Talks between Wolf and Republicans collapse on deal to let counties open mail ballots before Election Day
HARRISBURG — Negotiations between the Republican-led legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf to begin opening mail ballots in Pennsylvania before Election Day appeared to collapse Wednesday, setting up a nightmare scenario that some fear could require the state for the first time to verify, open, and count millions of ballots for days.
The Democratic governor and legislative leaders had been negotiating behind closed doors as recently as Tuesday to change the election code after months of inaction. But the General Assembly adjourned Wednesday and is not scheduled to reconvene until Nov. 10, a week after the election.
Without a deal, the days-long process of counting mail ballots can’t begin until 7 a.m. on Election Day, potentially leaving the results pending for days and opening room for candidates to falsely declare victory.
Department of Homeland Security officials told state and local election administrators on a call Wednesday that a foreign government was responsible for the online barrage, according to the U.S. officials and state and local authorities who participated in the call, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity. A DHS official also said authorities had detected holes in state and local election websites and instructed those participating to patch their online services.
The emails claimed to be from the Proud Boys, a far-right group supportive of President Trump, but appeared instead to be a deceptive campaign making use of a vulnerability in the organization’s online network.
The emails were first reported by officials in Florida and Alaska, but The Washington Post reported that at least one Pennsylvania voter also received an email claiming to be from the Proud Boys with the message: “You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you.”
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday evening that both Russia and Iran had obtained U.S. voter registration information. He said emails and videos circulated by foreign actors had been discovered quickly by law enforcement agencies that “acted swiftly” to respond.
“We will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections," Ratcliffe said.
Obama says Trump ‘affects how the world looks at America’
Former President Barack Obama delivered a punishing rebuke of President Donald Trump and a rousing rallying call to supporters of Joe Biden as the sun set on Citizens Bank Park Wednesday night, 13 days before the election.
In a 45-minute address, Obama called Trump a failure on the coronavirus, health care, and the environment.
Trump’s tone "affects how our children see things and it affects the way our families get along. It affects how the world looks at America. That behavior matters. Character matters,” Obama said as people cheered and hundreds of drivers slammed on their horns in support.
Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, Obama told the crowd, “actually care about every American, including the ones that don’t agree with them and they’re gonna fight for you every day.”
“They understand that protest isn’t un-American,” Obama said. “That’s the most American thing there is.”
The crowd stood outside their cars or sat on roofs, phones outstretched.
Obama concluded with a message of hope.
“America is a good and decent place, but we’ve just seen so much noise and nonsense that sometimes it’s hard for us to remember,” he said. “Philadelphia, I’m asking you to remember what this country can be. What it’s like when we treat each other with respect and dignity.”
Obama meets with Black male leaders in North Philly
Former President Barack Obama visited Hank Gathers Youth Access Center in the Strawberry Mansion section of North Philadelphia on Wednesday as he campaigned for Joe Biden.
“It is always great to be in Philadelphia in part because this reminds me of home back in Chicago," he said. "When I see what’s going on here, it’s no different than on the South Side or the West Side of Chicago. We’re confronting the same challenges.”
U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans hosted the event, a panel discussion with Black male leaders in the city. Evans and Obama were joined by state Sen. Sharif Street, City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, and about a dozen other community leaders and activists.
Asked how community leaders can engage young people in the political process, Obama said “to acknowledge to them voting alone isn’t going to change everything because young people are sophisticated, so there’s no point in overhyping what happens."
”The truth is I’m very proud of my presidency, but it didn’t immediately solve systemic racism," he said. “What I always tell young people is we did make things better.”
While fielding a question form Thomas, the former president riffed on the NBA legend the councilmember shares a name with, former Detroit Piston and Chicago Bulls nemesis Isaiah Thomas.
“You might not be old enough to know that Bulls fans generally don’t like Isaiah Thomas,” he said. “I want you to watch ‘The Last Dance.’”
Wolf, Kenney, and other Pa. Democrats to join Obama at drive-in rally
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and other local elected officials are scheduled to speak at Wednesday’s drive-in rally with former President Barack Obama.
Obama is expected to appear at Citizens Bank Park to campaign for Joe Biden, marking his first campaign trail appearance this year on behalf of his former vice president.
Wolf, Kenney, and Shaprio will speak ahead of Obama, the Biden campaign announced. Other speakers include U.S. Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon and Brendan Boyle, state Sen. Vincent Hughes, and state Rep. Joanna McClinton.
Obama will be introduced by Charles “Charlie Mack” Alston, a Philadelphia community leader, and his daughter, India. India Alston began a clothing line at age 13 to raise money and awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement, the campaign said.
Some Pa. counties refuse to pay postage on mail ballots, even though the state would foot the bill
Although the Pennsylvania Department of State announced in July that it would fund postage for mail ballots this election cycle at no cost to voters, at least two counties have declined to take them up on it, raising concerns among voting-rights advocates.
“It was not a required thing for us to do and it was not something we had budgeted to do,” Lynette Greathouse, chief clerk for the Forest County Commissioners, told The Inquirer.
However, the counties could end up paying anyway: The U.S. Postal Service has said that it will deliver ballots regardless of postage, and send the bill to county election offices.
The concern voting-rights groups have is that voters won’t know that. They’ll just see the emblem on the ballot envelope reading: “Your stamp here."
”Just philosophically, the idea that someone has to pay any amount of money to submit their ballot is problematic," said Andy Hoover, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The county just created one more barrier for the voter when it was unnecessary to do so.”
Joe Biden continues to lead President Donald Trump in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, as a majority of voters disapprove of the president’s job performance and handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new poll.
Biden leads Trump by 8 percentage points, 51%-43%, among likely voters in Pennsylvania, with 5% undecided, according to a Quinnipiac University survey conducted Oct. 16-19. That’s down from a 13-point lead Biden held in an early October Quinnipiac poll taken after the first presidential debate.
“Biden’s support remains above 50 percent as President Trump tries to change the trajectory in a crucial state where he receives poor grades on his job performance and his handling of the coronavirus response,” Mary Snow, a Quinnipiac University polling analyst.
Voters' views of Trump’s job performance has remained steady. In the latest Quinnipiac survey, 44% said they approved of Trump and 53% disapproved. In early September, by comparison, 43% approved and 54% disapproved.
The poll also offered fresh evidence that in-person results reported on Election Day likely will not give a full picture of the race. Among those who plan to vote in-person on Election Day, 63% support Trump, while just 32% back Biden.
Among those who are voting by mail, 79% support Biden and 13% back Trump. Election officials expect it will take a few days to count all the mail ballots cast in the election.
After two Pennsylvania congressmen called on Amtrak to provide information about Joe Biden’s use of one of its trains for a campaign event last month, the Biden campaign responded by questioning Trump’s use of the White House for political activities.
Pennsylvania Congressmen Scott Perry and Lloyd Smucker, both Republicans, co-signed a letter to Amtrak asking for details on whether Joe Biden’s recent “whistle stop tour” from Ohio to Western Pennsylvania impacted service and for a breakdown of costs associated with the trip.
Biden campaign response to Pa Congressmen calling for investigation into Biden's use of Amtrak for campaign. (Biden paid for the charter) "Anyone can charter a train with Amtrak. Last time we checked, no one can charter the White House South Lawn for a political convention" (1/2)
Biden campaign spokesman Matt Hill called it a political stunt.
“Anyone can charter a train with Amtrak,” campaign spokesman Matt Hill said. “Last time we checked, no one can charter the White House South Lawn for a political convention. Instead of wasting time on political stunts, congressional Republicans should stop ignoring Donald Trump’s blatant abuses of taxpayer money and government resources to enrich himself and his businesses.”
The Biden campaign reported a charge for $265,000 to charter the train for the one-day event. Biden has enjoyed a friendly relationship with Amtrak, which he rode back and forth to Washington, D.C. as a senator, for years. In 2011 the Wilmington station was renamed after him.
Pa. election official denounces ‘deliberate attempt out there to undercut voters’ confidence'
Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar emphasized the integrity of Pennsylvania’s voting system when asked about the security and reliability of mail voting in a call with reporters Wednesday.
Though President Donald Trump has claimed that election fraud is happening in Pennsylvania, referencing an incident in Luzerne County where an election worker threw out nine military ballots, top elections officials in Pennsylvania have said this was a mistake, not “intentional fraud.” The Justice Department also took the unusual step of publicizing an ongoing investigation into the incident. The mail voting system, Boockvar said, is “absolutely” secure and effective. Calls to the contrary, she said, are “disinformation."
”This is a deliberate attempt out there to undercut voters' confidence in their election," Boockvar said. “The truth is, Pennsylvanians have been voting by absentee ballot for decades. So the only new thing here is that more people can do it.”
Boockvar spoke of what she called an “eligibility sandwich” when people apply for a mail in ballot. Every voter must apply for a mail ballot with information like a drivers license number and last four digits of their social security number. That information is checked against the corresponding databases to ensure the requester is eligible and qualified before a ballot is sent. Officials then check again once the ballot is received.
“It’s an incredibly secure process every single time,” Boockvar said. “My message to the voters is: Do not believe the hype. Do not believe the disinformation. This is incredibly safe, incredibly secure no matter how you choose to vote.”
Pa. secretary of state urges those who want to vote by mail to request ballots today
Pa. Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said that she anticipates counties to be done counting “the overwhelmingly majority” of ballots by Friday, Nov. 6, due to an increase in mail ballots.
“It’s going to be a matter of days,” Boockvar said on a call with reporters Wednesday.
For a smooth Election Day, Boockvar pled to voters:
“If you’re not going to vote in person on Election Day, do not wait. Apply today,” Boockvar said. “Get your ballot in as soon as possible. The safest way to make sure that your ballot is counted, is to make sure it is received by Nov. 3. Drop it off in person if you can.”
The deadline to sign up to vote by mail ballot (either mail or absentee) and to vote early in-person is next Tuesday, Oct. 27 at 5 p.m. but overwhelmed county elections offices are struggling to keep up with an influx of requests. It can take a few days to process applications, which could leave voters with very little time to return a ballot.
But there could still be some ballots that are mailed by Election Day and arrive after the Friday deadline, or which are picked up on Election Day and do not receive a postmark until the next day, Nov. 4, disqualifying it from being counted. So the safest way to make sure your vote is counted, Boockvar urged, is to request ballots now and return them as soon as possible.
Spoofed Proud Boys email aimed to intimidate Pennsylvania voters
An email claiming to be from Proud Boys pinged the inboxes of voters around the country, including in Pennsylvania, in recent days with an alarming message: “You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you.”
PSA FLORIDA VOTERS: Get a "Vote Trump or else!" email like this one? I'm a researcher and I'd like to have a look. DMs open. Please RT! pic.twitter.com/85Wokv01Ft
A Proud Boys representative told the Washington Post the group did not send the email. The Post also reported that the FBI is investigating.
“This is obvious case of voter intimidation that has hit voters in at least four states at this point,” John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, told the Inquirer. Scott-Railton said the emails were designed using basic spoofing techniques, and vulnerable servers located in Saudia Arabia, Estonia and elsewhere.
“Nobody has a good handle on who’s behind this. The skill set required for this is not so sophisticated that you’d have to say it came from a government source,” he said — but that can’t be ruled out either. It’s also not clear where voter information was drawn from, or whether the specific objective was to sew discord, discourage voters or something else entirely.
“This is probably a canary,” Scott-Railton said. “There will be other things like this and its critically important that voters understand that no one can see who you vote for and they should not to be discouraged from voting.”
Biden says he supports muting microphones during debate
Former Vice President Joe Biden said he is supportive of a rule change made ahead of Thursday’s presidential debate that will mute both candidates' microphones during the beginning of each new discussion topic.
Biden noted he and moderator Chris Wallace were interrupted by President Donald Trump more than 100 times during the first presidential debate, which he said prevented viewers from hearing their policy agendas.
“I hope he’s going to come prepared to talk about what he’s for. But my guess is, he’s kind-of signaling it’s all going to be about personal attacks,” Biden added. “I’m going to try very hard to focus on the issues that affect the American people and talk to them, and I hope they keep the rule that uninterrupted two minutes answers.”
Trump told reporters earlier this week he thought the rule change was “very unfair.”
Biden also said there is no legitimacy made to claims about about his son Hunter Biden, calling them “garbage” and an attempt to “smear" his family.
He calls himself ‘Tokyo Joe’ and is running for sheriff of Atlantic County
“Tokyo Joe” O’Donoghue is happy to explain. He says he gets more questions about the nickname than about the office he is seeking: Atlantic County sheriff.
He’s had the name since the third grade, when kids chased him home from school. Even his Democratic opponent, incumbent Sheriff Eric Scheffler, says he’s called O’Donoghue “Tokyo Joe” for 40 years.
Now, the name is on signs throughout the county, a somewhat discordant but self-referential epithet that keeps O’Donoghue’s campaign pivoting from matters of law enforcement to Joe himself sharing, over and over, his deep connection to his grandfather, the first Japanese American to become a citizen in Atlantic County.
“I can tell you, it’s the most-asked question,” O’Donoghue, 65, a Republican, said in a recent interview, on his way to campaigning on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, where he will coincidentally meet a man with an Akita named Celtic (the dog, like him, of Japanese origin with an Irish name).
Biden has huge lead over Trump with Jewish voters, poll by liberal group says
Jewish voters in Pennsylvania overwhelmingly favor Democrat Joe Biden over President Donald Trump, according to a new poll commissioned by a progressive Jewish group.
The survey from J Street found Biden leading 75% to 22% among Pennsylvania Jews — similar to a recent nonpartisan national survey. J Street also found that 67% of Jewish voters in the state favor Biden to keep their community safe, compared to 25% who favor Trump.
As with any poll from a group with political aims, the results should be taken with caution. J Street advocates for more liberal policies on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
About 2 to 4% percent of Pennsylvanians are estimated to be Jewish, according to the pollster.
In the J Street poll, 66% of those surveyed identified as Democrats and only 13% as Republicans.
Trump has often promoted his support for Israel and moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem as a key selling point for his reelection, at times predicting a “Jexodus” of Jewish voters leaving the Democratic party.
The poll surveyed 710 likely Jewish voters in Pennsylvania and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Trump didn’t bring back coal in Pa. But that doesn’t mean miners are backing Biden.
Coal is still king in Greene County. But even here, about 25 miles from Pennsylvania’s far southwest corner, it can’t wear the crown forever.
About 17,000 people are employed directly and indirectly by what’s known as bituminous coal in the state, according to the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, bringing billions of dollars to the economy. In 2019, about 4,000 people worked mining this softer,more prevalent coal found in mines west of the Susquehanna River, compared with the anthracite found in Northeastern Pennsylvania. More than half of those jobs are in Greene County, where coal accounts for about one-third of the tax income.
“The coal industry has driven the last 110 years of our economy,” said Mike Belding, a Republican who chairs the Greene County Board of Commissioners. “If there were no further restrictions, I think we could operate for another 30 years, another generation of coal miners.”
But despite President Donald Trump’s declaration during a rally in Johnstown last week that his policies are “putting our great coal miners back to work,” even people here see an industry in its coda, regardless of whether Trump or Joe Biden wins next month.