Guest: Montgomery County, MD Dep. Election Dir. Alysoun McLaughlin; Also: Progressive U.S. House candidate wins in IL; With all market gains since inauguration gone, Trump declares self a 'wartime president'...
By Brad Friedman on 3/18/2020, 7:03pm PT  

On today's BradCast: Former Vice President Joe Biden trounced Bernie Sanders in three more states on Tuesday. The coronavirus pandemic continued to spread as all of the stock market gains since Donald Trump's inauguration were finally wiped out. And the nation's elections officials --- at least some of them --- began eyeing the need to move to Vote-by-Mail elections as a temporary mitigation for the foreseeable future. But is that a good idea? Are we ready for it? [Audio link to show is posted below below.]

First up, however, some good news, believe it or not! Marie Newman, a progressive challenger to far-right anti-abortion Democratic U.S. House Rep. Dan Lipinski, appears to have won her primary race against the conservative eight-term Congressman in Illinois 3rd Congressional district. The victory in the very "blue" suburbs of Chicago virtually guarantees Newman's election to the House in November, mirroring Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez' 2018 defeat of longtime (if less execrable) Democratic incumbent Joe Crowley in New York.

Beyond that, Biden appears to have delivered a thumping to Sanders in Florida, Illinois and Arizona, increasing his lead in the nominating contest to a seemingly insurmountable 300 delegates. All three states held low-turnout primaries on Tuesday amid warnings from health officials to avoid large gatherings, polling places that were closed or moved at the last minute, and a shortage of pollworkers due to cancellations in the wake of coronavirus concerns. Ohio, which was also supposed to vote on Tuesday, postponed its Presidential primary until June at the very last minute.

Both Biden and Sanders addressed supporters on Tuesday night via live Internet streams due to the cancellation of live rallies. They both focused mostly on actions needed to address the pandemic. Despite rumors throughout the day on Wednesday, and the cancellation of online digital ads, the Sanders campaign maintains that they are not suspending, but reassessing their campaign with three more weeks until the next scheduled primary, given all of the various states which have now postponed elections amid the COVID-19 crisis.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate finally passed an emergency relief measure adopted by the U.S. House last week to guarantee paid sick leave and expanded unemployment benefits to certain workers, while extending some food security programs, even as a FAR larger stimulus package will be required in response to the ongoing crisis, as markets fell again on Wednesday, reversing all of the gains since Trump took office. For his part, the President vowed to invoke the Defense Production Act to allow the federal government to commandeer private U.S. facilities to manufacturer various needed medical supplies such as masks and ventilators. With the economy in tatters and after weeks of bungled responses, Trump has now declared himself a "wartime president", even as he continues to attack his perceived political enemies and employ racist terms to describe the coronavirus pandemic.

Amid all of this, the nation's elections officials are turning their efforts toward quickly devising ways to safely hold upcoming primary elections as well as the general election in November. On Tuesday, the Governor of Maryland postponed the state's April 28 primary elections until June 2, but allowed the scheduled U.S. House Special Election to fill the Baltimore seat of the late Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings to proceed as an all-mail contest. Joining us today to discuss the efforts now underway to quickly move to Vote-by-Mail elections in Maryland (and elsewhere) is ALYSOUN MCLAUGHLIN, longtime Deputy Election Director for Montgomery County, MD. She also serves as Secretary on the Board of Advisors to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and as Vice Chair of the National Association of Counties.

Following her Governor's executive order postponing the statewide primary while calling for an all-mail U.S. House Special Election next month, McLaughlin explains some of the many challenges officials face in turning to VBM elections in the state. "The way we see it, we don't have a choice. The way we see it, there's a whole lot of really challenging problems in conducting an election under these circumstances right now, and the best way for us to serve everyone --- and to serve everyone avoiding the kinds of stresses and strains that we saw on polling places on Tuesday --- is for us to mail everyone a ballot. And immediately that takes the pressure off of the polls. That allows us to deal with the fact that our workforce is so significantly diminished in staffing a polling place election."

She tells me that officials in all 24 counties in the state feel the move to mail every registered voter a ballot is necessary for the newly-reschedule primary, though the state Board of Elections will still need to approve the plan. At the same time, there are many challenges and concerns in turning to such a system, particularly in such short order. We discussed a number of them on yesterday's program and Washington Post's Cybesecurity 202 column detailed several more. I've laid out even more such concerns over many years counseling caution, as I have long opposed VBM elections except where voters were unable to vote at the polls on Election Day or where a jurisdiction forces voters to vote by unverifiable, unsecure --- and, yes, germy --- touchscreen voting systems at the polls. (Thankfully, Maryland, which, with Georgia, was first in the nation to adopt statewide touchscreen voting in 2002, no longer does so, having moved recently, and sensibly, to hand-marked paper ballots for all.)

My conversation with McLaughlin today highlights some of those concerns, including questions about signature verification which, she says, her state does not use at all in determining if absentee ballots are to be included in the tally or rejected from the count. It's an eye-opening and important discussion that we will, necessarily, continue to have, in hopes that states adopt new temporary election practices in line with recommendations from health experts, even while observing best practices required to make sure VBM elections are secure, inclusive and publicly overseeable...

Download MP3 or listen to complete show online below...

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