Latest on 2020 election and SCOTUS battle

By Melissa Macaya and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 8:00 p.m. ET, September 25, 2020
23 Posts
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7:54 p.m. ET, September 25, 2020

Surge of ballot requests are already setting records in the US. Here's a look at the latest figures.

From CNN's Adam Levy, Ethan Cohen and Liz Stark

Large boxes of envelopes are seen as absentee ballot election workers stuff ballot applications at the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections office in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 4.
Large boxes of envelopes are seen as absentee ballot election workers stuff ballot applications at the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections office in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 4. Logan Cyrus/AFP/Getty Images

Interest in pre-Election Day voting is skyrocketing around the country, with more than 28 million ballots already requested and another 43 million set to be automatically mailed to voters, according to a CNN survey of election offices in 42 states and Washington, DC -- another sign of what is expected to be a record-shattering turnout.

All told, the total number of pre-election ballots due to be distributed already exceeds the roughly 50 million pre-Election Day ballots cast in 2016, though not all those ballots will be returned.

The shift has accelerated this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as encouragement from Democrats.

Requests from registered Democrats outpace those from Republicans by more than 1.3 million ballot requests among CNN's most competitive-rated states currently reporting that data. Many mail-in ballots likely won't be returned, however, and requests do not predict election outcomes.

Read the full story here.

6:01 p.m. ET, September 25, 2020

Democrats will insist Trump's Supreme Court nominee sit out legal challenges to election results

From CNN's Manu Raju and Ted Barrett 

Senate Democrats said they will press President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee to commit to recuse herself if the justices hear a case that could impact the outcome of the fall elections, a request that could become a major flashpoint amid Trump’s persistent attacks on the sanctity of the elections. 

Trump in recent weeks has amped up his rhetoric about the elections, provoking alarm that he’s trying to undercut a foundation of democracy and hang onto power through a court fight. He’s regularly alleged the election will be “rigged,” asserted that there will be mass voting fraud by mail, something his own FBI director disputes, while refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power – and adding that he believes a case over the election results will wind up before the Supreme Court. 

So as Democrats prepare for high-stakes confirmation hearings over Trump’s nominee who would likely swing the ideological balance sharply to the right, they plan to press the potential next justice to commit to not voting in any case that could impact the outcome of the presidential race. 

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a senior Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the quick process to confirm a nominee before Election Day “ridiculous,” and said the nominee, if confirmed, should recuse herself from a case affecting the election – even as the White House insists such a recusal is not necessary. 

“Whoever sits on the seat is going to be terribly conflicted because no matter what they do people are going to be watching,” Leahy told CNN on Friday. 

The forthcoming clash comes as Democrats are beginning to prepare their strategy for confirmation hearings for Trump’s nominee, who will be announced on Saturday. All indications are that Trump will pick federal appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett, who was approved by the Senate largely along party lines to her current spot after contentious exchanges with Democrats during her confirmation hearing three years ago. 

Typically, it takes two to three months to go through Supreme Court confirmation proceedings in the Senate. But this time, Senate Republicans are gearing up for the nominee to be confirmed by the end of October, amounting to one of the quickest proceedings in modern times.

Hoping for a swift confirmation, the White House is setting up courtesy meetings with senators even before the nominee has been announced.

But Democrats are furious at the rush to confirm the nominee after the GOP refused to take up then-President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick in 2016 by arguing in March of that year it was too close to an election. And several Democrats told CNN they won’t bother meeting with Trump's nominee now over their concerns with the expedited process. 

"I don’t think it’s a good use of her time or my time,” Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat of Pennsylvania, said when asked if he would meet with the nominee. 

Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, added, “I’ve said that all of President Trump’s judicial nominees whatever they have to say to me would be under oath.”  

Keep reading.

5:59 p.m. ET, September 25, 2020

Trump intends to choose Amy Coney Barrett for Supreme Court, sources say

From CNN's Jamie Gangel and Pamela Brown

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor at Notre Dame University, poses in an undated photograph obtained from Notre Dame University September 19, 2020.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor at Notre Dame University, poses in an undated photograph obtained from Notre Dame University September 19, 2020. Matt Cashore/Notre Dame University/Handout/Reuters

President Trump intends to choose Amy Coney Barrett to be the new Supreme Court justice, according to multiple senior Republican sources with knowledge of the process.

In conversations with some senior Republican allies on the Hill, the White House is indicating that Barrett is the intended nominee, multiple sources said.

All sources cautioned that until it is announced by the President, there is always the possibility that Trump makes a last-minute change but the expectation is Barrett is the choice. He is scheduled to make the announcement on Saturday afternoon.

Barrett has been the leading choice throughout the week, since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. She is the only potential nominee known to have met with the President in person, according to two of the sources. One source said Trump was familiar with Barrett already and he met with her since she was a top contender the last time there was a Supreme Court vacancy, when the President chose Justice Brett Kavanaugh instead. 

Barrett was seen at her South Bend, Indiana, home on Friday. It was not clear if Barrett had been told she is the choice. Often that is done as late as possible to maintain secrecy around the announcement.

"The machinery is in motion," one of the sources said. In previous nomination announcements, the White House had multiple rollouts planned in case the President made a last-minute decision to switch to another candidate. But one source said it would be surprising if there were a change since allies are already being told.

"She was the plan all along. She's the most distinguished and qualified by traditional measures. She has the strongest support among the legal conservatives who have dedicated their lives to the court. She will contribute most to the court's jurisprudence in the years and decades to come," according to a former senior administration official familiar with the process.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear in conversations with Trump and White House counsel Pat Cipollone that the Senate GOP conference would be comfortable with Barrett, two people with knowledge of the conversations told CNN earlier this week. Sen. Todd Young, who hails from Barrett's home state of Indiana and leads the Senate Republican campaign arm, has also been an advocate, the people said. 

The President indicated he has spoken to multiple candidates, but the White House has not been willing to say if other conversations were in person.  

Barrett was at the White House on Monday and Tuesday of this week. She impressed the President and others during the initial meetings, two sources told CNN earlier this week.

Watch more:

4:39 p.m. ET, September 25, 2020

Issue with discarded ballots caused by contractor who "incorrectly" threw them out, officials say

From CNN's Marshall Cohen

Local officials in Pennsylvania are providing more information about potentially mishandled ballots in Luzerne County – which the White House repeatedly cited to attack mail-in voting and question the integrity of the election.

In a statement, county officials said the issue regarding nine military ballots was caused by a “temporary seasonal independent contractor” on their third day of work helping the elections office. They said the contractor “incorrectly” threw the ballots into the office trash. The officials called this an “error” and said the fact that it was quickly noticed and investigated proves that “the system of checks and balances” is working to protect the election.

The county also said it learned on Thursday, from the Justice Department’s unusual press release that seven of the ballots has been cast for President Trump. Election officials typically go to extraordinary lengths to maintain ballot secrecy, and election experts were baffled by the Justice Department’s decision to disclose this information.

David Becker, a former Justice Department lawyer who handled voting rights cases, who now runs the nonprofit Center for Election Innovation, said these new details reinforced his view that the incident is being politicized.

“After investigating for only 3 days, apparently finding no crime, and before the military voters were notified, the DOJ violates ballot secrecy, and the AG personally briefs the president on this fixable mistake, and shortly after, the president uses it in his campaign,” Becker tweeted on Friday, in response to reports about Barr’s involvement.

3:49 p.m. ET, September 25, 2020

Once again, Trump tries to undermine confidence in mail-in voting

From CNN's DJ Judd 

In remarks touting his campaign’s “Platinum Plan” for Black Economic Empowerment in Atlanta, Georgia, President Trump once again tried to undermine confidence in mail-in voting, telling supporters, “Democrats are playing games, you see that, they, you see they found ballots in a wastepaper basket, they found ballots dumped in a stream.”

CNN’s Marshall Cohen reported yesterday the Justice Department said it is investigating "potential issues with mail-in ballots" in the swing state of Pennsylvania and, in a highly unusual disclosure, revealed that several ballots marked for Trump were "discarded."

The statement was highly unusual because it highlighted the fact that the ballots were marked for Trump — which immediately raised suspicions that the Justice Department was trying to furnish material that Trump could promote for political gain. Indeed, Trump and other White House aides used the information, even before it was made public, to attack mail-in voting.

Trump went on to tie the problem to an unrelated issue with the reporting of the Iowa Caucus results, telling supporters, “we love Iowa, but they tried this ballots concept, and they still don't know who won, it was, it was a long time ago, that was in their primary, the first primary.”

Trump went on to predict unclear election results on Nov. 3, telling the audience, “with me, we may end up in a dispute for a long time because that's the way they want it, but we're going to end up winning, that's for sure.”

Read CNN's recent fact check on Trump's claim on unsolicited ballots here.

3:36 p.m. ET, September 25, 2020

Biden downplays Trump's refusal to commit to transfer of power: "No one will back him if this were to occur"

From CNN's Sarah Mucha

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden seemed to downplay President Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, saying that he believes the President is using those remarks as a distraction and that, even if he did refuse to leave, he would not have support within his administration. 

“No one will back him if this were to occur,” Biden told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle in another extended clip released of their interview. “I think the whole notion of him talking about this is to take our eye off the ball, not to talk about what is happening to the people dying of Covid and not talking about all of the unemployment and not talking about him being unwilling to bring the Congress together and get off his golf course and out of a sand trap and have a meeting in the White House,” he said. “I mean, it's always about distraction with him.” 

Biden did express concern that the President’s rhetoric could generate “some kind of response in a way that unsettles the society or causes some kind of violence.”  

3:13 p.m. ET, September 25, 2020

Attorney general briefed Trump on investigation into Pennsylvania's discarded mail-in ballots

From CNN's Evan Perez

Attorney General William Barr briefed President Trump on a Pennsylvania investigation into discarded mail-in ballots, before Trump and the White House sought to use the incident as proof of possible ballot fraud.

US Attorney David Freed said Thursday that a preliminary inquiry determined that nine "military ballots were discarded" and that, in an usual move, said that seven of them "were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump." The incident occurred in Luzerne County, a swing county in northeastern Pennsylvania that is home to Wilkes-Barre, a region that Trump won in 2016.

A Justice Department official said information about the discarded ballots had begun circulating and was fielding media inquiries on the matter Thursday, prompting Barr to tell Trump the department was investigating. Such notification by the attorney general to the president on an ongoing matter is allowed, the department official said.

Trump spoke about the incident in a radio interview and it was mentioned at the White House briefing before Freed’s office made a public statement.

People briefed on the matter said investigators are treating the incident as one that resulted from a poorly-designed process and staff not properly trained, not an indication of intentional fraud. 

That much was clear from a letter Freed released Thursday night that indicated prosecutors viewed the case as falling under their duty-to-warn responsibilities, aiming to help local election officials to improve their process to prevent spoiled ballots.  

Trump has claimed that mail ballots would likely lead to widespread fraud, a claim not supported by evidence from past elections, which have shown minimal instances of fraud.

3:06 p.m. ET, September 25, 2020

USPS reaches settlement and will prioritize election mail

From CNN's Marshall Cohen

The US Postal Service has reached a settlement in a closely watched lawsuit about election mail. The terms of the settlement, once it is formally approved by the judge, will require USPS to prioritize election mail.

USPS will also face a court order to pre-approve overtime requests around the election.

The settlement incorporates many requirements laid out earlier this week by Judge Victor Marrero, who criticized USPS’ “managerial failures” that disrupted mail earlier this summer and threatened the successful implementation of mail-in balloting this year.

On Thursday, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said in many cases what the judges decided were changes he already planned to put in place.

Read more about voting by mail here.

2:36 p.m. ET, September 25, 2020

White House invites have been sent to Senate Republicans for the SCOTUS announcement, source says

From CNN's Phil Mattingly

The White House has officially sent invitations out to Senate Republicans for the 5 p.m. ET Saturday announcement of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, according to a source who has seen them.

It’s unclear how many will attend at this point – the Senate left town for the week yesterday – but the expectation is a solid number will show up.

Read more about Trump's possible picks here.