Voting Is Now a Public Health Issue
Georgia's mid-June primary was the latest example of pandemic-induced voter suppression. Long lines at polling stations stretched for blocks and blocks as socially distanced voters waited for several hours to vote in person. In Fulton County, which includes Atlanta and is the state's most populated county, some voters waited past midnight to cast their ballot.
Scenes like the one in Georgia—and Wisconsin before that—have ignited a national conversation about voting by mail. In response, President Trump has claimed that voting by mail "will lead to massive fraud" and favor the Democratic Party. Notably, Twitter even placed a fact-checking warning on one of Trump's tweets about voting by mail, breaking with its previous practice of not calling out Trump's falsehoods.
Vote by mail does not favor one party over another, a 2020 study from Stanford University found. Additionally, a recent survey by Pew Research Center showed that 70% of Americans favor allowing people to vote by mail. Even when broken down by political party, 87% of Democrats and 49% of Republicans favor expanding mail-in voting.
"Undermining voter confidence in the system is a form of voter suppression," said Raúl Macías, counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. "Millions of Americans have voted by mail safely and securely for decades."
The Brennan Center, a nonpartisan law and policy institute, has recommended states provide a universal vote-by-mail option to hold fair elections during the pandemic.
As of May 2020, 29 states and Washington, D.C., have "no excuse" absentee voting, and five other states conduct elections entirely by mail with limited in-person voting options. However, 16 states still require voters to provide an "excuse" to receive an absentee ballot. While most of the "excuse-required" voting states have ruled the novel coronavirus outbreak is a valid reason to receive an absentee ballot, four of them—Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi, and Texas—have not made the necessary changes to allow absentee voting widely available during the pandemic.
In Texas, the state Supreme Court went as far as to block a ruling that would allow Texans to use the pandemic as a reason to vote by mail. As it stands, Texas will only send absentee ballots to voters who are 65 years or older, disabled, out of the county during the election period, or confined to jail.
According to MOVE Texas, a nonprofit organization focused on civic engagement for youth in Texas, the ruling is anti-voter and could lead to voter suppression by forcing residents to choose between their health and voting. But, seeing anti-voter decisions from the state government is not a surprise to the MOVE team.
"In the past, we've seen elections as a statewide issue," said Raven Douglas, political director of MOVE Texas. "But, after the 2019 legislative session where we were able to defeat […] a really bad anti-voter bill, we came together with a number of ally organizations and decided we could no longer rely on our state government to pass pro-democracy reform."
So, in addition to starting a petition to voice the organization's disappointment in the Texas Supreme Court ruling against mail-in voting, MOVE Texas is turning to local officials to help voters in other ways. Douglas noted that county officials can greenlight curbside voting options, extend clerk's office hours, provide extra drop boxes, and more.
"You don't have to wait on your governor or your secretary of state to pass guidance, you can do that directly with your elections administrator and your county clerks," Douglas said.
Macías also acknowledges the need for in-person voting expansion during the upcoming elections.
"We think it's really important that every voter has the opportunity to vote by mail this election, but also in-person voting has to be maintained," Macías said. That means modifying polling places to fit social distancing guidelines, expanded early voting, making voter registration easier online or by mail, and investing in education programs about how this election might be different from what voters are used to.
Additionally, Macías notes that for most states to scale up their vote by mail systems to handle a much higher volume of ballots, they will need new equipment, such as ballot sorters, signature-verification software, optical scanning devices, and enough printers to handle the expected increase of applications and ballots.
"We really want to see Congress send more money to help elections officials conduct their elections," Macías said. "This is really the time when the federal government needs to step up. It's too important."
In Michigan, Voters Not Politicians, a pro-democracy organization, is advocating for an even more radical solution: skipping the application process and just sending absentee ballots to all voters, with postage-paid return envelopes, for the November election, through a campaign called VoteSafe.
"We're running out of time," Nancy Wang, Voters Not Politicians' editorial director, said. "Our campaign started seven weeks ago and with every day it's becoming harder and harder."
VoteSafe is asking state officials to take other measures to fight voter disenfranchisement, such as supplying secure ballot drop boxes and accessible polling locations that follow protocols for sanitization and social distancing, increasing funding for ballot security and tracking, and expanding access to local clerks' offices leading up to Election Day.
"We wouldn't be blazing trails here, we would really be following best practices," Wang said, citing the expert advice the organization received from the former elections director for Denver. Colorado is seen as a leader in election integrity and pro-voter policies.
One of those best practices is running a culturally competent education campaign, meaning that Wang and her team must be sensitive to different communities' history with voting and cater to that. For example, Wang says, some people don't trust the U.S. Postal Service, so there must be enough drop boxes for physical ballots and in-person polling sites for voters who may be deterred by having to send their ballot through the mail.
"You need to make sure you're creating a system that doesn't disenfranchise voters for other reasons," Wang said. To do this, Voters Not Politicians has partnered with community groups across Michigan to make sure the messaging and education surrounding the election is sensitive and resonates with the state's communities.
"This issue is really a concern for organizations that work not just in voting rights spaces," Wang said. "There is a lot of really great work being done by other groups in the state."
Partnerships with organizations that don't strictly deal with voting rights can also help show that voting by mail is not a partisan issue, Wang says. A majority of Michigan voters are supportive of expanding voting options—67% of voters approved a 2018 proposal to expand voting by mail.
"We should be trying to make it easier to vote for everyone, particularly in this election cycle," Macías said. "We shouldn't be asking voters to choose between their health and their vote."
That same sentiment is what prompted the nonpartisan organization Democracy North Carolina to join several other voting and elections organizations in a lawsuit demanding that the state take "necessary steps to guarantee a fair, safe election in November."
"The decision to sue came down to the fact that our general assembly has a history of either inaction on voting rights issues, or outright hostility to voting rights," said Tomas Lopez, the group's executive director.
What's needed, according Democracy North Carolina's suit, is a relaxation of voter registration requirements, making in-person voting safer and ballot drop boxes available, and easing the process of absentee voting. While North Carolina is a no-excuse absentee voting state—meaning anyone can apply to receive an absentee ballot in the mail—absentee voters must get the signatures of two witnesses or a notary for their absentee ballot to be counted.
According to Lopez, 4% of North Carolina voters voted by mail in 2016, but the state board of elections predicts 30% to 40% of voters will vote by mail this year. Lopez fears that with social distancing orders, absentee voters won't be able to acquire two witnesses, or a notary, and will either not submit their ballot, or submit it and have the ballot rejected.
"All the stuff that we're doing is about trying to make sure that our election rules are responsive to the reality that people are having to live in," he said.
"One of the really concerning parts of this is that, absent the kind of changes we are putting forward, voting access for Black and brown North Carolinians is going to take a double hit, from COVID and all the ways which it's hitting communities, and from all the ways the election rules are failing to respond," Lopez said.
"The election is already different, the question is whether the rules are going to respond to it or not," Lopez said. "All of these COVID response issues are rooted in things we'd like to see in November."
Reposted with permission from Yes! Magazine.
ISABELLA GARCIA is a former solutions journalism intern for YES!.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Joni Sweet
If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
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By James Shulmeister
Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.
If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to email@example.com
What was the climate and sea level like at times in Earth’s history when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was at 400ppm?<p>The last time global carbon dioxide levels were consistently at or above 400 parts per million (ppm) was around <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature14145" target="_blank">four million years ago</a> during a geological period known as the <a href="http://www.geologypage.com/2014/05/pliocene-epoch.html" target="_blank">Pliocene Era</a> (between 5.3 million and 2.6 million years ago). The world was about 3℃ warmer and sea levels were higher than today.</p><p>We know how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere contained in the past by studying ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. As compacted snow gradually changes to ice, it traps air in bubbles that contain <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/annals-of-glaciology/article/enclosure-of-air-during-metamorphosis-of-dry-firn-to-ice/09D9C60A8DA412D16645E6E6ABC1892F" target="_blank">samples of the atmosphere at the time</a>. We can sample ice cores to reconstruct past concentrations of carbon dioxide, but this record only takes us back about a million years.</p><p>Beyond a million years, we don't have any direct measurements of the composition of ancient atmospheres, but we can use several methods to estimate past levels of carbon dioxide. One method uses the relationship between plant pores, known as stomata, that regulate gas exchange in and out of the plant. The density of these stomata is <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/095968369200200109" target="_blank">related to atmospheric carbon dioxide</a>, and fossil plants are a good indicator of concentrations in the past.</p><p>Another technique is to examine sediment cores from the ocean floor. The sediments build up year after year as the bodies and shells of dead plankton and other organisms rain down on the seafloor. We can use isotopes (chemically identical atoms that differ only in atomic weight) of boron taken from the shells of the dead plankton to reconstruct changes in the acidity of seawater. From this we can work out the level of carbon dioxide in the ocean.</p><p>The data from four-million-year-old sediments suggest that <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2010PA002055" target="_blank">carbon dioxide was at 400ppm back then</a>.</p>
Sea Levels and Changes in Antarctica<p>During colder periods in Earth's history, ice caps and glaciers grow and sea levels drop. In the recent geological past, during the most recent ice age about 20,000 years ago, sea levels were at least <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/292/5517/679.abstract" target="_blank">120 meters lower</a> than they are today.</p><p><span></span>Sea-level changes are calculated from changes in isotopes of oxygen in the shells of marine organisms. For the Pliocene Era, <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2004PA001071" target="_blank">research</a> shows the sea-level change between cooler and warmer periods was around 30-40 meters and sea level was higher than today. Also during the Pliocene, we know the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature07867" target="_blank">significantly smaller</a> and global average temperatures were about 3℃ warmer than today. Summer temperatures in high northern latitudes were up to 14℃ warmer.</p><p>This may seem like a lot but modern observations show strong <a href="https://journals.ametsoc.org/jcli/article/23/14/3888/32547" target="_blank">polar amplification</a> of warming: a 1℃ increase at the equator may raise temperatures at the poles by 6-7℃. It is one of the reasons why Arctic sea ice is disappearing.</p>
Impacts in New Zealand and Australia<p>In the Australian region, there was no Great Barrier Reef, but there may have been <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/BF02537376.pdf" target="_blank">smaller reefs along the northeast coast of Australia</a>. For New Zealand, the partial melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is probably the most critical point.</p><p>One of the key features of New Zealand's current climate is that Antarctica is cut off from global circulation during the winter because of the big <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3402/tellusa.v54i5.12161" target="_blank">temperature contrast</a> between Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. When it comes back into circulation in springtime, New Zealand gets strong storms. Stormier winters and significantly warmer summers were likely in the mid-Pliocene because of a weaker polar vortex and a warmer Antarctica.</p><p>It will take more than a few years or decades of carbon dioxide concentrations at 400ppm to trigger a significant shrinking of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. But recent studies show that <a href="http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/521027/" target="_blank">West Antarctica is already melting</a>.</p><p>Sea-level rise from a partial melting of West Antarctica could easily exceed a meter or more by 2100. In fact, if the whole of the West Antarctic melted it could <a href="http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.695.7239&rep=rep1&type=pdf" target="_blank">raise sea levels by about 3.5 meters</a>. Even smaller increases raise the risk of <a href="https://www.pce.parliament.nz/publications/preparing-new-zealand-for-rising-seas-certainty-and-uncertainty" target="_blank">flooding in low-lying cities</a> including Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.</p>
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By Jo Harper
Investment in U.S. offshore wind projects are set to hit $78 billion (€69 billion) this decade, in contrast with an estimated $82 billion for U.S. offshore oil and gasoline projects, Wood Mackenzie data shows. This would be a remarkable feat only four years after the first offshore wind plant — the 30 megawatt (MW) Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island — started operating in U.S. waters.
Corporates Shift<p>Helping to drive offshore growth, U.S. corporate buyers <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/cities-leading-the-transition-to-renewables/a-42850621" target="_blank">are increasingly relying on wind energy to power their businesses</a>. Walmart and AT&T are the two top corporate wind buyers, while 14 newcomers entered the wind market in 2019, including Estée Lauder and McDonald's.</p><p>"Oil and gas companies have jumped into the U.S. offshore wind market, where they can transfer expertise in offshore fossil fuel development to clean energy investments," says Max Cohen, principal analyst, Americas Power & Renewable research at Wood Mackenzie. Many international oil and gas companies have already recognized this huge potential and entered the US offshore wind market, including Orsted, Equinor and Shell.</p><p>"Given the recent tumult in oil prices, fossil fuel companies may more and more be looking to diversify their portfolios, particularly with assets that are contracted or offer returns uncorrelated with oil and gas," Cohen says. "Offshore wind is an area where they may have a comparative advantage, and they can then leverage the experience with that technology to make the leap to onshore wind, solar, and other renewable technologies," he says.</p>
East Coast leads the way<p>"There is enormous opportunity, especially off the East Coast, for wind. I am very bullish," said former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. "Market excitement is moving towards offshore wind. I haven't seen this kind of enthusiasm from industry since the Bakken shale boom," he said.</p><p>Offshore wind initiatives require excessive upfront spending: a 250 MW venture costs about $1 billion, based on International Energy Agency data, but as costs fall the tipping point after which costs fall faster gets nearer</p><p>"The opportunity has been created by Northeastern states seeing the large price declines for offshore wind in Europe," says Cohen. Onshore wind is historically the lowest cost renewable resource, but is at its most expensive in the Northeast, he adds. "But costs are falling slower than for other technologies," he says.</p>
Jobs and Coastal Revitalization<p>U.S. wind energy now supports 120,000 US jobs and 530 domestic factories. A study by the University of Delaware predicted that the supply chain needed to build offshore turbines to feed power to seven East Coast states by 2030 would generate nearly $70 billion in economic activity and at least 40,000 full-time jobs. An American Wind Energy Association's (AWEA's) March 2020 report estimated that developing 30,000 MW of offshore wind along the East Coast could support up to 83,000 jobs and $25 billion in annual economic output by 2030.</p><p>Having said that, not all of the jobs are American jobs. The offshore wind developers with commercial leases in the US are all foreign companies. There is growing interest from the shipbuilding sector in the Gulf of Mexico in partnering with offshore wind companies to provide services. As a result, some of the US oil trade associations have submitted comments supporting certain aspects of offshore wind. "However, it is unclear to what extent offshore wind developers plan to use US vessels and crew, and the existing projects did not incorporate US vessels or labor at all," Hawkins says.</p>
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