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.
Mr Trump’s campaign has not yet responded.
Botswana: Mystery elephant deaths caused by cyanobacteria
Toxins made by microscopic algae in water caused the previously unexplained deaths of hundreds of elephants in Botswana, wildlife officials say.
Botswana is home to a third of Africa’s declining elephant population.
The alarm was raised when elephant carcasses were spotted in the country’s Okavango Delta between May and June.
Officials say a total of 330 elephants are now known to have died from ingesting cyanobacteria. Poaching has been ruled out as a cause of death.
The toxic bacteria can occur naturally in standing water and sometimes grow into large blooms known as blue-green algae.
Warning: Some people may find the following images upsetting
The findings follow months of tests in specialist laboratories in South Africa, Canada, Zimbabwe and the US.
Many of the dead elephants were found near watering holes, but until now the wildlife authorities had doubted that the bacteria were to blame because the blooms appear on the edges of ponds and elephants tend to drink from the middle.
“Our latest tests have detected cyanobacterial neurotoxins to be the cause of deaths. These are bacteria found in water,” the Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ Principal Veterinary Officer Mmadi Reuben told a press conference on Monday.
The deaths “stopped towards the end of June 2020, coinciding with the drying of [water] pans”, AFP quotes him as saying.
Reports in June noted that tusks had not been removed. Poaching has been ruled out as cause of death, as has anthrax poisoning, according to senior wildlife department official Cyril Taolo.
But questions still remain about the deaths, Mr Reuben told reporters.
“We have many questions still to be answered such as why the elephants only and why that area only. We have a number of hypotheses we are investigating.”
Hundreds of carcasses were spotted with the help of aerial surveys earlier this year.
Dr Niall McCann, of the UK-based charity National Park Rescue, previously told the BBC that local conservationists first alerted the government in early May, after they undertook a flight over the delta.
“They spotted 169 in a three-hour flight,” he said. “To be able to see and count that many in a three-hour flight was extraordinary.
What is cyanobacteria?
- Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, is found worldwide especially in calm, nutrient-rich waters
- Some species of cyanobacteria produce toxins that affect animals and humans
- People may be exposed to cyanobacterial toxins by drinking or bathing in contaminated water
- Symptoms include skin irritation, stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea, fever, sore throat, headache
- Animals, birds, and fish can also be poisoned by high levels of toxin-producing cyanobacteria.
Australia’s coronavirus lockdown strategy worked. Could this be a model for the US?
“The Covid-19 epidemic in our country has gone through four waves,” Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said Saturday. “Besides the first wave (in Wuhan), the other epidemic waves were clusters that were regional and small-scale and were effectively controlled.”
For some lockdown skeptics, China’s experience was easy to dismiss: the country is an authoritarian, one-party state, and its methods could not necessarily be applied in democracies.
But the situation in Victoria proves that the lockdown strategy does work elsewhere, and that, given the proper information and reassurances, people are willing to make the sacrifices required to contain the virus.
With the outbreak in Victoria contained, the number of cases throughout the rest of Australia has continued to trend down. On Sunday, New South Wales, which includes Sydney, reported four new cases, while Queensland state reported just one.
New Zealand too, which on Monday began reducing social distancing regulations after daily cases dropped to zero, has seen positive results from lockdowns, enabling the country to return to relative normality far faster than nations which did not take such measures.
The US, however, remains the worst hit country in the world, with more than 6.7 million coronavirus cases and almost 200,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. As those figures potentially rise through winter, and with less and less reason to go outside, some people may start to reconsider their anti-lockdown sentiment.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly suggested that authorities in Melbourne would consider lifting a nighttime curfew next week. The curfew is currently in effect until October 26.
CNN’s Angus Watson and Eric Cheung contributed reporting.
Cruz: Ginsburg was ‘one of the finest Supreme Court litigators to have ever lived’
“He obviously worked every day with Justice Ginsburg, and I will say he admired what a careful lawyer she was,” he said. “Consistently of the lawyers on the left, of the judges on the left. Chief Justice Rehnquist was always most willing to give an important opinion to Justice Ginsburg because she wrote narrow, careful opinions.”
Cruz also honed in on the importance of filling Ginsburg’s vacancy with a constitutionalist judge ahead of the November election. The senator had been on President Donald Trump’s shortlist of Supreme Court nominees.
“We’re one vote away from seeing our religious liberty rights stripped away, from our free speech stripped away, from our Second Amendment stripped away,” he added. “This election matters, and I think it is the most important issue in 2020 — electing presidents and a Senate who will nominate and confirm strong constitutionalists to the court.”
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