Biden’s Legal Preparations

With court battles playing out over voting, Biden assembles a legal crisis-response team. It’s Monday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

  • With 50 days to go until Election Day, Joe Biden’s campaign is making preparations for a drawn-out legal battle over the November election, as wrangling over mail voting escalates and President Trump refuses to promise that he will accept the official results if he is not victorious.

  • In building what amounts to a legal war room that will be on call throughout the final days of the campaign and beyond, the Biden team has enlisted two former solicitors general and hundreds of other lawyers, our Shane Goldmacher reports. The campaign has described the team as an election protection program unlike any before.

  • The former solicitors general are leading a new “special litigation” unit, while a major Washington law firm is spearheading efforts to fight state-level restrictions to ballot access and to wage battles over rules on how votes will be counted. Eric Holder, the attorney general under President Barack Obama, is helping coordinate the efforts of various legal groups fighting court battles across the country.

  • Consequential court decisions have already come down in a number of battleground states. See lower in this newsletter for a rundown of where things stand in three key states.

  • A New York Times/Siena College poll released over the weekend showed Biden holding an advantage among likely voters in four key battleground states. (In some states, his lead over Trump was within the poll’s margin of error.)

  • Each of the four states polled was decided by no more than two percentage points in the 2016 election. One of them, Wisconsin, went narrowly to Trump. The other three fell in Hillary Clinton’s favor: Nevada, Minnesota and New Hampshire.

  • Biden’s five-point edge in Wisconsin was significantly diminished from June, when a Times/Siena poll found him leading there by 11 points.

  • But in none of the states did Trump’s support among likely voters reach the 45 percent threshold, a reflection of his eroded standing among political independents, suburbanites and voters 65 and older. Among those groups — all of which tended to back Trump in 2016 — Biden held a sizable lead over the president when the results from all four states were combined.

  • On a range of issues, voters tended to trust Biden over Trump. The president had the edge in only one area: who was trusted more to handle the economy. In Wisconsin, voters preferred Trump on that front by eight percentage points. In Wisconsin and New Hampshire, his advantage was within the margin of error.

  • Wisconsin was also the only state polled in which voters were just as likely to call urban rioting a larger problem than racism in the criminal justice system. In the three other states, a majority of respondents called racism in criminal justice the bigger problem.

  • With the country’s coronavirus death toll nearing 200,000 and the unemployment rate still twice as high as it was before the pandemic, Trump has sought to place matters of law and order front and center. He’s made those issues particularly central to his campaign in heavily white battlegrounds like Minnesota and Wisconsin. But voters in those states were roughly split over whom they would prefer to see handling these issues, the poll found.

  • When asked which they considered the more pressing concern — preserving law and order or confronting the pandemic — likely voters there and in New Hampshire were about evenly divided.

  • In Nevada, however, voters said by a 13-point margin that they were more concerned about maintaining order. Unlike the three other states, white voters in Nevada were overwhelmingly more worried about law and order than about the pandemic.

  • The Democratic megadonor Susan Sandler revealed today that she would pour $200 million into racial justice efforts, including support for a number of progressive organizations that are working to register new voters from underrepresented groups in battleground states.

  • In a Medium post, published this morning and provided in advance to The Times, Sandler announced the establishment of the Susan Sandler Fund, which will aim to combat systemic racism by building civic power at the grass-roots level. An heir to the fortune of the finance titans Herb and Marion Sandler, she received a diagnosis of a rare form of brain cancer four years ago.

  • “I have come to believe that the most effective way to transform societal priorities and public policies is to change the balance of power, not change the minds of those who hold power,” Sandler wrote in the post.

  • “When government is responsive to — and, frankly, fearful of — the people who most bear the brunt of inequality and injustice, then better priorities, practices, and policies follow,” she added.

Credit…Bridget Bennett for The New York Times

Boaters flew flags on Saturday during a Trump boat parade on Lake Mead near Boulder City, Nev.

Political observers in Wisconsin are waiting with bated breath for a ruling from the state’s Supreme Court that could force officials to reprint thousands of ballots, potentially sending a fresh jolt of confusion into an election process already reeling from partisan hostilities and the challenges of voting amid a pandemic.

The ruling, which is expected as early as today, will be only the latest in a string of state-level court decisions that could have a profound impact on voters’ access to mail-in ballots, and on the way votes are counted in November.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court halted the printing of mail-in ballots last week, saying that it needed more time to reach a decision on various legal challenges brought by third-party candidates who were not included on the ballots.

In April, the state court, which has a 4-3 conservative majority, barred the Democratic governor from postponing in-person voting in Wisconsin’s primary elections, as some other states had done. Many observers expect the court to again rule in favor of Republican litigants, who are pushing to have the already-sent ballots thrown out.

The third-party candidates seeking ballot access — Howie Hawkins of the Green Party and the rapper Kanye West — are widely seen as having a greater potential to siphon votes away from Biden than from Trump.

In Florida, proponents of expanded voting access suffered a defeat last week when a federal appeals court overturned a recent decision that would have allowed former felons to vote without paying court fines and fees. In that decision, a lower court had ruled that such penalties amounted to a poll tax and were therefore unconstitutional.

But the appeals court ruled in favor of a law passed last year by the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature after voters had approved a referendum in 2018 granting voting rights to roughly 774,000 people in Florida who have completed felony sentences. Those voters may now have to pay fees in order to have their voting rights reinstated.

Opponents of the bill could appeal the case to the Supreme Court, but the conservative-led high court has already ruled once in favor of the Florida government on this matter, when it rejected a stay on the 2019 law.

In Texas, two court rulings came down last week with implications for November. A federal appeals court panel sided with the state’s Republican leadership on Thursday, allowing the state to restrict voting by mail to those 65 and older.

The next day, a state judge handed Democrats a victory, ruling that the Harris County clerk could send absentee ballot applications to all 2.4 million registered voters in Houston and the surrounding county, the state’s most populous.

You can expect these kinds of rulings to keep coming in the weeks ahead. We’ll keep you updated as things progress.

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