Latest on 2020 election and SCOTUS battle

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 8:20 PM ET, Tue September 22, 2020
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4:55 p.m. ET, September 22, 2020

Michelle Obama: "Don't listen to people who will say that somehow voting is rigged"

From CNN's Rachel Janfaza

Courtesy When We All Vote
Courtesy When We All Vote

Former first lady Michelle Obama spoke to young voters Tuesday about the importance of casting a ballot. 

“Voting is easy. It is something that we can do. Don’t listen to people who will say that somehow voting is rigged and your vote will get lost and it won’t be counted. That is not true,” Obama said in a conversation with actress Zendaya during an event hosted on Instagram Live by When We All Vote, Obama’s voter engagement organization. 

“I don’t want people to be discouraged by those conspiracy theories that are being peddled out there about the validity of our election process because it’s just not true,” Obama said, in a nod to efforts meant to undermine the legitimacy of the 2020 election, including comments made by President Donald Trump that voting by mail is not secure.

Obama emphasized current misinformation about voter fraud and stressed to viewers the importance of not succumbing to voter intimidation.

“What I want young people to think about is that if you feel intimidated to the point where you’re not voting, that’s exactly what folks want you to do,” she said. “They want you to stay home. They want you to feel so confused by the process that you just throw your hands up. And then, you know, they let those in power make the choices for you. But you know, you can’t let any process make you feel so intimidated that you don’t make your voice heard.”

Obama also talked about both voting by mail and in person, adding that all voters must have a plan in place. She encouraged those watching to visit her organization’s website, Whenweallvote.org, for assistance with election oriented questions. 

Obama also did an Instagram Live with Jennifer Lopez Tuesday, during which she spoke about her and former President Barack Obama’s relationship with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She called Ginsberg an “amazing force of a woman.” 

“To think about how far she had to come, and how hard she fought to make sure that we had the rights that we deserve to protect our interest as women to protect our rights, to control our bodies, that is the legacy,” Obama said.

When We All Vote has been live on Instagram throughout the day in celebration of National Voter Registration Day. On Tuesday evening, Obama will be live again via When We All Vote with actress Ayesha Curry and basketball player Chris Paul. 

3:31 p.m. ET, September 22, 2020

Trump will lay out additional health care steps in coming two weeks, press secretary says

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez and Kevin Liptak 

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany Drew Angerer/Getty Images

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Tuesday she expects President Trump to lay out his vision for health care in the coming two weeks. 

When a reporter asked McEnany if the President’s health care plan actually exists, McEnany responded by saying, “No, it certainly does exist.” 

“The President in the next week or so will be laying out his vision for health care. Some of that has already been put out there – telemedicine and lowering the cost of drugs... and protecting preexisting conditions. But the President will be laying out some additional health care steps in the coming, I would say, two weeks,” she added. 

Additionally, Vice President Mike Pence said President Trump will take executive action soon guaranteeing that Americans with pre-existing conditions must be covered by health insurance, even as his administration works to dismantle those protections under the Affordable Care Act.

"In the days ahead I would anticipate that the President will be taking some action under his executive branch authority to make it clear to every American that those who are facing pre-existing conditions will be covered under insurance plans," Pence said in an interview with CBS News. "They will not be denied coverage."

Trump is expected to deliver remarks on health care when he visits Charlotte on Thursday.

Some context: This comes as Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden intends to make a push on health care that is focused on defending the Affordable Care Act and its sweeping protections for pre-existing conditions.

3:28 p.m. ET, September 22, 2020

Twice as many absentee ballots have been requested in Ohio compared to 2016 

From CNN's Devon M. Sayers 

Mike Babinski opens applications for voter ballots at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Tuesday, July 14, in Cleveland.
Mike Babinski opens applications for voter ballots at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Tuesday, July 14, in Cleveland. Tony Dejak/AP/FILE

Twice as many Ohio absentee ballots have been requested compared with the 2016 election cycle, the state’s top election official announced Tuesday. 

Nearly 1.8 million applications have been received compared to 805,000 at this same point during 2016 cycle, Ohio Secretary of State Frank Larose said in a press release.  

LaRose said over the past week alone, there were 385,657 new absentee ballot requests.

3:12 p.m. ET, September 22, 2020

Facebook takes down accounts it says were run from China and posting about 2020 election  

From CNN’s Donie O'Sullivan

Facebook on Tuesday said it shut down more than 150 fake accounts run from China that included accounts posting about November's US presidential election. 

The accounts "posted content both in support of and against presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden and Donald Trump," Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of security policy wrote in a post on the company's website. 

Graphika, a social media analytics company commissioned by Facebook to study the network of accounts, wrote in its report Tuesday, "In 2019-2020, the operation began running accounts that posed as Americans and posted a small amount of content about the US presidential election. Different assets supported President Donald Trump and his rival Joe Biden; one short-lived group supported former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. The operation did not single out either candidate for preferential treatment. Many of the accounts in this phase of the operation were barely active."

Facebook did not say if the accounts were tied to the Chinese government, only that the accounts were run from China's Fujian province. Though the company did point out that the accounts had been posting about "Beijing's interests in the South China Sea."

Graphika said accounts in the network had defended Beijing. 

Gleicher stressed that most of the activity focused on South East Asia and only a very small amount of activity focused on the 2020 election. 

However, there was a sense of urgency in Facebook's announcement Tuesday.

The company normally discloses takedowns like this once a month, and the next announcement not due for another week or two.

Gleicher told reporters Tuesday given the nature of the company's findings "we thought that it was important that people should be aware of what we are seeing." 

Ben Nimmo, head of investigations at Graphika told CNN, "The US-focused content was the least and last part of the operation. It ran one group each to support President Trump, Vice President Biden and Pete Buttigieg; all together, they had under 2,000 members. Some of their fake accounts did not engage with political content at all, and liked content from the US military instead. Most of the US-focused assets were taken down when they were a few months old, so they didn't have time to build a substantial audience."

2:57 p.m. ET, September 22, 2020

Maine's Supreme Court clears the way for ranked-choice voting 

From CNN's Marshall Cohen and Ross Levitt 

Maine’s Supreme Court has sided with the state’s Democratic secretary of state and has rejected a Republican challenge to ranked-choice voting in the upcoming election. The ruling means Mainers will use ranked-choice voting in the presidential election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, barring further appeals.

The five judge panel ruled that the secretary of state acted correctly in rejecting a ballot referendum on the future of ranked-choice voting – which would’ve meant Maine couldn’t use the voting method for this year’s election.

How this works: Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank all of the candidates by preference and for a voter’s next choice to considered if their first candidate doesn’t have enough votes to be viable.

The decision is the latest twist in a long legal battle over ranked-choice voting in Maine.

3:04 p.m. ET, September 22, 2020

SCOTUS confirmation process requires more time than "speed dating," former Ginsburg clerk says

Neil Siegel, who worked as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2003, said rushing to confirm a new nominee to fill the vacant SCOTUS seat doesn't allow for the democratic process to take place –– something that requires more time than "speed dating," he said.

"We're talking about a lifetime appointment to the nation's highest court, the most powerful court in the land. Advice and consent, public evaluation – it requires a lot more time than speed dating. Yet that seems to be the process that the President and Republican senators are insisting on," Siegel told CNN on Tuesday.

Siegel is no stranger to the steps of this process. He served as special counsel to Delaware Sen. Chris Coon during the confirmation of Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

So, here's what he means when he talks about "advice and consent" and "public evaluation."

Advice and consent: This is the job of the Senate – to advice the President on a qualified nominee to fill a vacant seat. This happens as the President's short list goes through background checks and a vetting process, but also a confirmation hearing where Senators have an opportunity to learn about the nominee.

"Consent" refers to the confirmation of the nominee after this hearing and "advice" phase. Republicans ended the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, so it takes only a simple majority. Vice President Mike Pence can break a 50-50 tie, which in this case, might happen if three Republicans decide they won't vote for Trump's nominee.

Public evaluation: Outside organizations can do their own vetting and research on nominees and submit recommendations – something CK Hoffler, the president of the National Bar Association, says is difficult to accomplish when the confirmation process is rushed.

She said the National Bar Association has a team of scholars vetting potential nominees right now, but said the speed this confirmation is moving is "compressing that process."

"Rushing to get someone appointed and confirmed before the election, in less than 45 days, takes away the democracy and it takes away the ability of organizations who are doing proper vetting with their ability to vet the process," Hoffler said.

She said moving so quickly that other organizations don't have time to look into nominees is "undemocratic" and "makes it so that the American people will not have the ability to even see and vet these candidates that will be ruling on such important issues."

2:47 p.m. ET, September 22, 2020

North Carolina extends deadline for accepting absentee ballots

From CNN's Pamela Kirkland

Stickers that read "I Voted By Mail" sit on a table waiting to be stuffed into envelopes by absentee ballot election workers at the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections office in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 4.
Stickers that read "I Voted By Mail" sit on a table waiting to be stuffed into envelopes by absentee ballot election workers at the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections office in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 4. Logan Cyrus/AFP/Getty Images/FILE

The North Carolina State Board of Elections announced Tuesday that it will extend the date that county boards will accept ballots by mail to 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, if they are postmarked on or before Election Day. The NCSBE also updated the process for voters to fix an absentee ballot with missing information. 

In a joint filing in the Wake County Superior Court, the NCSBE agreed to allow a voter whose witness does not fill out required fields on the envelope containing the absentee ballot to correct that mistake through an affidavit of the voter.  

The filing leaves the witness requirement for absentee ballots in place. North Carolina, a key battleground state, had previously passed legislation that only one witness signature would be required due to conditions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The lawsuit originally requested the witness requirement be eliminated altogether.

North Carolina allows for a process called “vote curing.” As part of the agreement, which must be approved by the court, absentee ballots where a voter signed in the wrong place, did not print their name, did not print their address, did not sign, signed on the wrong line, or is missing a voter certification signature can be “cured” with a an affidavit sent to them by their county board of elections. 

According the a press release from the NCSBE, “incomplete witness information is the main problem with absentee ballot envelopes.”  

The joint motion, if approved by the court, would also allow individuals who return ballots in person to do so without filling out a written log. Instead, the person returning the ballot would orally state certain information, which the elections worker would document. If the person is not authorized to return the ballot, the elections worker would ask for more information.

2:52 p.m. ET, September 22, 2020

Doctors' group marks 200,000th Covid death with billboards outside Mar-a-Lago

From CNN's Gregory Krieg

Committee to Protect Medicare PAC
Committee to Protect Medicare PAC

The political arm of a physicians’ group that advocates for health care access and affordability is circling President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort with mobile billboards calling attention the nation’s 200,000th coronavirus death.

“Trump lied. 200,000 Americans died. Trump failed to protect America from COVID-19,” is the message on the side of the black vans, which began their circuit at 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday and will continue until 6 p.m. ET.

The Committee to Protect Medicare PAC has also announced plans to spend more than $1 million on digital ads targeting Trump’s handling of the pandemic. A new one will run between now and Election Day, in eight swing states: Arizona, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia and Florida.

The group hopes to reach 1.2 million viewers over Comcast VOD, streaming TV, on Facebook and Instagram, and in pre-roll ads online. It is also targeting voters in Georgia and Florida exclusively on Facebook and Instagram.

“It simply didn’t have to be this way,” the group’s executive director, Dr. Rob Davidson, says in the 30-second version of the spot, which features real doctors speaking directly to camera and condemning the administration’s pandemic response.

“Two hundred thousand Americans are dead because of incompetence,” another doctor says. “Some of them,” another adds, “were my patients.”

2:01 p.m. ET, September 22, 2020

Biden and Harris tweet about 200,000 US coronavirus deaths

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris tweeted after the US surpassed 200,000 coronavirus deaths.

"There’s a devastating human toll to this pandemic — and we can’t forget that," Biden said in his tweet.

Harris called it a "tragic milestone."

Read their tweets: