Briefs: No evidence of voter fraud

In this Nov. 6, 2020, photo, Arizona elections officials continue to count ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorder's Office in Phoenix. The 2020 presidential election officially entered the record books Saturday the turnout reached 61.8%, eclipsing the recent mark set by Barack Obama's first presidential campaign in 2008 and demonstrating the extraordinary engagement of Americans in the referendum on Donald Trump's presidency. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Associated Press

Trump campaign launches a flurry of legal challenges aimed at slowing down the vote certification process

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A coalition of federal and state officials said Thursday that they have no evidence that votes were compromised or altered in last week's presidential election, rejecting unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud advanced by President Donald Trump and many of his supporters.

The statement, by government and industry officials who coordinate election cybersecurity, trumpeted the Nov. 3 election as the most secure in American history. It amounted to the most direct repudiation to date of Trump's efforts to undermine the integrity of the contest, and echoed repeated assertions by election experts and state officials over the last week that the election unfolded smoothly without broad irregularities.

"While we know there are many unfounded claims and opportunities for misinformation about the process of our elections, we can assure you we have the utmost confidence in the security and integrity of our elections, and you should too," the statement said. "When you have questions, turn to elections officials as trusted voices as they administer elections."

It was distributed by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which spearheaded federal election protection efforts and tweeted by its director, Chris Krebs. Hours earlier, he was the subject of a Reuters story that said he had told associates he expected to be fired by Trump. Krebs has been vocal on Twitter in repeatedly reassuring Americans that the election was secure and that their votes would be counted.

"America, we have confidence in the security of your vote, you should, too," he wrote. 

Trump making longshot bid to slow state vote certifications

WASHINGTON — With time and options running out, President Donald Trump's campaign is peppering states with a flurry of legal challenges aimed at slowing down the vote certification process — a longshot strategy that has almost no chance of reversing President-elect Joe Biden's victory. 

The campaign is seeking to halt the vote count in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona until they can have partisan poll watchers inspecting the voting process to ensure "illegal" ballots are not counted. But they have presented no evidence that illegal ballots have been counted, let alone counted in so great a number that it would make a difference in the loss to Biden. 

Trump's own administration issued a resounding rebuke Thursday to his claims of fraud. 

"There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised," according to the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, which spearheaded federal election protection efforts. "The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history."

States are still counting and certifying the results of the election, which is normal in the days after presidential races. When the count is completed, each governor is required by law to prepare "as soon as practicable" documents known as "Certificates of Ascertainment" of the vote. The certificates list the electors' names and the number of votes cast for the winner and loser. The certificates, carrying the seal of each state, are sent to the archivist of the United States.

Dec. 8 is the deadline for resolving election disputes at the state level. All state recounts and court contests over presidential election results are to be completed by this date. Some states set earlier deadlines of late November for certification. 

China congratulates Biden, but few US policy changes seen

BEIJING — China on Friday became one of the last major countries to congratulate U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who is expected to make few changes to U.S. policy in conflicts with Beijing over trade, technology and security.

China, along with Russia, avoided joining the throng that congratulated Biden last weekend after he and vice presidential running mate Kamala Harris secured enough Electoral College votes to unseat President Donald Trump.

"We respect the choice of the American people," said a foreign ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin. "We congratulate Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris."

Wang gave no reason for the delay but said, "the result will be confirmed according to U.S. laws and procedures."

U.S.-Chinese relations have plunged to their lowest level in decades amid a tariff war over Beijing's technology ambitions and trade surplus, accusations of spying and tension over human rights, the coronavirus pandemic, Hong Kong and control of the South China Sea.

Virus surge: Schools abandon classes, states retreat

School systems in Detroit, Indianapolis, Philadelphia and suburban Minneapolis are giving up on in-person classes, and some governors are reimposing restrictions on bars and restaurants or getting more serious about masks, as the coast-to-coast resurgence of the coronavirus sends deaths, hospitalizations and new infections soaring.

The crisis deepened at hospitals, with the situation so bad in North Dakota that the governor this week said nurses who test positive but have no symptoms can still work. Idaho clinics struggled to handle the deluge of phone calls from patients. And one of Utah's biggest hospital systems is bringing in nearly 200 traveling nurses, some of them from New York City.

The virus is blamed for more than 242,000 deaths and over 10.5 million confirmed infections in the U.S., with the country facing what health experts say will be a dark winter because of disregard for mask-wearing and other precautions, the onset of cold weather and crowded holiday gatherings.

"It should frighten all of us," Dr. David Peterman, CEO of Idaho's Primary Health Medical Group, said of the virus numbers. "It's easy to look at TV, and say, 'I'm not in the intensive care unit, my grandmother's not in the intensive care unit.' But if I say to you your doctor cannot treat your child with an ear infection because I cannot answer your phone call, or your doctor is on quarantine, or our clinics are full with people with coronavirus?"

Deaths per day in the U.S. have soared more than 40% over the past two weeks, from an average of about 790 to more than 1,100 as of Wednesday, the highest level in three months.

Trump, stewing over election loss, silent as virus surges

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has publicly disengaged from the battle against the coronavirus at a moment when the disease is tearing across the United States at an alarming pace. 

Trump, fresh off his reelection loss to President-elect Joe Biden, remains angry that an announcement about progress in developing a vaccine for the disease came after Election Day. And aides say the president has shown little interest in the growing crisis even as new confirmed cases are skyrocketing and hospital intensive care units in parts of the country are nearing capacity.

Public health experts worry that Trump's refusal to take aggressive action on the pandemic or to coordinate with the Biden team during the final two months of his presidency will only worsen the effects of the virus and hinder the nation's ability to swiftly distribute a vaccine next year.

The White House coronavirus task force held its first post-election meeting Monday. Officials discussed the rising case numbers and the promise of a vaccine in development by Pfizer, and they recognized the service of Navy Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, a member of the task force who retired Monday.

But Trump, who does not take part in the task force meetings, remains preoccupied with last week's election results. He has yet to weigh in on the recent spike in virus cases that has state and local officials scrambling and hospitals concerned about their ability to treat those stricken.

Biden has room on health care, though limited by Congress

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden is unlikely to get sweeping health care changes through a closely divided Congress, but there's a menu of narrower actions he can choose from to make a tangible difference on affordability and coverage for millions of people.

With the balance of power in the Senate hinging on a couple of Georgia races headed to a runoff, and Democrats losing seats in the House, Biden's proposals for a public health insurance option and empowering Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices seem out of reach. Those would be tough fights even if Democrats controlled Congress with votes to spare.

But there's bipartisan interest in prescription drug legislation to limit what Medicare recipients with high costs are asked to pay and to restrain price increases generally. Biden also could nudge legislation to curb surprise medical bills over the finish line. 

Moreover, millions of people already eligible for subsidized coverage through "Obamacare" remain uninsured. A determined effort to sign them up might make a difference, particularly in a pandemic. And just like the Trump administration, Biden is expected to aggressively wield the rule-making powers of the executive branch to address health insurance coverage and prescription drug costs.

With COVID-19 surging across the country, Biden's top health care priority is whipping the federal government's response into shape. In his victory speech Saturday, he pledged to "spare no effort, or commitment, to turn this pandemic around." He appointed a pandemic task force to develop "an action blueprint" that could be put into place on Inauguration Day.

EXPLAINER: Is Georgia's upcoming ballot 'audit' a recount?

ATLANTA — Georgia says it's going to be tallying — by hand — nearly 5 million ballots that were cast in its very close presidential election on Nov. 3. But is it a recount? An "audit"? And why are they doing it?

It's all a bit confusing, but election experts say what's happening in Georgia is unlikely to change the outcome and are warning that discrepancies in the final vote count are likely. That doesn't mean anything nefarious happened. Experts say some discrepancies are expected when so many votes are counted a second time using an entirely different method — hand versus machine. 

While President Donald Trump has been making unsubstantiated claims of fraud as he challenges the election's outcome, Georgia's secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, has defended the work of election officials in the state and said the review was unlikely to change the outcome. Unofficial results show Democrat Joe Biden leading Trump by about 14,000 votes.

Israel's settlements could test ties with Biden

JERUSALEM — President-elect Joe Biden may never forget Ramat Shlomo. 

On a visit to Israel in 2010, Biden was caught off guard when authorities announced plans to build hundreds of new homes in the sprawling Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem. The incident embarrassed Biden and sparked a diplomatic rift with the Obama administration that never quite healed. Yet despite Biden's opposition to the project, a decade later Ramat Shlomo has ballooned.

The episode could foreshadow what lies ahead under the Biden administration — with a U.S. president opposed to Israeli construction on occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians but seemingly limited in his ability to stop it, particularly when dealing with a changing Middle East and preoccupied by domestic priorities.

The coming two months provide a key test for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the matter. The Israeli leader, a longtime supporter of the settlements, may seek to take advantage of the final days of the settlement-friendly Trump administration and push through a flurry of last-minute construction projects. But doing so could antagonize the incoming administration.

Both settlement supporters and critics expect Netanyahu to proceed with caution. With the Biden administration expected to re-engage with Iran over its nuclear program, Netanyahu's top security concern, he seems unlikely to pick a fight with the president-elect. Netanyahu's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Military voters fear they're part of unsupported fraud claim

LAS VEGAS — Even before Attorney General William Barr issued a memo that authorized federal prosecutors across the country to investigate "substantial allegations" of voting irregularities if they exist, the Justice Department had already begun looking into two specific allegations. 

One was a claim from the Trump campaign that thousands of people may have improperly voted. The other was an allegation from a postal worker in Pennsylvania that a postmaster had instructed workers to backdate ballots mailed after Election Day. 

But so far, neither case appears to hold much water, according to details about the probes. And the first accusation has U.S. military personnel in Nevada concerned they have been drawn into unsubstantiated fraud claims. 

There is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election despite President Donald Trump's claims. In fact, election officials from both political parties have stated publicly that the election went well and international observers confirmed there were no serious irregularities that elected Democrat Joe Biden the next president. 

Still, lawyers from Trump's campaign sent a letter to Barr alleging they had uncovered what they described as "criminal voter fraud" in Nevada and saying they had identified 3,062 people who "improperly" cast mail ballots in Clark County, a Democrat-heavy area that includes Las Vegas and about 75% of the state's population. 

India's festive mood raises fears of surge of coronavirus

NEW DELHI — The crowds filling shopping areas ahead of the Diwali festival of lights on Saturday are raising hopes of India's distressed business community after months of lockdown losses but also spawning fears of a massive coronavirus upsurge.

People who've restricted their purchases to essentials for months appear to be in a celebratory mood and traders are lapping it up, said Praveen Khandelwal, general secretary of the Confederation of All India Traders. 

"The past three days have seen a tremendous increase in customer footfall in shopping markets for festival purchases," he said. 

But among the millions of shoppers, a large number of people are seen ignoring masks and social distancing norms in major Indian cities and towns. India has confirmed more than 8.7 million cases of coronavirus infection, second-most in the world, and more than 128,600 fatalities.

In neighboring Nepal, another predominant Hindu nation, people appear to have responded better to a government appeal to celebrate the festival indoors and only with immediate family and avoid large gatherings or public celebrations. 

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