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Senate GOP moves ahead with upper hand as Trump readies SCOTUS nomination

The vote count in the Senate shows Republicans can squeak through a confirmation of President Trump’s Supreme Court pick, now that anti-Trump leader Sen. Mitt Romney has pledged to help advance the nominee. The move gives President Trump the green light as he plans to announce his pick Saturday to replace the late Justice Ruth…

Senate GOP moves ahead with upper hand as Trump readies SCOTUS nomination

The vote count in the Senate shows Republicans can squeak through a confirmation of President Trump’s Supreme Court pick, now that anti-Trump leader Sen. Mitt Romney has pledged to help advance the nominee.

The move gives President Trump the green light as he plans to announce his pick Saturday to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“I’m getting very close to having a final decision made, very close,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House, adding that the country needs a full bench of nine justices before the election in case the results are contested.

“We need nine justices. You need that with the unsolicited millions of ballots that they’re sending. It’s a scam. It’s a hoax. Everybody knows that. And the Democrats know it better than anybody else.”

Mr. Romney said he was following the Constitution and precedent in helping advance the process.

“If the nominee reaches the Senate floor, I intend to vote based upon their qualifications,” the Utah Republican said.

Mr. Romney’s support for moving the confirmation process forward so close to the Nov. 3 elections was a surprise. He was the lone Republican senator to break with his party and vote to convict Mr. Trump and remove him from office this year on one of the impeachment charges and has opposed the president at nearly every turn.

With Mr. Romney’s support, Republicans have enough votes to push through a nominee without bipartisan help, and Democrats have no procedural tools to stop them.

The Senate rules put the Republican majority in the driver’s seat, Democratic senators acknowledged.

“If there had been some triple-secret procedural device, we likely would have used it with Gorsuch and Kavanaugh,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The idea that we have one and didn’t bother to use it in those last two confirmations seems a little bit of a stretch.”

Republicans have secured 51 votes to advance the process with just about 40 days until Election Day. The power play leaves Senate Democrats with no way to slow the vote in hopes that Joseph R. Biden wins the presidency on Nov. 3, allowing him to argue that he should fill the high court vacancy left by the liberal icon.

The stakes couldn’t be higher for a Supreme Court battle. The confirmation of a conservative Trump nominee would dramatically alter the balance of the court to a 6-3 split.

Democrats are loath to let that happen.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said over the weekend that her chamber would use “every arrow in our quiver” to try to delay the Senate from pushing through a nominee before the election. She didn’t rule out impeaching Mr. Trump or Attorney General William Barr.

But Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York downplayed that option Tuesday.

“At the current moment, we’re looking forward to the election. Health care is on the ballot. Civil rights is on the ballot. Decency is on the ballot. Unity is on the ballot. And the American people will ultimately make the decision as to whether Trump and his corrupt administration should be held accountable,” the New York Democrat told reporters.

“But I don’t think we’re contemplating anything other than to say that all options are on the table,” he said.

Mr. Trump pledged to nominate a woman and has a short list of five candidates:

⦁ Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

⦁ Judge Barbara Lagoa of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

⦁ Judge Joan Larsen of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

⦁ Judge Allison Jones Rushing of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

⦁ Kate Todd, deputy counsel to the president.

Judges Barrett and Lagoa appear to be the leading candidates, according to sources familiar with the president’s thinking.

Even if the Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee refuse to show up at the confirmation hearing in an attempt to deny a quorum, the Republican majority still could hold the hearing.

Where the Democrats may have a leg up is when the committee meets to mark up the nominee, which usually occurs a week or two after the hearing. Committee rules suggest at least two Democrats would need to be present to vote the nominee out of committee and to the full Senate floor for a final confirmation vote.

But the Republican majority would have ways around that, such as changing the quorum requirement or moving the nomination straight to the full chamber.

Democrats, lacking the resources to halt the process, have threatened blowback against Republicans if they move forward with filling the vacancy. They said they could pack the Supreme Court with more justices to counter the conservative majority if Democrats win the White House and Senate.

They also have threatened to eliminate the legislative filibuster, a tool that requires 60 votes in the Senate to move forward with debate on a bill. The legislative filibuster has long been aimed at requiring bipartisan support for any bill that passes the upper chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, bucked the threat to pack the Supreme Court. He noted that liberals have been pushing court-packing for months.

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UN moves to contain coronavirus in Syrian refugee camps: Live |NationalTribune.com

 Austria is experiencing the start of a second wave of coronavirus infections, its chancellor has said, as cases spike upwards in line with other EU countries. UNHCR steps up efforts to combat COVID-19 among tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in camps in Jordan after the first three cases were confirmed last week. Domestic air…

UN moves to contain coronavirus in Syrian refugee camps: Live |NationalTribune.com

 Austria is experiencing the start of a second wave of coronavirus infections, its chancellor has said, as cases spike upwards in line with other EU countries.

UNHCR steps up efforts to combat COVID-19 among tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in camps in Jordan after the first three cases were confirmed last week.
Domestic air travel in Wuhan, the epicentre of the global coronavirus outbreak, returns to pre-pandemic levels with 500 domestic flights on Friday, Chinese authorities say.
More than 28.6 million people around the world have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and nearly 917,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. About 19.2 million people have recovered.
Here are the latest updates:
Sunday, September 13
16:20 GMT – India considers emergency authorisation of vaccine
India said it was considering granting an emergency authorisation for a COVID-19 vaccine, particularly for the elderly and people in high-risk workplaces, as the country’s number of reported infections passed 4.75 million.
India, which has consistently reported over 1,000 COVID-19 deaths daily this month, has now recorded 78,586 fatalities from the disease.

Migrants wait for transportation to a railway station during an extended lockdown [Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

It lags only the United States globally in overall number of infections, but it has been adding more daily cases than the United States since mid-August.
The comments came as the Indian health ministry reported 94,372 new COVID-19 cases and 1,114 deaths on Sunday.
15:50 GMT – Saudi Arabia to lift some international flight restrictions
Saudi Arabia will partially lift its suspension of international flights as of September 15 to allow “exceptional categories” of citizens and residents to travel, the state news agency SPA said.
The kingdom will lift all travel restrictions for citizens on January 1, 2021, it said.
15:20 GMT – UK records 3,330 more confirmed cases of COVID-19
The United Kingdom reported 3,330 confirmed new cases of COVID-19, according to government data published, compared with 3,497 a day earlier.
It also reported a further five new deaths from the coronavirus.
Britain is to bring in a new ban on social gatherings on Monday in a bid to curb the increasing rise in infections
14:30 GMT – Ninety Lebanon peacekeepers contract coronavirus
Ninety UN peacekeepers in south Lebanon have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, a spokesman for the UNIFIL force said, the first reported cases of the illness.
The confirmed cases were transferred to a special UNIFIL facility equipped to deal with COVID-19 cases, UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said in a statement.
The country has recorded a total of 23,669 Covid-19 cases, including 239 deaths since an outbreak began in February.
13:50 GMT – Ethiopia opens facility to make coronavirus test kits  
With increasing cases of COVID-19, Ethiopia has opened a facility to produce kits to test for the coronavirus and says its researchers are working to develop and test a vaccine.
The company producing the testing kits is a joint venture with a Chinese company, called BGI Health Ethiopia.

AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine trial on hold over safety issue

Ethiopia’s number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has risen to nearly 64,000 causing almost 1,000 deaths, according to government figures.
On Sunday, Ethiopia also opened a field hospital to hold up to 200 severely affected Covid-19 patients, which will start admitting patients immediately.
Ethiopia has conducted more than 1.1 million tests, making it the African country that has carried out the third-highest number of tests, according to Ethiopian health officials.
12:30 GMT – ECB’s Lagarde urges ‘no complacency’ in virus fightback
European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde has said there could be “no complacency” in the battle to recover from the pandemic-induced downturn, urging governments to support central bank efforts with fiscal spending.
Although the eurozone was bouncing back from the lockdowns that devastated economic activity earlier this year, Lagarde said the recovery remained “uneven” and “uncertain” as several nations grapple with a renewed rise in coronavirus infections.
The ECB “continues to stand ready to adjust all of its instruments” to help steer the 19-nation currency club through the crisis, Lagarde said in an online speech addressing a meeting of Arab central bankers.
12:00 GMT – Ireland plans to join common EU system of COVID-19 travel restrictions
Ireland plans to replace its current system of travel quarantines with the European Union’s proposed coordinated system as soon as it is ready, Prime Minister Micheal Martin has said. 
The European Commission earlier this month proposed a common traffic light system for EU member states to coordinate border controls and remedy the current, confusing patchwork of coronavirus restrictions on travellers across Europe.
Ryanair, Ireland’s dominant airline, on Friday called on Martin’s government to commit to implementing the EU plan.
11:30 GMT – Lufthansa’s Swiss unit could cut 15 percent of jobs: Report
Lufthansa’s Swiss unit could cut up to 15 percent of its 9,500 jobs if it cannot agree on salary cuts with staff as it seeks to meet strict savings targets in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, Swiss weekly Sonntagszeitung said.
“It is our target to get through the crisis with as many employees as possible,” the paper quoted a spokesman for Swiss as saying. “We have to cut costs by around 20 percent. We are not only focusing on personnel costs, but on every unit of the company.”

10:00 GMT – Israeli minister quits as coronavirus lockdown looms over holidays
An Israeli cabinet minister has tendered his resignation in protest against a looming coronavirus lockdown that he argued would unfairly impede religious celebrations of Jewish holidays.
The restrictions – the most extensive Israel is imposing since a lockdown that ran from late March to early May – are expected to go into effect on Friday, the Jewish new year Rosh Hashana, and span into the Yom Kippur fast day on September 27.
“This wrongs and scorns hundreds of thousands of citizens,” Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman, who heads an ultra-Orthodox Jewish party in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative coalition, said in his resignation letter.
09:30 GMT – Iran’s confirmed coronavirus cases exceed 400,000
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Iran rose by 2,089 to 402,029, a health ministry spokeswoman has said, as the country reported 128 deaths in the past 24 hours.
Sima Sadat Lari said the official death toll stood at 23,157 in Iran, one of the worst-hit countries in the Middle East.

09:15 GMT – Scores arrested at protests in Australia’s coronavirus hotspot
Police in Australia’s Victoria state have arrested 74 people and fined 176 for breaching public health orders as scattered protests against a weeks-long coronavirus lockdown continued for a second straight day across Melbourne.
A riot squad marched through fruit and vegetable stalls at the city’s landmark Queen Victoria Market before the scuffling with protesters erupted, with some people throwing fruits at the police, television footage showed.
Victoria Police said in a statement that there were between 200 and 250 people involved in the protests, but there were no immediately known injuries to the police.

09:00 GMT – Greece has financial flexibility for tax relief package: Minister
Greece has the financial flexibility to implement 6.8 billion euros ($8bn) of tax relief measures, and the package has been agreed with EU institutions, its finance minister said.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis unveiled the package on Saturday saying it would boost jobs amid an economic slump caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The country can afford it because it has the financial flexibility,” Christos Staikouras told Real FM radio on Sunday. “Cash reserves stand at 37.8 billion euros [$44.77bn].”
08:45 GMT – Philippines reports 3,372 new coronavirus cases, 79 more deaths
The Philippines has recorded 3,372 new coronavirus cases and 79 more deaths.
In a bulletin, the Department of Health said the Southeast Asian country’s confirmed cases of infection had risen to 261,216, the highest in the region, while its death toll had climbed to 4,371.

08:30 GMT – Indonesia sees sixth consecutive day of 3,000 infections
Indonesia has reported 3,636 new coronavirus infections and 73 new deaths, data from the Health Ministry’s website showed.
The latest report brought the total number of infections to 218,382 and deaths to 8,723, the highest number of deaths in Southeast Asia.
The country’s capital Jakarta will reimpose stricter wide-scale restrictions starting on Monday to control the spread of the virus in the megacity.

08:15 GMT – India interior minister back in hospital after recovering from COVID-19
India’s Home Minister Amit Shah has been hospitalised again nearly two weeks after he was treated for coronavirus.
Shah, a close aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the virtual number two in his cabinet, was admitted to the government-run All India Institute for Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, the hospital said in a statement.
As per advice given at discharge, Shah “has now been admitted for complete medical checkup before parliament session” for one or two days.
08:00 GMT – Austria experiencing second virus wave: Chancellor
Austria is experiencing the start of a second wave of coronavirus infections, its chancellor has said, as cases spike in line with other EU countries.
From Friday to Saturday, the Alpine nation of nearly nine million people reported 869 new cases – more than half of those in the capital Vienna.
“What we are experiencing is the beginning of the second wave,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in a statement, appealing to people to stick to anti-virus measures and reduce social contacts.
07:45 GMT – Russia reports 5,449 new coronavirus cases, 94 deaths 
Russia has reported 5,449 new coronavirus cases, pushing its national tally to 1,062,811, the fourth largest in the world.
Authorities said 94 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 18,578.
07:30 GMT – S Korea eases social distancing for two weeks
South Korea has eased its tough social distancing policy for the next two weeks in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, with new daily cases hovering stubbornly within triple digits.
The government lifted a ban on onsite dining after 9pm though still requires restaurants and cafes to restrict seating and record patrons’ names and contact details.
While leisure facilities such as gyms and internet cafes are also allowed to reopen, under so-called phase two restrictions, indoor gatherings are limited to 50 people and outdoor gatherings to 100, while spectators are banned from sporting events.

07:00 GMT – Czech Republic sees record rise in cases for third straight day
The Czech Republic has reported its largest single-day increase in new coronavirus infections for a third straight day, recording 1,541 cases, according to Health Ministry data.
It was the fifth day in a row with new infections above 1,000 as the country of 10.7 million sees a surge in cases that is among the fastest in the European Union.
The government has tightened rules requiring face mask but aims to avoid harsh lockdowns.
06:30 GMT – India’s cases rise to 4.75 million with another spike
India has registered a single-day spike of 94,372 new confirmed coronavirus cases, driving the country’s overall tally to 4.75 million.
The Ministry of Health reported 1,114 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities up to 78,586.
Even as infections are growing faster in India than anywhere else in the world, the number of people recovering from the virus has also risen sharply. The country’s recovery rate stands at 77.77 percent and nearly 70,000 recoveries have been reported every day in the month of September, according to the Ministry of Health.

Hi, this is Elizabeth Melimopoulos in Doha taking over the live updates from my colleague Ted Regencia in Kuala Lumpur.
04:45 GMT – AstraZeneca resumes UK trials of COVID-19 vaccine
AstraZeneca has resumed British clinical trials of its COVID-19 vaccine, one of the most advanced in development, after getting the green light from safety watchdogs, the company said.
“On 6 September, the standard review process triggered a voluntary pause to vaccination across all global trials to allow review of safety data by independent committees, and international regulators,” AstraZeneca said in a statement.
04:15 GMT – Italy reports 1,501 new coronavirus cases
Italy’s health ministry has reported 1,501 new coronavirus cases and six more deaths, bringing the total number of cases to more than 286,000 and at least 35,603 deaths.
According to the ministry data, infections have been steadily increasing for the past six weeks, mostly among Italians returning from vacation. The number of people in intensive care has also increased from 121 to 182.
03:50 GMT – Domestic air travel recovers in Wuhan
Domestic air travel in Wuhan, the epicentre of the global coronavirus outbreak, has returned to pre-pandemic levels, authorities say on Sunday.
The virus was first detected in Wuhan late last year and the city underwent a draconian 76-day lockdown as its hospitals struggled to deal with a tidal wave of cases that required the rapid construction of field hospitals.
Since re-opening in early April, life has gradually returned to normal and numbers of domestic flights serving the city, as well as the number of passengers, had fully recovered, according to the operator of Wuhan Tianhe International airport. It said 64,700 passengers were transported on 500 domestic flights on Friday.
03:20 GMT – Australia’s Victoria takes small step in easing virus restrictions
Lockdown restrictions in Australia’s state of Victoria will ease very slightly as of Monday, state officials said, as the number of new daily coronavirus cases continued to fall in the country’s hotspot, according to Reuters news agency.
Announcing a 3-billion Australian dollar ($2.2bn) package in financial aid to businesses in Victoria, home to a quarter of Australia’s population, officials also said there were 41 new coronavirus infections on Sunday and seven more deaths.
The numbers confirm a steady downward trend from a peak of more than 700 cases in a single day in early August. Victoria accounts for about 75 percent of Australia’s more than 26,600 COVID-19 cases and its capital, Melbourne, has been under strict lockdown for several weeks.

A person is detained during a planned anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne on Saturday [Erik Anderson/EPA]

02:15 GMT – Germany reports 947 new coronavirus cases
Germany has reported 948 new coronavirus cases.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) also reported that as of Sunday, two more fatalities. Germany has more than 260,000 cases and about 9,352 deaths linked to COVID-19.
01:35 GMT – South Korea reports 121 new COVID-19 cases
South Korea reported on Sunday at least 121 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total in the country to 22,176.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, 99 of the new infections were from local sources. Three more deaths were also reported, raising the total to 358.
Later on Sunday, the country will decide whether to extend stricter antivirus curbs in the greater Seoul area by another week, according to Yonhap news agency.
00:45 GMT – Mexico’s confirmed coronavirus deaths rise to 70,604
Mexico’s health ministry has reported 5,674 new confirmed coronavirus cases, as well as 421 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of deaths to 70,604 and 663,973 infections.
The government says the real number of infected people is likely to be significantly higher than the confirmed cases.
The virus has ravaged an already slumping economy, which is now seen contracting by up to 13 percent this year, the deepest downturn since the 1930s-era Great Depression, according to Reuters news agency.
00:15 GMT – UN steps up COVID-19 measures at Syrian refugee camps in Jordan
The UN refugee agency is stepping up efforts to combat COVID-19 among tens of thousands of Syrians in camps in Jordan after the first five cases were confirmed last week, the head of the agency in the country said.
The infections in Zaatari and Azraq camps, which house approximately 120,000 refugees, were the first since the pandemic was first reported in the kingdom last March.
“The developments this week have obviously been a worrying situation for all, but especially for refugees living in the camps. Crowded spaces and cramped living conditions make social distancing difficult,” said Dominik Bartsch, the UNHCR representative in Jordan.
00:05 GMT – Brazil reports 814 new coronavirus deaths, more than 33,500 cases
Brazil’s health ministry has reported 814 new coronavirus-related deaths and 33,523 additional cases, bringing the death toll to 131,210 and the infection count to 4,315,687.
Brazil has the third-highest number of cases worldwide and the second-highest number of fatalities.
______________________________________________________________
Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Ted Regencia in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 
For all the key developments from yesterday, September 12, go here. 
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US moves to block all Chinese claims in South China Sea |NationalTribune.com

The Trump administration escalated its actions against China on Monday by stepping squarely into one of the most sensitive regional issues dividing them and rejecting outright nearly all of Beijing’s significant maritime claims in the South China Sea. The administration presented the decision as an attempt to curb China’s increasing assertiveness in the region with…

US moves to block all Chinese claims in South China Sea |NationalTribune.com

The Trump administration escalated its actions against China on Monday by stepping squarely into one of the most sensitive regional issues dividing them and rejecting outright nearly all of Beijing’s significant maritime claims in the South China Sea.
The administration presented the decision as an attempt to curb China’s increasing assertiveness in the region with a commitment to recognising international law. But it will almost certainly have the more immediate effect of further infuriating the Chinese, who are already retaliating against numerous US sanctions and other penalties on other matters.
It also comes as President Donald Trump has come under growing fire for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, stepped up criticism of China in the run-up to the 2020 election and sought to paint his expected Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, as weak on China.
Previously, US policy had been to insist that maritime disputes between China and its smaller neighbours be resolved peacefully through UN-backed arbitration. But in a statement released on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US now regards virtually all Chinese maritime claims outside its internationally recognised waters to be illegitimate. The shift does not involve disputes over land features that are above sea level, which are considered to be “territorial” in nature.
“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” Pompeo said. “America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law. We stand with the international community in defence of freedom of the seas and respect for sovereignty and reject any push to impose ‘might makes right’ in the South China Sea or the wider region.”

— Indo-Pacific News (@IndoPac_Info) July 13, 2020

Although the US will continue to remain neutral in territorial disputes, the announcement means the administration is in effect siding with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, all of which oppose Chinese assertions of sovereignty over maritime areas surrounding contested islands, reefs and shoals.
“There are clear cases where [China] is claiming sovereignty over areas that no country can lawfully claim,” the State Department said in a fact sheet that accompanied the statement.
The announcement was released a day after the fourth anniversary of a binding decision by an arbitration panel in favour of the Philippines that rejected China’s maritime claims around the Spratly Islands and neighbouring reefs and shoals.

And yet, there they are. Two @USNavy aircraft carriers operating in the international waters of the South China Sea. #USSNimitz & #USSRonaldReagan are not intimidated #AtOurDiscretion https://t.co/QGTggRjOul
— Navy Chief of Information (@chinfo) July 5, 2020

China has refused to recognise that decision, dismissed it as a “sham”, and refused to participate in the arbitration proceedings. It has continued to defy the decision with aggressive actions that have brought it into territorial spats with Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia in recent years.
However, as a result, the administration said China has no valid maritime claims to the fish- and potentially energy-rich Scarborough Reef, Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal. The US has repeatedly said areas regarded to be part of the Philippines are covered by a US-Philippines mutual defence treaty in the event of an attack on them.
In addition to reiterating support for that decision, Pompeo said China cannot legally claim the James Shoal near Malaysia, waters surrounding the Vanguard Bank off Vietnam, the Luconia Shoals near Brunei and Natuna Besar off Indonesia. As such, the US said it would regard any Chinese harassment of fishing vessels or oil exploration in those areas as unlawful.

China has sought to shore up its claim to the sea by building military bases on coral atolls, leading the US to sail its warships through the region in what it calls “freedom of operation missions”. The US has no claims itself to the waters but has deployed warships and aircraft for decades to patrol and promote freedom of navigation and overflight in the busy waterway.
Last week, China angrily complained about the US flexing its military muscle in the South China Sea by conducting joint exercises with two US aircraft carrier groups in the strategic waterway. The US Navy said the USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan, along with their accompanying vessels and aircraft, conducted exercises “designed to maximize air defence capabilities, and extend the reach of long-range precision maritime strikes from carrier-based aircraft in a rapidly evolving area of operations”.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea and routinely objects to any action by the US military in the region. Five other governments claim all or part of the sea, through which approximately five trillion dollars in goods are shipped every year.
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Maine GOP moves to block ranked choice voting for president

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine GOP submitted petitions Monday designed to stop the use of a ranked voting style for president, setting up an Election Day fight over the future of the method. Maine became the first state in the country to adopt ranked choice voting when residents approved of it in 2016. The rollout…

Maine GOP moves to block ranked choice voting for president

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine GOP submitted petitions Monday designed to stop the use of a ranked voting style for president, setting up an Election Day fight over the future of the method.

Maine became the first state in the country to adopt ranked choice voting when residents approved of it in 2016. The rollout of the voting method has since been bumpy, with legal challenges and attempts to reduce its use or scrap it altogether.

But Maine voters were set to use ranked voting for president for the first time in U.S. history in November. The Republicans’ signatures, if verified by the Maine Secretary of State, would instead force a veto vote on the ballot-casting method on Election Day. Voters would decide on Nov. 3 whether to keep ranked voting for president in future elections.

The Republicans submitted more than 72,000 signatures, several thousand above the number they needed to force the veto vote, said Maine GOP executive director Jason Savage. Ranked voting cost the Republicans a seat in Congress in 2018 when Democratic Rep. Jared Golden defeated incumbent Bruce Poliquin, and the GOP has long criticized the method as confusing, unnecessary and unfair.

“The people’s veto has always been about restoring the sanctity of our election process, preserving the bedrock American principle of ‘one person, one vote’ and ensuring that Ranked Choice Voting does not interfere with Maine’s Presidential elections,” Savage said.

Republicans contend the new voting method violates the principle of one person, one vote. Democrats have said it simply gives voters more choice. Proponents also say the voting method eliminates spoiler candidates and ensures the winner earns a majority of votes.

Ranked choice voting is used in some municipalities around the country, including Portland, Maine’s largest city. It essentially functions as an instant runoff. Voters rank their candidates, and their second choices come into play in ranked rounds if no candidate breaks 50% of the vote in the initial vote count.

Maine Democrats characterized the veto push as an attempt by Republicans to undermine the will of voters. Mainers reaffirmed their desire for ranked choice voting in a 2018 vote, they said.

“Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike report that it’s important elections reflect the will of a majority of voters – exactly what RCV achieves, and what its opponents are trying to undermine,” said Kathleen Marra, chair of the Maine Democratic Party.

Maine uses ranked choice voting for U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. That isn’t changing, as the veto attempt applies only to the presidential election.

Recent history suggests ranked voting would have a chance to impact Maine’s presidential election results in 2020. In 2016, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won the state, but failed to crack 50% of the vote, which would have triggered the ranked round of voting. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson performed better in Maine than he did in most Democratic-leaning states.

The state also apportions electoral votes by congressional district, and President Donald Trump won the more conservative 2nd District in 2016. That district is expected to be in play again in 2020. Ranked voting could tip the balance in either direction.

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