Despite Green Party court fight, Biden, Dems up their ballot game | Monday Morning Coffee

(Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

(*Updated at 8:13 a.m. on Monday, 9/14/20 to correctly reflect that mail-in ballots, which were supposed to be sent out by county election boards on this day, have been delayed by a court fight)

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Today is Monday, Sept. 14, the day that county election boards were supposed to start sending out mail-in ballots to tens of thousands of ballots who’d requested them. But because this is 2020 and the oddest campaign season in recent memory, that isn’t happening.

As our friends at Philadelphia Magazine report, the ballots haven’t even been printed yet. And for that, you can blame that on a court fight between Pennsylvania Democrats and the Green Party over ballot access.

From Philadelphia Magazine:

Green Party leaders and bona fide socialists Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker are running for President and Vice-President of the United States, respectively. Due to some issues with the logistics and paperwork surrounding the candidacy of Hawkins and Walker in Pennsylvania, some Democratic leaders in the state (none from around here) went to court to get Hawkins and Walker knocked off of the ballot. Earlier this week, a judge ruled that Hawkins could stay, but he jettisoned Walker from the ballot. And now Democrats are appealing the matter to a higher court.

Though there is a bunch of litigation surrounding the upcoming general election in Pennsylvania — particularly with the mail-in ballot situation — it is this Green Party kerfuffle that has prevented county board of election offices from printing the very ballots that are supposed to be used by mail-in voters, explains Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt.

“They could be on or they could be off,” says Schmidt of the potential outcome of the Green Party court battle. “Regardless, we are still going to have to begin mailing out ballots by the end of the month. We will reach certain fail-safe points along the way where we will just have to begin doing things instead of waiting for the courts. You can’t just wait forever.”

It’s just one more wrinkle in a very strange campaign season.

In the time of the pandemic, we’ve already seen candidates largely scrap door-to-door campaigning in favor of text and online outreach. Large rallies, with one, very notable exception, have been replaced by more intimate Zoom and YouTube sessions. Old school political conventions are as extinct as the dodo.

It also means that the October surprise — that shocking revelation that could turn the course of the election — is now the September/October surprise. And we’ve already seen the first salvo with the revelations contained in the new book by the veteran journalist Bob Woodward.

So with that in mind, here are three things to think about as we await the start of voting season in Pennsylvania.

KINGS PARK, NEW YORK – APRIL 15: US Postal Service worker Lou Martini goes about his daily delivery route during the coronavirus pandemic on April 15, 2020 in Kings Park, New York. Martini, who has been a postal worker for over 30 years, takes as much caution as he can while delivering the mail during the COVID-19 outbreak. A mask, gloves, hand sanitizer and the spraying down of some packages are a few of the precautions Martini incorporates into his daily routine as one of the nation’s ‘essential workers’. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

1. The battle to mobilize voters.
As we’ve watched the battle over mail-in balloting unfold, we’ve learned at least one or two things are true. First and foremost, is that Democrats prefer mail-in balloting and Republicans tend to prefer in-person voting. Which means that the parties’ respective efforts to mobilize voters are taking an out-sized role this campaign season.

Late last week, Politico reported that more Democrats than Republicans are requesting mail-in ballots in such key battleground states as Pennsylvania. And that cohort includes voters who didn’t participate in the 2016 election.

To leverage that advantage, we can exclusively report this morning that the Democratic National Committee and Joe Biden’s presidential campaign are beefing up the party’s online portal, IWillVote.com, to make it even easier for people to request a ballot.

Among the features, we can exclusively report, voters will be able to:

  • Request a ballot online. A voter will be directed to their state’s online vote-by-mail request form.
  • Request a ballot by email. A voter completes a vote-by-mail request form, including uploading a picture of their signature (where required), on IWillVote.com. The form is automatically emailed to the state. The site is also completely accessible in Spanish at VoyaVotar.com.

  • Print and mail their request. “A voter completes a vote-by-mail request form on IWillVote.com. The voter then prints, signs, and mails the request form to the state,” the DNC and the campaign said in a statement obtained by the Capital-Star.

“Voters have more options than ever to cast their ballots this year. IWillVote.com is a one-stop shop for voters to get information on flexible ways they can vote, and directly submit ballot requests to their local county Board of Elections.” Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, said in a statement obtained by the Capital-Star. “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris can’t do it alone. We are building an unprecedented effort to ensure that voters can make a plan now to vote.”

Though President Donald Trump has falsely claimed on the stump, television interviews and on Twitter that mail-in balloting is ripe for fraud, and that it will allow Democrats to steal the election, visitors to Trump’s campaign website can nonetheless click on a link to request a ballot for themselves.

In a Sept. 3 Quinnipiac University poll, 67 percent of the 1,107 likely voters interviewed, said they planned to vote in person on Election Day, compared to 30 percent who said they planned to vote by mail, or by absentee ballot.

Whether that number will hold is another matter: About 1 in 4 likely voters in the Keystone State said that, as of the day they were surveyed, they did not feel safe voting in person, according to an August poll by The Morning Call and Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

Students in the Crestwood School District, in Luzerne County, speak with Jill Biden during an online town hall on Thursday, 9/10/20 (screen capture)

2. Candidate visits, candidate visits, and more candidate visits.
In just the last two weeks alone, Trump and Biden, and their surrogates, have been nearly inescapable in Pennsylvania.

The two nominees both made separate appearances at last Friday’s 9/11 remembrance ceremonies in Shanksville, Pa.

A day earlier, Biden’s wife, Jill Bidendid a town hall with educatorsBiden was in Harrisburg last Monday for a Labor Day town hall with organized labor. Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in Beaver County. And U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.also held a virtual town hall with Biden’s Pennsylvania supporters last week.

A look at the map shows the two campaigns largely have been concentrating their energy on a pair of must-win parts of the state: northeastern and southwestern Pennsylvania.

Both regions, but particularly NEPA, were key to Trump’s win in 2016. Democrats are looking to Biden, a Scranton native with deep roots in the region, to hold Lackawanna County, which went 49.8-46.3 to Hillary Clinton in 2016; and to try to win back Luzerne, where Trump romped 57.9-38.6 percent over Clinton four years ago.

It’s not at all clear whether Biden can win back such now-red counties as Washington, Greene and Fayette, which had reliable, working class constituencies that voted Democrat for years.

An August Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll, that saw Biden with a 49-45 percent lead, statewide drove home some of those geographic challenges.

Trump held a commanding 61-28 percent lead in northeastern Pennsylvania, the poll showed; and a 49-47 percent lead elsewhere in the state. Biden, meanwhile, ran up big numbers in Philadelphia. (72-19 percent); the Philly suburbs (52-45 percent) and Allegheny County (52-39 percent).

The three regions are the state’s biggest population centers, which could neutralize Trump’s apparent advantage in NEPA and the southwest. But with a 4-point lead for Biden among likely voters, and a 5-point margin of error, the state remains very much in play.

And all that means you can expect many more candidate visits before Nov. 3.

In fact, Donald Trump Jr. is slated to make an appearance at the Blue Ridge Sportsman Club in Harrisburg on Wednesday.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

3. The pandemic and the pocket book.
If nothing else about the 2020 campaign is predictable (and it isn’t), then this one thing is: In poll after poll, the candidates’ plans to address the coronavirus pandemic — and the economic havoc it’s wreaked — remains squarely at the top of the voters’ list of concerns.

In the Quinnipiac poll, a plurality of Pennsylvania likely voters (29 percent) said the economy was the most important issue, compared to 16 percent who listed the pandemic; followed by law and order (15 percent) and racial equality (13 percent).

Broken down by party, Republican respondents to the Q-poll ranked the economy first (50 percent), followed by and law and order (28 percent).

Democrats said the coronavirus (29 percent) was their top issue, followed by racial inequality (25 percent). Independents put the economy on top  (30 percent), followed by law and order (15 percent), and the coronavirus (14 percent).

The pandemic remains a pronounced weak spot for Trump, with only 17 percent of respondents to that August Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll saying Trump has done an “excellent” job of  managing the pandemic, compared to 51 percent who rated his performance as “poor.”

Those numbers held steady in the Q-Poll, where 55 percent of the 1,107 likely voters who responded to the poll said they disapproved of Trump’s management of the pandemic, compared to 43 percent who approved.

Despite rampant unemploymentstagnant wages, and looming fears of a wave of evictions and foreclosures (and the public health threat it poses), votes continue to give Trump the edge over Biden on economic matters.

A majority of respondents to the Quinnipiac poll (52 percent) said Trump would do a better job managing the economy than Biden (45 percent).

However, Biden got the edge on every other metric in the Q-Poll:

  • “On handling a crisis: Biden, 52-44 percent;
  • “On handling health care: Biden, 54-42 percent;
  • “On handling the response to the coronavirus: Biden, 54-41 percent;
  • “On handling racial inequality: Biden, 57-38 percent,” the poll found.

“The economy is key in Pennsylvania and a majority of likely voters approve of the way President Trump is handling it, but it’s overshadowed by Trump’s handling of the coronavirus and his overall job approval. Both are registering double-digit deficits.” Quinnipiac Polling Analyst Mary Snow said in a statement. “On top of that, likely voters have more confidence in Joe Biden to handle the coronavirus, racial inequality, health care, and a crisis.”

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Thinking about becoming a poll worker this election seasonAssociate Editor Cassie Miller has everything you need to know in one, handy Capital-Star explainer.

And in this week’s edition of The Numbers RacketMiller takes an in-depth look at how the Pennsylvania State Police enforced COVID-19 liquor restrictions over the Labor Day weekend.

Elizabeth Hardison has what you need to know about new statewide science education standards and how they could impact what your kids learn about climate change.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.sidestepped our questions about the blockbuster revelations in Bob Woodward’s new book detailing what  President Donald Trump’s knew about the pandemic — and when he knew it.

From our partners at the Philadelphia TribuneDiversity is up among Philadelphia’s municipal employees.

On our Commentary Page this morning: Opinion regular Dick Polman wants to know if you’re jonesing for Trump’s new, miracle coronavirus vaccine. And Trump, along with Vice President Mike Pence, don’t understand what makes America great — and never will, veteran Pa. journo Peter Durantine writes.

En la Estrella-Capital: El voto del Senado de Pa. para frenar el poder ejecutivo se convierte en una pelea partidista de gritos. Y la nueva iniciativa de votación en línea de Filadelfia se dirige a los votantes LGBTQ.

Elsewhere.
With school schedules all over the yard, more parents are opting for home schooling, the Inquirer reports.
Gun sales have soared to historic highs amid the protests and presidential racePennLive reports (paywall).
Looming budget cuts could hurt the disabled and people with mental illness the mostSpotlight PA reports (via the Tribune-Review).
Pennsylvania saw 25 more COVID-19 deaths over the weekend, the Observer-Reporter reports.
Lehigh County’s plans to restart jury trials amid the pandemic are facing some scrutiny, the Morning Call reports.
Internal reports show that a Black man who died in custody at Luzerne County’s jail had warned a guard that he’d just experienced a seizure, the Citizens-Voice reports.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:

WHYY-FM explains how racism left one Philadelphia neighborhood overheated — and how residents are hoping for a cooler future.
A meeting of presidents left Big 10 football in continued limbo, but the season still may be salvageable, the Associated Press reports (via WITF-FM).
PoliticsPA has last week’s winners & losers in Pennsylvania politics.
Stateline.org looks at the strain the pandemic is putting on rural water utilities.
President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is ‘trapped between two worlds.’ Politico explains what that means — and how it’s happening.

What Goes On.
The House comes in at 1 p.m. today. The Senate is out of voting session until Sept. 21.
Here’s a look at the day’s committee action:

House:
10 a.m., G50: Irvis:
 House Health Committee
2 pm., G50 Irvis: House Democratic Policy Committee

Senate:
12 p.m., Senate Chamber: 
Democratic Policy Committee
1 pm., Senate Chamber, Republican Majority Policy Committee

Also today:
11 a.m., Capitol Fountain: EMS memorial service
11:30 a.m., Capitol Steps: Sickle cell press conference

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
8 a.m.: House Republican Campaign Committee
 golf outing
11 a.m: Luncheon for Rep. Craig Staats
11:30 a.m.: 
Luncheon for Sen. Pat Browne
1 p.m.: 
Reception for the House Democratic Campaign Committee
Ride the circuit, and give at the max, and you’re out a “Don’t complain to me about your unemployment, peasant” $19,500 today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Belated best wishes go out to our publishing partner, and friend, Central Voice Editor/Publisher Frank PizzoliSamantha Pearson, in the office of state Rep. Mary Isaacson, and ex-ABC 27 Capitol reporter Matt Heckel, now of WellSpan Health, all of whom celebrated on Sunday. Congratulations all around, friends.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a tune from veteran Canadian pop-rockers Glass Tiger that we started listening to just before lockdown. At first a bouncy dance remix, it then eerily presaged what was to come. The song, ‘This is Your Life,’ now seems as apt a summation for our moment as ever.

Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Tampa 
beat the Isles 4-1 on Sunday night, extending their Eastern Conference finals lead 3-1.

And now you’re up to date.

John L. Micek
A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press