U.S. sets COVID-19 death record for second week, cases surge

(Reuters) – The United States lost more than 22,000 lives to COVID-19 last week, setting a record for the second week in a row, as new cases also hit a weekly high.

California was the state with the most deaths at 3,315 in the week ended Jan. 10, or about eight out of every 100,000 people, up 44% from the prior week, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county reports.

Arizona had the highest death rate per capita at 15 per 100,000 residents, followed by Rhode Island at 13 and West Virginia at 12 deaths per 100,000 people.

On average, COVID-19 killed 3,239 people per day in the United States last week, more than the number killed by the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

Cumulatively, nearly 375,000 people in the country have died from the novel coronavirus, or one in every 873 residents. The total could rise to more than 567,000 by April 1, according to a forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

The United States reported more than 1.7 million new cases of COVID-19 last week, up 17% from the prior seven days. Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottleib said new cases could start declining in February.

“By the end of this month, we’ll have infected probably about 30% of the American public and maybe vaccinated another 10%, notwithstanding the very difficult rollout of the vaccine,” Gottleib told CNBC on Friday. “You’re starting to get to levels of prior exposure in the population where the virus isn’t going to spread as readily.”

Across the United States, 13.4% of tests came back positive for the virus, down from 13.6% the prior week, according to data from the volunteer-run COVID Tracking Project. The highest rates were in Iowa at 59%, Idaho at 54% and Alabama at 45%.

(Graphic by Chris Canipe, writing by Lisa Shumaker, editing by Tiffany Wu)

Options dwindling, Trump faces likely setback in Georgia recount

By Andy Sullivan and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. presidential election battleground state of Georgia is expected on Thursday to affirm Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump after a painstaking recount, which would deal yet another setback to the president’s attempts to cling to power.

Georgia’s top election official, a Republican, has said the manual recount of almost 5 million votes is unlikely to erode Biden’s initial 14,000 winning margin by enough to hand Trump victory in the state.

That would leave Republican Trump with a dwindling number of options to overturn the results of an election in which Democrat Biden won 5.8 million more votes nationwide. Barring a series of unprecedented events, Biden will be sworn in on Jan. 20.

In the state-by-state Electoral College that determines the winner, Biden has captured 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232, well ahead of the 270 needed for victory. The winner in each state is awarded that state’s electoral votes, a number roughly proportional to the population.

Flipping Georgia’s 16 votes would still leave Trump at least two closely contested states away from overturning Biden’s victory. Georgia officials say they expect to release results on Thursday ahead of a certification deadline on Friday.

In Pennsylvania, where Biden won by 82,000 votes, the Trump campaign is asking a judge to declare him the winner there, saying its Republican-controlled legislature should choose the state’s slate of 20 Electoral College voters.

In Wisconsin, the Trump campaign has paid for a partial recount, even though election officials there say that will likely only add to Biden’s 20,000-vote advantage in a state that carries 10 electoral votes.

‘A DEEPER PROBLEM’

Trump’s campaign has filed lawsuits in a number of other states, including Michigan, with scant success so far.

Those legal motions, sprinkled with factual errors, have been dismissed by Biden’s campaign as “theatrics” that are not based on sound law.

Several prominent law firms have pulled out of the operation, leaving Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to spearhead the efforts.

Trump said on Twitter on Thursday that lawyers would discuss a “viable path to victory” at a news conference at noon ET (1700 GMT).

State and federal election officials, as well as outside experts, say Trump’s argument that the election was stolen from him by widespread voter fraud has no basis in fact.

However, it does appear to be affecting public confidence in American democracy. A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Wednesday found about half of Republicans believe Trump “rightfully won” the election.

Arizona’s top election official, Democrat Katie Hobbs, said she and her family had been getting violent threats and urged Trump to stop casting doubt on the result, in which he lost by just over 10,000 votes.

“(The threats) are a symptom of a deeper problem in our state and country – the consistent and systematic undermining of trust in each other and our democratic process,” Hobbs said in a statement.

Trump, who has largely stayed in the White House and kept out of public view since the election, has no public events scheduled for Thursday.

His administration has so far refused to recognize Biden as the winner, which has held up funding and security clearances to ease the transition from one president to another ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration.

Biden said on Wednesday that the delay was preventing his team from planning a new assault on surging coronavirus infections, which is straining the U.S. healthcare system.

(Writing by Andy Sullivan and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Ross Colvin, Lincoln Feast and David Clarke)

Biden close to U.S. election victory as a defiant Trump vows to fight

By Trevor Hunnicutt, Steve Holland and Joseph Ax

WILMINGTON, Del./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrat Joe Biden edged closer to winning the White House on Friday, expanding his narrow leads over President Donald Trump in the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Georgia even as Republicans sought to raise $60 million to fund lawsuits challenging the results.

Trump remained defiant, vowing to press unfounded claims of fraud as a weary, anxious nation waited for clarity in an election that only intensified the country’s deep polarization.

On the fourth day of vote counting, former Vice President Biden had a 253 to 214 lead in the state-by-state Electoral College vote that determines the winner, according to Edison Research.

Securing Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes would put Biden over the 270 he needs to win the presidency after a political career stretching back nearly five decades.

Biden would also win if he prevails in two of the three other key states where he was narrowly ahead on Friday: Georgia, Arizona and Nevada. Like Pennsylvania, all three were still processing ballots on Friday.

As Biden’s lead grew in Pennsylvania, hundreds of Democrats gathered outside Philadelphia’s downtown vote-counting site, wearing yellow shirts reading “Count Every Vote.” In Detroit, a crowd of Trump supporters, some armed, protested outside a counting location, waving flags and chanting, “Fight!”

Biden planned to deliver a prime-time address on Friday, according to two people familiar with his schedule. His campaign expected that could be a victory speech if television networks call the race for him in the coming hours.

Meanwhile, Trump showed no sign he was ready to concede, as his campaign pursued a series of lawsuits that legal experts said were unlikely to alter the election outcome.

“From the beginning we have said that all legal ballots must be counted and all illegal ballots should not be counted, yet we have met resistance to this basic principle by Democrats at every turn,” he said in a statement released by his campaign.

“We will pursue this process through every aspect of the law to guarantee that the American people have confidence in our government,” Trump said.

Trump earlier leveled an extraordinary attack on the democratic process, appearing at the White House on Thursday evening to falsely claim the election was being “stolen” from him. Election officials across the nation have said they are unaware of any significant irregularities.

The Republican National Committee is looking to collect at least $60 million from donors to fund Trump’s legal challenges, two sources familiar with the matter said.

In both Pennsylvania and Georgia, Biden overtook Trump as officials processed thousands of mail-in ballots that were cast in urban Democratic strongholds including Philadelphia and Atlanta.

The number of Americans voting early and by mail this year surged due to the coronavirus as people tried to avoid large groups of voters on Election Day. The methodical counting process has left Americans waiting longer than they have since the 2000 election to learn the winner of a presidential contest.

A sense of grim resignation settled in at the White House on Friday, where the president was monitoring TV and talking to advisers on the phone. One adviser said it was clear the race was tilting against Trump, but that Trump was not ready to admit defeat.

The campaign’s general counsel, Matt Morgan, asserted in a statement on Friday that the elections in Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania all suffered from improprieties and that Trump would eventually prevail in Arizona.

He also said the campaign expected to pursue a recount in Georgia, as it has said it will do in Wisconsin, where Biden won by more than 20,000 votes. A margin that wide has never been overturned by a recount, according to Edison Research.

Georgia officials said on Friday they expect a recount, which can be requested by a candidate if the final margin is less than 0.5%, as it currently is.

Biden expressed confidence on Thursday he would win and urged patience. In response to the idea that Trump might not concede, Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement on Friday, “The United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”

BIDEN MOMENTUM

The messy aftermath capped a vitriolic campaign that underscored the country’s enduring racial, economic and cultural divides, and if he wins Biden might face a difficult task governing in a divided Washington.

Republicans could keep control of the U.S. Senate pending the outcome of four undecided Senate races, including two in Georgia that will be likely decided in January runoffs, and they would likely block large parts of his legislative agenda, including expanding healthcare and fighting climate change.

The heated campaign unfolded amid the pandemic that has killed more than 235,000 people in the United States and left millions more out of work. The country has also been grappling with the aftermath of months of protests over racism and police brutality.

In Pennsylvania, Biden moved ahead of Trump for the first time and had a lead of 13,558 votes by midday Friday, while in Georgia, he was 1,579 votes ahead. Both margins were expected to grow as additional ballots were tallied. Pennsylvania officials estimated on Friday they had 40,000 ballots left to count, while Georgia officials said on Friday morning there were around 4,000 regular ballots remaining.

Biden, 77, would be the first Democrat to win Georgia since fellow Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992.

In Arizona, where officials said at least 142,000 uncounted ballots remained, Biden’s lead was at 41,302 votes. His margin in Nevada, where there were 63,000 mail-in ballots left to count, jumped to 20,352.

Pennsylvania, one of three traditionally Democratic states that handed Trump his 2016 victory, had long been seen as crucial to the 2020 race, and both candidates lavished enormous sums of money and time on the “Rust Belt” state.

While many rural areas in Pennsylvania remain in favor of Trump, Democrats are strong in big cities such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Trump, 74, has sought to portray as fraudulent the slow counting of mail-in ballots. He has unleashed a series of social media posts baselessly claiming fraud, prompting Twitter and Facebook to append warning labels.

States have historically taken time after Election Day to tally all votes, although in most presidential elections the gap between candidates is big enough that television networks project the winner and the losing candidate concedes before counting formally ends.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Wilmington, Delaware and Steve Holland in Washington; Additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia; Michael Martina in Detroit; and John Whitesides, Steve Holland, Simon Lewis and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)

Which states could tip U.S. election and when will they report results?

(Reuters) – Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s margins over Republican President Donald Trump in Pennsylvania and Georgia grew on Friday, as the vote counts in five battleground states trickled in.

To capture the White House, a candidate must amass at least 270 votes in the Electoral College. Edison Research gave Biden a 253-214 lead over the incumbent.

Here is the state of play in the five states. The vote counts are supplied by Edison Research.

PENNSYLVANIA (20 electoral votes)

Biden has a lead of 13,558 votes, or a 0.2 percentage point margin, as of 2 p.m. ET (1900 GMT) Friday, with 96% of the estimated vote counted. Under Pennsylvania law, a recount is automatic if the margin of victory is less than or equal to 0.5 percentage point of the total vote.

In Philadelphia, the state’s largest city, about 40,000 ballots remained to be counted, the majority of them provisional and military ballots, according to Pennsylvania’s election commissioner, who said the final count could take several days.

Friday is the last day that Pennsylvania can accept mail-in ballots postmarked on or before Election Day.

GEORGIA (16 electoral votes)

Biden is ahead of Trump by 1,554 votes as of 2 p.m. ET (1900 GMT) Friday, with 99% of votes counted according to Edison. Trump needs both Pennsylvania and Georgia to win a second term.

Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, said he expects the margin to be just a few thousand votes, which would trigger an automatic recount. A recount must wait until Georgia’s results are certified, expected on or before Nov. 20.

About 9,000 military and overseas ballots were still outstanding and could be accepted if they arrive on Friday as long as they were postmarked Tuesday or earlier.

ARIZONA (11 electoral votes)

Biden has 50.0% versus Trump at 48.6%, a lead of 43,779 votes, with 93.0% of the expected vote tallied as of 2 p.m. (1900 GMT).

Maricopa County, which includes heavily populated Phoenix, has 142,000 early ballots left to count, as well as some provisional ballots. Biden has a 3.2 percentage point lead in the county, with 92.2% of the estimated vote counted.

The majority of Maricopa’s votes could be tallied as soon as Saturday, said Megan Gilbertson, the communications director for the county’s elections department.

NEVADA (6 electoral votes)

Biden led Trump by 20,137 votes, or 1.6 percentage points, with about 8% of the vote left to be counted.

The state’s biggest county, Clark, which includes Las Vegas, has 63,000 ballots remaining to be counted. The next update of the vote count is expected at around 7 p.m. ET (0000 GMT) and the majority of mail-in ballots is expected to be counted by Sunday.

NORTH CAROLINA (15 electoral votes)

Trump led by 76,737 votes, or 1.4 points, with about 5% of the vote left to counted.

State officials have said a full result would not be known until next week. The state allows mail-in ballots postmarked by Tuesday to be counted if they are received by Nov. 12.

(Reporting by Leela de Kretser and Tiffany Wu; Editing by David Clarke and Leslie Adler)

Timeline: Which states could tip U.S. election and when will they report results?

(Reuters) – The outcome of the U.S. presidential election hung in the balance on Thursday as five swing states continued to count their ballots.

To capture the White House, a candidate must amass at least 270 votes in the Electoral College.

Edison Research gave Democratic challenger Biden a 243 against 213 lead over Republican President Donald Trump in Electoral College votes. Other networks said Biden had won Wisconsin, which would give him another 10 votes.

Results in Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes), Georgia (16), North Carolina (15), Arizona (11) and Nevada (6) remained uncertain as of Thursday afternoon, according to Edison Research.

ARIZONA

Biden led by 2.4 percentage points as of Thursday afternoon, or more than 68,000 votes, with about 14% of the vote left to be counted.

More results from densely populated Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, were not expected until 7 p.m. local time (9 p.m. EST, 0200 Friday GMT), the county elections department said.

There were at least 275,000 ballots in the county left to be counted, the elections department said. Biden was leading by 4 percentage points in the votes counted so far, indicating he was in a strong position to maintain his lead.

GEORGIA

Trump held onto to a lead of 0.3 percentage points, or 12,835 votes, with 2% percent of the vote left to be counted.

Counting was continuing on Thursday afternoon, with just 47,000 outstanding ballots, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a press conference.

NEVADA

Biden led Trump by 11,438 votes, or 0.9 percentage points, with about 12% of the vote left to be counted.

The state’s biggest county, Clark, expected to count the majority of its mail ballots by Saturday or Sunday, but would continue to count certain ballots after the weekend, according to its registrar, Joe Gloria.

All properly received ballots will be counted for up to nine days after the election, but the exact number left to be counted was unknown, said Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske.

The outstanding votes are mail-in ballots and those cast by voters who registered to vote at polling place on Election Day, she said.

NORTH CAROLINA

Trump led by more than 76,000 votes, or 1.4 points, with about 5% of the vote uncounted.

State officials have said a full result would not be known until next week. The state allows mail-in ballots postmarked by Tuesday to be counted if they are received by Nov. 12.

PENNSYLVANIA

Trump led by 1.7 percentage points, or more than 108,000 votes, with 8% of the vote outstanding.

About 370,000 ballots were still in the process of being counted on Thursday, according to the Department of State’s website, giving Biden a chance to catch Trump if enough of them were from Democratically friendly areas such as Philadelphia. Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said she expected the “overwhelming majority” to be counted by the end of Thursday.

Philadelphia County reported more than 252,000 ballots were cast by mail but did say how many remained to be counted.

A final count may not be available until at least Friday as Pennsylvania can accept mailed-in ballots up to three days after the election if they were postmarked by Tuesday.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Julia Harte; Editing by Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis)

Trump supporters protest outside Arizona vote center

By Mimi Dwyer

PHOENIX (Reuters) – A crowd of Donald Trump supporters, some armed with rifles and handguns, gathered outside an election center in Arizona on Wednesday night after unsubstantiated rumors that votes for the Republican president were deliberately not being counted.

Chanting “Stop the steal!,” and “Count my vote,” the mostly unmasked protesters stood in front of the Maricopa County Elections Department in Phoenix, as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden held a razor thin lead in the critical battleground state. Some news outlets have called Arizona for Biden, but Trump’s campaign says it is still in play.

A victory for Biden in Arizona would give the Democrat 11 electoral votes, a major boost in his bid to win the White House, while severely narrowing Trump’s path to re-election, in a state the Republican won in 2016.

On Election night Fox News and the Associated Press called Arizona for Biden, even though only just over 70% of the vote had been counted, a move that infuriated Trump and his aides.

Some of the roughly 200 protesters, who were faced by a line of armed county sheriffs, chanted “Shame on Fox!”. Some said they came out after a tweet from Mike Cernovich, a right-wing activist.

Chris Michael, 40, from Gilbert, Arizona, said he came to make sure all votes are counted. He said he wants assurances that the counting was done “ethically and legally.”

Rumors spread on Facebook Tuesday night that some Maricopa votes were not being counted because voters used Sharpie pens to mark their ballots. Local election officials insisted that was not true.

With the count still under way in several key states, Trump has accused the Democrats of trying to steal the election without evidence and filed lawsuits in several states related to vote-counting.

A similar scene played out on Wednesday afternoon in downtown Detroit, where city election officials blocked about 30 people, mostly Republicans, from entering a vote-counting hall amid unfounded claims that the vote count was fraudulent.

Trump has filed a lawsuit in Michigan to stop vote-counting that the secretary of state called “frivolous.”

The protests echoed the “Brooks Brother riot” during the 2000 recount in Florida that ultimately handed the presidency to Republican George W. Bush. A crowd of blazer-clad Republican protesters stormed a building where a hand recount was underway in a heavily Democratic district, forcing poll workers to stop counting ballots.

The protest is now viewed as a significant event in keeping Bush’s slender vote advantage in Florida intact. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately stopped the Florida recount, handing Bush the presidency and defeat to Democrat Al Gore.

(Reporting by Mimi Dwyer in Phoenix; writing by Tim Reid; Editing by Heather Timmons and Richard Pullin)

Factbox: Seven states that are deciding the U.S. presidential election

(Reuters) – The U.S. presidential election will be decided in seven states where votes are still being counted that could swing the outcome to either Republican President Donald Trump or his challenger Joe Biden.

Biden held a lead in four of the states that together award 43 Electoral College votes, which could just allow the Democrat to reach the 270 votes he would need to win, while Trump led in three that hold 51 Electoral College votes, which would push his total to 265.

Here’s a state-by-state look:

ARIZONA

Electoral votes: 11

Rating: Leaned Democratic ahead of the vote

Vote counting: This one appears to be in the Biden column, but only two of the six news organizations that Reuters is following have called Arizona for Biden, and Edison Research has not yet done so. All absentee ballots had to arrive by the close of polls on Election Day. Ballots could be scanned and tabulated starting 14 days before Tuesday.

GEORGIA

Electoral votes: 16

Rating: Leaned Republican ahead of the vote

Vote counting: No organization had yet to call the presidential contest. Trump has a lead but Biden could make up ground in the uncounted votes around Atlanta. Absentee ballots had to be received by clerks by the close of polls on Election Day. Ballots could be opened and scanned on receipt, but they could not be tallied until after the polls closed on Tuesday. Officials in Fulton County, home to Atlanta and a tenth of all Georgians, warned on Tuesday that its vote count would not be finalized until Wednesday.

PENNSYLVANIA

Electoral votes: 20

Rating: Leaned Democratic ahead of the vote

Vote counting: No organization had yet to call the presidential contest in Pennsylvania. Trump appeared to have a substantial lead but many of the outstanding mail-in ballots yet to be counted were from strongly Democratic areas. Absentee ballot counting began at 7 a.m. on Election Day. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a ruling by Pennsylvania’s top court that officials in the state could accept mail-in ballots three days after Tuesday’s election, so long as they were postmarked by Election Day.

WISCONSIN

Electoral votes: 10

Rating: Leaned Democratic ahead of the vote

Vote counting: Two of the six news organizations that Reuters is following have called Wisconsin for Biden, and a third has called Biden the apparent winner, pending a potential recount. Edison Research has not yet called the race. Biden held a thin lead within the margin that would allow the Trump campaign to call for a recount. The state’s election officials could not count mail-in ballots that arrive after Election Day, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 26. Ballots could not be counted until polls opened on Tuesday.

MICHIGAN

Electoral votes: 16

Rating: Leaned Democratic ahead of the vote

Vote counting: No organization has yet to call a winner in the presidential contest in Michigan, though Biden held a small lead. Absentee ballots had to arrive at clerks’ offices by the close of polls on Election Day. Some densely populated jurisdictions in the state, such as Detroit, began sorting absentee ballots on Monday, but the vast majority did not. Clerks could begin scanning and counting absentee ballots at 7 a.m. on Tuesday. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said on Wednesday the state would have a clearer picture by the end of the day.

NORTH CAROLINA

Electoral votes: 15

Rating: Leaned Republican ahead of the vote

Vote counting: No organization has yet called a winner in the presidential election, though Trump held a lead. Edison and three news organizations have called the governor’s race for incumbent Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

North Carolina absentee ballots could be scanned weeks in advance, but results could not be tallied before Election Day. In a defeat for Trump, the U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to block the state’s plan to tally ballots that are postmarked by Tuesday and arrive by Nov. 12.

NEVADA

Electoral votes: 6

Rating: Leaned Democratic ahead of the vote

Vote counting: No organization has yet to determine a winner in the presidential election. Biden held a razor-thin lead but final results could be delayed until later in the week. Absentee ballots could be processed upon receipt starting 14 days before the election, but results are not released until election night. Mail-in ballots postmarked by Tuesday will be counted so long as they arrive within seven days after the election.

(Reporting by Michael Martina and Julia Harte, Rich McKay, Brendan O’Brien, Jarrett Renshaw and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Scott Malone and Angus MacSwan)

New Jersey, Arizona approve recreational marijuana, Florida raises minimum wage

By Peter Szekely and Sharon Bernstein

(Reuters) – Voters in New Jersey and Arizona legalized marijuana for recreational use on Tuesday, and in Oregon approved the country’s first therapeutic use for psilocybin, the hallucinogenic drug known as magic mushrooms.

The measures were among at least 124 statutory and constitutional questions put to voters this year in 32 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Here are some of the key results and projections from the ballots, which covered topics such as elections, abortion rights and taxes:

MARIJUANA

While voters in New Jersey and Arizona approved measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use, South Dakota was poised to allow the drug for both medical and recreational use: Its ballot measure that appeared headed to victory with 90 percent of precincts counted. A proposition legalizing medical marijuana also appeared headed for victory in Mississippi.

Since 1996, 33 other states and the District of Columbia have allowed medical marijuana, 11 had previously approved its recreational use and 16, including some medical marijuana states, have decriminalized simple possession, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

PSILOCYBIN, AKA MAGIC MUSHROOMSPsilocybin, a hallucinogen also known in its raw form as magic mushrooms, was approved by Oregon voters for therapeutic use for adults. Backers of the Psilocybin Services Act cited research showing benefits of the drug as a treatment for anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions. The measure will set a schedule to further consider the matter and create a regulatory structure for it.

In a related measure, Washington, D.C., voters approved Initiative 81, which directs police to rank “entheogenic plants and fungi,” including psilocybin and mescaline, among its lowest enforcement priorities.

MINIMUM WAGE Voters in Florida approved a measure to amend the state constitution to gradually increase its $8.56 per hour minimum wage to $15 by Sept. 30, 2026.

CALIFORNIA GIG WORKERS California voters approved a measure that would exempt ride-share and delivery drivers from a state law that makes them employees, not contractors, according to Edison Research. The measure, Proposition 22, is the first gig-economy question to go before statewide voters in a campaign. Backers, including Uber Technologies Inc and Lyft Inc, spent more than $190 million on their campaign, making the year’s costliest ballot measure, according to Ballotpedia.

ABORTION

Colorado voters rejected a measure to ban abortions, except those needed to save the life of the mother, after 22 weeks of pregnancy.

ELECTIONS

California approved a measure to restore the right to vote to parolees convicted of felonies.

TAXES

In California, a proposal to roll back a portion of the state’s landmark Proposition 13 law limiting property taxes was too close to call Tuesday night. The measure, Proposition 15 on the state’s 2020 ballot, would leave in place protections for residential properties, but raise taxes on commercial properties worth more than $3 million. With about 80% of precincts partially reporting at 12:30 a.m. Pacific Time, the measure was slightly behind, with 51.5% of voters opposed to it and 48.5% in favor.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Philippa Fletcher)

‘We don’t give up really easy’: Navajo ranchers battle climate change

By Stephanie Keith and Andrew Hay

CEDAR RIDGE, Ariz. (Reuters) – Two decades into a severe drought on the Navajo reservation, the open range around Maybelle Sloan’s sheep farm stretches out in a brown expanse of earth and sagebrush.

A dry wind blows dust across the high-desert plateau, smoke from wildfires in Arizona and California shrouding the nearby rim of the Grand Canyon.

The summer monsoon rains have failed again, and stock ponds meant to collect rainwater for the hot summer months are dry.

With no ground water for her animals, Sloan, 59, fills an animal trough with water from a 1,200-gallon white plastic tank. She and her husband, Leonard, have to pay up to $300 to have the tank filled as her pickup truck has broken down. When it’s working, she hauls water herself every two days, spending $80 a week on fuel.

The cost of hauling water has made their ranch unprofitable.

The Navajo Nation – covering a 27,000 square mile area straddling the U.S. states of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah — competes with growing cities including Phoenix and Los Angeles for its water supply.

And as climate change dries out the U.S. West, that supply is becoming increasingly precarious.

In decades past, “we got rain every year around June, July, August,” said Leonard Sloan. The 64-year-old rancher pointed toward the dry ponds in the ground near a local butte named Missing Tooth Rock. “When we had that storm, there would be water and they would be full. And now due to global warming, we don’t get no rain, just a little.”

To keep their ranch alive the Sloans have to get water, which is free, from the sole livestock well in the area some 15 miles to the east.

They spend between $3,000 and $4,000 a year on hay to supplement their animals’ feed as the open range no longer produces enough grass to sustain them.

Maybelle has cut her sheep herd down to 24 head, and Leonard tells her to get rid of them and her 18 goats to focus on their 42 cattle, which bring more money at market.

But Maybelle bristles at the thought of giving up sheep herding learned from her mother, and grandmother before her. Maybelle’s mother, father and sister all died in April from coronavirus.

“I’m doing it for my parents,” Maybelle said, wiping tears away as she sat on the metal railing of a corral while her cattle licked salt blocks and drank water.

GRADUAL DISASTER

The Sloans remember grass growing as high as the belly of a horse as recently as the 1980’s.

But drought conditions on the reservation have become largely relentless since the mid-1990’s.

Annual average temperatures rose by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the reservation’s Navajo County area over the 100 years to 2019, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data.

The months of June to August this year were the driest on record in the area for the three-month period, according to drought monitoring data studied by climate scientist David Simeral of the Desert Research Institute in Nevada. Three of the five driest July-August rainy seasons in the area have occurred since the late 1990’s.

The warming trend has prompted desertification, with sand dunes now covering about a third of the reservation, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

All but one of the reservation’s rivers have stopped running year-round, said Margaret Redsteer, a scientist at the University of Washington in Bothell.

“That’s the really tricky thing about droughts, and climate change is like that too,” Redsteer said. “It’s a gradual disaster.”

DETERMINED PEOPLE

On paper, the Navajo Nation has extensive water rights based on the federal “reserved rights” doctrine which holds that Native American nations have rights to land and resources in treaties they signed with the United States.

In practice, the Navajos and other tribes were left out of many 20th century negotiations divvying up the West’s water.

There are signs some of the next generation are keeping up ranching traditions.

Some youths simply help their grandparents haul water each day from the sole well for livestock in the Bodaway-Gap area. Still others, including Maybelle’s children, send money from their work off the reservation to help fund their families’ ranches.

“Us Indians, we don’t give up really easy,” Maybelle said. “We’re really determined people.”

(Reporting by Stephanie Keith and Andrew Hay; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Arizona voting curbs remain as U.S. Supreme Court takes Republican appeal

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a defense by Arizona Republicans of two voting restrictions in the state that were ruled unlawful by a lower court as disproportionately burdening Black, Hispanic and Native American voters, meaning the measures will remain in place for the Nov. 3 election.

The measures prohibit absentee ballot collection by third parties and the counting of ballots cast at the wrong polling precinct. The justices will hear appeals of a January ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidating the provisions as violations of the Voting Rights Act, a 1965 U.S. law that barred racial discrimination in voting.

Both measures will stay in place for the upcoming election because the 9th Circuit put its decision on hold pending Supreme Court action on the appeal filed by the state, Republican Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and the state Republican Party.

Brnovich praised the court’s agreement to hear the appeal, adding, “As we contend with a politically polarized climate and battle a global pandemic, we must sustain the cornerstone of our government and ensure the true will of the electorate is heard.”

The Arizona dispute involves a Republican-backed 2016 state law that made it a crime to hand someone else’s completed early ballot to election officials, with the exception of family members or caregivers. Community activists sometimes engage in such ballot collection to facilitate voting and increase voter turnout. Critics call the practice ballot harvesting.

Ballot collection is legal in most states, with varying limitations. Twenty-six states allow voters to designate someone to return their ballot for them, 10 allow family members to do so, while the rest require voters to return their own ballot or are silent on the issue.

The case also involves a longstanding state policy that discards provisional ballots cast in-person at a precinct other than the one to which a voter has been assigned. In some places, a voter’s precinct is not the closest precinct to their home. Provisional ballots are those cast when a voter does not appear on that precinct’s voter rolls.

Nearly 30,000 out-of-precinct ballots were tossed out during the 2008, 2012 and 2016 presidential elections in Arizona, court filings said.

The Democratic National Committee and the Arizona Democratic Party sued the state’s Republican officials in 2016 over the provisions.

The 9th Circuit ruled that both Arizona voting measures had a discriminatory impact on racial minorities in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The 9th Circuit further found that the ballot collection prohibition violated the U.S. Constitution’s 15th Amendment, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting, noting that “false, race-based claims of ballot collection fraud” were used to convince Arizona legislators to pass the law.

The case, which began in 2016, is part of a wave of voting-related litigation ahead of the November election in which President Donald Trump is seeking a second term.

It touches upon issues including voting by mail that Trump has seized upon in his attacks on the integrity of the election. He and some fellow Republicans have asserted, without evidence, that a surge in mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic will lead to election fraud, which is exceptionally rare in the United States.

The court took action in the case three days before it begins its new nine-month term short one justice after the Sept. 18 death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. President Donald Trump has nominated federal appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ginsburg.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Additional reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Will Dunham)