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Absentee voting has kicked off for the general election. No one said it would go smoothly.
The first ballots of the general election were mailed out to North Carolina voters on Friday. The North Carolina State Board of Elections said it received over 50,000 requests for a mail-in ballot before they were sent out, a notable increase from the 11,000 requested at that point in 2018.
On the same day, the Republican National Committee, North Carolina Republican Party and the Clay County Republican Party chair sued the state Board of Elections, in part due to this year’s absentee voting guidelines. The lawsuit argues the board didn’t have the authority to move the absentee ballot delivery deadline from Nov. 11 to Nov. 14. The deadline for receiving ballots postmarked by Election Day is typically three days after, but was moved this year because Veterans Day is observed on Nov. 11.
“This lawsuit is the latest development in the RNC and NCGOP’s ongoing fight to preserve transparency in North Carolina elections and stop unelected bureaucrats from rewriting the law in the Tar Heel State,” RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement.
This likely isn’t the end of debates over mail-in voting ahead of the general election. The method spiked in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but with that, attacks of mail-in voting have also increased — including debunked claims that absentee voting led to widespread fraud in the presidential election.
On the ballot: This November, a test for expanding access to absentee voting is in Michigan, where an initiative to change election procedures will be on the ballot. (Registered voters in Michigan are currently eligible to request an absentee ballot without providing a reason.) Among the changes are proposals to establish a “voter right to single application to vote absentee in all elections; require state-funded postage for absentee applications and ballots; [and] require state-funded absentee-ballot drop boxes.”
The state Supreme Court last week ordered that the initiative appear on the ballot after the Board of State Canvassers deadlocked on the decision.
In Arizona, a November ballot measure would add requirements for voters submitting mail-in ballots, including requiring dates of birth and voter identification numbers. The initiative would also provide a free voter ID option to lawfully registered Arizona voters who need it for voting. Some opponents of the measure, primarily Democrats, claim it adds extra steps to the process and could act as a deterrent for voters.
What to watch this cycle: We’ll have to wait and see how mail-in voting fares this election cycle. In 2020, almost half of the electorate participated that way versus in-person voting, either early or on Election Day. But the harsh rhetoric around absentee voting, especially from Republican candidates running for prominent state and federal positions, could have an impact.
In primary elections this year, some jurisdictions saw an increase in mail-in voting compared to the 2018 midterm primaries. That includes Kansas, likely driven in part by the high-profile abortion referendum, and Detroit, which saw an increase over 2018 by over 50 percent. In Florida, more than 4 million voters requested ballots for the primary compared to around 2.6 million in 2018.
And while it may be tempting to compare the number of mail-in votes to 2020, let’s not forget that it was a presidential election and early in the pandemic. Voter turnout typically drops for midterm elections, and now that there are fewer pandemic-related restrictions, it’s not clear if mail-in voting will reach those levels. But now that more people have experience with absentee voting, it’s possible it could stick.
It’s Monday! Happy start of football season to all who celebrate. (And sorry to my fellow Jets fans.) See any good ads while watching the game this weekend? Let me know at [email protected] and @madfernandez616.
Days until the Delaware, New Hampshire and Rhode Island primaries: 1
Days until the general election: 57
Days until the 2022 World Cup: 70
Days until the 2024 election: 785
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YOUNG VOTERS — Among the redrawn districts that POLITICO rates as toss-ups or leaning races in 2022, NY-19, IL-13, WI-03, MI-07 and AZ-04 have the highest percentage of residents ages 18-24, according to a POLITICO analysis of U.S. census data. This gives young voters the chance to swing the outcomes in these districts.
We know young voters turned out in record numbers in the last midterm elections, with 32 percent of Americans ages 18-24 having reported voting — nearly double the rate of 2014, per census data.
What’s more is that in these competitive districts with high percentages of young voters, both parties are spending far more on traditional advertisements than digital ones. The race in Arizona’s 4th Congressional District is especially one to watch. The seat leans Democrat with Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.) up for reelection. Despite 18-24-year-olds making up 12 percent of the district, Democrats have spent no money on digital ads as of Sept. 2. Republicans have spent roughly $65,000 on digital ads and $7.2 million on traditional ones, outspending Democrats’ $3.6 million on traditional ads. View the breakdown of ad spending in the other districts here. — Mackenzie Wilkes
SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE — “As the primary season ends on Tuesday, only a handful of Republican nominees in safe seats and battlegrounds have said they will oppose a [House Minority Leader Kevin] McCarthy run for speaker, carving a clearer path for him to seize the gavel next Congress — even if the GOP’s potential majority is smaller than it once seemed it could be,” POLITICO’s Ally Mutnick and Olivia Beavers write. The decision to back McCarthy has taken on a large presence in the New Hampshire GOP primary, which takes place on Tuesday.
IT’S UP TO YOU, NEW YORK — At least a half dozen congressional races stretching from Long Island to Ithaca will be instrumental in deciding control of the House,POLITICO’s Anna Gronewold and Bill Mahoney report. “By many predictions, New York has as many contested seats as any state in the nation, and POLITICO’s Election Forecast puts two as toss-ups; three as leaning Democratic and one leaning Republican. That makes New York — which hasn’t elected a Republican statewide in 20 years — one of the most unlikely stages of political theater this election cycle.”
BALLOT BATTLE — Republicans across the country are working to make it harder to pass ballot measures — a direct threat to abortion-rights advocates and other liberal groups’ efforts to bypass governors and legislatures and take issues directly to voters, POLITICO’s Megan Messerly, Alice Miranda Ollstein and Zach Montellaro report. Voters in Arizona and Arkansas, both of which have Republican-controlled legislatures, will be voting on ballot initiatives in November to increase the threshold for ballot initiatives from 50 percent to 60 percent. But the Republican push to regulate ballot measures has escalated in recent years as citizen-led initiatives have been used to legalize marijuana, expand Medicaid, create independent redistricting commissions and raise the minimum wage in purple and red states.
DEBATE DODGING — Democratic candidate for governor of Arizona Katie Hobbs declined to debate Republican opponent Kari Lake. “Unfortunately, debating a conspiracy theorist like Kari Lake – whose entire campaign platform is to cause enormous chaos and make Arizona the subject of national ridicule – would only lead to constant interruptions, pointless distractions, and childish name-calling,” Hobbs’ campaign manager Nicole DeMont said in a statement. The state commission that sets up debates last week declined Hobbs’ request to change the debate into separate interviews with a moderator.
TECH WATCH — More regulation and transparency is needed in programmatic political advertising, according to a brief from the University of North Carolina’s Center on Technology Policy. The report looks at programmatic advertising, or the automated process of buying and selling ads, beyond major tech companies like Meta and Google. While the two serve the majority of digital political ads, programmatic advertising on other platforms accounts for a growing share of political ads, in part because of restrictions imposed by major tech platforms.
The report suggests that “Congress should pass legislation funding a national archive of all digital and non-digital political ads for federal office maintained by the FEC” and “states should establish public digital political ad archives of all digital and non-digital ads run for local and state elections.” The report also called for programmatic advertising companies to publish clear political ad policies that cover content, disclosures, targeting, transparency, and accountability, as well as “prohibit ads intended to suppress voting, such as false information regarding voting location, date, processes, or ID requirements.”
“A better understanding of programmatic political advertising could support public oversight of paid political speech, encourage competition in the political ad market, and improve the experience of both advertisers and consumers,” the report states.
VOTING ACCESS — The Accessible Voting website launched on Monday to provide accessibility resources to voters with disabilities. The site, created by the Center for Civic Design and Microsoft, was launched in recognition of Disability Voting Rights Week. It compiles information in all 50 states and D.C. on rights for voters with disabilities, early voting in person, voting in person on Election Day, voting by mail and accessible voting by mail.
“The 2020 election elevated the access challenges of disabled voters, leaving our Accessibility and Democracy Forward teams seeking to contribute to solutions,” Microsoft accessibility policy adviser Rylin Rogers said in a statement. “In researching, we discovered the majority of information around accessibility in elections was difficult to find and too often lived on inaccessible sites.”
A POTENTIAL FIRST — If elected governor, Nellie Gorbea would be Rhode Island’s first Latina governor and the first Puerto Rican governor on the U.S. mainland. Watch her interview with The POLITICO Show here.
— Here’s the minute-long spot from the newly formed group Coulda Been Worse, slamming Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over “mismanagement” of school shootings, the power grid, border control, education, abortion and taxes. “Any one of these, a terrible shame for Texas,” the ad says. “All of these are horrific signs something big is terribly, terribly wrong.” The ad ends with Abbott at a press conference following the Uvalde school shooting saying that it “could’ve been worse.”
Not much is known about the group. A group by the same name was registered as an LLC late last month in Delaware, The Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek reports. Because it’s an LLC, the group is not immediately subject to state requirements to disclose its donors. But it would have to register with the Texas Ethics Commission if it met the state’s definition of a political committee. (For what it’s worth, the group isn’t the Mothers Against Greg Abbott PAC.)
— Republican Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance is out with an ad focused on public safety, joining a large swath of Republican groups and candidates who have doubled down on the messaging in recent weeks. “Tim, fight the criminals, not the cops,” Vance says in the ad toward opponent Tim Ryan.
— Saving Arizona PAC, the outside group originally bankrolled by billionaire tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel, launched its first television ad for Republican Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters since the Aug. 2 primary. “A person with knowledge of the ad buy who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that Thiel, who gave $13.5 million to the super PAC during the primary, has not donated additional money for the new spot, but declined to say who was funding it,” per Natalie Allison.
— “I’ve been called a lot of things in my life,” Republican candidate for VA-02 Jen Kiggans says in an ad. “But extremist? That’s a new one.” We’ve seen a number of ads like this recently — Republican candidates speaking directly to the camera rebutting the “extremist” claims their opponents have thrown at them (see Tiffany Smiley in Washington and Scott Jensen in Minnesota). “My opponent is already lying about me because like a typical politician, she’s only worried about one thing — getting reelected,” Kiggans continues. “This election is about more than politics. It’s about our families and the future of our country.”
— Speaking of “extreme” candidate messaging — House Majority PAC is tying Rep. Mayra Flores (R-Texas) to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, calling her “dangerous for our community.” “Mayra Flores represents violence and terror,” the ad says. “Mayra supported conspiracy theories that resulted in the … attack on Jan. 6, leaving 150 police officers beaten and five dead.” The spot also hits on her anti-abortion stance.
— And on the other side of the aisle, Alek Skarlatos in OR-04 is out with an ad that brings the “extreme” messaging to health care for veterans. “Democrats have controlled Oregon and Washington, and it’s too extreme,” a woman in the ad says. “We need better access to healthcare and Alek Skarlatos as the man to do it.”
— Sentinel Action Fund, a super PAC associated with conservative issue group Heritage Action for America, will spend at least $5 million to boost Republican Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters this fall, POLITICO’s Natalie Allison reports. Of that, $3.5 million will be on television ads, coupled with $1.5 million to fund voter outreach.
— The NRCC is adding $28 million to its fall ad reservations, bringing the committee’s total spending to around $80 million. Nearly three-quarters of the new investment will go toward targeting Democratic-held seats, and the committee is zeroing in on five new offensive targets, POLITICO’s Ally Mutnick reports.
— Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is “advising Trump-backed candidates and senators with good relationships with the 45th president to prod him to transfer millions of dollars from his leadership PAC to super PACs supporting Trump’s favored candidates,” POLITICO’s Burgess Everett and Meridith McGraw write. “The private push to get Trump to financially engage in a number of battleground states comes as the former president sits on roughly $99 million, stored in his PAC. That unused cash is drawing increased attention from GOP leaders as the midterms approach, with Trump’s own endorsed candidates lagging in polls and trailing their Democratic opponents in fundraising.”
— The U.S. Chamber of Commerce made a $3 million contribution to the Senate Leadership Fund to support Republican Mehmet Oz in his race for Pennsylvania Senate. “The Chamber’s twin objectives heading into this election cycle are to defend incumbent pro-business champions who have helped advance the business communities’ priorities and to grow the number of pro-business members in both parties,” Neil Bradley, chief policy officer and executive vice president of the chamber, said in a statement. “There are many important races this fall, but perhaps none offer a greater contrast than the Pennsylvania senate race: a choice between a pro-business champion, Dr. Oz, and Lt. Gov. Fetterman, who subscribes a far-left, government-knows-best approach where unelected bureaucrats seek to manage the economy, not free markets.”
— Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) is leading Republican challenger Blake Masters 47-45, according to an Emerson College poll. In the race for governor, Democrat Katie Hobbs and Republican Kari Lake are tied with 46 percent. (627 likely general election voters, Sept. 6-7, MoE +/- 3.85 percentage points.)
— Henry R. Muñoz III was unanimously elected as party vice-chair for the DNC. He has previously served as finance chair emeritus and also chairs the board for the National Museum of the American Latino, is co-founder of Latino Victory and TheDream.US and owns Funny Or Die. (h/t Playbook)
CODA — QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Grief is the price we pay for love,” said President Joe Biden in a speech remembering the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He was referring to a message sent by the late Queen Elizabeth II after the attacks.