2020 Daily Trail Markers: Trump tries to discredit vote-by-mail process

As President Trump continues to insist voting should be in-person and alleges voting by mail leads to fraud, some Republican officials are moving forward with preparations for an increase in mail-in voting, especially in upcoming primaries. It’s the latest sign that while Mr. Trump might be trying to discredit the mail-in process from the bully pulpit, a growing number of voters are indicating support for such options amid coronavirus concerns. 

Pennsylvania’s voters had to sign up to vote by mail by Tuesday in the state’s June 2 primary. Vote-by-mail was the first item displayed on the state Republican Party’s website, where an image of Mr. Trump looms behind the link to the ballot request form. The headline reads, “Vote by Mail. Safe from Home.” The vote-by-mail page itself touts the mail-in option for all registered voters and includes a message explaining “why it’s safe.” And even while the Trump campaign has accused Democrats of trying to “steal” the election, it has promoted the absentee voting option ahead of the keystone state’s primary.

At the same time, the Republican Party of Florida has also pushed the use of vote-by-mail. In a recent email, the subject line read, “Request to vote by mail,” and it included a link to contact officials to request a mail-in ballot. “In Florida, anyone can choose to vote-by-mail if they wish,” the email stated.

Meanwhile, Republican election officials are also urging people to vote-by-mail. Last week, the Georgia Republican secretary of state’s office sent out a press release encouraging absentee ballot voting. Nevada’s plan to hold an all-mail primary on June 9 was also announced by its Republican secretary of state. And in Kentucky, the Republican Secretary of State mailed all registered voters postcards explaining their options for the upcoming June 23 primary, including absentee voting by mail. He’s been promoting the portal to request an absentee ballot online, as has the Kentucky Republican Party on Twitter, ahead of Tuesday’s deadline.  

Read more from CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice on Republican efforts here.

FROM THE CANDIDATES

JOE BIDEN

Joe Biden called Mr. Trump a “fool” for mocking mask-wearing and said the president should be “leading by example.” Biden told CNN on Tuesday evening the president is leaning into “falsely masculine” language on the masks that reminded him of the boys in his childhood who “played ball” but don’t like to get hit. Later in the interview, Biden criticized the president of having trouble “controlling his own emotions.” Biden called Mr. Trump “erratic” the more Mr. Trump feels he is behind the curve in polling. And on the current state of his search for a running mate, Biden said he is “not making that commitment” to choose a woman of color as some would hope. Biden confirmed CBS News’ reporting last week that the deep background vetting checks are “not yet” happening but that the vetting committee has interviewed “a lot of these people already.” Simply put, Biden called the search “underway.”

The Democratic-friendly AFL-CIO endorsed Biden today for president. The mega-conglomeration of unions represents more than 12 million Americans and endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. CBS News first reported that Biden joined a private phone call with the union’s top leadership following the endorsement where he thanked the group for their support and then briefly turned his attention to President Trump.  Mr. Biden told the union leadership that the president has “blown” the pandemic response.  He also scoffed at Mr. Trump’s tweets on MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough pushing a conspiracy theory that blames the former Florida congressman for the death of a congressional aide in 2001.  Biden said, “He’s doing everything in his power now, he’s accusing Joe Scarborough of murder…” 

The Biden campaign is also expanding its team. Campaign officials confirmed Tuesday to CBS News correspondent Nikole Killion that Rachana Desai Martin has been hired as National Director of Voter Protection and senior legal counsel. The position will focus on voter rights, including the disenfranchisement of people of color amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Martin previously worked as chief operating officer of the Democratic National Committee and also oversaw its civic engagement and voter protection efforts.

Over the long holiday weekend and after 74 days of social-distance campaigning from his Delaware home, Biden made his first public stop for Memorial Day, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports. Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, laid a flower wreath at a Service Memorial near their home. The stop was short but we got to see how Biden could return to public campaign stops this summer. There were two lines of pandemic protection for the Bidens: They both donned dark face masks and Biden’s Secret Service detail, who were spotted for the first time since dispatched to him as the presumptive nominee, provide a built-in social distancing perimeter. This quick stop comes after Biden’s campaign has zeroed in on Mr. Trump’s golfing and as they try to move past Biden’s comments on Friday questioning black voters who support Mr. Trump.  For Memorial Day, read our story on how Joe Biden a few times on the trail shared more about his late son Beau Biden as he explained he believes the large burn pits during Beau’s service in Iraq contributed to his fatal brain cancer in 2015. Biden admitted he can’t prove the connection, but ahead of the fifth anniversary of Beau’s death on May 30th, our story details how Biden hopes to help the thousands of veterans who say they also have been impacted by the overseas burn pits. 

PRESIDENT TRUMP

In a series of moves, the Trump campaign has promoted senior political advisor Bill Stepien to deputy campaign manager and regional political director Stephanie Alexander to chief of staff. Campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement the new assignments would take effect immediately. “Bill Stepien and Stephanie Alexander bring decades of experience in political campaigns and also relentless dedication to President Trump and all that he aims to accomplish for the American people,” Parscale said. “As we enter the most important stretch of the campaign, it is important to have seasoned and steady people on our leadership team, each with their own strengths, and each with an unwavering focus on victory. Bill and Stephanie are already respected by everyone on Team Trump and I look forward to their assistance as we lead the team toward President Trump’s re-election in November.” CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga says Axios reported Stepien has worked alongside senior adviser to the president Jared Kushner crafting a new, distilled GOP platform ahead of the 2020 Republican National Convention. Prior to his campaign role as senior political adviser, Stepien served as the White House political director, where he managed Mr.  rump’s day-to-day political operations. Stepien operated as campaign manager for each of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s statewide elections, working as the Governor’s deputy chief of staff between 2009 – 2013. Alexander organized the Midwestern states as regional political director for Trump Victory, the joint operation between the campaign and the Republican National Committee.  

And on what he called a “big day for Seniors,” the president announced Tuesday a “breakthrough agreement” slashing out of pocket insulin costs for Medicare recipients. The new benefit — available through Medicare Part D prescription drug plans and Medicare Advantage plans — caps the price of various types of insulin to $35/month. The list price of insulin has nearly tripled since 2002, according to a 2019 report from a working group at the American Diabetes Association (ADA.) “Nobody has seen anything like this for a long time,” the president said during a White House briefing in the Rose Garden, politicizing his administration’s new policy. “Sleepy Joe can’t do this.  That I can tell you. In fact, it was his problem with Obamacare that caused part of your problem.” The President later added of the Obama administration, “I hope the seniors are going to remember it because Biden is the one that put us into the jam. Cause they didn’t know what they were doing. They were incompetent.” A series of recent surveys find the president is lagging behind presumptive Democratic nominee Biden among seniors.

Twitter on Tuesday added new “fact-check” notices to Mr. Trump’s tweets on mail-in voting. The president suggested Tuesday morning that mail-in ballots lead to voter fraud in multiple posts online, though he provided no evidence. “Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed. The Governor of California is sending ballots to millions of people, anyone….living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there, will get one,” the president tweeted in part. Twitter inserted notices beneath each post reading, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.” Notices linked to a series of fact checking items with the headline “Trump makes unsubstantiated claim that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud.” Twitter’s fact check clarified that California would send mail-in ballot only to registered voters. A spokesperson for Twitter confirmed to CBS News this is the first time the company has fact checked Mr. Trump on the platform, though it has been done for other world leaders. In March, Twitter marked one of the president’s retweets as “manipulated media,” after Mr. Trump shared an edited video of his political opponent Biden posted by White House deputy chief of communications Dan Scavino. Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale called the move a “smoke screen.” In a statement, Parscale said in part “we always knew that Silicon Valley would pull out all the stops to obstruct and interfere with President Trump getting his message through to voters.”

VEEPSTAKES

HELPING HANDS

As the 2020 campaign season heads into the summer, the Biden campaign will likely seize on the opportunity to put former President Obama on the stump after he formally endorsed his former vice president in April. A former president throwing his support behind his past vice president is nothing new — President Andrew Jackson’s vice president, Martin Van Buren, in 1836 received his predecessor’s endorsement.  But as Mr. Obama goes to bat for Biden, the idea that a former president plans to actively campaign for his former vice president is not always a given. And in some cases, candidates have even shied away from a predecessor’s help. 

Read more about how presidents have helped — or hurt — their Vice Presidents on the campaign trail here from CBS News political unit associate producers Sarah Ewall-Wice and Eleanor Watson.

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM

PARTY PLANNING

Mr. Trump doubled down on his threat to relocate the Republican National Convention if North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper did not issue a definitive answer on whether the Charlotte convention would be allowed full occupancy in August, CBS News campaign reporters LaCrai Mitchell and Nicole Sganga report. “As you know we don’t have much time,” the pesident told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “If we’re going to spend millions of dollars on an arena, we want to be in North Carolina.” Mr. Trump said he would like an answer from the governor’s office “within a week,” adding, “certainly, we have to know. Now if he can’t do it, if he feels that he’s not going to do it, all he has to do is tell us and then we’ll have to pick another location. I will tell you a lot of locations wanted it.” On Monday, the president tweeted “Democrat Governor [Roy Cooper] is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed full attendance in the Arena.” “Plans are being made by many thousands of enthusiastic Republicans, and others, to head to beautiful North Carolina in August,” he continued. “They must be immediately given an answer by the Governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied. If not, we will be reluctantly forced to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site…” In a press conference on Tuesday, Cooper said he’s “really not surprised at anything that happens on Twitter” and added that while its OK for political conventions to be political, the pandemic response cannot be. “We’re continuing our discussions with the RNC and [are] going to continue to put health and safety at the forefront,” said Cooper, who added that his team has asked the RNC to present a plan laying out various options. “…We have to have options regarding how this convention is going to be run depending on where we are with the virus in August…I hope that we can find some kind of reasonable accommodations  but we’re not going to sacrifice the health and safety of North Carolinian and that’s the bottom line.” CBS News has previously spoken to party officials as they wrestle with the economic and image implications of hosting traditional gatherings, as well as local business owners and leaders on their take of hosting conventions amid the pandemic.  Democratic party officials have also told CBS News that they’ve been forced to dramatically re-think their convention which has already been pushed back to August.

The comments have sparked responses from Republican leaders in Georgia and Florida who welcome the idea of the convention being hosted in their state and respective cities. Republican Governor Brian Kemp joined the conversation on Twitter Tuesday afternoon saying his state would be “honored to safely host” the convention. Both Florida and Georgia were two of the first states to begin re-opening amid the pandemic. In recent weeks, both the president and vice president have praised DeSantis and the state in its re-opening efforts.

While Mr. Trump said in a tweet Monday that he would like to keep the convention in North Carolina — and has “zero interest” in moving the convention to Doral, Florida, the home of Mar-a-Lago, in particular — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said during a press conference Tuesday that he welcomes the idea of hosting the convention in the Sunshine State. “Florida would love to have the RNC. Heck, I’m a Republican, it’d be good for us to have the DNC in terms of the economic impact when you talk about major events like that,” said DeSantis during a press conference in Miami earlier. DeSantis went on to name Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville as some of the cities with the capacity to host the gathering. “I have not spoken with the president specifically on that but I have, we’ve let the folks at the White House know that we want to work with them…so he knows that and I know the key people in his administration and in his campaign know that.”

IN THE NEWS

GEORGE FLOYD

Notable political figures have reacted to the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed Monday afternoon by a Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck, reports CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro. “My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Everything hurts. … (I need) water or something. Please. Please. I can’t breathe, officer. … I cannot breathe. I cannot breathe,” Floyd is heard saying in the video, a scene that echoes the police killing of Eric Garner in 2012 and is reminiscent of memories from the police shooting death of Philando Castile in 2016, which took place in nearby Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Police say that Floyd was not armed, and was involved in a “forgery in progress.” Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who represents Minneapolis, tweeted, “We can’t excuse summary executions in America. We just can’t!” Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said, “The lack of humanity in this disturbing video is sickening. We will get answers and seek justice.” Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo Tuesday said at a press conference that the FBI will lead the investigation into the incident due to the possible civil rights violation. Arradondo and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey also announced that the four officers involved have been terminated following Floyd’s death. In a statement, Minnesota’s Senator Amy Klobuchar said Floyd’s death was “yet another horrifying and gutwrenching instance of an African American man dying” and called for a complete and thorough investigation. Senator Kamala Harris of California said Floyd’s death adds to a pattern of recent videos involving prejudice against black Americans. “Here’s the sad reality: what happened to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery & Christian Cooper has gone on for generations to Black Americans. Cell phones just made it more visible. Dismantling systemic racism in our nation starts with demanding justice & holding offenders accountable,” she Tweeted. Florida Congresswoman Val Demings – who is a former police chief – called for a “complete investigation” and quotes Mayor Frey’s comments that “being Black should not be a death sentence in America.” 

ISSUES THAT MATTER

VOTE-BY-MAIL

Progressive groups called on the Senate to match the $3.6 billion in election assistance funding that the House passed earlier this month in the HEROES ACT in a press call on Tuesday afternoon. The groups explained these funds will be able to improve and implement vote-by-mail systems and ensure no-excuse absentee ballots ahead of the November general election, reports CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman. Sean Eldridge, the president of Stand Up America, also commented on the president’s recent attacks on vote-by-mail. “Trump is trying to make it more difficult for us to vote in the middle of a pandemic for what he perceives as personal political gain,” Eldridge said. “Trump’s lies, his tweets and his baseless lawsuits are despicable attacks on our democracy.”

KEY CONSTITUENCIES

MUSLIM AMERICANS

Tuesday is the third and final day of the 2020 Eid al-Fitr celebrations. This weekend, Muslim communities across the country resorted to new ways to celebrate the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, reports CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar. The three-day holiday after a month of fasting from dawn to sunset is traditionally one that brings families and friends together for large and intimate gatherings, but this year, Muslims relied on Zoom calls, live-stream sermons and drive-through celebrations. Typically, Muslims gather at the mosque on the first morning of Eid, which was on Sunday, for prayers and a sermon. The rest of the day is spent visiting relatives, exchanging gifts — usually cash handouts referred to as “Eidi” — and hosting food parties. The adjustments the Muslim community had to make for this cultural and religious holiday might prove as a test run for what could happen if there is a second wave of the coronavirus outbreak that hurts the ability of Americans to gather for Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

Read more from Bidar about this weekend’s Eid celebrations.

POLLING THE ROOM

COVID ANALYSIS

A new analysis from Pew Research Center of the data on official reports of COVID-19 deaths collected by Johns Hopkins University found that nearly a quarter of all deaths in the United States attributed to the coronavirus have been in just 12 congressional districts. CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar says all 12 of those congressional districts are fully or partially in New York City and are represented by Democrats in Congress. As of May 20, of the more than 92,000 Americans who lost their lives because of the coronavirus, nearly 75,000 were in Democratic congressional districts. The top 10% of congressional districts hit hardest by COVID-19 deaths account for more than half of all U.S. deaths. In terms of deaths, 41 of the top 44 hardest-hit congressional districts are represented by Democrats. These include the New York-area districts, as well as those in the Boston, Detroit and New Orleans metropolitan areas. About two-thirds, 68%, of the 44 least affected districts, the bottom 10%, are represented by Republicans in Congress. But the death rates, while highest in districts controlled by Democrats are decreasing steadily, whereas Republican-controlled districts are not experiencing the same kind of decline over time. In districts that have been hit the hardest, nearly half of the population does not identify as white. 53% of residents of these districts are white. On the flip side, districts that have the lowest coronavirus death rate, seven-in-ten residents are white. Read Pew’s study here.

STATE-BY-STATE

CALIFORNIA

Mr. Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that the November presidential contest “will be a Rigged Election,” and singled out California Governor Gavin Newsom as part of his ongoing feud with the state’s vote-by-mail initiative. “There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-in-Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter. CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar reports the president has long been a critic of vote-by-mail, an issue that Democrats have been pushing for aggressively since the coronavirus outbreak. Earlier today, at a press briefing, Newsom said there is “no evidence” of fraudulent activities as it relates to vote-by-mail and referenced several studies, including one from the George W. Bush administration to prove his point. The California governor spent several minutes at the end of press briefing, saying vote-by-mail is not a Republican or Democratic issue. He warned that “we are not even through phase one of this pandemic.” Newsom said when the next potential COVID-19 season hits it will be around election time. “The last thing we want to do is deny you your fundamental right, hard fought right. We just had Memorial Day weekend, people literally living and dying to protect your freedom, freedom to vote,” Newsom said. He added that there are no benefits to politicizing this issue, saying, “I hope we can temper our comments on the other side, though I recognize we are in a political season.” The back and forth between Trump and Newsom comes after the Republican National Committee along with the National Republican Congressional Committee and the California Republican Party, filed suit Sunday night to reverse Newsom’s order to automatically send every registered voter a ballot ahead of the November presidential election. Republicans are claiming Newsom’s recent executive order to mail every registered voter in the state a ballot is an “illegal power grab” that redesigns the election system. One point of argument for Republicans has been mailing ballots to inactive voters because they say it leads to fraud. “Ballots are mailed to all registered voters. There is a category of inactive voters that I think is the focus of their attention that don’t receive these ballots,” California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in an MSNBC interview on Tuesday. Now, Republicans are claiming this is a “reversal of Newsom’s executive order” and that Padilla has promised the “State would not send ballots to inactive voters.” Republicans are also calling on Democrats in the state to “clean up their active voter rolls, as five percent of voters in Imperial, Fresno, and LA counties have moved or passed away.” Read more here about the lawsuit and Newsom’s executive order that earlier this month made California the first state in the nation to mail voters a ballot ahead of the presidential election as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

FLORIDA

A federal judge in Florida ruled on Sunday that a state law that prevented formerly incarcerated people with prior felony convictions from voting due to an inability to pay fees and fines was unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida called the law a “pay-to-vote system,” adding in part that the requirement to pay fines and fees that are “unknown and cannot be determined with diligence” as a condition of voting is not constitutional. CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell reports that in 2018, Florida voted to pass the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons initiative — also called “Amendment 4” — so that most people with prior felony convictions who had served their sentences could vote. But the inability to pay unknown court fines and fees could still prevent some from enjoying their restored voting right. Florida Congresswoman and vice presidential contender Val Demings weighed in on the decision in a tweet on Tuesday. “Florida voters overwhelmingly supported Amendment 4, declaring that voting is a right, not a privilege,” tweeted Demings. “Glad to see Judge Hinkle uphold this cherished ideal and take us one step closer to true enfranchisement.” Florida Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo called the ruling a victory for American Democracy and Floridians in an emailed statement. “The United States Constitution once again proved stronger than Trump, DeSantis and the Florida GOP’s efforts to shred it.” According to the Campaign Legal Center website, the group represented Floridians Bonnie Raysor, Diane Sherrill and Lee Hoffman in challenging the constitutionality of the law. CLC Vice President Paul Smith called the ruling “a watershed moment in election law” in a statement Sunday. “States can no longer deny people access to the ballot box based on unpaid court costs and fees, nor can they condition rights restoration on restitution and fines that a person cannot afford to pay.”

GEORGIA

Testing for COVID-19 has been expanded in the Atlanta, Georgia, area through “Test & Vote” sites at three Fulton County early voting sites.  CBS News campaign reporter Tim Perry reports that Fulton County, the most populous county in the state of Georgia with a population of more than 1 million residents, announced the new effort Tuesday and says it will run through May 29th.  Testing will be offered in voting facility parking lots and is provided by the Fulton County Board of Health and CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort).  The tests are free and available to any resident without regard to their symptoms or risk factors. Fulton County residents will not have to vote to receive a test or vice versa.

MICHIGAN

Republicans in the Michigan Legislature filed a request on Friday asking the Michigan Supreme Court to immediately hear their case challenging Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s use of emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic, report CBS News campaign reporters Adam Brewster and Jack Turman. The request for “emergency-bypass review” would bring the case right to the state’s highest court and skip a hearing at the appeals level after a Court of Claims judge on Thursday ruled in favor of Whitmer’s extended state of emergency. “If ever there were a case that warranted this Court’s immediate involvement, then this would be it,” the legislature said in its filing. When Whitmer extended Michigan’s state of emergency at the end of April, she said that two emergency powers laws, one from 1945 and one from 1976, gave her the authority to do that. A state of emergency gives her power to issue executive orders like her stay at home order. Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens ruled on Thursday that Whitmer was allowed to extend the state of emergency under the 1945 law, but overstepped her boundaries on the 1976 law because that law requires legislative approval to extend a state of emergency after 28 days. Judge Stephens’ ruling kept the state of emergency in effect, along with the executive orders related to it. The day after the ruling, Whitmer extended Michigan’s state of emergency until June 19 and her safer at home order until June 12.  Legislative Republicans are asking the Michigan Supreme Court to hold oral arguments as soon as possible.

Before the Memorial Day weekend, a northern Michigan dock company owner said Whitmer’s husband inquired about installing their family’s boat in the water, according to a report from the Detroit News. Retail businesses and restaurants and bars with limited seating in the Upper Peninsula and the greater Traverse City regions were allowed to reopen on May 22nd, but Whitmer encouraged Michiganders to “think long and hard” before traveling to the region. The Detroit News reported that Whitmer’s husband, Marc Mallory, identified himself as Whitmer’s husband and asked the company if that would speed up the process of getting their boat placed in the water. Whitmer addressed the report at a press conference, saying that her husband “made a failed attempt at humor.” Whitmer said, “Knowing it wouldn’t make a difference, he jokingly asked if being married to me might move him up in the queue.” She continued, “Obviously, with the motorized boating prohibition in our early days of COVID-19, he thought it might get a laugh. It didn’t…And to be honest, I wasn’t laughing either when it was relayed to me because I knew how it would be perceived. He regrets it. I wish it wouldn’t have happened.” In a statement, Michigan Republican Party chair Laura Cox said, “Using your wife’s political office to score favors is not a laughing matter.” Michigan Rising Action, a conservative group, also seized on the report and sent out a fundraising email criticizing “Whitmer’s blatant hypocrisy.” The fundraising email states “it’s clear that Whitmer and her family believe that there’s one set of rules for them and another for the rest of us.”

NEVADA

The Nevada State Democratic Party on Tuesday announced Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota will keynote their convention on June 13, the last of the early-state parties — following Democrats in IowaNew Hampshire, and South Carolina — to wrap up its delegate nominating process after the coronavirus pandemic postponed the event. Klobuchar garnered support from a mere 4.2% from Nevada caucus-goers in February, a fraction of then-rival Senator Bernie Sanders’ sweeping victory in the state that earned him nearly two dozen of Nevada’s delegates, according to CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin. While some Sanders supporters have fought for influence over the convention and the state party’s platform, neither Sanders nor his most prominent endorsers are scheduled to speak at the virtual event. “Nevada will be a critical state to win in 2020 if we want to elect Joe Biden to the White House and keep our Democratic majority in the House of Representatives,” Klobuchar said in a statement released by the party.

PENNSYLVANIA

About 2,000 voters in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, received mail-in ballots for the incorrect party over the past week, reports CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak. Because the state holds a closed primary, Democrats and Republicans can only vote in their own party’s races, but voters in the Eastern Pennsylvania county have been receiving ballots for the other party’s primaries. The blunder was the result of a technology issue, said Teresa Harris, a spokesperson for the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.  “The printer removed independent and third-party voters who can’t vote in this primary, but accidentally rearranged the remaining voters and parties in its system, mixing them up,” Harris said. “By retracing how it happened, the printer was able to identify the voters who received the wrong ballots.” Harris said county officials are working with the Postal Service to expedite the delivery of replacement ballots for those voters. The mistake comes two weeks after the same county said it sent faulty supplemental instructions to tens of thousands of voters. Pennsylvania elections offices are facing an unprecedented mail-in challenge in the state, with over 1.6 million residents applying for mail-in or absentee ballots, up from 84,000 in 2016. 

Montgomery County elections officials filed an emergency petition on Tuesday, asking the county Common Pleas Court to extend the deadline for mail-in ballots to a week after the state’s June 2 primary election. Citing reports of voters not receiving ballots, lengthy delivery times and a design flaw in the online application that led to apartment numbers being left off hundreds of ballots sent to apartment complexes, elections officials said that the delay is necessary to ensure a fair election. “An election that involves members of the electorate who could be deprived of their opportunity to participate because of circumstances beyond their control,” they wrote. 

This is at least the third suit of its kind filed in Pennsylvania this year. One was struck down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court earlier this month, and the other, filed by the the Priorities USA-backed Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans, remains open.

SOUTH CAROLINA

CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell reports that Democratic leaders and voting rights activists weighed in on a federal court ruling Monday, that will allow South Carolina voters to vote absentee in the state’s June primary without a witness signature. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, some of the 16 states that require an excuse to vote absentee, have broadly interpreted or modified voting laws to allow all voters to vote by mail in the states’ primary contests amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Adriel Cepeda Derieux, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, called the ruling a huge victory. “The court recognized the gravity of forcing voters to needlessly risk their health to obtain a witness signature,” said Derieux in a statement Monday. “This ruling means voters in South Carolina can safely cast a ballot in the June primary elections in this time of COVID-19.” Susan Dunn, legal director of the ACLU of South Carolina, called the ruling “a critical victory for our democracy and all voters in South Carolina.”  Dunn continued, “The elimination of the witness requirement protects not only those who are most vulnerable to the pandemic, it also ensures that no one will have to  risk exposure to COVID-19 in order to exercise their fundamental right to vote in the primary elections.” DNC chair Tom Perez said in a statement Monday that the ruling “is another critical step toward ensuring a safe, fair, and accessible election.” He added that “nobody should be forced to choose between protecting their health and exercising their constitutional right to vote” and vowed that Democrats will fight to ensure that voters can safely make their voice heard.”

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE HOUSE

At least two left-leaning super PACs are wading into an already bitter GOP primary in New Mexico’s second congressional district, as Republicans decide on a nominee to challenge vulnerable freshman Democratic Congresswoman Xochitl Torres-Small. Patriot Majority PAC, a group organized by Democratic political strategist Craig Varoga, has spent nearly $200,000 on ads in the race per Kantar/CMAG data. The political arm of EMILY’s List has reportedly sent mailers to voters in the district. Though the groups reported their expenditures to the FEC as opposing GOP candidates Yvette Herrell and Claire Chase, the ads paint Herrell as more loyal to President Trump than Chase — a charge Chase’s campaign has denied, calling on Republicans to “condemn these Pelosi allies for meddling” in favor of a “deeply flawed general election candidate.” In a statement to CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin, Herrell said, “Liberal Super PACs have no business getting involved in this primary and they should stop immediately.”

In New York, a new ad is up in the state’s 15th congressional district primary in support of Democratic candidate and City Council Member Ritchie Torres. The ad, funded by a $300,000 independent expenditure by the Voter Protection Program PAC, attacks Torres’ Democratic opponent Ruben Diaz Sr. for his previous pro-Trump comments and friendly relationship with the president. “Diaz Senior supports the dangerous Trump agenda that hurts South Bronx families,” the ad says. VPP President Matt Lieberman told CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro the group was drawn to Torres’ record on voting rights as a city council member, and said he has the best chance of defeating Diaz Sr. to be the nominee in the safe-Democratic district. “A possibility that a so-called Democrat who’s friends with the president could end up representing this district, when we have a far better alternative…we see a responsibility to step up,” he said. Diaz Sr. was recently endorsed by the New York Police Department’s Union, and trails Torres by over $800,000 in terms of cash on hand. Ten Democratic candidates are facing off in this June 23 primary, which has switched to an all-mail format.