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The outbreak of COVID-19 across the U.S. has touched every facet of our society, and our democracy has been no exception.
Which states have postponed their primaries?<p>Since President Trump's declaration of a national emergency over the coronavirus on March 13, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, and West Virginia have <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/article/2020-campaign-primary-calendar-coronavirus.html" target="_blank">postponed their primaries</a>. Alaska, Hawaii, and Wyoming have replaced in-person primary voting with comprehensive mail-in systems. Ohio has postponed its primary and switched to a nearly all-mail election, with in-person voting allowed for people with disabilities and those without mailing addresses.</p><p>Despite the national emergency, three states, Arizona, Florida, and Illinois held their primaries on March 17 as scheduled. Wisconsin will hold its primary as scheduled on April 7, but on March 27, Governor Tony Evers requested that the state send <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/27/us/politics/wisconsin-primary-coronavirus.html" target="_blank">absentee ballots</a> to all 3.3 million voters—a task some state legislators and election clerks claim to be logistically <a href="https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/make-election-safe-wisconsin-gears-primary-amid-coronavirus/story?id=69879453" target="_blank">impossible</a> within such a short time frame. Several groups have filed lawsuits seeking to postpone the election and extend the deadline for absentee voting.</p>
What legal provisions govern the postponement of a primary election?<p>The process involved in delaying a primary election varies by state, and some states are better prepared than others to modify their elections in emergency situations. A handful of states have <a href="https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/election-emergencies.aspx" target="_blank">statutes</a> that allow for the postponement of an election in case of an emergency, and most of these statues grant unilateral decision making power to the governor.</p><p>Other states, such as Pennsylvania, do not have legislation on the books explicitly addressing election postponement. And <a href="https://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/LI/US/PDF/1937/0/0320..PDF" target="_blank">state law</a> sets Pennsylvania's primary election date for the fourth Tuesday in April in a presidential election year. Postponement of the Pennsylvania primary required the passage of a <a href="https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billInfo/BillInfo.cfm?syear=2019&sind=0&body=S&type=B&bn=422" target="_blank">bill</a> to amend the election code, and this would also be the case for any other primary with a date set by law.</p><p>A similar lack of clear guidelines for postponing elections caused confusion in Ohio and shed light on the importance of emergency contingency plans. The Ohio Democratic primary was scheduled for Tuesday, March 17. On Monday the 16th, Governor Mike DeWine expressed his desire to delay the in-person election and extend absentee voting due to the coronavirus outbreak. Without the authority to unilaterally postpone an election, he promised to support a lawsuit asking the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to exercise its power to do so. Judge Richard A. Frye <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/ohio-seeks-postponement-of-tuesday-primary-as-coronavirus-fears-spread/2020/03/16/66a43cdc-67b5-11ea-b313-df458622c2cc_story.html" target="_blank">rejected</a> the lawsuit, claiming that the last-minute postponement would set a "terrible" precedent.</p><p>Shortly after, DeWine's chief health adviser declared a public health emergency and <a href="https://twitter.com/GovMikeDeWine/status/1239745738789306368" target="_blank">ordered</a> the polls to close. This prompted a lawsuit from the Ohio Democratic Party. "Nothing in Ohio law provides that Respondent Secretary has the power to set the date of Ohio's 2020 presidential primary election," says the <a href="http://supremecourt.ohio.gov/pdf_viewer/pdf_viewer.aspx?pdf=882617.pdf" target="_blank">lawsuit</a>. "Instead, the legal authority to set the date of Ohio's 2020 presidential primary election rests with the Ohio General Assembly." The Ohio Supreme Court denied this legal challenge. In addition to officially postponing the election to April 28, Ohio has also decided that the rescheduled primary will be conducted almost <a href="https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/25/ohio-vote-by-mail-primary-election-149012" target="_blank">exclusively by mail</a>.</p>
If the outbreak extends through the fall, can the November general election be postponed?<p>The general election could theoretically be postponed, but several obstacles make this scenario highly unlikely. <a href="https://www.loc.gov/law/help/statutes-at-large/28th-congress/session-2/c28s2ch1.pdf" target="_blank">The Presidential Election Day Act</a>, passed in 1845, sets Election Day as "the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November." Therefore, postponing election day would require Congress to pass legislation that would be signed by the president and upheld in the courts.</p><p>In the unlikely case that this would happen, any flexibility in determining the length of the election delay would be limited by the Constitution. The <a href="https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendment/amendment-xx" target="_blank">20th Amendment</a> states that "The terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January… of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin."</p>
What about mail-in voting for the general election?<p>While postponing the general election is effectively out of the question, voting by mail is one potential solution that could allow elections to continue while also prioritizing public health. While states do not have the power to change the date of their general elections, they do have broad jurisdiction to decide how to conduct them. Several states have expanded absentee voting options to some degree or adopted universal mail-in primaries, which can serve as "test runs" for expansive mail-in voting in the general election. And <a href="https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/all-mail-elections.aspx" target="_blank">five states</a>, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah, automatically mail ballots to all registered voters for all elections. An additional <a href="https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/absentee-and-early-voting.aspx#do%20not" target="_blank">28 states</a> offer "no-excuse" absentee voting, which means voters may vote by mail for any reason if they request a ballot in advance. The remaining 17 states offer absentee voting to those with valid excuses. Voters with injuries or illnesses qualify, as do those who will be out of the country on election day.</p><p>For the states that do not automatically mail ballots to all voters, uncertainty surrounding the outbreak's timeline has led state and local election boards to mobilize in preparation for a surge in demand for general election absentee ballots. But some leaders have hesitated to support the changes that would be involved. Democrats have traditionally been eager proponents of expanded absentee voting, which Republicans have dismissed as partisan power grabs. However, evidence does not support the belief that mail-in voting offers an unfair advantage to Democrats. In the 2016 presidential election, the rates of mail-in voting for Democrats and Republicans were <a href="https://www.marketwatch.com/story/brace-for-more-voting-by-mail-because-of-coronavirus-and-other-logistical-challenges-facing-election-officials-2020-03-30" target="_blank">about the same</a>. If the coronavirus outbreak necessitates a nationwide move to mail-in voting, state election officials will have to weigh several logistical and substantive concerns:</p>
Suggested Best Practices for States<p>When it comes to elections, there is no one-size-fits-all reform that would work for all 50 states. Many states did make changes to their primaries that prioritize both the health of the public and the integrity of the election. Even without postponement as an option for the general election in November, states still have the opportunity to make meaningful changes if they act quickly. To the extent that it is feasible, each state should consider the possibility that the coronavirus outbreak will continue through the fall and make in-person voting too dangerous.</p>
By Andrew Joseph Pegoda
1. Voter Suppression<p><a href="https://www.npr.org/2018/10/23/659784277/republican-voter-suppression-efforts-are-targeting-minorities-journalist-says" target="_blank">Republican-led efforts</a> to diminish participation in voting and voter registration have greatly contributed to the number of nonvoters.</p><p>Since 2010, <a href="https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/voter-id.aspx" target="_blank">25 states</a> have adopted measures specifically aimed at making voting more difficult. Such measures include additional <a href="https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/voter-id.aspx" target="_blank">voter identification</a> requirements.</p><p>Sometimes lawmakers said these were necessary to curb illegal voting, which research shows is an <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/18/us/voter-fraud.html" target="_blank">all-but-nonexistent</a> <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/04/22/714950127/after-democrats-surged-in-2018-republican-run-states-eye-new-curbs-on-voting" target="_blank">problem</a>.</p><p>Some counties and states have also created confusion and uncertainty about <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2020/01/06/texas-and-national-democrats-suing-state-over-voter-registration/" target="_blank">how to initially register</a> or <a href="https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/voter-id-election-confusion" target="_blank">re-register</a> after a voter has moved.</p><p>In other cases, people might not know where to vote, due to the distribution of <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/05/us/politics/misinformation-election-day.html" target="_blank">deliberately false information</a>.</p><p>Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in <a href="https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/shelby-county-v-holder/" target="_blank">Shelby County v. Holder</a> in 2013 that key aspects of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were unconstitutional, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-locations/southern-us-states-have-closed-1200-polling-places-in-recent-years-rights-group-idUSKCN1VV09J" target="_blank">states have closed</a> more than 1,000 polling locations, half of these in <a href="https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/politics/texas/article/Texas-has-closed-more-polling-places-than-any-14429443.php#" target="_blank">Texas</a>.</p>
2. Personal Choice<p>Some people decide to forgo voting.</p><p>I hear again and again that sometimes people make such choices because they were intimidated by friends, by family members or by people at <a href="https://www.propublica.org/article/reports-of-voter-intimidation-at-polling-places-in-texas" target="_blank">polling places</a>.</p><p>When facing the complexities of races with dozens of candidates and complicated issues, <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/11/05/in-their-own-words-why-some-people-find-voting-difficult/" target="_blank">others say they don't feel</a> they know enough to make informed decisions.</p><p>People have also told me they worry about feeling personally responsible if they vote for a candidate or position and there are unforeseen consequences, such as cuts to important aid programs. Members of any group, but especially those of <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/01/why-are-the-poor-and-minorities-less-likely-to-vote/282896/" target="_blank">underrepresented</a> <a href="https://medium.com/s/story/an-open-letter-to-everyone-who-wont-stop-telling-me-to-vote-21b75e28546b" target="_blank">groups</a>, may long to vote for desirable candidates but not feel that current candidates offer the possibility that anything will really change.</p><p>Individuals have shared with me that they have not voted because they do not trust a nation that they feel has lied and perpetuated systemic abuse against minorities, aggravated further by <a href="https://www.apa.org/monitor/2018/03/jn" target="_blank">widespread</a> <a href="https://harvardpress.typepad.com/hup_publicity/2018/07/why-gerrymandering-matters-allan-lichtman.html" target="_blank">gerrymandering</a> and for presidential elections, by an <a href="https://theconversation.com/whose-votes-count-the-least-in-the-electoral-college-74280" target="_blank">Electoral College</a> system that doesn't weigh each vote the same.</p><p>In <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2017/05/08/europe/french-voters-spoiled-ballots-abstained/index.html" target="_blank">France</a> and <a href="https://www.indiatoday.in/fyi/story/nota-none-of-the-above-assembly-elections-2016-west-bengal-assam-kerala-311814-2016-03-04" target="_blank">India</a>, for example, people who dislike all of the candidates can formally "vote" without endorsing any candidate by selecting "none of the above." Not having this option in the U.S. might affect turnout, too.</p>
3. Obstacles to Access<p>For others, voting may simply be too difficult.</p><p>I often hear of people who — even with early voting or absentee options — cannot vote because they <a href="https://money.cnn.com/2015/08/05/news/economy/poor-people-voting-rights/index.html" target="_blank">lack transportation</a>. They are homeless. They lack child care. They are <a href="https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/02/01/how-voters-with-disabilities-are-blocked-from-the-ballot-box" target="_blank">disabled</a>. They <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/11/12/a-ton-of-people-didnt-vote-because-they-couldnt-get-time-off-from-work/" target="_blank">work, go to school and live in different cities</a>.</p><p>This is even more applicable for the <a href="https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2019/demo/P70BR-163.pdf" target="_blank">7 to 8 million</a> in the U.S. who hold multiple jobs. <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/can-i-leave-work-early-to-vote-2016-11" target="_blank">Laws guarantee</a> <a href="https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/11/1/18016220/2018-midterm-elections-time-off-work-vote" target="_blank">time off</a> <a href="https://aflcio.org/2016/11/5/know-your-rights-state-laws-employee-time-vote" target="_blank">for voting</a> but <a href="https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/11/1/18016220/2018-midterm-elections-time-off-work-vote" target="_blank">aren't enforceable and aren't always workable</a>.</p><p>Such people are effectively disenfranchised.</p>
4. Lack of Rights<p><span>Only non-incarcerated, mentally competent, registered citizens of age can vote.</span></p><p>Based on 2015 data, the right to vote was not extended to a more than <a href="https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/lpr_population_estimates_january_2015.pdf" target="_blank">13 million</a> people with green cards, work visas or refugee status. Given the total population of people 18 and older exceeded <a href="https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk" target="_blank">248 million</a> in 2015, one out of every 20 adults living, working and spending money in the U.S. was not eligible to vote.</p><p>Using <a href="https://doi.org/10.29158/JAAPL.003780-18" target="_blank">vague and inconsistent</a> language, states have also worked to <a href="https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/03/21/thousands-lose-right-to-vote-under-incompetence-laws" target="_blank">deny</a> <a href="https://www.npr.org/2016/09/04/492430780/disabled-and-fighting-for-the-right-to-vote" target="_blank">disabled</a> or <a href="https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/disabled-people-denied-voting-rights-group-says" target="_blank">mentally</a> <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/10/keeping-the-mentally-incompetent-from-voting/263748/" target="_blank">ill</a> people a political voice. This affects <a href="https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/03/21/thousands-lose-right-to-vote-under-incompetence-laws" target="_blank">potentially over a million people nationwide</a>.</p><p>As discussed in the books <a href="http://newjimcrow.com/" target="_blank"><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor">The New Jim Crow</em></a> and in <a href="https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/race-incarceration-and-american-values" target="_blank"><em data-redactor-tag="em" data-verified="redactor">Race, Incarceration and American Values</em>,</a> an additional 6 million Americans <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/21/us/felony-voting-rights-law.html" target="_blank">cannot vote</a> because of felony convictions, an issue that disproportionately affects <a href="https://news.uga.edu/total-us-population-with-felony-convictions/" target="_blank">black people</a>. In some states, this disenfranchisement remains <a href="https://apnews.com/07409d1e264549f093a554b38ccd82f3" target="_blank">in effect for life</a>.</p>
The Future<p>Given the legitimacy of reasons why they don't participate, nonvoters certainly shouldn't be scolded with, "If you <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/martin-bashir/memo-americans-if-you-dont-vote-you-can/amp" target="_blank">don't</a> <a href="https://www.quora.com/Why-do-people-say-if-you-dont-vote-you-cant-complain" target="_blank">vote</a>, you <a href="https://link.medium.com/jtQbGeVE32" target="_blank">can't</a> <a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/dont-vote-dont-complain_b_12254884" target="_blank">complain</a>." Or with even harsher words, as one friend on Facebook put it: "If you don't vote, everything wrong in the world is your fault."</p><p>People long to be heard and deserve fair representation. Instead of bashing nonvoters, I recommend taking some deep breaths and initiating friendly conversations. Listen and learn. At a time when public trust in government is at <a href="https://www.people-press.org/2019/04/11/public-trust-in-government-1958-2019/" target="_blank">historic lows</a>, such conversations might even encourage someone to demand a voice.</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.
With the midterms rapidly approaching, it's important to make your vote count in the most pressing issue of our time: climate change.
After a year of destructive hurricanes, killer flooding and devastating wildfires, 2018 is already on pace to be among the hottest years in recorded history. Earlier this month, top scientists urged drastic emissions cuts in order to avoid climate catastrophe. Meanwhile, we have lawmakers in office who are not taking these threats very seriously, deny the science, and encourage the use of planet-warming fossil fuels.
With the U.S. midterm elections just six weeks away, the Sierra Club launched a campaign Tuesday to boot ten leading "Fossil Fools" from office and replace them with more environmentally friendly alternatives.
The "Fossil Fools 2018" campaign, spearheaded by the group's Political Committee, targets Congressional Republicans running for reelection in November who have consistently voted in favor of fossil fuel interests and against taking action on climate change and protecting air and water.
The Environmental Working Group Action Fund, the political arm of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), released a first-ever report that scores how each member of the U.S. House of Representatives voted on chemical policy and safety.
The scorecard shows that 140 House members voted against chemical safeguards every time, while 149 members consistently voted for chemical safety protections.
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For environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio, it is very clear why you can not stay home this Nov. 8. Following 14 consecutive months of record-high temperatures, the United Nations declared last week that 2016 is officially going to be the hottest year ever.
He further dove into this important political topic on his Instagram page.
The post included a photo of the Riau Rainforest in Indonesia being cleared for a palm oil operations, which is a major driver of deforestation that releases greenhouse gases and leads to biodiversity loss.
While he hasn't explicitly said so, DiCaprio has virtually endorsed Hillary Clinton, who's now officially the Democratic presidential nominee. The Hollywood A-lister has donated at least $2,700 to her campaign and he has also supported past presidential campaigns for John Kerry and Barack Obama.
DiCaprio also had glowing words to say about Clinton's Democratic presidential rival, Bernie Sanders, especially for his environmental bonafides.
"Look, not to get political, but listening to Bernie Sanders at that first presidential debate was pretty inspiring—to hear what he said about the environment," DiCaprio told Wired in December. "Who knows which candidate is going to become our next president, but we need to create a dialogue about it. I mean, when they asked each of the candidates what the most important issue facing our planet is, Bernie Sanders simply said climate change. To me that's inspiring."
Meanwhile, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump believes that global warming is a hoax. A vote for Trump would essentially be a vote for dirty energy, continued dismissal of science and, as Stephen Hawking noted, a more dangerous world. If elected president, Trump would be the only world leader who does not acknowledge the dangers and science of climate change.
Last night, accepting her nomination for president, Clinton said she is "proud" of the Paris climate agreement and pledged to hold every country accountable to their commitments to climate action, including the U.S. One of her best lines, which was met with loud cheers and applause, was a clear poke at Trump and other climate deniers: "I believe in science."
DiCaprio is a longtime environmental champion. His eponymous foundation recently held its third annual fundraising gala in St. Tropez, France, setting a new fundraising record of $45 million that will go towards preserving Earth and its inhabitants.
DiCaprio giving a speech at his star-studded gala in St. Tropez, France. Getty
"While we are the first generation that has the technology, the scientific knowledge and the global will to build a truly sustainable economic future for all of humanity—we are the last generation that has a chance to stop climate change before it is too late," DiCaprio said in a speech at the gala.
DiCaprio celebrated Thursday on Instagram a major victory of one of his foundation's partners, the Wildlife Direct and Elephant Crisis Fund in Kenya.
Last week, Feisal Mohamed Ali—a notorious illegal ivory kingpin—was sentenced 20 years in jail and fined 20 million shillings ($200,000) by a Kenyan court.