Briefs: Ballots are in the mail in North Carolina

A person drops applications for mail-in-ballots into a mail box in Omaha, Neb. Mail voting is starting in the presidential election as North Carolina is sending out its first batch of ballots. The battleground state on Friday begins to send out about 600,000 ballots to voters who've requested them. Those voters are overwhelmingly Democrats and independents, reflecting a partisan split in voting methods that's developed since President Trump started attacking mail voting in March. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

Associated Press

News briefs for Friday, September 4

The Associated Press

RALEIGH — Mail balloting in the presidential election is set to begin Friday as North Carolina starts sending out more than 600,000 ballots to voters — responding to a massive spike in requests that has played out across the country as voters look for a safer way to cast ballots during the pandemic. 

The 618,000 ballots requested in the initial wave in North Carolina were more than 16 times the number the state sent out at the same time four years ago. The requests came overwhelmingly from Democratic and independent voters, a reflection of a new partisan divide over mail voting. 

The North Carolina numbers were one more bit of evidence backing up what experts have been predicting for months: Worries about the virus are likely to push tens of millions of voters to vote by mail for the first time, transforming the way the election is conducted and the vote is counted. 

In 2016, just one-quarter of the electorate cast votes through the mail. This time, elections officials expect the majority of voters to do so. Wisconsin has already received nearly 100,000 more requests than it did in the 2016 election. In Florida, 3,347,960 people requested ballots during the 2016 election. The state has already received 4,270,781 requests.

While ballots go out in two weeks in other battlegrounds like Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all eyes are on North Carolina as it leads off.

"We're already at over three times the amount of requests that we've ever had in its entirety in an election. So that's caused us to change some of our business processes," Sims said. 

The increase in interest has come with an increase in partisan division. 

The GOP has historically dominated North Carolina mail voting, but this year the people asking for the ballots are not generally Republicans. Democrats requested more than 326,000 ballots, and independents 192,000, while only 92,000 were sought by Republicans. Voters in the state can continue to request the ballots up until Oct. 27, though that may be too close to the Nov. 3 election for them to receive the ballot and return it to their local elections office in time.

The Democratic lead in mail ballots isn't only in North Carolina. In Maine, 60 percent of requests for mail ballots have been made by Democrats and 22 percent by independents. In Pennsylvania, Democrats have requested nearly triple the number of absentee ballots as Republicans. In Florida, where the GOP once dominated mail voting, 47.5 percent of requests have come from Democrats and 32 percent from Republicans.

"These numbers are astronomical, and on top of that there's these clear partisan differences," said Michael McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida who tracks early voting.

The numbers in North Carolina and elsewhere suggest Republicans are listening to Trump, shying away from mail ballots while Democrats rush to use them.

The Democrats' advantage in mail voting won't necessarily translate into an advantage in the election, however. Ballots cast on Election Day are expected to be mostly Republican.

"Seeing younger Democrats adapting to the technique is the first sign of a potential enthusiasm gap," Bonier said, noting it won't be possible to know if the GOP catches up until Election Day.

Report: Trump disparaged US war dead as 'losers,' 'suckers'

DELRAY BEACH, FLa. — A new report details multiple instances of President Donald Trump making disparaging remarks about members of the U.S. military who have been captured or killed, including referring to the American war dead at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in France in 2018 as "losers" and "suckers."

Trump said Thursday that the story is "totally false."

The allegations were first reported in The Atlantic. A senior Defense Department official with firsthand knowledge of events and a senior U.S. Marine Corps officer who was told about Trump's comments confirmed some of the remarks to The Associated Press, including the 2018 cemetery comments.

The defense officials said Trump made the comments as he begged off visiting the cemetery outside Paris during a meeting following his presidential daily briefing on the morning of Nov. 10, 2018.

Staffers from the National Security Council and the Secret Service told Trump that rainy weather made helicopter travel to the cemetery risky, but they could drive there. Trump responded by saying he didn't want to visit the cemetery because it was "filled with losers," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Federal task force kills Portland shooting suspect at arrest

LACEY, Wash. — A man suspected of fatally shooting a supporter of a right-wing group in Portland, Oregon, last week after a caravan of Donald Trump backers rode through downtown was killed Thursday as investigators moved in to arrest him, the U.S. Marshals Service said Friday.

The man, Michael Forest Reinoehl, 48, was killed as a federal task force attempted to apprehend him in Lacey, Washington, about 120 miles (193 kilometers) north of Portland. Reinoehl was the prime suspect in the killing of 39-year-old Aaron "Jay" Danielson, who was shot in the chest Saturday night, a senior Justice Department official told The Associated Press.

Federal agents from the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service had located Reinoehl on Thursday after a warrant was issued for his arrest. During the encounter, Reinoehl was shot by a law enforcement officer who was working on the federal task force, the official said. The official could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

The official said Reinoehl had pulled a gun during the encounter. The U.S. Marshals Service said initial reports indicate the suspect produced a firearm.

The U.S. Marshals Service fugitive task forces, comprised of deputy marshals, other federal agents and local law enforcement officers from a variety of agencies, are responsible for apprehending violent felons and other wanted suspects.

Biden, in Kenosha, says U.S. confronting 'original sin'

KENOSHA, Wis. — Joe Biden told residents of Kenosha, Wisconsin, that recent turmoil following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, could help Americans confront centuries of systemic racism, drawing a sharp contrast with President Donald Trump amid a reckoning that has galvanized the nation.

"We're finally now getting to the point where we're going to be addressing the original sin of this country, 400 years old … slavery and all the vestiges of it," Biden said at Grace Lutheran Church, where he met with community leaders after a private session with Blake and his family.

The visit marked the former vice president's first trip to the battleground state of Wisconsin as the Democratic presidential nominee and was a vivid illustration of the contrast he offers to Trump.

While Biden spent more than an hour with the Blake family, Trump didn't mention Blake during his own trip to Kenosha on Tuesday. Where Biden traced problems in the criminal justice system back to slavery, Trump refused to acknowledge systemic racism and offered his unvarnished support to law enforcement, blaming the recent violence on "domestic terror." 

"I can't say if tomorrow God made me president, I can't guarantee you everything gets solved in four years," Biden said. But "it would be a whole lot better, we'd get a whole lot further down the road" if Trump isn't re-elected.

Mayor suspends officers involved in man's suffocation death

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Seven police officers involved in the suffocation death of Daniel Prude in Rochester, New York, were suspended Thursday by the city's mayor, who said she was misled for months about the circumstances of the fatal encounter.

Prude, 41, who was Black, died when he was taken off life support March 30. That was seven days after officers who encountered him running naked through the street put a hood over his head to stop him from spitting, then held him down for about two minutes until he stopped breathing.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren announced the suspensions at a news conference amid outrage that city officials had previously kept quiet about Prude's death.

While denying a cover-up, Warren acknowledged that Prude "was failed by the police department, our mental health care system, our society, and he was failed by me."

Hours after the announcement, a crowd of protesters unswayed by the suspensions demonstrated late into the night outside Rochester's police headquarters. Officers doused some protesters with a chemical spray and repeatedly fired an irritant into the crowd to drive activists away from metal barricades ringing the building. Protesters protected themselves with umbrellas, dashed for cover, then returned to be fired on again.

August jobs report likely to point to a still-slow recovery

WASHINGTON — The United States keeps regaining more of the jobs that vanished when the viral pandemic flattened the economy early this spring. Yet so deep were the layoffs that began in March that millions of Americans remain burdened by job losses that might prove permanent.

Economists have forecast that employers added 1.4 million jobs in August and that the unemployment rate fell from 10.2% to 9.8%, according to a survey by data provider FactSet. That rate would still be just below the peak unemployment level of the 2008-2009 Great Recession. 

The Labor Department will issue the August jobs report at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time Friday.

While a monthly gain above 1 million would show that some businesses are still willing to add workers, it would take many months to return to pre-pandemic job levels even if that pace could be sustained. And many economists think hiring is slowing. The economy still has roughly 13 million fewer jobs than it did when the coronavirus struck in March. 

Friday's jobs data will be the second-to-last employment report — for most voters, the most visible barometer of the economy — before Election Day, Nov. 3. President Donald Trump faces the daunting task of seeking re-election in the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. Yet voters in surveys have generally given him higher marks on the economy than they have on other aspects of his presidency.

COVID-19: India adds another 83K, nears 2nd most in world

NEW DELHI — The number of people confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus in India rose by another 80,000 and is near Brazil's total, the second-highest in the world.

The 83,341 cases added in the past 24 hours pushed India's total past 3.9 million, according to the Health Ministry. Brazil has confirmed more than 4 million infections while the U.S. has more 6.1 million people infected, according to Johns Hopkins University.

India's Health Ministry on Friday also reported 1,096 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities up to 68,472.

India's case fatality rate of 1.75% is well below the global average of 3.3%, the ministry said. Experts have questioned whether some Indian states have undercounted deaths.

India added nearly 2 million coronavirus cases in August alone. Pune, Mumbai, New Delhi and Chennai are its worst-hit cities, but new hot spots continue to feed surges in cases in rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other states.

Attempts to halt Kremlin critic Navalny have failed so far

MOSCOW — All the attempts over the years to stop the work of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny have failed — so far.

He's been jailed repeatedly and twice put on trial for embezzlement and fraud. He's been put under house arrest and splashed in the face with green antiseptic, damaging his sight. He was hospitalized last year for a suspected poisoning while in custody. His brother was jailed for over three years on fraud charges.

Now Navalny is in an induced coma in a Berlin hospital after suffering what German authorities say was a poisoning with a chemical nerve agent while the opposition leader and corruption fighter was traveling from Siberia on Aug. 20. The Kremlin has denied involvement, and questioned whether he was poisoned at all.

Initially stunned by the attempt on his life, his supporters soon got back to work on their latest campaign against the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We've got more anger and more motivation to work harder in order to, among other things, show the Kremlin that these methods of pressuring the opposition don't work," said Lyubov Sobol, one of Navalny's closest allies.

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