarily postponed, then reinstated the day before, and now is suspected of contributing to the spread of COVID-19.

“We fully believe our experience with this is kind of a standard-setter for Wyoming,” said Nina Hebert, communications director for the Wyoming Democratic Party.

Democrats initially planned to hold caucuses in the state on April 4. Participants would have been able to vote in person or mail or drop off their ballots. Due to the pandemic, party officials moved it to last Friday after having mailed ballots to every Wyoming Democrat who had registered by March 20. After a day of sorting and overnight verification, the Associated Press and other media outlets called the race for Biden on Sunday.

So far, every state with a planned March or April primary has postponed it, expanded mail-in voting options, or extended the timeframe for returning absentee ballots. Some opted for a combination of all three—except Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, lost a last-ditch effort on April 6 to delay his state’s election until June. The following day, about 400,000 people, many clad in face masks, headed to the polls. At least 19 people who worked at voting sites or voted in person have tested positive for the coronavirus, the state’s health department announced this week.

“Both parties are trying to avoid being the next Wisconsin,” Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican, said.

Thirty-three states allow no-excuse absentee voting. Five states—Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington—hold mail-in elections for all. While many Democrats are pushing for following Wyoming’s example and moving to a vote-by-mail system, not all states are prepared to do so. Hebert said Wyoming had an easier time making the switch because Democrats already had planned to have hybrid caucuses that included mail-in ballots. She said turnout was about 38 percent.

Some states—and voters—resist upending established election systems to adopt something new. Last-minute changes to procedures risk confusing voters and depressing turnout. States that have low rates of absentee voting may face additional challenges.

About 98 percent of voters in Kentucky typically cast their ballots in person, Adams said. The state’s election officials delayed its primary, originally scheduled for May 19, to June 23. They are considering a range of options such as extending early voting and allowing people to vote in person over more days. Adams said his office also will encourage more people to request absentee ballots.

Like Wisconsin, Kentucky has a Democratic governor with a Republican-controlled legislature. Adams said they’re starting talks early to avoid partisan brinkmanship.

Wyoming’s secretary of state did not respond to an inquiry about how the state planned to hold other upcoming elections, including a Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in August.

“Elections are a hallmark, a bedrock of American democracy, and these are not things that really should be delayed and should be held in a timely manner, and in the safest manner possible,” Hebert said.

Associated Press/Photo by John Minchillo (file) Associated Press/Photo by John Minchillo (file) A Shake Shack restaurant in Brooklyn, N.Y., receives a bread delivery last month.

Not small enough

More than 100 publicly traded companies, including Shake Shack, Potbelly, and Taco Cabana, received millions of dollars from a forgivable loan fund Congress created specifically for small businesses, nonprofit groups, and houses of worship.

Lawmakers designed the Paycheck Protection Program, included in the $2 trillion economic relief act, to help companies with fewer than 500 employees keep workers on the payroll. The funds quickly ran dry, and Congress gave the program an additional $310 billion on Tuesday.

The Small Business Administration said the loans that went to large companies “comprise less than 10 percent of the loans made.” The program’s intent was “not for big public companies that had access to capital,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., told Fox News that the money “needs to go to mom and pop shops.”

Shake Shack announced on Monday it would return its $10 million loan. —H.P.

Associated Press/Photo by Amr Alfiky (file) Associated Press/Photo by Amr Alfiky (file) Facebook on Apple’s App Store

Prior restraint

Facebook is banning users from promoting protests against state stay-at-home orders. The social media giant has blocked posts about anti-quarantine protests in California, Nebraska, and New Jersey.

Facebook said it removed posts that encouraged actions prohibited by state orders. Officials in New Jersey and Nebraska clarified they did not tell Facebook to take the posts down but did provide information about their specific state’s requirements.

On Twitter, Donald Trump Jr. accused Facebook of seeking to “quash people’s free speech” by discouraging political demonstrations. Several conservative groups, including Minnesota Gun Rights and the Michigan Conservative Coalition, have helped organize some of the largest Facebook groups calling for such protests. —H.P.

Associated Press/Photo by Mary Altaffer (file) Associated Press/Photo by Mary Altaffer (file) Medical personnel at the Samaritan’s Purse field hospital in New York City’s Central Park

WHO’s aid

The White House budget office is redirecting funds initially slotted for the World Health Organization to other groups. Some of the money will go to the Red Cross, Samaritan’s Purse, and other international relief organizations, the New York Post reported.

President Donald Trump has called the WHO “China-centric” for repeating erroneous claims from the Chinese government about the spread of the coronavirus early on.

The United States provided about 10 percent of the WHO’s annual budget. —H.P.

Russian twist

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released a report affirming that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election with the goal of helping Donald Trump win.

The results of a three-year investigation by the Republican-led committee agreed with the U.S. intelligence community’s previous findings on the subject. It is the fourth installment in a review of Russian interference. There will be five reports in total. —H.P.

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Harvest Prude

Harvest is a political reporter for WORLD's Washington Bureau. She is a World Journalism Institute and Patrick Henry College graduate. Harvest resides in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @HarvestPrude.

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    Posted: Fri, 04/24/2020 08:29 pm

    Russian twist

    doesn't say much. Is this Mueller's on-going probe to prove Trump is a Russian operative?

    I can't believe Russia would want Trump to become Pres.

    Hillary was giving Russia anything they wanted, and Pelosi would have been ok with that. 

    So what are they going to do about Russia? Or do they just want to know if Russia interferred? 

    Is the Russian interference supposed to invalidate Trump's Presidency ?  

    The Senate report  is mostly redacted.