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2020 Daily Trail Markers: In-person voting is out in next round of primaries

The next round of presidential nominating contests, which are scheduled for April 4, will now all take place with mail ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Alaska Democrats on Monday canceled in-person voting for their primary in favor of voting by mail. On Saturday, Democrats in Hawaii scrapped their in-person primary voting and said they would offer another round of mail ballots to voters. And earlier this month, Wyoming Democrats canceled their in-person caucuses and told Democrats to submit their votes by mail or drop off ballots to local election officials. 

Seven states and Puerto Rico have postponed their in-person primaries due to coronavirus, but that may only be a temporary solution if the virus isn't under control by the time the new election days come up on the calendar. And with a presidential election looming in November, along with primaries for House and Senate seats, governors and other state and local races in the coming months, there have been growing calls to expand absentee and mail voting capabilities. 

"America could be faced with a choice this fall of either Americans being able to vote - which means voting by mail - or not voting at all," said Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden on Monday. Wyden, along with Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, introduced a bill last week to expand voting access. It includes, among other measures, requiring states to have 20 days of early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee voting by mail. "Americans are facing unprecedented disruptions to their daily lives and we don't want them to lose the ability to have a say over their own government," Klobuchar said on Monday. "We've already seen some of the primary elections postponed and we won't want that to happen in November. And one of the things we can do to make it safer for everyone is to just get those ballots out there with postage."

But expanding voting by mail wouldn't be cheap. An analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice estimated it could cost $982 million to $1.4 billion to ensure voting by mail is available to all voters. That includes costs for postage, ballot printing, securing drop boxes for ballots and improving absentee ballot processing. Those proposals are part of a larger set of recommendations to protect elections in the event the Coronavirus pandemic continues into November. The price tag on all of the Brennan Center's recommendations, including the vote by mail expansion, is up to $2 billion.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, who is a co-sponsor of the Wyden and Klobuchar bill, is pushing for $2 billion in the Phase 3 Coronavirus stimulus bill to expand voting by mail and early voting, his press secretary Madeline Broas told CBS News. The exact amount for elections is still being negotiated. 

CBS News Producer Rebecca Kaplan reports that House Democrats are proposing a new national requirement that states offer 15 days early voting and no-excuse absentee voting by mail, including mandating that states mail a ballot to all registered voters in an emergency. The requirement, which is part of a competing stimulus bill being crafted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her members, would offer states $4 billion in grant funding through the Election Assistance Commission to carry out the new requirements. 

Michigan is one of the states that recently made it easier to vote by mail. In 2018, voters passed a ballot measure to allow for no-excuse absentee voting, which led to an explosion in absentee votes in the state's presidential primary earlier this month. Nearly 40% of the people, or 876,845, voted absentee in that election. That was almost double the number of absentee votes from the 2016 presidential primary in Michigan. Jocelyn Benson, Michigan's Secretary of State, told CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster that the big challenges for expanding access to voting by mail are educating voters about the process and securing the infrastructure to tabulate votes securely and quickly. That includes providing postage on ballots, ballot tracking technology, more access to high-speed ballot processing and counting machines and, in some cases, hiring more workers to process the ballots. "Those of us who have been doing this work for a long time know exactly what we need and the tools we need for the most part to administer elections by mail or where the majority of citizens are voting by mail in a crisis like this," Benson said. "The gap in between what we know needs to happen and our ability to make it happen is all in funding." While it took longer for Michigan to report its full results due to the influx of ballots, Benson said communities that were staffed similar to general elections were typically better equipped to handle the increased number of absentee ballots. She and other secretaries of state have been talking about best practices to implement going forward, but said the federal government should set standards for access, security and voter education.

Wisconsin, which is scheduled to hold its primary on April 7, is still planning to allow for in-person voting, but asked the state for help to supply sanitation equipment, recruit more poll workers and provide a public health expert. Wisconsin also has no-excuse absentee voting, but on Monday the state's election commission put out a letter asking for more poll workers to help staff the election "to replace older poll workers who are unable to serve due to health concerns and the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic." Meagan Wolfe, the Chief Election Official, wrote in a letter to Governor Tony Evers on Friday, "As of today, local election officials do not have access to the people or supplies needed."  Wolfe added that "this leaves voters, clerks, and poll workers to make difficult choices. Voters should not have to choose between voting or staying healthy. Poll workers should not have to choose between serving their community or staying healthy. Our local election officials should not have to choose between facilitating democracy or staying healthy."

FROM THE CANDIDATES

JOE BIDEN

In 15 minutes of remarks from his new in-home studio in Wilmington, Joe Biden offered a pre-rebuttal of sorts to the president's daily press briefings, according to CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson. "These briefings are an important opportunity to inform and reassure the American public they are not a place for political attacks or to lash out at the press," Biden said appearing to read from a teleprompter, "They're about the American people." The former vice president asked for the "unvarnished truth" from the president about the current response and chided the president's self-congratulation. "Trump keeps saying he's a wartime president. Well, start to act like one," Biden said. While a few kinks are still sorting out, the Biden campaign is forced to retool their almost entire approach without public events.

TO YOUR HEALTH

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY

Monday marks 10 years since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, also referred to as Obamacare, into law. The anniversary comes at a time of national emergency amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, notes CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. The ten-year mark also hits just weeks after the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case brought forward by Republican state officials against the law. Justices are set to review a federal appeals court decision that found part of the law — Congress' 2017 removal of the individual mandate clause, requiring citizens to possess health insurance — unconstitutional. Though timing is up to the Supreme Court Justices, oral arguments are likely to fall around the time of the 2020 presidential general election in November, with a decision due in spring or summer 2021. The litigation aimed at eliminating the centerpiece of Mr. Obama's legacy is backed by the Trump administration.

In a digital livestream on Monday, Biden touted his role in passing the Affordable Care Act. "In the middle of one of the largest public health emergencies in generations, the White House and Republican Attorney Generals are actively pursuing a lawsuit to invalidate the ACA in court. They're working to strip millions of Americans of their healthcare, and tens of millions of their protections for pre-existing conditions," he said. The Democratic presidential frontrunner sent a letter to Mr. Trump on Monday, requesting the Trump administration withdraw the lawsuit, reports CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson. "The litigation you are supporting — Texas  v. U.S. — jeopardizes every single one of those protections and threatens the peace of mind and access to care for hundreds of millions of Americans," reads the letter reads. "There is no underlying constitutional flaw with the Affordable Care Act. In fact, the Supreme Court twice upheld the constitutionality of the law." 

At a press briefing from the Coronavirus Task Force on Sunday afternoon, Mr. Trump expressed his support for guaranteed healthcare coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions. "Well, that's a lawsuit coming out of Texas. Again, that was headed up by Texas," Mr. Trump said, probed about the pending case. "And what we want to do is get rid of the bad healthcare and put in a great healthcare.  And I will say this, I can make this commitment to you: The Republican Party is fully backing preexisting conditions."

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Trump administration is actively considering launching a special enrollment period for Americans facing the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. The special approval would allow 32 states reliant on federal healthcare exchange to re-open enrollment, permitting Americans to sign up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act although open enrollment ended on December 15th for these states.  The Kaiser Family Foundation says nearly 28 million people in the United States lack health insurance. According to a Gallup poll released earlier this month, 52% of Americans surveyed approve of the Affordable Care Act and 48% of the population disapprove.

Democratic Party chair Tom Perez told reporters on Wednesday that he expects health care to be "a defining issue of this election." Perez continued that "the chronic incompetence of this president on health care and so many issues runs far and deep. And the American people will remember. They remembered it in 2017, 2018 and 2019. When health care was on the ballot, Democrats won in scale." According to CBS News Battleground Tracker polls, health care has been the top issue of importance to likely Democratic voters in early contest states since the launch of the CBS News survey in June 2019.

DELEGATE MATTERS

BEING SELECTIVE

The Democratic National Committee has received requests from 19 states and territories to amend delegate selection plans, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. In a memo obtained by CBS News, the chairs of the committee in charge of approving the delegate selection plans told its members they are in close contact with the state parties about modifying delegate selection plans. These plans outline how states elect the actual people to fill the delegate slots awarded to each candidate based on the results of the primary or caucus. In many states, these delegate elections were scheduled to take place after the primary or caucus and have been impacted by coronavirus. The 19 states and territories who have proposed amendments to their plans are: Alaska, California, Colorado, Democrats Abroad, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.  

GOVERNOR'S MANSION

HIGH MARKS

new poll from Monmouth University on Monday shows governors are exceeding Mr. Trump in handling the coronavirus outbreak, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson.  According to the poll, 72% of those surveyed said their state's governor has done a good job and 18% said their governor has done a bad job in handling the pandemic. The reviews are bipartisan, with 76% of Democrats, 73% of Republicans and 67% of independents saying their governor has done a good job in dealing with the outbreak. The positive reviews even come from residents of the four states with the highest number of coronavirus cases: California, New Jersey, New York, and Washington. In these four states, 74% say their governor has done a good job. More Americans said Mr. Trump has done a good job (50%) than a bad job (45%), but the reviews of how Mr. Trump has dealt with the crisis are more partisan. About 89% of Republicans say he is handling it well while only 48% of independents and 19% of Democrats approve of his administration's handling of the situation. The poll shows how governors across the country have taken charge during the outbreak. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has received praise across the country for his daily briefings that include Powerpoint presentations about the outbreak in the state. During the Sunday White House COVID Task Force briefing, Mr. Trump said he spoke with Cuomo. "He's working hard," Mr. Trump said. "We're all working hard together.  The relationship has really been amazing." And Biden, during his virtual event on Monday, praised the governors. He singled out Republican Governors Mike DeWine of Ohio, Larry Hogan of Maryland, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts as well as Democratic governors Gavin Newsom of California, Jay Inslee of Washington, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Cuomo.   

CONVENTION(AL) WISDOM

MOVING FORWARD

Perez told reporters on Monday that no official decision has been made regarding the upcoming Democratic Party Convention in Milwaukee amid the coronavirus pandemic. "We are planning and hoping for the best, but planning for every eventuality. And safety will always be paramount in planning the convention," Perez said on the call commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. "We still have roughly 4 months until the convention," he noted.

CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga says Perez also touted the party's digital operations, adding that the DNC is in the process of hiring more personnel. "And needless to say, the lion's share of the people that we're hiring, in our battleground build up, are going to be people who are very fluent in digital organizing," he told reporters. Perez added that the party has trained over 900 "digital organizers" in remote sessions last week, and plans to conduct more trainings in the days to come.

LIFE AFTER 2020

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG

A former field organizer for Mike Bloomberg's campaign filed a lawsuit in federal court on Monday against the former presidential candidate. The lawsuit alleges the White House hopeful reneged on promises that staff would be guaranteed employment through November 2020. The billionaire had earned plaudits over the weekend for donating millions to the Democratic party from his now-shuttered campaign, after spending nearly one billion dollars on the bid. But Bloomberg's transfer also triggered outrage among some former staffers, many who claim they were promised jobs on a super PAC he has now abandoned plans to fund. "Given the current crisis, a fund is being created to ensure that all staff receive healthcare through April, which no other campaign has done," a spokesperson for Bloomberg's campaign told CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin in a statement. "And many field staff will go on to work for the DNC in battleground states, in part because the campaign made the largest monetary transfer to the DNC from a Presidential campaign in history to support the DNC's organizing efforts."

AMY KLOBUCHAR

As the Senate goes back and forth ahead of a vote on whether to move forward with a coronavirus stimulus package,  Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota announced Monday that her husband has coronavirus. In a statement posted on Medium, the former 2020 contender briefly described how her husband's health has deteriorated—citing that a persistent fever and coughing up blood led to him being tested and later admitted into a Virginia hospital for several reasons, including very low oxygen levels. CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell reports that Virginia's governor declared a state of emergency earlier this month and announced Monday that public schools in the state will remain closed for the rest of the academic year. This comes as the Virginia Department of Health has reported 254 cases, 38 hospitalizations and 6 deaths related to COVID-19 in the state. Klobuchar said her husband remains in the hospital and has pneumonia but said she hasn't been in the same place as her husband for two weeks so she won't be getting tested. "…since John and I have been in different places for the last two weeks and I am outside the 14-day period for getting sick, my doctor has advised me to not get a test," said Klobuchar in the statement. "…there are test shortages for people who need them everywhere and I don't qualify to get one under any standard."

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