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Abrams’ strategy to boost turnout: Early voting commitments

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Abrams’ strategy to boost turnout: Early voting commitments

DECATUR, Ga. (AP) — Stacey Abrams, Georgia Democrats’ nominee for governor, is launching an intensive effort to get out the vote by urging potential supporters to cast in-person ballots the first week of early voting as she tries to navigate the state’s new election laws.

The strategy, outlined to The Associated Press by Abrams’ top aides, is a shift from 2018, when she spent generously in her first gubernatorial bid to encourage voters to use mail ballots. It also moves away from Democrats’ pandemic-era emphasis on mail voting, a push that delivered Georgia’s electoral votes to President Joe Biden and helped Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff win concurrent U.S. Senate runoffs to give Democrats control of Capitol Hill.

Republicans, including Abrams’ opponent, Gov. Brian Kemp, answered in 2021 with sweeping election changes that, among other provisions, dramatically curtailed drop boxes for mail ballots, added wrinkles to mail ballot applications and ballot return forms, and made it easier to challenge an individual voter’s eligibility. But it also expanded in-person voting.

“It’s self-evident we have to have a big early vote in-person,” said Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo, arguing the new mail ballot procedures make it risky for Democrats to rely too heavily on that option. “What’s not self-evident,” Groh-Wargo continued, “is how the hell you do that.”

Primary elections this midterm season have suggested a national decline in mail balloting, which spiked in 2020 because of COVID-19. Still, Abrams’ approach, which is shared by some liberal voting rights activists, represents a pivot from Democrats’ pre-COVID tactics and demonstrates how the left intends to try to maximize their votes in jurisdictions where Republicans remain in control of election procedures.

Abrams’ push, timed to begin a month before early voting begins, comes with some polls suggesting she trails Kemp slightly after losing their first matchup by about 55,000 votes out of 4 million.

Beginning Sunday, the Democrat’s campaign will ask supporters to commit to vote at in-person polling sites during the first week of early voting, which opens Oct. 17. The campaign will send digital commitment cards to targeted supporters via email and texts, with direct mail to follow. Field workers will ask voters to fill out commitment cards, with 2 million households slated for in-person visits. And the Abrams campaign will make pledge cards a standard part of its campaign events.

The week-one commitment, with a voter going beyond simply committing to cast a ballot before early voting ends on Nov. 4, is intentional. After adding an individual’s commitment to their profile in the campaign’s voter database, Abrams’ team will use publicly available turnout data to identify anyone who hasn’t followed through or had trouble casting a ballot. Anyone denied early ballot access will be routed to Georgia Democrats’ voter protection operation, with “lots of time left” to rectify the situation, Groh-Wargo said.

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She said that’s better than the alternative options: having mail ballots rejected or waiting until Election Day and, under new laws, not getting a provisional ballot until late on Nov. 8, with no other recourse.

Georgia Democrats aren’t abandoning mail voting altogether. The state party and Abrams campaign together have targeted 500,000 reliable Democratic voters to cast mail ballots. They were identified based on their long history of using that method, rather than anything they did from 2018 forward when Democrats ratcheted up an emphasis on a mail and absentee process that Georgia Republicans had dominated previously.

In her first campaign against Kemp, Abrams took the unusual step of sending nearly completed mail ballot applications to 1.6 million Georgians her campaign identified as sporadic but Democratic-aligned voters — a tactic that exceeded even the most ambitious one-time mailers sent by earlier Democratic presidential campaigns. With a cost approaching seven figures, Abrams knew it would be inefficient; such applications generally coax participation from less than 10% of participants.

But the campaign identified tens of thousands of new voters from the effort. Abrams ended up outpacing Kemp in mail support by 53,709 votes, though she lost the early in-person vote by 19,895 and the Election Day vote by nearly 94,000. She won about two-thirds of 10,000-plus provisional ballots. She ended up about 19,000 votes short of forcing a runoff, since Georgia law requires a majority to win statewide offices.

Republicans 2021 voting overhaul prohibits the kind of mailer that Abrams sent, allowing only blank state-issued forms. Those now require voter ID — a state ID number or photocopy of the ID — and a voter’s birthday. Much of the information must be repeated with the returned ballot, creating the possibility of more mismatches that could result in the ballot being tossed out.

Groh-Wargo wouldn’t offer a specific early voting turnout goal. But she said Abrams’ 2018 early in-person support — 930,131 of her 1.92 million votes — fell short of internal targets. Yet Abrams’ overall total, even in defeat, exceeded any Democrat in Georgia history at the time. It was eclipsed by Biden, Warnock and Ossoff as the overall electorate continued to grow.

“All of that makes early voting that much more important,” said Nsé Ufot, who now leads the New Georgia Project, a voting rights group Abrams founded when she was a young state lawmaker.

Ufot said her outlet and others like it are pressing early in-person voting in their outreach efforts. New Georgia Project, she said, has registered 30,000 new voters and knocked on 1.3 million doors since the 2021 Senate runoffs, with 1 million more planned before Nov. 8.

Redesigning voter turnout plans, Groh-Wargo said, doesn’t change Democrats’ underlying necessity to expand the electorate if they hope to win in a historically conservative-leaning state like Georgia. That means many of the 1.6 million households who got Abrams’ mail ballot application in 2018 and didn’t vote will still be getting a visit about early in-person voting.

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That expansion strategy, Ufot said, still runs into skepticism among some Democratic donors. “It’s so clear that people have no idea how 2020 happened or 2018 for that matter,” Ufot said.

Behind-the-scenes pressure has intensified, Ufot said, with polls conducted since the beginning of July suggesting a tight race or narrow Kemp lead. Groh-Wargo said she hears the narrative of Abrams “struggling.” She acknowledged a “nasty environment” for Democrats given global inflation and Biden being less popular in Georgia than when he won the state. But the worry, she said, remains rooted in misunderstanding Abrams’ path.

“A lot of our constituencies are ‘persuasion voters,’” Groh-Wargo said. That doesn’t mean swing voters, she said, because they’re not choosing between Abrams and Kemp — they’re deciding whether to back Abrams or not vote at all.

Still, Ufot said, the dynamics put enormous pressure on Abrams and her campaign to succeed so the left’s donor base doesn’t start short-changing voter turnout networks she said are necessary to tap diverse electorates in traditionally Republican states.

“This is going to be a game of inches,” she said. “We just have to widen the aperture to see what’s at play here.”

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Follow AP for full coverage of the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter, https://twitter.com/ap_politics.

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

The patience of Memorial Day weekend travelers was tested Thursday by widespread delays across the country, but there were relatively few canceled flights, raising hopes that airlines can handle bigger crowds expected Friday.

By early evening on the East Coast, more than 6,000 flights had been delayed Thursday, with the biggest backups at the three major airports in the New York City area and Dallas-Fort Worth International.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

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Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

The Transportation Security Administration predicted that Friday will be the busiest day for air travel over the holiday weekend, with nearly 3 million people expected to pass through airport checkpoints. It could rival the record of 2.9 million, set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

“Airports are going to be more packed than we have seen in 20 years,” said Aixa Diaz, a spokesperson for AAA.

When they aren’t waiting out flight delays, travelers are reporting sticker shock at the prices.

At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Larisa Latimer of New Lenox, Illinois, said her airfare was reasonable but other expenses for a getaway to New Orleans were not.

 

 

 

 

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Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

“I just have to make the accommodation,” she said. “The rental car is up … this year, the hotel accommodations were very unusually expensive.”

Kathy Larko of Fort Meyers, Florida, used frequent-flyer miles — and some flexible scheduling — to pay for her trip to Chicago.

“I’m really conscious of looking at the cost of the entire trip. We’re staying a little farther out than we normally would” to get a lower hotel rate, she said. “We’re also flying back a day later, because we could get cheaper miles.”

More travelers will be on the road. AAA estimates that 43.8 million people will venture at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home between Thursday and Monday, with 38 million of them taking vehicles.

 
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Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Airport unions are using the holiday weekend to highlight their demands.

About 100 workers who clean airplane cabins and drive trash trucks at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, started a 24-hour strike Thursday, demanding better pay and healthcare, according to the Service Employees International Union. About 15% of flights were delayed, but it was unclear whether the strike played any role.

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A planned strike at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York was averted, however. Teamsters Local 553, which represents about 300 workers who refuel passenger and cargo jets at JFK, said that it reached a settlement with Allied Aviation Services and called off a walkout planned for Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

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“We are happy an agreement has been reached, a need for a strike averted, and we are hopeful that the deal will be ratified by our members,” said Demos Demopoulos, the secretary-treasurer of the local.

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Associated Press video journalist Melissa Perez Winder in Chicago and Associated Press radio reporter Shelley Adler in Washington contributed to this report.

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ health department has appointed an outspoken anti-abortion OB-GYN to a committee that reviews pregnancy-related deaths as doctors have been warning that the state’s restrictive abortion ban puts women’s lives at risk.

Dr. Ingrid Skop was among the new appointees to the Texas Maternal Morality and Morbidity Review Committee announced last week by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Her term starts June 1.

The committee, which compiles data on pregnancy-related deaths, makes recommendations to the Legislature on best practices and policy changes and is expected to assess the impact of abortion laws on maternal mortality.

Skop, who has worked as an OB-GYN for over three decades, is vice president and director of medical affairs for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group. Skop will be the committee’s rural representative.

Skop, who has worked in San Antonio for most of her career, told the Houston Chronicle that she has “often cared for women traveling long distances from rural Texas maternity deserts, including women suffering complications from abortions.”

Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S., and doctors have sought clarity on the state’s medical exemption, which allows an abortion to save a woman’s life or prevent the impairment of a major bodily function. Doctors have said the exemption is too vague, making it difficult to offer life-saving care for fear of repercussions. A doctor convicted of providing an illegal abortion in Texas can face up to 99 years in prison and a $100,000 fine and lose their medical license.

Skop has said medical associations are not giving doctors the proper guidance on the matter. She has also shared more controversial views, saying during a congressional hearing in 2021 that rape or incest victims as young as 9 or 10 could carry pregnancies to term.

Texas’ abortion ban has no exemption for cases of rape or incest.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which says abortion is “inherently tied to maternal health,” said in a statement that members of the Texas committee should be “unbiased, free of conflicts of interest and focused on the appropriate standards of care.” The organization noted that bias against abortion has already led to “compromised” analyses, citing a research articles co-authored by Skop and others affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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Earlier this year a medical journal retracted studies supported by the Charlotte Lozier Institute claiming to show harms of the abortion pill mifepristone, citing conflicts of interests by the authors and flaws in their research. Two of the studies were cited in a pivotal Texas court ruling that has threatened access to the drug.

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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