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2020 Election

Supreme Court Halts Census in Latest Twist of 2020 Count

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A briefcase of a census taker is seen as she knocks on the door of a residence Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, in Winter Park, Fla. A half-million census takers head out en mass this week to knock on the doors of households that haven't yet responded to the 2020 census. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the Trump administration can end census field operations early, in a blow to efforts to make sure minorities and hard-to-enumerate communities are properly counted in the crucial once-a-decade tally.

The decision was not a total loss for plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the administration’s decision to end the count early. They managed to get nearly two extra weeks of counting people as the case made its way through the courts.

However, the ruling increased the chances of the Trump administration retaining control of the process that decides how many congressional seats each state gets — and by extension how much voting power each state has.

The Supreme Court justices’ ruling came as the nation’s largest association of statisticians, and even the U.S. Census Bureau’s own census takers and partners, have been raising questions about the quality of the data being gathered — numbers that are used to determine how much federal funding and how many congressional seats are allotted to states.

After the Supreme Court’s decision, the Census Bureau said field operations would end on Thursday.

At issue was a request by the Trump administration that the Supreme Court suspend a lower court’s order extending the 2020 census through the end of October following delays caused by the pandemic. The Trump administration argued that the head count needed to end immediately to give the bureau time to meet a year-end deadline. Congress requires the bureau to turn in by Dec. 31 the figures used to decide the states’ congressional seats — a process known as apportionment.

By sticking to the deadline, the Trump administration would end up controlling the numbers used for the apportionment, no matter who wins next month’s presidential election.

In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the Supreme Court’s decision “regrettable and disappointing,” and said the administration’s actions “threaten to politically and financially exclude many in America’s most vulnerable communities from our democracy.”

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the high court’s decision, saying “respondents will suffer substantial injury if the Bureau is permitted to sacrifice accuracy for expediency.”

The Supreme Court ruling came in response to a lawsuit by a coalition of local governments and civil rights groups, arguing that minorities and others in hard-to-count communities would be missed if the census ended early. They said the schedule was cut short to accommodate a July order from President Donald Trump that would exclude people in the country illegally from being counted in the numbers used for apportionment.

Opponents of the order said it followed the strategy of the late Republican redistricting guru, Thomas Hofeller, who had advocated using voting-age citizens instead of the total population when it came to drawing legislative seats since that would favor Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California sided with the plaintiffs and issued an injunction suspending a Sept. 30 deadline for finishing the 2020 census and a Dec. 31 deadline for submitting the apportionment numbers. That caused the deadlines to revert back to a previous Census Bureau plan that had field operations ending Oct. 31 and the reporting of apportionment figures at the end of April 2021.

When the Census Bureau, and the Commerce Department, which oversees the statistical agency, picked an Oct. 5 end date, Koh struck that down too, accusing officials of “lurching from one hasty, unexplained plan to the next … and undermining the credibility of the Census Bureau and the 2020 Census.”

An appellate court panel upheld Koh’s order allowing the census to continue through October but struck down the part that suspended the Dec. 31 deadline for turning in apportionment numbers. The panel of three appellate judges said that just because the year-end deadline is impossible to meet doesn’t mean the court should require the Census Bureau to miss it.

The plaintiffs said the ruling against them was not a total loss, as millions more people were counted during the extra two weeks.

“Every day has mattered, and the Supreme Court’s order staying the preliminary injunction does not erase the tremendous progress that has been made as a result of the district court’s rulings,” said Melissa Sherry, one of the attorneys for the coalition.

Besides deciding how many congressional seats each state gets, the census helps determine how $1.5 trillion in federal funding is distributed each year.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said that his city lost $200 million in federal funding over the decade following the 2010 census, and he feared it would lose more this time around. The California city was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“A census count delayed is justice denied,” Liccardo said.

With plans for the count hampered by the pandemic, the Census Bureau in April had proposed extending the deadline for finishing the count from the end of July to the end of October, and pushing the apportionment deadline from Dec. 31 to next April. The proposal to extend the apportionment deadline passed the Democratic-controlled House, but the Republican-controlled Senate didn’t take up the request. Then, in late July and early August, bureau officials shortened the count schedule by a month so that it would finish at the end of September.

The Senate Republicans’ inaction coincided with Trump’s order directing the Census Bureau to have the apportionment count exclude people who are in the country illegally. The order was later ruled unlawful by a panel of three district judges in New York, but the Trump administration appealed that case to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court decision comes as a report by the the American Statistical Association has found that a shortened schedule, dropped quality control procedures, pending lawsuits and the outside politicization of some parts of the 2020 census have raised questions about the quality of the nation’s head count that need to be answered if the final numbers are going to be trusted.

The Census Bureau says it has counted 99.9% of households nationwide, though some regions of the country such as parts of Mississippi and hurricane-battered Louisiana fall well below that.

As the Census Bureau winds down field operations over the next several days, there will be a push to get communities in those two states counted, said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the litigants in the lawsuit.

“That said, the Supreme Court’s order will result in irreversible damage to the 2020 Census,” Clarke said.

2020 Election

4th Resident of Retirement Haven Charged with Voter Fraud

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FILE - People sit in an outdoor dining area of a restaurant in the Lake Sumter Landing Market Square, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in The Villages, Fla. Three voters from the Florida retirement community that's a GOP stronghold have been arrested on charges of voting more than once. The arrests come weeks after Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made a pledge to create a law enforcement agency to investigate election crimes, despite there being little evidence of such in the Sunshine State. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

THE VILLAGES, Fla. (AP) — A fourth resident of a massive Florida retirement community has been arrested on a charge of voter fraud.

Charles Barnes, 64, was arrested Tuesday and charged with voter fraud for casting more than one ballot, according to an arrest affidavit filed in court.

The arrest affidavit doesn’t detail the basis for the charge. Barnes entered a not guilty plea on Thursday.

His attorney, Victor Mead, didn’t immediately return an email inquiry.

Online voting records showed Barnes wasn’t affiliated with any political party and that he first registered to vote in Sumter County in 2019.

Barnes’ arrest was the fourth for voter fraud in the past two months of residents of The Villages retirement community in a county that is a Republican stronghold in Florida. Of the three other residents, two were registered Republicans and the third had no party affiliation.

The arrests come after Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged to create a law enforcement agency to investigate election crimes, despite there being little evidence of electoral malfeasance by voters in the Sunshine State.

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2020 Election

Florida House Public Integrity and Elections Committee Review 2020 Election Physical and Cybersecurity

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FILE - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was joined by Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee, Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections President Tammy Jones and Florida's Election Supervisors to announce Florida would join 29 States in Enhancing Voter Registration in Orlando, Wednesday, August 21, 2019. (Photo by J Willie David III / Florida National News, FNN News Network)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (FNN) – Many of the legislative committees are meeting in preparation for the upcoming legislative session on March 2, 2021.

The Public Integrity and Elections Committee met on February 9, 2021, to discuss whether or not Florida’s laws are working to produce secure, reliable, fair, and efficient elections. The presentations during this meeting were intended:

  • Give the members of the committee an opportunity to learn more about the nuances of election law
  • To appreciate what went right in the 2020 election
  • To evaluate areas where there might be room for improvement

Secretary of State Laurel Lee talked about the physical and cybersecurity of the elections, with her main focus being on infrastructure.

On May 22, 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis instructed Secretary Lee to do a review of the statewide elections infrastructure to identify any vulnerabilities and address any vulnerabilities that were identified not only at the state level but across all 67 counties.

To create a baseline, the Department of State needed reliable information and the same information across all counties. The Department developed a plan along with the Supervisors of Elections from across the state. This plan involved sending Department of State cyber navigators to each of the 67 counties to conduct an election specific risk assessment on the individual networks.

This meant for the first time ever, the State Department had statewide visibility on the elections related systems, networks, and physical facilities. They were then able to send resources and personnel to the areas most in need and to work side-by-side with each county to address and mitigate any vulnerabilities.

Secretary Lee said that with the help of our federal partners, which included the US Attorney, FBI, and Homeland Security all critical intelligence and threat information was passed along in a timely manner and these partners helped in the fight against election-related misinformation.

Another new thing for this election was that the state joined the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) in order to enhance election security and maintain accurate voter rolls. Membership in ERIC allowed the state and the Supervisors of Elections to cross-check their rolls with those of all other member states to find deceased voters, duplicate registrations, or other list maintenance activities in order to maintain more accurate and up-to-date rolls.

The State Department also used ERIC to conduct the state’s most sweeping effort to date to register new voters. 2.2 billion postcards were sent out to potential voters. Within 10 days of the households starting to receive those postcards, the state saw 300,000 new registrations with a total of 14.4 million registered voters this year which is an increase of 1.4 million.

Secretary Lee applauded Judge Pete Antonacci, former Supervisor of Elections in Broward County for his and his team’s work on correcting the many problems plaguing Broward County elections. She said that in 2020, Broward County was truly a success story.

When asked by the committee about the breakdown in the online voter registration site this year and in past years, Secretary Lee said that her office had made improvements to the system but they were only expecting to handle 100,000’s of thousands of new registrations on the last night of registration but instead they had millions of voters trying to register. Her office immediately began to upgrade the system and she extended the deadline for another 24 hours, giving voters time to register online. Secretary Lee said that improvements have been made to the programming as well as the system capacity so that the online registration system now will be able to handle huge numbers of voters who may try to register online.

Judge Antonacci offered his observations to the committee from his time as Elections Supervisor. Judge Antonacci said that his biggest concern is with mail-in ballots. Broward County received 475,000 mail-in ballots over a 32-day period in the 2020 election. He said that verifying signatures is definitely an area that needs improvement. Antonacci also said that vote by mail request lists are available to certain political entities which makes ballot harvesting possible because these entities can now show up at a voter’s home and this should be addressed by the legislature.

Judge Antonacci also said that he was concerned about the people who came to the dropbox sites and deposited large numbers of mail-in ballots. He feels that there should be a limit to the number of ballots that are allowed to be dropped off by one person.

Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley disagreed with this observation by pointing out that because of the pandemic, many neighborhoods had one person designated to pick up all the mail-in ballots for the neighborhood and drop them off at a dropbox location. He also said that he knew of many families in his county that did the same thing.

The committee appeared to have their concerns and questions addressed. There were a few questions posed to Secretary Lee that she did not have the answer to but she promised to get those answers for the committee.

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Lynn DeJarnette is a reporter for Florida National News. | info@floridanationalnews.com

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2020 Election

[OPINION] Yes, American Democracy is at Risk

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Smoke grenade goes off at insurrection led by supporters of President Trump, Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. Photo by Eric Lee/Bloomberg.

ORLANDO, Fla. – On January 6, 2021, the United States witnessed more history in the making. As United States representatives and senators went to work to confirm the electoral college votes for the duly elected President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, thousands of people showed up to persuade congress to overturn the election results. All of this overshadowed the historic victories of United States Senators-elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia.

To be clear, this was not a protest, this was an insurrection put together with leaders of QAnon and white supremacist organizations such as the Proud Boys at the forefront. These were terrorists. After the insurrection died down, 66% of Republican House members voted to overturn the election results and eight Republican Senators – including Rick Scott of Florida – voted to overturn the election results. 147 Congressmen effectively voted in favor of terrorists. The worst part of this insurrection is that it was led by a powerful leader: President Donald J. Trump.

2020 broke many records, including the Black Lives Matter protests. Between 15 and 26 million protestors gathered, possibly becoming the largest protest in the history of the United States. Of the tens of thousands of BLM demonstrations that took place, 93% of them were entirely peaceful, meaning not one brick was thrown. However, the peaceful nature of BLM protestors did not stop law enforcement from using unnecessary force against them, it was common to see the use of rubber bullets and tear gas. In fact, President Trump condemned BLM protestors numerous times and even had peaceful protestors tear-gassed just so he could get a photo-op in front of St. John’s Church around Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C.

When far-right Trump supporters with confederate flags and Trump flags barreled into the United States Capitol breaking glass, assaulting officers, calling black officers racist slurs, erecting nooses, and breaking into congressional office buildings, the presence of officers were low. There was a large contrast between the officer response to peaceful BLM protests and the violent insurrection that got blood in the halls of the nations’ capitol. Instead of seeing violent arrests or racial profiling that occurs during BLM protests, people saw officers helping terrorists and members of guerilla movements walk down the stairs of the Capitol building and even take selfies with them.

Don’t be mistaken. This discrepancy between the response of law enforcement for left-leaning protests involving climate change or racial justice and right-leaning “protests” such as the so-called “Stop the Steal” protests and Wednesday’s violent riot are not completely unintentional. Over a decade ago, the FBI expressed concern about white supremacy in law enforcement, but those fears were not taken seriously by the U.S. government and over the past four years with a racist President Trump in office, law enforcement has only doubled down on racial bias.

For far too long, right-wingers have stood up for what they refer to as “blue lives” against the calls for reform and accountability in the law enforcement system to counteract efforts of social justice. The primarily white terrorists who launched the insurrection at the nations’ capitol were significantly more comfortable breaking glass and hurling insults at officers than BLM protestors were when they peacefully marched the streets. This comfort was caused by a sense of entitlement among right-wingers.

Since BLM protests first started, right-wingers flooded their social media pages with seven-point stars, placed thin blue hearts on their cars, and flew thin blue flags on their homes. This allegiance to police officers was viewed more as an alliance, so when the time came for them to start protesting, police officers would inevitably be on their side. Even when some officers retaliated against these terrorists, it was met with shock and anger.

If the pandemic didn’t get citizens thinking about how developed the U.S. is, this insurrection certainly should. The United States is supposedly one of the wealthiest and most developed countries, but the wealth inequality is high, right-wing demagoguery is on the rise, and more evidence is pointing to the idea that members of the Capitol Police colluded with terrorists to possibly harm members of Congress along with their staff. The U.S.’s status as a developed democracy is at risk, but it could be fixed.

The members of Congress who constantly voted to appease this dangerous president over the past four years and the members who chose to vote against certifying the results of a democratically held election must be held accountable. This means removing them from committees and even expelling those members, including Senator Rick Scott. The U.S. should also do more to hold law enforcement officers accountable and make them follow the same laws that ordinary citizens follow by getting rid of qualified immunity. There must be a stronger movement to shift funding to mental health resources in local communities to counter this large increase in white supremacy in law enforcement.

Democracy is at risk and the United States must do everything it takes to protect it from the same people who damaged it by placing this dangerous and corrupt administration at the top.

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Nathaniel Douglas is a newly elected Supervisor on the Orange Soil & Water Conservation District Board, making history as the youngest to ever be elected to that board, and was the youngest to be elected to public office in the state of Florida during the 2020 election. He is a Florida National News political contributor. | info@floridanationalnews.com

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