The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
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● Wisconsin: Wisconsin's Tuesday elections careened toward chaos as a federal judge declined to delay in-person voting even as citizens remained under a "stay at home order" due to the coronavirus pandemic and officials across the state said they would be unable to operate the vast majority of polling sites.
U.S. District Judge William Conley concluded that, despite the grave health risks, plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the harms posed by proceeding with Tuesday’s presidential primary and elections for state and local office outweighed the harms that postponing them would cause. Conley did, however, agree to give voters one extra day to request absentee ballots, moving the deadline from Thursday to Friday.
He also relaxed the requirement that those voting absentee have their ballot witnessed, allowing voters to instead provide a written statement explaining they were "unable to safely obtain a witness certification" despite reasonable efforts. However, he left it to the "individual discretion of clerks as to whether to accept a voter’s excuse."
Most significantly, Conley ordered officials to accept any mail ballots they receive by 4 PM on April 13, extending the deadline from 8 PM on Election Day. Conley emphasized that his directive did not specify ballots be postmarked by a particular date, meaning voters could in theory cast ballots after April 7.
Despite these relatively modest adjustments, Republicans immediately filed an appeal. GOP leaders in the legislature have resisted calls to postpone the election, and with a crucial seat on the state Supreme Court in play, they may be counting on the virus to disproportionately suppress votes on the left.
In part that's because social distancing is more difficult in denser urban areas, which make up the bulk of the Democratic vote; voters in more sparsely populated rural areas may be less deterred from voting in person. In addition, polling, including a new survey from Marquette Law School, shows Republicans are simply less concerned about the coronavirus in general.
But it's not just Republicans who've stood in the way of moving the election: Wisconsin Democrats are furious with their own leader, Gov. Tony Evers, for also opposing a postponement. Evers has criticized legislative Republicans for not acting, but Democrats say he should have called a special session to put pressure on them, something he declined to do. Evers has also said he won't try to unilaterally delay the election, with a spokesperson saying, "He doesn’t want to do it, and he also doesn’t have the authority to do it."
That's left the administration of in-person voting in an extremely precarious state. Even though election officials have received an enormous surge in absentee ballot applications—over 1.1 million as of Thursday—they also told Conley that some 500,000 voters "would still need to vote in person."
Where they will do so is in grave doubt. In Milwaukee, for instance—the largest city in the state—Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett says that polling locations have been reduced from 180 to just 10 or 12, and he's even asked voters not to vote at the polls. Other cities such as Green Bay face similar closures due to a dearth of poll workers. Evers has called up the National Guard to operate polling places, though he acknowledged to Conley that Guard members "will not satisfy all of the current staffing needs."
If in the end Wisconsin cannot pull off an acceptable election, there may be one final twist. In a footnote, Conley said he would "reserve on the question as to whether the actual voter turnout, ability to vote on election day or overall conduct of the election and counting votes timely has undermined citizens’ right to vote." In other words, Conley is suggesting that he might entertain further challenges after the election, though it's impossible to say what sort of post facto remedies he might envision.
P.S. Separately, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell may not advise all voters they can request an absentee ballot without presenting a copy of their ID because they are "indefinitely confined" as a result of the governor's stay-at-home order. The court said that McDonell must follow guidance provided by the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which concluded, "Designation of indefinitely confined status is for each individual voter to make based upon their current circumstance." Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson had also posted similar advice.
Please bookmark our statewide 2020 primary calendar and our calendar of key downballot races, both of which we're updating continually as changes are finalized.
● Georgia: State House Speaker David Ralston has finally acknowledged why he's repeatedly asked Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to delay Georgia's May 19 presidential and downballot primaries: He doesn't want more Democrats to vote. In a new interview, Ralston said that Raffensperger's plan to mail absentee ballot applications to every active registered voter in the state would be "extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia" because it would "certainly drive up turnout."
Those remarks echo recent comments by Donald Trump, who said that proposals by congressional Democrats to safeguard elections would lead to "levels of voting that if you ever agreed to it you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again." Ralston has been hoping that a later primary would derail Raffensperger's ballot application efforts by allowing the state to rely chiefly on in-person voting. However, Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, both Republicans, say they lack the power to postpone the election a second time (previously, Raffensperger delayed the March 24 presidential primary until May).
Ralston could of course pass legislation changing the date and manner of the election, and Republican leaders even have the power to reconvene the legislature for a special session. However, Ralston sent members of the House home several weeks ago and suspended the legislature's current session indefinitely.
● Idaho: Republican Secretary of State Lawerence Denney says he will send absentee ballot applications to every registered voter ahead of Idaho's May 19 downballot primaries. Earlier this week, Republican Gov. Brad Little said the primary would be conducted by mail but at the time did not announce any plans to make mail ballots more accessible.
● Illinois: Leaders of both chambers of Illinois' Democratic-run legislature say they are supportive of conducting the November general election by mail, an idea recently floated by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Democratic state Sen. Julie Morrison says she plans to introduce legislation when lawmakers reconvene later this month that would send each voter an absentee ballot.
● Kentucky: Kentucky's Republican-run legislature has passed a bill that would allow the secretary of state and governor to jointly change the "manner" in which an election that takes place during a state of emergency can be held (under current law, only the "time" and "place" may be altered). Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams says the measure would give him added "flexibility," though he was vague on details, saying he'd like to prepare for an election with "limited in-person voting and expanded voting by mail."
Since Kentucky requires an excuse to cast an absentee ballot, any expansion to mail voting would likely have to involve a relaxation or waiver of that requirement. Adams did specify that he had "ruled out any move to a universal vote-by-mail system." It's not clear whether Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear will sign the legislation, a large bill mostly devoted to revenues that contains at least one provision Beshear previously vetoed as a stand-alone measure. However, Republicans could override a Beshear veto with a simple majority.
● Missouri: An organization representing county clerks in Missouri has asked the state's Republican-run legislature to let any voter cast an absentee ballot in an emergency like the present one. The clerks also want to allow voters to request absentee ballots online. Lawmakers are tentatively set to return next week for a two-day session but their top priority will be passing a budget.
● New Mexico: The New Mexico Supreme Court has set arguments for April 14 in a case brought by 27 county clerks who have asked that the state's June 2 presidential and downballot primaries be conducted by mail. Republicans oppose the request and say that the matter should be handled by the legislature, which they say could be called in for a special session.
Democrats, however, oppose the idea of a special session, fearing that convening lawmakers and their staffs could exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus. The justices have specifically asked the parties and Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to opine on whether the legislature can meet electronically.
● South Carolina: South Carolina's Republican-run legislature will meet for just one day next week to address budgetary matters, meaning lawmakers are unlikely to take up any of the recommendations recently proposed by the state's Elections Commission to ensure the June 9 downballot primaries can run properly despite the threat of the coronavirus. The legislature may reconvene at a later date.
● South Dakota: Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has signed new legislation that allows local governments to delay any local elections scheduled for April 14 through May 26 to any Tuesday in June. The law does not apply to the state's June 2 presidential and downballot primaries, though local elections can be rescheduled for that date.
The deadline for House and Senate candidates to file their quarterly fundraising reports (covering the period from Jan. 1 through March 31) is April 15, but it's common for campaigns to leak their numbers early to generate some press. (Deadlines vary by state for gubernatorial contenders and often aren't quarterly.) Daily Kos Elections will release our House and Senate fundraising charts after the April 15 deadline.
The fundraising period that just concluded, of course, ended in a way that no campaign could have anticipated when it began on New Year's Day. While the coronavirus pandemic has altered how candidates raise money—in-person events are a thing of the past—we don't yet know how it will impact bottom-line totals as candidates switch their focus to online fundraising. And given that stay-at-home measures were ordered toward the end of the quarter, it may be several more months before we really have insight.
● MA-Sen: Ed Markey (D-inc): $1.2 million raised, $4.4 million cash-on-hand; Joe Kennedy (D): $1.95 million raised, $6.2 million cash-on-hand
● NY-17: Evelyn Farkas (D): $460,000 raised, $600,000 cash-on-hand; Mondaire Jones (D): $330,000 raised
● TX-02: Sima Ladjevardian (D): $705,000 raised
● AL-Sen: If former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions thought that he'd get a break from Trumpworld's abuse after the Alabama GOP runoff was moved from the end of March to mid-July, he got a very rude awakening this week. The New York Times obtained a letter to Sessions from Michael Glassner, who serves as chief operating officer of Trump's re-election campaign, that highlighted how the former senator was sending out mailers that "misleadingly promote your connections to and 'support' of President Trump."
In words that could have come right out of a Trump tweet, Glassner continued, "The enclosed letter and donor form in fact mention President Trump by name 22 times. The letter even makes the delusional assertion that you are President 'Trump's #1 supporter." Glassner then accused Sessions of attempting to "confuse President Trump's loyal supporters in Alabama into believing the president supports your candidacy."
Trump himself endorsed former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville a few weeks ago in the GOP contest to take on Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, something that Glassner made sure to remind Sessions about. Sessions' campaign responded by telling the Times that this mailer had been designed before Trump made his endorsement and insisted that the candidate "is indeed one of the strongest supporters of President Trump and his agenda" and "no one can change that."
This is far from the first time that Sessions has found himself trying to embrace the man who humiliated and fired him as attorney general. Jason Zengerle wrote in the New York Times Magazine back in February that, after Sessions left the cabinet "by some accounts, a broken man," he still wanted to help Trump by starting a think tank that would promote their shared "anti-immigration, anti-free-trade, anti-interventionist views." The idea went nowhere, though: As one unnamed Sessions friend told Zengerle, "He's a Trump supporter whom Trump hates. So who hires him?"
His old Alabama constituents, Sessions hoped. He launched his comeback bid last November with a video that mentioned Trump five times, and Sessions continued running ads that touted his support for Trump without mentioning their very public falling out.
Trump uncharacteristically kept quiet for months, and it seemed possible that Sessions' allies, including longtime homestate colleague Richard Shelby, could convince him to at least remain neutral. Trump broke his Twitter silence the morning after the March 3 primary, though, with a new message trashing Sessions, and he endorsed Tuberville the following week.
● UT-Gov: Scott Rasmussen is out with a new poll of the June GOP primary for the Deseret News and the University of Utah that finds former Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman losing support over the last month. The new survey gives the ex-governor just a 26-24 lead over Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, while businessman Jeff Burningham and former state House Speaker Greg Hughes are a distant third with 7% each. This pollster found Huntsman beating Cox by 32-20 just a month ago.
The only other recent survey we've seen of the primary was a mid-March Dan Jones & Associates poll for the Salt Lake Chamber that showed Huntsman leading Cox 30-27, which is similar to what Scott Rasmussen finds now. (Scott Rasmussen should not be confused with Rasmussen Reports, the company that he founded but has not been affiliated with since 2013.)
Before Huntsman can worry about his standing in the primary, though, he has to actually make it to the primary. On Thursday, his campaign learned that state election authorities had rejected just over half of the 36,000 signatures he'd submitted, and that he needed to collect another 11,500 valid petitions by April 13. If he fails, Huntsman can still make it onto the primary ballot by taking enough support at the April 25 party convention, but he may have a very tough time in a gathering that tends to be dominated by anti-establishment delegates.
● WV-Gov: On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it had reached a settlement with GOP Gov. Jim Justice's coal companies over $5 million in unpaid safety violations. U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen said in his statement that "the 24 Justice entities have agreed to pay, in full, all outstanding debts and penalties associated with their mine-safety violations."
● MA-04: Businessman Chris Zannetos announced Wednesday that he was joining the crowded September Democratic primary for this open seat.
● TX-22: On Thursday, the DCCC added Sri Preston Kulkarni to its Red to Blue program for top candidates. Kulkarni won the Democratic nod last month for this open 52-44 Trump seat in the southern Houston suburbs.
● Redistricting: On Friday, the documentary feature film "Slay the Dragon" covering gerrymandering and the successful effort to end it in Michigan will become available for online streaming and video on demand. Featuring reform activists and redistricting experts including Daily Kos Elections' own Stephen Wolf, the film documents the impact of widespread (largely Republican) gerrymandering after the 2010 census. It focuses on key swing states such as Michigan, including how GOP gerrymandering there helped enable the Flint water crisis and how a grassroots 2018 movement used a ballot initiative to finally end lawmakers' ability to draw their own districts.