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Voter challenges, records requests swamp election offices

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Voter challenges, records requests swamp election offices

Spurred by conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election, activists around the country are using laws that allow people to challenge a voter’s right to cast a ballot to contest the registrations of thousands of voters at a time.

In Iowa, Linn County Auditor Joel Miller had handled three voter challenges over the previous 15 years. He received 119 over just two days after Doug Frank, an Ohio educator who is touring the country spreading doubts about the 2020 election, swung through the state.

In Nassau County in northern Florida, two residents challenged the registrations of nearly 2,000 voters just six days before last month’s primary. In Georgia, activists are dropping off boxloads of challenges in the diverse and Democratic-leaning counties comprising the Atlanta metro area, including more than 35,000 in one county late last month.

Election officials say the vast majority of the challenges will be irrelevant because they contest the presence on voting rolls of people who already are in the process of being removed after they moved out of the region. Still, they create potentially hundreds of hours of extra work as the offices scramble to prepare for November’s election.

“They at best overburden election officials in the run-up to an election, and at worse they lead to people being removed from the rolls when they shouldn’t be,” said Sean Morales-Doyle of The Brennan Center for Justice, which has tracked an upswing in voter challenges.

The voter challenges come as activists who believe in the election lies of former President Donald Trump also have flooded election offices across the country with public records requests and threats of litigation, piling even more work on them as they ready for November.

“It’s time-consuming for us, because we have to consult with our county attorneys about what the proper response is going to be,” said Rachel Rodriguez, an elections supervisor in Dane County, Wisconsin, which includes Madison, the state capital.

She received duplicate emails demanding records about two weeks ago: “It’s taking up valuable time that we don’t necessarily have as election officials when we’re trying to prepare for a November election.”

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Michael Henrici, the Democratic commissioner of elections in New York’s Otsego County, received a single-line email last week warning of unspecified “election integrity” litigation, then a follow-up complaining he hadn’t responded.

“These aren’t people with specific grievances,” Henrici said. “They’re getting a form letter from someone’s podcast and sometimes filling in the blanks.”

Multiple investigations and reviews, including one by Trump’s own Department of Justice, found no significant fraud i n the 2020 presidential election, and courts rejected dozens of lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies. But Trump has continued to insist that widespread fraud cost him re-election. That has inspired legions of activists to become do-it-yourself election sleuths around the country, challenging local voting officials at every turn.

In Linn County, Iowa, which includes the city of Cedar Rapids, Miller said he and the auditors who run elections in the state’s other 98 counties have been deluged with both records requests and voter challenges.

“The whole barrage came in a two-week period,” Miller said, following the tour by Frank, who uses mathematical projections to make claims of a vast conspiracy to steal the election from Trump, “and it’s happening to auditors across the state.”

Election offices routinely go through their voter rolls and remove those who have moved or died. Federal law constrains how quickly they can drop voters, and conservative activists have long complained that election officials do not move swiftly enough to clean up their rolls.

The recent challenges stem from activists comparing postal change-of-address and other databases to voter rolls. Election officials say this is redundant, because they already take the same steps.

Sometimes the challenges come after election conspiracists go door-to-door, often in heavily minority neighborhoods, seeking evidence that votes were cast improperly in 2020.

Texas’ heavily Democratic Harris County, which includes Houston, received nearly 5,000 challenges from a conservative group that went door-to-door checking voter addresses. The election office said it dismissed the challenges it legally had to review before the election and will finish the remainder after Nov. 8.

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Activists in Gwinnett County, which stretches across the increasingly Democratic northern Atlanta suburbs, spent 10 months comparing change-of-address and other databases with the county’s voter rolls. They submitted eight boxes of challenges last month. About 15,000, they said, were complaints that specific voters improperly received mail ballots in 2020. Another 22,000 were for voters they contend are no longer at their registered address.

There are so many challenges that election officials have yet to even count them all. But Zach Manifold, Gwinnett’s election supervisor, said that, in every single mail ballot complaint the office has sampled, the voter properly received a mailed ballot.

But if any of the address-challenged voters do try to cast a ballot in November, the county’s elections board will need to decide whether that vote should count. They’ll only have six days to make a decision, as they have to certify their vote total by the Monday after Election Day under Georgia law.

Manifold estimated his office has a month to log and research the challenges, before mail ballots go out for the November elections: “It is a tight window to get everything done,” he said.

Many of the large counties facing voter roll challenges are places where President Joe Biden beat Trump in 2020, including Gwinnett and Harris. Yet those behind the effort dispute the notion that they are targeting Democratic-leaning counties and say they’re working on behalf of all voters. In Florida’s Nassau County, for example, Trump won with more than 72% of the vote.

“They should be glad that the voter rolls are being cleaned up so they can make sure their votes count,” said Garland Favorito, a conservative activist who has teamed up with supporters of Trump’s election lies and is helping with voter challenges in Georgia.

Favorito said more challenges are coming in other Georgia counties.

Under legislation passed last year by the Republican-controlled Legislature, there are no limits on the number of voter challenges that can be filed in Georgia. Most states implicitly set restraints on challenges, said Morales-Doyle of the Brennan Center. They require a complainant to have specific, personal information about the voters they target and establish penalties for making frivolous challenges.

Florida is an example. Its voter challenge law only permits the filing of challenges 30 days before an election, requiring election officials to contact each voter challenged before Election Day. It is a misdemeanor to file a “frivolous” challenge. But voter challenges almost derailed Florida’s primary last month in heavily-Republican Nassau County, in the northeastern part of the state.

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Two women who belonged to a conservative group, County Citizens Defending Freedom, dropped off the nearly 2,000 challenges at the county elections office six days before the Aug. 23 primary.

Luckily for the office, the challenges were filed in an incorrect format. Elections Supervisor Janet Adkins told the activists they would review them, anyway — after the primary.

“To take away a person’s right to vote is a very serious thing,” Adkins said.

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Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.

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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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