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Time may be past due for confidence in mailing ballots

An election worker stamps a mail ballot dropped

An election worker stamps a mail ballot dropped off by a voter Monday before placing it in an official ballot drop box in Doral, Fla. Credit: AP / Lynne Sladky

The envelope squeeze

The Justice Department was in court Tuesday arguing that voters don't have a constitutional right to expect the Postal Service to deliver mail-in ballots on time. Trump lawyers are winning some fights against states who extended deadlines. Democrats who encouraged mail-in voting for coronavirus safety are now suggesting alternative methods for casting still-unsent absentee ballots.

With less than a week to go, Biden’s campaign is now encouraging voters to submit ballots in person or at an official drop box, according to campaign officials, rather than through the mail, The Washington Post reported.

That message took on special urgency in swing-state Wisconsin after the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-3 ruling on Monday night, sided with a federal court that said mail-in ballots there could be counted only if received by Election Day. Last week, the court ruled the opposite way in a 4-4 tie on Pennsylvania's extended deadline because Chief Justice John Roberts deferred more to the state court behind that order than the federal court involved in Wisconsin. Pennsylvania Republicans are trying again with Trump-picked Justice Amy Coney Barrett now on the top court.

Wisconsin Democrats and Michigan's top election official are urging voters to return outstanding absentee ballots to election clerks’ offices or drop boxes. "We are too close to Election Day, and the right to vote is too important, to rely on the Postal Service to deliver absentee ballots," said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat.

Under cost-cutting measures ordered by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Wall Street Journal analysis found, mail delays have worsened since July in 28 of 29 states that require ballots to be received by Election Day. The Justice Department on Tuesday sought dismissal of a lawsuit by New York and other states that demanded a reversal of USPS operational changes. The Postal Service said the Constitution doesn’t guarantee states any particular level of service when it comes to mail-in ballots.

Trump suggested on Tuesday — incorrectly — that it would be unlawful if the counting extends for weeks beyond Election Day. "It would be very, very proper and very nice if a winner were declared on Nov. 3," said Trump, who has been forecast to do better with in-person voting.

His stand was echoed in a concurring opinion in the Wisconsin case by Trump-chosen Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who wrote that late-arriving ballots could "flip the results." He said misleadingly that states "want to be able to definitively announce the results of the election on election night, or as soon as possible thereafter." It routinely takes weeks for states to certify results as official; the earlier calls are from the news media.

On the trail

Trump on Tuesday was in Michigan, whose Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has been one of his frequent verbal targets and lately the target of an alleged far-right terrorist kidnap plot. Keeping his sympathy in check, Trump voiced doubt that the plot was real.

"It was our people that helped her out with her problem," the president said, referring to federal law enforcement agents who joined state police to bust 14 suspects. "We’ll have to see if it’s a problem, right? People are entitled to say maybe it was a problem, maybe it wasn’t." Whitmer has blamed Trump for inciting extremists with "violent rhetoric" about her and other state and local officials who stand by coronavirus mitigation policies

Biden traveled to Warm Springs, Georgia, where President Franklin Delano Roosevelt coped with the aftermath of his polio illness, to declare the U.S. is not too politically diseased to overcome its health and economic crises.

While lamenting that "anger and suspicion is growing and our wounds are getting deeper," Biden asked: "Has the heart of this nation turned to stone? I don’t think so. I refuse to believe it."

Former President Barack Obama heaped ridicule on Trump while speaking Tuesday in Orlando, Florida. Obama said, "What's his closing argument? That people are too focused on COVID. He said this at one of his rallies. COVID, COVID, COVID, he's complaining. He's jealous of COVID's media coverage."

First lady Melania Trump went to Pennsylvania on Tuesday for her first solo 2020 campaign appearance. She called her husband "tough, successful, and fair," while adding, "I don’t always agree with the way he says things." She accused Democrats, with help from the media, of working to "all but destroy our traditional values."

Janison: Ethics challenge

Biden easily could make himself look like "Mr. Ethics" if he beats Trump, given where the incumbent has set the bar, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. There was a new reminder Tuesday when a federal judge rejected the Justice Department's odd request in its effort to defend the president in a personal defamation lawsuit that arose after a woman accused private citizen Trump of raping her in the 1990s.

Trump's chafing against simple ethical restraints could be a hidden gift to whoever succeeds him. The next president, whenever Trump leaves, will need only to restore common-sense distinctions between personal and official business to look like a paragon of good government.

Trump's loose standards on this front make it clear why he, his adult sons and his campaign aides cling so fiercely to their embellished narrative of how Biden's son Hunter used his family name for business purposes overseas. If only more people believed in the significance of the Hunter Biden story — no matter what the facts show — it would compensate for Trump's own issues with self-dealing.

Besting Trump on integrity issues demands no political initiative. Any president could refrain from negotiating political favors from foreign governments.

This day in polls

In the latest batch of likely-voter surveys, a New York Times/Siena College poll sees Biden up by 6 points in Nevada, a state that went blue in 2016 that Trump has been fighting to wrest away. The result is virtually unchanged from an early-October Times/Siena survey.

Reuters/Ipsos finds Biden ahead by 9 points in Michigan, but by only 1 point in North Carolina.

An Iowa poll for WHO-TV, a Des Moines station, gave Biden a 4-point lead, up from 2 points last month.

In national polling, Biden leads by 10 points, according to Reuters/Ipsos. The CNBC All-America Economic Survey saw the Democrat ahead by 11 points, but that survey measured registered voters, not likely voters.

'60 Minutes' walkout a rerun

Trump is still grousing to his rally crowds over how CBS' Lesley Stahl unfairly came in armed with "tough questions" for him last week in the "60 Minutes" interview that aired Sunday.

"Fire coming out of her eyes," Trump said Tuesday in Lansing, Michigan. At least it was milder than his offensive, sexist complaint from 2015 about the debate-moderating performance of Megyn Kelly, then of Fox News: "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever."

Trump's abrupt walkout from the Stahl interview was far from his first. CNN unearthed footage from its 1990 interview in which Trump was grilled about his finances, including the grim outlook for his Atlantic City casino properties. "Your demeanor was inaccurate," Trump told the CNN reporter before removing a clip-on mic from his red tie and leaving.

In July 1991, the Trump Taj Mahal entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

He gets enough credit

Trump's federal tax records obtained by The New York Times show that after his investment in a 92-story Chicago office tower went sour amid the 2008 financial crisis, his lenders forgave about $287 million in debt, almost all of it from that project, the newspaper reported.

Those forgiven debts, now part of a broader investigation of Trump’s business by the New York attorney general, normally would have generated a big tax bill, because the Internal Revenue Service treats canceled debts as income. Yet as often happened in his long career, Trump appears to have paid almost no federal income tax on that money, in part because of large losses in his other businesses, the Times analysis found.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond from Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • The pandemic is getting worse in Midwestern battleground states that Trump needs the most, The Associated Press reports. Nationally, the 71,000 new cases per day averaged over the past week was the most in any seven-day stretch since the crisis started.
  • Thousands of Long Islanders who go to the polls for early voting or on Nov. 3 could be told they are "inactive voters" and will have to complete a paper affidavit ballot or see a judge to make their choices count, reports Newsday's Michael Gormley.
  • While Trump's arguments for himself and against Biden are replete with mostly familiar untruths, according to PolitiFact, Republican national chair Ronna McDaniel on Tuesday came up with a fresh fantasy, predicting that a President Biden would put Hillary Clinton on the Supreme Court. Clinton is 73, extremely unlikely to be on a shortlist, long list or any list for a lifetime appointment.
  • The Washington Post has its latest installment of reporting on the flow of U.S. taxpayer money to Trump properties. The $2.5 million charged during Trump visits to his properties didn't miss much, including $3 for serving water and $6,000 for flowers when the president hosted then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2018.
  • Twenty former U.S. attorneys — all of them Republicans — on Tuesday publicly called Trump "a threat to the rule of law in our country," and they urged that he be voted out of office.
  • Michael Pack, the Trump-installed head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, triggered bipartisan complaints after announcing he is removing a regulatory firewall intended to protect Voice of America and its affiliated newsrooms from political interference. "It is unclear why CEO Pack is opposed to journalistic objectivity," said Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. McCaul said that whatever rules Pack sweeps aside, the law protects VOA's journalist independence.
  • Trump’s campaign website was taken over by hackers who defaced it on Tuesday night. The site soon appeared to go offline, and it was restored without the hacked message a short time later. A spokesman for the Trump campaign, Tim Murtaugh, said "we are working with law enforcement authorities to investigate the source of the attack."

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