US election news: Early voting begins in four states

Voters begin to cast ballots in Minnesota, Virginia, South Dakota and Wyoming.

I Voted stickers
Voters have from now until Election Day to cast ballots in Minnesota, Virginia, South Dakota and Wyoming. [Mike Blake/Reuters]
  • Donald Trump and Joe Biden campaigned in Minnesota, which Trump lost by a slim margin in 2016.
  • In-person early voting began in four states, including Minnesota.
  • Biden released a new TV advertisement about Trump’s alleged insults of military veterans.
  • Trump tried to capitalise on his Middle East deal by touting it in a new TV advertisement.

17:10 ET – Long lines at Virginia, Minnesota polling places

Lines of voters stretched from polling places in Virginia and Minnesota as early voting started in four states, the first of the 2020 presidential election.

The longest lines were found in Virginia, where voters previously needed a reason to cast an early ballot. In the state’s Fairfax County, where reports showed lines stretching for hours, election workers scrambled to open an additional voting room at the county government centre.

Ed O’Keefe of CBS News tweeted that “dozens” of socially-distanced voters cast ballots in the first 45 minutes of early voting in Duluth, Minnesota.

South Dakota and Wyoming also saw their first day of early voting on Friday. Ballots can be cast through November 3.

18:55 ET – Former president Obama calls for election volunteers

Former US president Barack Obama is encouraging people to volunteer as poll workers during early voting and Election Day on November 3.

In a tweet, he said volunteering “can help your community and make sure this election runs fairly and safely”.

18:50 ET – In new radio ad, Trump tries to appeal to Black voters

President Trump’s campaign launched a new radio ad today that seeks to appeal to Black voters.

The ad, which features former National Football League (NFL) player Jack Brewer, touts what Trump says is his strong record of uplifting Black communities – and targets his Democratic rival Joe Biden as someone who has made “empty promises”.

The urban ad is part of a multi-state buy in the US states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Pennsylvania.

A recent poll shows Biden by far outperforming Trump among Black voters ahead of November 3, with 78 percent support. Whether Black Americans will be energised to come out in large numbers to vote remains uncertain, however, and could potentially define the outcome of the 2020 election.

18:15 ET – ‘That’s their problem’:  Kushner draws fire for cold remarks, COVID handling

Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is getting ripped on social media for remarks he reportedly made in March to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, business executives and venture capitalists who were offering to help secure PPE for essential workers.

“The federal government is not going to lead this response… It’s up to the states to figure out what they want to do,” Kushner said, according to a new report in Vanity Fair magazine.

Just as New York City was getting hit with the worst coronavirus outbreak in the nation, Kushner dismissed concerns about nurses using garbage bags for protection.

“Cuomo didn’t pound the phones hard enough to get PPE for his state… His people are going to suffer and that’s their problem,” Kushner reportedly said.

17:30 ET – Trump ‘did not like’ FBI director’s testimony to Congress about Russian election interference

President Trump said FBI Director Chris Wray should have focused more on China in his testimony to Congress on Thursday.

Asked by reporters at the White House whether he is considering replacing Wray, Trump said: “We’re looking at a lot of different things. And I did not like his answers yesterday and I’m not sure he liked them either. I’m sure he probably would agree with me.”

Under questioning by House Democrats, Wray had acknowledged on Thursday that Russia is waging a disinformation campaign aimed at denigrating Trump’s political opponent Joe Biden. Trump has sought to push the idea that China and Iran prefer Biden over him.

Donald Trump WH departure to Minnesota
President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs for campaign travel to Minnesota from the White House. [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

16:50 ET – Biden slams Trump as elitist, offers pro-union, worker platform in Duluth, Minnesota

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden criticised President Trump for going along with Republican tax cuts for the rich and policies that helped Wall Street while ignoring the plight of American workers despite his promises.

“The only real power for workers in America is union power. You are the folks who keep the barbarians on the other side of the gate, making sure that people can make a decent living,” Biden said in a campaign speech at a carpenters union hall in Duluth, Minnesota.

“And folks, here like everywhere else, times are hard. Unemployment is way up due to the pandemic,” Biden said, outlining proposals to create jobs through infrastructure spending and clean energy investments.

The unemployment rate in Minnesota was 7.4 percent in August, down from a pandemic high of 9.9 percent in May, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. It had been 2.9 percent in March before the virus outbreak.

Joe Biden at carpenters union hall Duluth Minn
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden elbow bumps a union official after speaking at a campaign event at a United Brotherhood of Carpenters training center near Duluth, Minnesota, on Friday. [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

16:05 ET – Early voters in Minneapolis cite urgency, concerns about mail

Early voters in Minnesota said they were anxious to get a jump on the process and avoid potential crowds on Election Day.

“I just wanted to come get it done,” said Jason Miller, 33, a painter who was in line in Minneapolis to cast a vote for Biden. He said he could not wait to cast a vote against Trump, the Reuters news agency reported.

“I was a little inspired to come here the first day,” he said. “In fact, probably three-and-a-half years ago I thought I would be here the first day I could.”

Steve O’Rourke, 65, who came with a son who has to leave the country on a work trip, said he decided to vote early in person rather than by mail partly out of concern whether a mail-in vote would be counted.

15:45 ET – Trump says “in many cases” he knows better than his experts

“Yeah, I think in many cases I do,” President Trump said at a White House news conference when asked by a reporter why he so often does not trust his administration’s experts or thinks he knows better than they do.

Trump this week has publicly contradicted Robert Redfield, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on the timing of the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Trump said Wednesday that Redfield “had made a mistake” in stating that a coronavirus vaccine would not be available until next year. Trump is insisting one will be available in October, before the election.

The president also clashed with FBI Director Chris Wray who testified to Congress on Thursday that Russia is waging a disinformation campaign to help Trump get re-elected by denigrating Joe Biden.

15:15 ET – Trump announces $13 bn US grant to rebuild Puerto Rico

“Today my administration is making the largest emergency relief award in history to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical grid and educational system,” President Donald Trump said at a White House news conference.

“We’re awarding $13 bn to permanently repair, replace thousands of miles of transmission and distribution lines that should have been done many years ago,” said Trump who sought to blame his Democratic rival Joe Biden for the decline in Puerto Rico’s economy.

“I am the best thing that has ever happened to Puerto Rico. Biden was a disaster. It’s not even close,” he said.

Biden has criticised Trump in Florida, a battleground state in the presidential election, for failing to help Puerto Rico rebuild after the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017. An estimated 40,000 Puerto Ricans settled in Florida after the storm adding to the state’s population of 1.1 million Puerto Ricans.

Donald Trump presser
President Donald Trump announced $13 bn in federal aid to Puerto Rico during a news conference at the White House on Friday in Washington. [Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

14:45 ET – Democrat in South Carolina Senate race scores fundraising gain

South Carolina Democratic senatorial candidate Jaime Harrison’s campaign has marked two back-to-back fundraising days of $1 mn apiece, bringing his total fundraising to over $30 mn.

It’s a staggering sum, unheard of for a Democrat competing in this conservative state, and matches what the Republican incumbent, Senator Lindsey Graham, has raised in his pursuit of a fourth term. It dwarfs the $10 million figure Harrison previously told The Associated Press he thought necessary to win.

The influx of cash for Harrison — a Democratic National Committee associate chair and former state party chair – followed a Quinnipiac University poll that showed him tied with Graham.

The money is providing a rare opportunity to blanket the airwaves in a place where Democrats have not won a statewide contest in 15 years, bolstering the party in its fight to win back a US Senate majority.

Jaime Harrison
With control of the US Senate in play, South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison has raised a total $30 mn allowing his campaign to buy significant television advertising in his bid to unseat Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham. [File: Meg Kinnard/AP Photo]

14:30 ET – Kamala Harris gets super-hero treatment in comic book

Kamala Harris is getting her own comic book, chronicling her path from childhood to her historic nomination as US vice president.

“Female Force: Kamala Harris,” part of Tidalwave Productions’ Political Power series, is set for release on October 21, a day after she turns 56, less than two weeks before the November 3 election, the Reuters news service reported.

The publisher on its website describes Harris as “full of grit and determination,” and says that her “no-nonsense approach and bi-racial heritage have made her a popular member of the Democratic party.”

Kamala Harris in Philadelphia
Democratic vice presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris, will be featured in a comic book series. [Michael Perez/AP Photo]

13:45 ET – House Democrats demand emergency probe into whether AG Barr is trying to influence the election

Democrat committee chairs in the House of Representatives have asked the Department of Justice Inspector General to open an emergency investigation into whether Attorney General Bill Barr is improperly pushing political prosecutions to help President Trump get re-elected.

“Under longstanding DOJ policy, the Attorney General is expected to refrain from commenting on an ongoing investigation,” House committee chairs Jerrold Nadler, Adam Schiff, Carolyn Maloney and Zoe Lofgren said in a letter to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

“Attorney General Barr has signaled repeatedly that he is likely to allow DOJ to take prosecutorial actions, make public disclosures, and even issue reports before the presidential election in November,” the letter said.

AG Bill Barr with Donald Trump
Attorney General Bill Barr has been accused by Democrats of politicising Department of Justice investigations to help President Trump. [Leah Millis/Reuters]

13:00 ET – New AP poll shows more Biden voters seek to vote early

A majority of President Donald Trump’s supporters plan to cast their ballot on Election Day, while about half of Joe Biden’s backers plan to vote by mail, a sign of a growing partisan divide over how best to conduct elections in the United States.

Fifty-four percent of voters say they will vote before polls open on Election Day. In 2016, roughly 42 percent of voters did so, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Overall, 39 percent of registered voters say they will vote by mail this election, well above the 21 percent who  normally do so.

The rise is skewed toward backers of the former vice president, 53 percent of whom plan to vote by mail. Fifty-seven percent of Trump’s supporters say they’ll vote in person on November 3.

12:00 ET – Pro-Trump super PAC announces new $25 mn ad buy attacking Biden on foreign policy

Preserve America, a political advocacy group backing President Trump, has announced plans to spend $25 mn on television advertisements in seven battleground states featuring military veterans criticising Democratic presidential nominee on foreign policy.

The group already spent $30 mn on ads in the past two weeks against Biden in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, Iowa and Georgia. Preserve America is headed by Republican strategist Chris LaCivita who was behind the damaging ‘Swift Boat’ attack ads that helped defeat 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

11:30 ET – Early voting starts in Minnesota, Virginia, South Dakota and Wyoming

Lines of people formed at county registrar offices in Northern Virginia as early voting began in four states including Minnesota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2016, tweeted a picture of himself voting in person.

10:30 ET – Trump and Biden head to Minnesota

Minnesota has not voted for a Republican president since Richard Nixon in 1972, yet Trump surprisingly came within 1.5 percent of beating Hillary Clinton there in 2016.

Trump and his campaign believe they have a chance to flip that reliably Democratic state this year and he is travelling to Bemidji in the less-Democratic northern part of the state for a campaign rally today. For his part, Biden will also head to northern Minnesota today for a campaign event in Duluth.

Al Jazeera Online’s William Roberts has more on why Minnesota might be fertile ground for Trump.

Another reason they are in Minnesota: Today is the first day of in-person early voting in there and in three other states – the first states to start in-person voting in advance of the November 3 election. Even though mail-in voting is getting most of the focus during the pandemic, in-person early voting has been an increasingly popular voting method in recent years.

10:00 ET – Trump highlights UAE-Bahrain-Israel deals in new advertisement

Donald Trump’s campaign released a new TV advertisement declaring the president accomplished the impossible: The UAE-Bahrain-Israel normalisation deals.

“They said it couldn’t be done. But President Trump did it,” the advertisement says before mentioning his Nobel Peace Prize nomination (he is one of 318 total nominations in 2020).

Clearly Trump sees the deals he helped broker as a major selling point to voters. Al Jazeera Online’s Political Editor Steve Chaggaris writes that it is probably wishful thinking.

09:30 ET – Biden advertisement slams Trump’s alleged military vets comments

Trump’s opponents have been making a big deal about a report that the president allegedly referred to those who died in war as “losers” and “suckers”. Now, Joe Biden’s campaign is running an advertisement about those comments.

The TV advertisement features an Air Force veteran who notified families when loved ones died during military service. “These military families suffer,” he says. “And those spouses are not suckers. And those children are not losers.”

Trump has vociferously denied the specific allegations in the report, however, he has made widely-covered public comments in recent years denigrating veterans.

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the US elections. William Roberts and Steve Chaggaris will update you throughout the day.

Read all the updates from yesterday (September 17), including coverage of Biden’s Pennsylvania town hall and Trump’s late Wisconsin rally, here.

Source: Al Jazeera