Analysis: How NYC Board of Elections' mistake fuels Trump's false election fraud claims

To be clear, there’s nothing nefarious going on here. There’s just incompetence. We will eventually know the result.

But in a time when there is disillusionment with our election system, the Board of Elections failed and gave actors with bad intentions a place to stake their claims.

More voters didn’t trust the 2020 election results than in any election in recent history. A quarter of all Americans had no confidence that the election was conducted accurately. That jumps to 63% among Republicans.

Compare these with a Pew Research Center poll taken just after the 2016 election. Back then, only 5% of Americans had no confidence at all in the results. This included just 11% of Hillary Clinton supporters.

The reason for the jump was because Republicans led by former President Donald Trump conducted a misinformation campaign based on false statements that the 2020 results were somehow illegitimate. Trump presented no proof to back his assertions, and nothing has been found to be widespread by officials.

Now, a day after the New York City Board of Elections’ mistake,Trump, along with other Republicans, is out in full force.

What’s amazing about the Board of Elections error is that it was totally unforced. Election counting errors usually occur on election night, when there is a time crunch. No such time pressure occurred in this situation.

New York City started counting its votes for initial in-person preferences more than a week ago (on June 22). They had a week to run the computer program assigned to calculate how ranked-choice voting would impact the election.

Nobody, apparently, noticed that the vote count for the initial preferences for in-person voting was more than 135,000 votes greater than it was when initial preferences were first counted a week ago. Shifts of a few thousand votes shouldn’t be surprising, because of late-counted in-person ballots. A shift of north of 100,000 votes should have suggested something was amiss to somebody.

Keep in mind, too, that this count does not include any absentee ballots. There have been more than 120,000 absentee ballots returned. It was not necessary for the city to release a ranked-choice vote count without the absentees. Some candidates actually asked for the Board of Elections to release ranked-choice voting results only once the absentees were included.

They did it anyway — and screwed it up.

The question now is what happens from here. The hope is that there aren’t any more mistakes the rest of the way. Even if the Board of Elections has no more mistakes with in-person votes, it still has to count the absentee votes.

Hopefully, the candidates will all recognize the result as legitimate, once all the mistakes are corrected.

Still, this type of error is par for the course for an election board that has been home to miscues in the past. It found and counted ballots more than half a year after the 2012 presidential election. And last year, it sent out 100,000 flawed absentee ballots because of a printing error.

If New York City were in a swing state, its Board of Elections’ mistakes would be notorious.

Ensuring that the Board of Elections doesn’t make these types of errors going forward is paramount.

Members of the board (one from each of the city’s five boroughs) are essentially selected by the Democratic and Republican parties and confirmed by the City Council. Only the governor can remove a member of the Board of Elections.

This system isn’t working, and the only way to change things is through state law.

If things do not change, we have no reason to believe that this week’s error will be the last one for New York City elections.

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Seventeen states have enacted 28 new laws making it harder to vote

The 28 total laws in 17 states mark a new record for restrictive voting laws since 2011, when the Brennan Center recorded 19 laws enacted in 14 state legislatures.

More than half of these new laws make it harder to vote absentee and by mail, after a record number of Americans voted by mail in November.

The legislative push is part of a national Republican effort to restrict access to the ballot box following record turnout in the 2020 election. Republicans currently control both chambers of 30 state legislatures.

State lawmakers are expected to attempt enacting additional laws this year.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has announced he will convene a special session of the state legislature on July 8. The Republican governor has promised to revive a slew of new voting restrictions effectively killed by Democrats during the regular legislative session, tweeting late last month that he would be adding “election integrity” to a list of topics lawmakers will address.

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DHS raises alarms over potential for summer violence pegged to August conspiracy theory

The August theory is essentially a recycled version of other false narratives pushed by Trump and his allies leading up to and after January 6, prompting familiar rhetoric from those who remain in denial about his 2020 election loss. But the concern is significant enough that DHS issued two warnings in the past week about the potential for violence this summer.

In a closed-door meeting last Wednesday, DHS officials briefed lawmakers on the role that misinformation and disinformation play in creating circumstances for people to act violently, according to a congressional source familiar with the briefing.

On Monday, DHS issued an intelligence bulletin to state and local law enforcement partners about the increasing opportunities for violent extremist attacks this summer, including concerns that QAnon conspiracy theorists continue to promote the idea that Trump will return to power in August, according to a source familiar.

This latest series of warnings reflects an effort by DHS to be more proactive in sharing information about domestic extremist threats since pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol on January 6, but it also comes as the department is still grappling with tough truths about its own role in the security breakdowns that occurred nearly six months ago.

The department has “no evidence” of a threat associated with the supposed date of Trump’s return to office, but historically some domestic violent extremists “have conducted violence in furtherance of conspiracy theories,” the bulletin said.

The bulletin also assessed the possibility that domestic terrorists might seek to exploit the easing of Covid-19 restrictions in order to attack a range of potential targets. The bulletin and briefing were first reported by Politico.

“You’re going to have more people out. You’re going to have more people in public places. And you increase the opportunities for individuals or groups of individuals who are interested in conducting attacks,” a senior DHS official told CNN.

Some Trump supporters alluded to that possibility over the weekend during a rally in Ohio, where they were blunt in their assessment of what would happen if the former President were not reinstated later this summer.

“We are going to be in a civil war,” one Trump supporter told CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan.

Those concerns have prompted the department to ramp up its efforts working with state and local law enforcement and nongovernment entities to detect potential threats and mitigate them, the senior DHS official said.

A DHS spokesperson said the department is “focused on the nexus between violence and extremist ideologies” and is working to “prevent acts of domestic terrorism inspired by disinformation, conspiracy theories and false narratives spread through social media and other online platforms.”

Lingering questions about January 6

The attack on January 6 exposed security breakdowns across a host of law enforcement agencies, including massive intelligence failures, critical miscommunications and unheeded warnings that ultimately led to the chaotic response that day.

Those problems ultimately redound onto DHS, an agency created to address similar intelligence breakdowns that occurred ahead of the 9/11 attacks and that has assumed responsibility for countering a rising threat posed by domestic extremists in recent years.

Yet there has not been a full accounting of DHS’ role in the security failures that occurred on January 6 despite the investigative efforts by Congress and outside experts to date.

Among the most glaring questions is why the DHS intelligence branch did not produce any bulletin or warning about the potential for violence at the Capitol on January 6.​

Asked about this lapse by CNN, the senior DHS official said there has “absolutely” been a concerted effort since President Joe Biden took office in January to push more information to the public, as well as state and local governments.

The Homeland Security inspector general office says it is reviewing whether the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis fulfilled its responsibility for providing intelligence to law enforcement for January 6.

Senate committees investigating January 6 noted in a recent report that DHS has “yet to fully comply with the Committees’ requests for information” about its role that day, but a source familiar with the matter tells CNN that the department will likely turn over more information going forward.

The acting head of the DHS intelligence branch, Melissa Smislova, testified to Capitol Hill committees in March that it is a “complex challenge” to distinguish between people engaged in constitutionally protected activities and those involved in violent behavior.

Over the last several months, DHS has attempted to pay more attention to domestic extremist threats, conducting an operational review of the department, prioritizing information sharing and reaching out to the tech sector, among other initiatives.

DHS is also examining whether more should be done to flag high-risk individuals when they are traveling, potentially applying additional scrutiny or notification to authorities, according to the senior official. This could go a step further than the threshold for putting someone on the terrorist watch list.

For example, DHS is exploring applying this extra scrutiny to someone deemed a risk for violence by local law enforcement or an individual subject to a court order “red flag” law.

But the official emphasized that this is still under review, as are several other initiatives led by DHS that were prompted by fallout from January 6.

Concerns about infiltration

Meanwhile, officials are looking to August for potential threats. In addition to the Trump reinstatement conspiracy theory, it is also the anniversary of two devastating domestic terrorism incidents — the 2019 El Paso, Texas, shooting on August 3, which killed 23 people, and the 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, car attack on August 12.

DHS is reviewing publicly available social media for explicit threats of violence in the lead-up to the anniversaries of these events, according to the bulletin shared earlier this week.

The overarching message during the congressional briefing last week was that DHS faces a challenge in remaining vigilant to the ways online disinformation can lead to potential violence, according to a source familiar with what was said during the closed-door session.

“There are also concerns about the level of infiltration,” the source said. “This mindset is not really as fringe as we would all probably like for it to be. These people are in civil society, they’re in public-sector jobs and positions of authority, and that’s troubling.”

US President Donald Trump holds a Make America Great Again rally as he campaigns at Orlando Sanford International Airport in Sanford, Florida, October 12, 2020.
The FBI and DHS have also detailed how adherents to online conspiracy theories, particularly those revolving around the 2020 election, are becoming more emboldened to take action in the real world following the January 6 attack.

DHS has previously warned about the persistent threat posed by “militia” extremists who typically target law enforcement and government personnel and facilities.

The militia threat “will almost certainly continue to be elevated throughout 2021” because of sociopolitical factors, a March joint threat assessment on domestic extremism said.

Present at that Ohio Trump rally were individuals who claimed to be members of the same militia groups whose members face federal charges related to their actions on January 6, a physical reminder of concerns about the threat they still pose.

“What’s scary is that these groups have specialized training, they have access to weapons, and the rage is shocking and overwhelming,” one source said about some of these militia groups that took part on January 6.

“It does kind of feel like there is just sort of a giant elephant in the room — a threat that’s kind of lying in wait. It does sort of feel like it can kind of rear its head at any moment,” the source added.

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Biden signs bill repealing Trump-era EPA rule on methane emissions

The President described the bill as an “important first step” to cut methane pollution and said it “reflects a return to common sense and commitment to the common good.”

“(President Barack Obama) in 2016 and I put in place a rule that required that companies capture methane leaks from the wells they were digging,” Biden said before signing the bill. “Well, guess what, they didn’t.”

The President continued: “And so since then we’ve learned that methane is even more dangerous to the climate than we knew back then in 2016, trapping much more heat — up to 80 times more heat, methane does — than carbon dioxide in its first 20 years in the atmosphere.”

The President said the infrastructure framework that he and a bipartisan group of senators had agreed to last week would do more to help address the climate crisis.

While president, Donald Trump rolled back regulations designed to limit global warming and repeatedly denied the scientific reality of the crisis and the threat it poses to the planet. Trump attempted to remove many of the guardrails installed by the Obama administration to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases.

Biden is looking to sharply reverse course from the Trump administration, and since taking office has signed several executive actions to combat the climate crisis. He and other administration officials have emphasized that the White House is taking a “whole of government” approach to climate change.

The legislation Biden signed on Wednesday was passed by the House of Representatives last week after being passed by the Senate in April.

The vote was 229-191 in the House. All Democrats supported the resolution and 12 Republicans broke ranks to back it.

The Senate passed the resolution at the end of April under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to roll back regulations imposed by the executive branch. The act allows Congress to rescind within 60 legislative days a regulation put in place by an administration without having to clear the 60-vote threshold in the Senate that is necessary for most legislation. The vote was 52-42 in the Senate.

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The Point: Trump is one of history's worst presidents, survey says

Ever since 2000, when a new president has been elected, C-SPAN surveys presidential historians and asks them to rate every previous American commander in chief on 10 aspects of presidential leadership.

This is the first year Trump was included in the rankings. Spoiler alert: The 142 historians surveyed didn’t exactly rank him among America’s greatest presidents. In fact, he’s toward the bottom of the list, at 41st overall

While Lincoln tops C-SPAN’s ranking for the fourth survey in a row, Trump doesn’t quite get there. 

Trump comes in dead last in moral authority and administrative skills. On both issue areas, he ranks 44th of 44. (Sidebar: Even though Trump is the 45th President, only 44 men have served as president — Grover Cleveland served two nonconsecutive terms as the 22nd and 24th president, hence he is counted only once.) Trump’s low moral authority rating likely has something to do with the number of lies he perpetuated before, during and after his presidency.

Trump is rated highest for his public persuasion, a ranking of No. 32, and economic management, at No. 34.

There could be some good news for Trump in the next survey. Some fellow recent presidents have experienced bumps in their rankings as time has passed …

  • Barack Obama rose to #10 from his #12 ranking in 2017. 
  • George W. Bush continued his steady incline, now ranking at #29, from #33 in 2017 and #36 in 2009. 
  • Bill Clinton began at #21 in 2000 and held steady at #15 in 2009 and 2017 before declining this cycle to #19. 
The Point: In December, 1 in 5 Americans thought Trump would go down as one of the best presidents in history. But so far, historians are giving him low marks. 

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Parents of 368 migrant children separated at border under Trump have still not been found, court filing says

The filing from the Justice Department and the American Civil Liberties Union is part of an ongoing effort to identify and reunite families three years after the “zero tolerance” policy was created.

Since May, the parents of 23 of those children whose whereabouts were previously unknown have been found, according to Wednesday’s filing.

Under then-President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, border officials separated at least 2,800 children from their parents, according to government data. Officials later found that more than 1,000 children had been separated from their families before Trump’s policy went into effect in 2018. The latest court filing is specific to those families separated under the Trump administration.
The Biden administration recently reunited 24 families who had been separated at the US-Mexico border under the “zero tolerance” policy as part of the administration’s interagency task force efforts.

The task force has been engaging with groups that are in touch with families and carefully planning their return, taking into account past trauma, Ann Garcia, an attorney who’s been working on assisting separated families with legal and social needs, previously told CNN, noting that some parents are nervous about encountering US Customs and Border Protection again since their last encounters with agents resulted in their children being taken from them.

As part of the effort, the Department of Homeland Security is establishing a process for accepting parole requests, the Department of Health and Human Services is working on facilitating services to support families and the State Department is developing a streamlined system for processing in-country travel document requests. The Justice Department is involved in related settlement negotiation efforts.

Immigrant advocacy groups have urged the administration to move faster to reunite families, some of whom have been separated for more than three years.

But a senior DHS official told CNN earlier this month, “We chose intentionally to start slow, so we can go fast later.”

“We need to make sure that families have a place to go when they get here,” the official said. “There’s a review of the cases and preparation for travel.”

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States are so flush with funds, many are cutting taxes

So instead of cutting spending in the wake of the pandemic, many states are cutting taxes.

Nine states have passed legislation to reduce individual or corporate income tax rates that is awaiting governors’ signatures or has been enacted, according to Katherine Loughead, senior policy analyst at the right-leaning Tax Foundation. In some, the reductions are retroactive to January 1, but in others, the cuts don’t take effect until next year.

“Most of the states that are doing rate reductions have a big surplus, and that’s what they are using,” Loughead said. “A lot are pursuing policies they had in mind for a while now, but just didn’t have the revenue to do.”

Many of the measures cut taxes across the board but provide bigger benefits for the wealthy.

In Ohio, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine was set to sign a two-year budget bill on Wednesday that reduces income tax rates and boosts the bottom bracket so more low-income earners will be exempted. But it also eliminates the top bracket for those earning more than $221,300.

This means that the state’s wealthiest 5% of taxpayers will receive nearly 60% of the benefits, while the bottom 80% will get only 23%, according to an analysis for Policy Matters Ohio by the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

“Without veto action by DeWine, the legislature will send a windfall to the wealthiest Ohioans while draining revenue the state needs to get back on track after the pandemic,” said Zach Schiller, Policy Matters’ research director. “Altogether, the tax cuts and breaks will cost more than $2 billion over the next two years that could be put to much better use.”

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, last month signed legislation cutting individual income tax rates by 0.25 percentage point. That reduces the top rate from 5% to 4.75%, the sixth lowest among states that levy income taxes, according to the Tax Foundation.

Also, the state’s corporate income tax rate will fall from 6% to 4%, tying it with Missouri’s for the second lowest in the nation, behind North Carolina, among states with corporate income taxes.

Meanwhile, Idaho’s Republican Gov. Brad Little touted in May that state officials had enacted the largest tax cut legislation in state history — providing more than $435 million in relief over two measures.

A tax bill signed in May provides $220 million in one-time income tax rebates to residents — providing a minimum payment of $50 per taxpayer and dependent or about 9% of the tax amount reported on residents’ 2019 state income tax forms, whichever is higher.

The legislation also includes $163 million in ongoing tax reductions. It trims the number of income tax brackets to five, from seven, and lowers the top individual and corporate tax rates to 6.5%, from 6.925%.

The primary source of funding for the measure comes from the implementation of a provision several years ago that levies sales taxes on out-of-state purchases made online, according to the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

Helping lower-income workers

Several states also made changes to their earned income tax credits, which benefit lower-income workers, particularly many essential employees who braved the pandemic.

“A lot of the EITC expansion is a lot of states saying: Hey, we know this one group of workers has been particularly hard hit, because the defining characteristic of this last year is that if you were a lower-income worker, you probably lost your job and got hammered,” said Richard Auxier, senior policy associate at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

In addition to its rate cuts, Oklahoma made its state-level earned income tax credit refundable again so that lower-wage workers can receive the full amount, even if it exceeds the taxes they owe. It was made nonrefundable in 2016 to address a budget shortfall, according to the left-leaning Oklahoma Policy Institute.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, signed a bill creating a state-level earned income tax credit in May, after more than a dozen years of advocacy by consumer groups. The credit, which will begin in 2023, will provide between $300 and $1,200 to 420,000 households, according to the left-leaning Washington State Budget & Policy Center.

Concerns about federal relief funds

The bevy of tax cuts come even as a coalition of Republican states are suing the Biden administration over a provision in the $350 billion state relief fund contained in the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion rescue bill from March. It says that states cannot use the funds to “either directly or indirectly” offset a decrease in net tax revenue resulting from changes such as rate reductions, rebates, deductions and credits.

However, Treasury Department guidance later clarified that states can cut taxes as long as they are paid for through economic growth, measured by increases in tax revenue from fiscal 2019, Auxier said.

Many state officials, particularly Republicans, argue that cutting taxes is a way to bolster their economic recovery from the pandemic — setting up a clash with left-leaning advocates, who say budget surpluses should be spent on struggling residents.

In Arizona, the state budget that GOP Gov. Doug Ducey signed Wednesday collapses the state’s tax brackets into two — a 2.55% and a 2.98% rate. A flat rate of 2.5% could take effect in the future depending on the amount of general fund revenue that is raised. Also, lawmakers put in a 4.5% rate cap, blunting a 3.5% surcharge on higher earners that voters approved last year to pay for education.

“We’re giving a bulk of the surplus dollars back to the people who earned them — to you,” Ducey said in a video message, highlighting that the budget contains the largest tax cut in state history. “This budget puts a giant ‘Open for Business’ sign on the state of Arizona. We will remain competitive and continue to attract good-paying jobs.”

This story has been updated with further developments Wednesday.

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