VOTING WARS: Democrats and President Trump dramatically raised the stakes last night over voting in November, both bracing — and digging in — for what could be the most chaotic and contested election in recent memory.
Joe Biden took center stage on the final night of his convention to accept the Democratic presidential nomination and vowed to protect America’s “most sacred Democratic exercise — voting.” He warned American democracy is at “an inflection point,” arguing for light over darkness, optimism over fear, good over evil — and urged Americans to choose “decency, science, and democracy.”
- “This is a life-changing election that will determine America’s future for a very long time,” Biden said in his remarks. “Character is on the ballot. Compassion is on the ballot. Decency, science, democracy. They are all on the ballot.”
Just an hour earlier, President Trump took to Fox News to ramp up his baseless attacks on mail-in voting, arguing Democrats would try to “steal the election” and some states might send ballots to Democrats only. Though he doesn’t have the legal authority to do so, Trump ominously pledged to use law enforcement officials to monitor the election — a day after his press secretary Kayleigh McEnany would not say whether Trump would accept the election results.
- “We’re going to have everything. We’re going to have sheriffs, and we’re going to have law enforcement, and we’re going to hopefully have U.S. attorneys and we’re going to have everybody, and attorneys general,” Trump told Sean Hannity calling in to his Fox show.
Making a plan: Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, vice-presidential nominee Kamala D. Harris and former president Barack Obama all urged viewers to make a “voting plan” and cast their ballots as early as possible given the unique circumstances stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
That full-court press for voters to craft a concrete plan — urging people to text the campaign to help them — was how Biden and the Democrats closed out their convention.
- Julia Louis-Dreyfus hosted the night and opened the program by encouraging people to text the Biden campaign “to learn about all of your voting options and make the best plan for how to vote in your community wherever you are.”
- “If we all vote, there is nothing Facebook, Fox News and Vladimir Putin can do to stop us,” Louis-Dreyfus deadpanned.
The night featured California and Michigan’s secretaries of state, who touted the benefits of mail-in voting and fact-checked Trump’s attempts to undermine the election. Jocelyn Benson (D) and Alex Padilla (D) urged viewers voting from home to request and return their ballots as soon as possible:
- “Voting is the oxygen of our democracy,” Padilla said. “It decides elections and elections change lives. That’s why we’ve seen so many attacks on our right to vote, including many that specifically target working families, young people and communities of color.”
- “Our job is to make sure that everybody can vote safely, whether in person or by mail,” Benson added. “Your job is to make sure you vote.”
- “Let’s be clear: There is absolutely zero difference between voting by mail and voting absentee. Millions of Americans have been voting absentee for decades. Donald Trump, his family, his staff — they all vote by mail,” she added. “In fact, in states like Colorado, Utah and Oregon, voters have been voting by mail for years. Republicans and Democrats agree it is safe.”
- Padilla said Trump “has admitted he is trying to sabotage the post office to undermine voting by mail. It’s a direct attack on our elections.”
- “Mr. Padilla, who is among the ambitious Californians in the mix to replace [Harris] if she becomes vice president, is sending ballots to every registered voter in the state. Ms. Benson sent absentee ballot applications to everyone on the Michigan voter rolls,” the New York Times’s Reid Epstein noted.
The memory of John Lewis, the civil rights leader and Georgia congressman who died last month, was honored and celebrated, too. An emotional tribute to Lewis’s leadership highlighted his lifelong fight for voting rights, featuring celebrities and politicians who implored Americans to pick up his battle. In the wake of Lewis’s passing, Democrats have renewed the push to restore key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act struck down in 2013 by the Supreme Court in 2013 in Lewis’s name as “The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020.”
- “A video juxtaposed images of Lewis’ march across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama — which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — with photographs of Black Lives Matter protests occurring this year. Lewis suffered a fractured skull when he was beaten by a state trooper on the bridge,” according to USA Today.
- “All of these decades later, while he and others of his generation achieved much, we’re still fighting against police brutality and fighting for our voting rights,” Rev. Raphael Warnock, a senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church who is one of the Democrats challenging Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) for the Georgia Senate seat, said in the montage. “And so we best honor him by fighting the fight that he fought.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D), who was considered a possible vice-presidential pick, prefaced the segment and didn’t mince words: “If we fail to exercise our right to vote, we can lose it.”
- “We’ve cried out for justice, we have gathered in our streets to demand change,” she said. “And now, we must pass on the gift John Lewis sacrificed to give us, we must register and we must vote.”
- “So, let’s stand up for our children, our children’s children, and for this great democracy that our ancestors worked to build, and let’s vote.”
Trump’s unsubstantiated attacks on mail-in voting have ushered in professionalized disinformation efforts to undermine confidence in the electoral process.
Our colleague Isaac Stanley-Becker reported last night that FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group aligned with Trump, “is promoting a deceptive digital ad campaign that is stoking fears about mail-in voting and targeting battleground states with high concentrations of minority voters.”
- “The website, called Protect My Vote, warns baselessly that mail balloting results in ‘lost votes and lost rights,’” Isaac reports. “An associated page on Facebook has purchased more than 150 ads, which have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times this month. They appear designed to tap existing anxiety about the integrity of the voting system to convince voters in swing states where minority turnout could be decisive that mail balloting is not reliable amid an uncontained pandemic leading many Americans to consider alternative ways to be heard on Election Day.”
- One of the ads: “Some of the paid posts feature an image of LeBron James and misconstrue a quote from the basketball star, falsely suggesting that when he condemned polling closures as ‘systemic racism and oppression,’ he was linking those closures to the expansion of opportunities to vote by mail. He was not.”
- “This type of voter suppression is one of the most dangerous disinformation tactics we monitor on social media,” Jiore Craig, vice president of GQR, a research firm advising Democratic campaigns on disinformation, told Isaac. “The fact this group is taking statements about genuine voter suppression from people like LeBron James and twisting them to lure people to actual voter suppression messages and misinformation is a testament to how far they will go to keep people from turning out in this election.”
Fact check: “…a Washington Post analysis of data collected by three vote-by-mail states with help from the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) found that officials identified just 372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of deceased people out of about 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, or 0.0025 percent,” our colleague Elise Viebeck reported in June.
Can do that?: “Trump has no authority to deploy local law enforcement officials to monitor elections, although his campaign could hire off-duty police to work the polls, said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California at Irvine,” CNN’s Fredreka Schouten reports. The Trump campaign has previously said it is working to recruit thousands of poll watchers for Election Day.
- “If Trump did so, it likely would trigger legal action from Democrats, who would claim the move amounted to a voter-suppression tactic. And it would have echoes of a case that resulted in a federal court decree that for decades sharply restricted the Republican National Committee’s ‘ballot security’ work without prior judicial approval.”
Marc Elias, an attorney who represents Democrats on voting right, responded:
Even TikTok star and comedian Sarah Cooper broke character to urge viewers to vote – only after mocking one of Trump’s latest rants against mail-in voting. When she was done lip-syncing, she looked at the camera and issued a stark warning in her own words:
- “Let me put this in my own words. I’ve heard Donald Trump say some pretty unhinged things. I’ve heard them over and over and over again. But nothing is more dangerous to our democracy than his attacks on mail-in voting during a pandemic,” said Cooper.
- “Here’s the truth,” she continued. “Donald Trump doesn’t want any of us to vote because he knows he can’t win fair and square. So whether you plan to vote by mail or in person, wearing your mask, it is your vote and it’s your right. Don’t let Donald Trump take that away from you.”
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: What else happened on the last night and final thoughts.
One of the most powerful speakers of the night explained how Biden helped him: “The 13-year-old boy sat in his home, speaking to a cellphone camera and reading, carefully, from a piece of paper. He looked up and told the world how the former vice president, by speaking about his own experience, had helped him overcome a difficult challenge,” the Associated Press’s Will Weissert reports.
- “We stutter,” Brayden said of himself and Biden, who he met on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. Brayden Harrington said Biden showed him how he practiced to overcome his own stutter.
Brayden received encouragement from all over, including former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords:
Pete Buttigieg reminded us of the historic nature of his run: The former South Bend mayor, the first major openly gay presidential candidate in the nation’s history, said “the very ring on my finger … reflects how this country can change.”
- “The day I was born, close to where I’m standing, here in South Bend, the idea of an ‘out’ candidate seeking any federal office at all was laughable,” he said. “Yet earlier this year I campaigned for the presidency, often with my husband at my side, winning delegates to this very convention.”
And Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) coined a sticky nickname for Trump:
The Biden family was front and center: Hunter Biden made his most lengthy public appearance in months alongside his sister Ashley as the duo introduced their dad. Hunter Biden was a central figure in Trump’s impeachment saga and remains a focus of the ongoing investigation in the Republican-controlled Senate that Democrats have dismissed as politically motivated and without merit.
But the granddaughters stole the show: They told the world their “pop” has a few qualities that transcend his day job. He calls a lot. “I don’t necessarily pick up every day, but I have a lot of voice mails,” one of the four quipped of the former vice president’s frequent check-ins.
- Biden also apparently tries to hide his ice cream eating from the former second lady Jill by eating it behind the protection of the freezer door.
But maybe not last night:
Dreyfus brought the jokes: The former “Veep” and “Seinfeld” star was a change of pace from the other hosts this week. Some thought it was pretty good, but others would have preferred a show about nothing.
It was always going to be a risky move:
One of her quips focused on Trump’s widely panned photo-op at St. John’s Episcopal Church:
But it was Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) who felt the Bern: Seven of Biden’s former primary foes reunited for a Zoom-esque chat to swap stories about their party’s nominee. The New Jersey senator played host and the results were everything you hoped for:
The finale showed that virtual is not the same as in-person: Biden and Harris will not set off on some cross-country bus tour. There wasn’t even a balloon drop at the end of Biden’s acceptance speech. (Remember how much the Clintons loved the balloons?) But they did find a way to celebrate, even in masks.
From the courts
BANNON INDICTED ON CONSPIRACY CHARGES: “Federal prosecutors in New York unsealed criminal charges against Stephen K. Bannon, [Trump’s] former chief strategist, and three other men they alleged defrauded donors to a massive crowdfunding campaign that claimed to be raising money for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border,” Matt Zapotosky, Josh Dawsey, Rosalind S. Helderman and Shayna Jacobs report.
The company Trump keeps: “With the indictment of Bannon, prosecutors have now brought criminal charges against more than half a dozen people who worked for Trump’s campaign or his administration or advised him personally,” our colleagues write.
- The White House quickly tried to distance the president from the case: McEnany said Trump had “no involvement in this project” and pointed to Trump’s frustration last month when a portion of a wall that funds were spent on collapsed. Kobach told the New York Times last year the president told him that the project had his blessing.
Prosecutors alleged Bannon received more than a $1 million that was redirected from We Build The Wall, an organization created after the then widely reported $25 million crowdfunding campaign to support the border edifice. Other top Trump allies were connected to the organization, including Kobach, Erik Prince, former congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) and former MLB star Curt Schilling.
- More details: “In a 23-page indictment, prosecutors said Bannon and another organizer, Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage, lied when they claimed they would not take any compensation as part of the campaign.” Bannon kept his portion, redirected to his own organization, and then directed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage.
Bannon was arrested while boating: A law enforcement official said he “was taken into custody off the coast of Westbrook, Conn., while aboard a 150-foot yacht called the Lady May owned by a friend and business associate, Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui — a vocal online critic of the Chinese government who was once close with that country’s intelligence service but is now wanted by authorities in Beijing on charges of fraud, blackmail and bribery,” our colleagues write.
In the agencies
POST OFFICE STILL TARGETED FOR MAJOR CHANGES: “Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has mapped out far more sweeping changes to the U.S. Postal Service than previously disclosed, considering actions that could lead to slower mail delivery in parts of the country and higher prices for some mail services …,” Jacob Bogage, Lisa Rein and Josh Dawsey report.
- The sweeping changes would happen after the election: “They include raising package rates, particularly when delivering the last mile on behalf of big retailers; setting higher prices for service in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico; curbing discounts for nonprofits; requiring election ballots to use first-class postage; and leasing space in Postal Service facilities to other government agencies and companies.”
DeJoy is set to testify in front of a Senate panel today: He’ll then appear before House lawmakers on Monday.
Outside the Beltway
PELOSI BACKS KENNEDY IN TIGHT SENATE PRIMARY: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed Rep. Joe Kennedy in the increasingly bitter Senate Democratic primary in Massachusetts, abandoning her longtime ally Sen. Edward J. Markey a few days after he lodged attacks on the iconic family dynasty,” Paul Kane reports.
- The speaker praised the congressman for helping elect Democrats and noted her familial connection: “I became close to the Kennedy family from then on,” Pelosi told our colleagues of her father’s role running the Maryland campaign for John F. Kennedy’s presidential bid in 1960.
- She was also clearly upset with a viral Markey ad: In the spot, the senator ends with “With all due respect, it’s time to start asking what your country can do for you,” a clear twist on the famous question JFK posed during his inaugural address. “I wasn’t too happy with some of the assault that I saw made on the Kennedy family,” she told our colleague, opinion columnist Karen Tumulty, “and I thought, Joe didn’t ask me to endorse him, but I felt an imperative to do so.”
Markey played the abrupt announcement cool: “Nancy Pelosi is a great leader for our country,” he said after an appearance in Worcester, Mass., before boarding his campaign bus. He later congratulated Kennedy on receiving her backing.
- But some of the senator’s allies were annoyed: