The US Postal Service (USPS) has warned that millions of mail-in votes may not arrive in time to be counted on the presidential election day, 3 November.
In letters to states across the country last month, the agency said “certain deadlines… are incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards”.
Critics have blamed the new USPS head – a loyal supporter of President Donald Trump – for a slowdown in deliveries.
A record number of people are expected to vote by mail due to the pandemic.
But on Thursday, Mr Trump said he was blocking additional funding for the USPS to help with election issues, because he opposed mail-in voting.
He has repeatedly said mail-in ballots will lead to voting fraud – and give a boost to his rival Democrat Joe Biden. Experts say the mail-in voting system – which is used by the American military and by Mr Trump himself – is safe from tampering.
Former President Barack Obama strongly criticised what he described as Mr Trump’s “attempts to undermine the election”, writing on Twitter that the administration was “more concerned with suppressing the vote than suppressing a virus”.
Meanwhile, Congress’s two top Democrats – Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer – called on the president to stop his “assault” on the postal service and “allow the 2020 election to proceed without his sabotage tactics”.
Their comments come as a poll by Axios/ Survey Monkey found that three quarters of Republican voters plan to vote in person, while more than half of Democratic voters plan to use a mail vote.
What did the USPS say?
The USPS, which has long been in has long been in financial trouble, carrying about $160bn (£122bn) in debt, sent letters to states across the US in July, warning that it could not guarantee that all votes cast by mail would arrive on time to be counted. According to NBC News, at least 15 states have received a letter.
In a letter to Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, the USPS said mail-in ballots requested one week before the 3 November election – allowed under the state’s election laws – may not reach their destination on time because the state’s deadlines are too tight for its “delivery standards”.
USPS General Counsel Thomas Marshall said a “mismatch” between Pennsylvania’s laws and the mail system’s delivery capabilities “creates a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted under your laws as we understand them”.
The letter was made public on Thursday as Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar asked the state’s supreme court to allow ballots to be counted as long as they were received up to three days after the election. Currently, votes are discarded if they are received after election day.
Pennsylvania is a battleground state, which Mr Trump won by less than 1% in the 2016 election. Other battleground states, including Florida and Michigan, also received letters, according to US media reports.
The Democratic governor in Pennsylvania’s neighbouring New Jersey announced on Friday that the state would pre-emptively send ballots to every registered voter in the state. The process of sending out ballots is known as universal mail-in voting, and has been adopted in nine other US states.
By David Willis, BBC North America correspondent
American voters have been here before of course. In the year 2000, the entire US presidential election result was decided by a few hundred contested votes in the state of Florida, after ballots were scrutinised and sometimes rejected, and the process dragged on for weeks.
President Trump has said he wants a clear result on election night, not a contest that drags on through the courts. But by blocking the allocation of badly needed funding to the beleaguered US postal service, Mr Trump is potentially paving the way to a series of drawn-out legal battles that could stretch on for weeks.
According to reports here, conservative groups are marshalling a massive legal effort aimed not only at limiting the allocating of postal ballots, but challenging results that prove unfavourable to them on election night.
In possibly the harshest criticism of his successor to date, Barack Obama has accused Donald Trump of attempting to “kneecap” the US postal service in order to discourage people from voting, while Mr Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden has accused the man he is seeking to replace of launching an “assault on democracy”.
What’s the background?
Critics say changes made by the new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy – a major Republican donor – like clamping down on overtime and halting late delivery trips have led to an increase in mail waiting times.
But Mr Trump told Fox News he was blocking additional funding for the financially troubled agency, because he opposes mail-in voting.
“Now they need that money in order to make the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” he said. “Now, if we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”
Amid the funding controversy, the 300,000-member National Association of Letter Carriers union on Friday endorsed Mr Biden, warning that the “very survival” of the USPS was at stake.
Nearly 100 whales die in mass stranding in New Zealand
Some 97 whales and three dolphins died in the stranding, which conservation department staff were alerted to around midday local time on Sunday.
A power outage and the remote location of New Zealand’s most eastern islands, around 500 miles east off the country’s South Island, meant Department of Conservation rangers did not arrive at Waitangi West Beach until 3 p.m., officials said.
“Only 26 of the whales were still alive at this point, the majority of them appearing very weak, and were euthanized due to the rough sea conditions and almost certainty of there being great white sharks in the water which are brought in by a stranding like this,” biodiversity ranger Jemma Welch said in a statement.
Pilot whales — small, toothed whales with a bulging forehead, a short snout and pointed flippers — are sociable creatures, and live in groups of dozens, hundreds or even thousands.
Two more whales were stranded on Monday and also had to be euthanized, the Department of Conservation said, adding that the whales will be left to decompose naturally.
Representatives from theIndigenous Hokotehi Moriori Trust and Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri Iwi Trust performed a karakii/karakia— a prayer, or incantation — to honor the spirit of the whales on Sunday, the department added.
Mass strandings are common on the Chatham Islands, according to the department, which said that up to 1,000 animals died in a stranding in 1918.
In September, more than 450 pilot whales beached in Tasmania, Australia, in that state’s largest ever beaching. At least a third died during rescue attempts.
Rubio calls Biden’s national security team ‘polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline’
In recent days Biden has announced plans to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of State and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — jobs whose occupants require Senate confirmation. The president-elect has also named Jake Sullivan as his national security adviser, a White House role on which the Senate has no say.
Blinken, Thomas-Greenfield and Sullivan join a handful of other high-profile nominees — former Secretary of State John Kerry among them — who have thus far been light on surprises and heavy on experienced hands and veterans of the Obama administration. Biden has not yet announced his pick for Defense secretary, a centerpiece of the national security apparatus, despite widespread speculation that the job would go to Michèle Flournoy.
Rubio ran for president in 2016 and remains one of the GOP’s highest-profile lawmakers. The Florida senator, a child of Cuban immigrants, has been especially vocal on issues related to foreign policy, and his concern about the U.S. relationship with China dovetails with one of the Trump administration’s basic international relations tenets.
But the president-elect has to walk a fine line with his choices for administration posts that need Senate approval given the razor-thin margins in the chamber and the likelihood that nominees will need to garner Republican support to win confirmation. Some Republican senators have recently indicated a willingness to sign off on Biden’s Cabinet selections — while warning they will sink nominees they believe to be out of the political mainstream — potentially defusing what would be an early standoff in Biden’s presidency.
The Finance Watchdog Says There’s “Evidence” Neither Ministers Or Businesses Are “Fully Prepared” For Brexit
Chancellor Rishi Sunak made no mention of Brexit in his economic update
3 min read
The Office for Budget Responsibility has warned there is “evidence” that ministers and businesses are not prepared for “imminent changes” to the economy from Brexit.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has come under fire for failing to mention the potential impact of Brexit on the nation’s finances during the spending review, despite the OBR warning a no-deal outcome was a “material risk”.
The watchdog, which modelled a 11.3% contraction of the economy, said the figures were based on a presumption that ministers would strike a free trade deal with Brussels ahead of the 31 December deadline.
But it said the “unresolved nature” of the talks meant that “other outcomes are possible, including that no agreement is reached and the UK defaults to trading with the EU on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms from 1 January 2021.”
The finance watchdog concluded that under that scenario the UK’s GDP would be reduced by a further 2% in 2021, “due to various temporary disruptions to cross-border trade and the knock-on impacts”.
It added: “As these abate, the longer-term effects of lower trade instensity continue to build such that output is 1.5% lower than our central forecast after five years, and 2% lower in the long run…”
The analysis also found that a no-deal scenario would see borrowing likely rise by a further 0.5% of GDP from 2021-22.
And under its worst case scenario, which would also see vaccines failing to control the pandemic, the OBR predicted the additional impacts of a no-deal would lead to national debt reaching 126.3% of GDP by 2025-26.
“The degree of near-term disruption to economic activity associated with defaulting to WTO terms depend in part upon the preparedness of the Government and businesses to manage any additional administrative, regulatory, and customs requirements,” the report said.
“While both have had more time to prepare than when we last considered these issues in our [earlier report], they have also been distracted by the need to deal with the disruption caused by the virus.
“This is likely to have taken up personnel and resources at some businesses that would have otherwise been used to prepare for a no deal Brexit, while also running down cash reserves and inventories making them more vulnerable to shocks,” it went on.
Meanwhile, pointing to work carried out by business groups, the OBR said there was “evidence” that ministers and businesses were still not prepared for Brexit related disruption, even if a deal is signed.
The watchdog added: “We continue to assume that the UK and EU conclude a free-trade agreement (FTA) and that there is a smooth transition to the new trading relationship after the transition period ends on 31 December 2020. However, there is evidence that neither the government nor businesses are fully prepared for the imminent changes even if a deal is agreed.”
Hitting out at Mr Sunak’s failure to address Brexit during his economic update, shadow chancellor Anneliesse Dodds, said: “In less than 40 days, we’re due to leave the transition period. Yet the chancellor didn’t even mention that in his speech.
“There’s still no trade deal. So does the chancellor truly believe that his government is prepared and that he’s done enough to help those businesses that will be heavily affected?”