Explainer: ‘Dueling electors’ pose risk of U.S. vote deadlock

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) – In the United States, a candidate becomes president by securing the most “electoral” votes rather than winning a majority of the national popular vote. Known as the Electoral College, the system allots electors to the 50 states and the District of Columbia largely based on their population.

It is theoretically possible for the governor and legislature, each representing a different political party, to submit two different election results, leading to so-called “dueling slates of electors.”

Below are details of how that might play out.

What are electors?

The U.S. president is selected by 538 electors, known as the Electoral College, with electors apportioned based on each state’s population. The popular vote in each state typically determines which candidate receives a state’s electoral votes.

The U.S. Constitution and the 1887 Electoral Count Act govern the counting of electoral votes and any related disputes. The electors will meet on Dec. 14 to cast votes, which are then counted by Congress on Jan. 6 in a process overseen by Vice President Mike Pence in his role as Senate president.

What are dueling electors?

States with close contests between Republican President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden could produce competing slates of electors, one certified by the governor and the other by the legislature.

The risk of this happening is heightened in the battleground states of Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which have Democratic governors and Republican-controlled legislatures.

Some election law experts are concerned that an unprecedented volume of mailed-in votes and legal challenges will delay the outcome of the election for weeks, creating an extended period of uncertainty.

Trump has repeatedly said the election is rigged and made unfounded attacks on mail-in voting, which tends to favor Democrats.

If early returns show a Trump lead, experts say the president could press Republican-controlled legislatures to appoint electors favorable to him, claiming the initial vote count reflects the true outcome.

Governors in those same states could end up backing a separate slate of electors pledged to Biden if the final count showed the Democratic candidate had won.

Both sets of electors would meet and vote on Dec. 14 and the competing results would be sent to Congress.

Which set of electors would prevail?

Both chambers of Congress could accept the same slate of electors, which would almost certainly put the matter to rest.

The chambers could also split, which is more likely if the Republicans retain control of the Senate and Democrats hold onto their House majority.

If lawmakers cannot agree on a set of electors, the country will find itself in uncharted territory.

The Electoral Count Act, often described by academics as “unintelligible,” seems to favor the slate of electors certified by the state’s governor, according to Ned Foley, a professor at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

But Foley notes that some scholars and an analysis by the Congressional Research Service have rejected that conclusion.

Academics have sketched out several scenarios. Under one, Pence as president of the Senate could throw out both sets of a state’s electors. Another contemplates that the House of Representatives would end up choosing between Biden and Trump. There is even a scenario in which the Speaker of the House, currently Democrat Nancy Pelosi, could become acting president.

Would the U.S. Supreme Court get involved?

The Supreme Court may be called upon to interpret the Electoral College Act to break any deadlock.

A Supreme Court ruling helped resolve the 2000 election in favor of George Bush over Al Gore, but that case was about a recount in Florida and the decision was reached before electors met to cast their votes.

“I think there will be legal challenges,” said Jessica Levinson, director of Loyola Law School’s Public Service Institute. “But I could see a court saying this would really be better left up to Congress.”

Has this happened before?

In 1876, dueling electors in three states were deadlocked until a deal was brokered days before Inauguration Day.

The dispute was resolved after Republican Rutherford B. Hayes became president in exchange for withdrawing U.S. troops left over from the Civil War from Southern states.

“I hope it’s a very low probability event but 1876 is a reminder that it is not zero and we have come very close to falling over that cliff in our history,” Foley said.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Aurora Ellis)

New U.S. COVID-19 cases rise in 27 states for two straight weeks

(Reuters) – The number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States has risen for two weeks in a row in 27 out of 50 states, with North Carolina and New Mexico both reporting increases above 50% last week, according to a Reuters analysis.

The United States recorded 316,000 new cases in the week ended Sept. 27, up 10% from the previous seven days and the highest in six weeks, according to the analysis of state and county data.

The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told ABC News that the country was “not in a good place.”

“There are states that are starting to show (an) uptick in cases and even some increases in hospitalizations in some states. And, I hope not, but we very well might start seeing increases in deaths,” he said, without naming the states.

North Carolina reported a 60% jump in new cases to 13,799 last week, while New Mexico saw new infections rise 55% to 1,265. Texas also reported a 60% jump in new cases to 49,559, though that included a backlog of several thousand cases.

Deaths from COVID-19 have generally declined for the past six weeks, though still stand at more than 5,000 lives lost a week. Deaths are a lagging indicator and generally rise weeks after a surge in cases.

Testing in the country set a record of over 880,000 tests a day, surpassing the previous high in July of 820,000.

Nationally, the share of all tests that came back positive for COVID-19 held steady at about 5%, well below a recent peak of nearly 9% in mid-July, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

However, 28 states have positive test rates above the 5% level that the World Health Organization considers concerning. The highest positive test rates are 26% in South Dakota, 21% in Idaho and 19% in Wisconsin.

(Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Graphic by Chris Canipe; Editing by Tiffany Wu)

Trump encourages supporters to try to vote twice, sparking uproar

By James Oliphant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has urged residents in the critical political battleground of North Carolina to try to vote twice in the Nov. 3 election, once by mail and once in person, causing a furor for appearing to urge a potential act of voter fraud.

“Let them send it in and let them go vote,” Trump said in an interview on Wednesday with WECT-TV in Wilmington, North Carolina. “And if the system is as good as they say it is then obviously they won’t be able to vote” in person.

Trump has repeatedly asserted, without evidence, that mail-in voting – expanded by some states because of the coronavirus pandemic – would increase fraud and disrupt the November election, although experts say voter fraud of any kind is extremely rare in the United States.

Voting more than once in an election is illegal and in some states, including North Carolina, it is a felony not only to vote more than once but also to induce another to do so.

Ballots are due to be mailed in North Carolina on Friday.

The state’s Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter that Trump, a Republican, had “outrageously encouraged” North Carolinians “to break the law in order to help him sow chaos in our election.”

Stein wrote: “Make sure you vote, but do NOT vote twice! I will do everything in my power to make sure the will of the people is upheld in November.”

Trump’s campaign and the White House later denied that he meant to tell people to vote twice.

“The president is not suggesting anyone do anything unlawful,” White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News Channel on Thursday. “What he said very clearly there is make sure your vote is tabulated and if it is not, then vote.”

In a series of tweets on Thursday morning, Trump again urged his supporters to vote early by mail and then follow up by attempting to vote in person, however.

“On Election Day, or Early Voting go to your Polling Place to see whether or not your Mail In Vote has been Tabulated (Counted),” Trump wrote. “If it has you will not be able to Vote & the Mail In System worked properly. If it has not been Counted, VOTE.”

VOTING TWICE ‘A FELONY’

The Democratic National Committee accused Trump of encouraging voter fraud and said the president was undermining confidence in the fairness of the election.

“Let’s be clear: Voting by mail is a safe and secure way for Americans to participate in our democracy — and Trump should be working to make it easier to vote, not harder,” Reyna Walters-Morgan, the DNC’s director of voter protection, said in a statement.

Patrick Gannon, a spokesman for North Carolina’s state Board of Elections, said a person would not be able to cast two ballots, regardless of if they voted by mail or in-person first. The first vote that is received and processed is the one that counts, he said.

“Voting twice in an election is a felony,” Gannon said. “If you put a ballot in the mail, and it hasn’t arrived yet, and then you vote in-person before your absentee ballot has arrived, your in-person vote will count.”

He said if an absentee ballot showed up after a person had voted in-person, it would not be counted.

Many Americans vote by mail because they cannot make it to the polls in person. Nearly one in four voters cast presidential ballots by mail in 2016.

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to result in a record number of mail-in ballots this year as voters seek to avoid the risk of infection. Experts have cautioned the expected surge means a winner may not be clear on election night given the time it will take to count and verify all the ballots.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Michael Martina, Susan Heavey, James Oliphant, Kanishka Singh and Ann Maria Shibu; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Howard Goller and Sonya Hepinstall)

Isaias weakens into a tropical storm: U.S. NHC

(Reuters) – Isaias weakened into a tropical storm over eastern North Carolina, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said on Tuesday.

Isaias, packing maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph), is located about 35 miles (55 km) west southwest of Greenville, North Carolina, the Miami-based forecaster said.

Although Isaias is now a tropical storm it could still bring “strong winds, heavy rainfall, and the threat of tornadoes beginning to spread into southeastern Virginia,” the NHC added.

(Reporting by Anjishnu Mondal in Bengaluru; Editing by Alison Williams)

With U.S. under coronavirus siege, Chicago cracks down, Florida cases soar

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – The city of Chicago reimposed some coronavirus restrictions on Monday and the state of Florida reported more than 10,000 new cases for the sixth day in a row, as the pandemic showed few signs of abating in the United States.

In a rare ray of hope, New York state reported the fewest hospitalizations from the coronavirus in four months and New York City entered a new phase of reopening on Monday, but the progress, in the very city and state that were once the epicenter, was eclipsed by the grim news nearly everywhere else.

Metrics for the country have grown worse including a rising number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations along with rates of positive test results. The virus has killed 140,000 people in the United States and infected some 3.7 million, both figures leading the world.

Florida reported 10,347 new cases on Monday, the sixth day in a row the state has announced over 10,000 new infections. Another 92 people died in Florida, increasing the state’s death toll to 5,183.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced new restrictions due to take effect on Friday including a ban on indoor service at bars and shutdown of personal services such as shaves and facials that require the removal of masks.

“While we aren’t near the peak of the pandemic from earlier this year, none of us wants to go back there,” Lightfoot said in a statement.

The city of Los Angeles is on the brink of issuing a new stay-at-home order and at least 14 states have reported record hospitalizations so far in July, including Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina and Texas.

Meanwhile, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is pushing for schools to reopen in a few weeks and resisting a federal mandate that people wear masks in public, part of what New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called an “incompetent” federal government response.

“I’ve said to the president from Day One: This virus does not respond to politics,” Cuomo told a news conference. “The solution is medicine and science.”

WHITE HOUSE BRIEFINGS RESUME

The country remained “totally unprepared,” Cuomo said, as other states lagged in testing, contact tracing, and personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses.

“Their mistake was they listened to the president,” Cuomo said, while also blasting “stupid and reckless” people in his own state who persistently gather in large groups.

On Monday Trump, under fire over his administration’s response to the surging virus, said he would on Tuesday resume holding news briefings on the pandemic after a lengthy hiatus.

White House debate has centered on whether Trump should risk doing daily briefings after he was mocked for musing that people might inject household disinfectants as a way to protect themselves from contracting the virus.

Last Friday Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters she favored a return of the briefings, which she said had bolstered his approval ratings.

New York state, where the virus took hold early this year before spreading to other states, recorded only eight deaths on Sunday while the total number of people hospitalized for the disease fell to 716, the fewest since March 18, Cuomo said.

However a Reuters analysis of data from the COVID Tracking Project showed cases rose by more than 5,000 in the past week, the first week-over-week increase since April, breaking a 13-week streak of declines.

New York City entered a new phase on Monday that will allow low-risk outdoor activity, entertainment at 33 percent capacity and professional sports events. But Major League Baseball’s Yankees and Mets will start their seasons in empty New York City ballparks, indoor dining in restaurants is still prohibited, and bars are subject to social distancing rules.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta, Maria Caspani, Doina Chiacu and Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Howard Goller)

Over 224,000 COVID-19 deaths forecast in US by November 1, says University of Washington’s IHME

(Reuters) – A newly revised University of Washington model projects the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 will climb to just above 224,000 by Nov. 1, up 16,000 from a prior forecast, due to rising infections and hospitalizations in many states.

But the latest forecast from the university’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), released late on Tuesday, also predicts the death toll could be reduced by 40,000 if nearly all Americans wore masks in public.

“Use of masks is up, but not as high as it should be. If 95% of Americans wore masks each time they left their homes, infection rates would drop, hospitalizations would drop, and forecast deaths would drop,” the IHME said in a statement.

The IHME’s new forecast came after Alabama, Florida and North Carolina on Tuesday reported record daily increases in deaths from COVID-19, marking grim new milestones of a second wave of infections surging across much of the U.S.

The new IHME forecast – 224,089 U.S. lives lost by Nov. 1 – was revised upward from the 208,254 deaths projected on July 7.

At least 136,052 Americans have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, while reported U.S. infections have surpassed 3.4 million, according to a tally by Reuters.

The IHME’s projections have been cited in the past by the White House and are watched closely by public health officials.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Three states in U.S. South report record rises in COVID-19 deaths

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – Alabama, Florida and North Carolina reported record daily increases in COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, a trio of grim milestones that follows the first nationwide increase in fatalities since mid-April as some U.S. states rushed to reopen.

The number of new cases reported daily began rising about six weeks ago, especially in southern and western states such as Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, which have been quick to lift restrictions meant to control the spread of the virus.

New coronavirus cases rose in 46 of 50 U.S. states last week over the previous week, according to a Reuters analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project. So far in July, 28 states have reported record daily increases in new cases.

With more than 3.3 million cases, the United States ranks first in the world in cases per capita along with Peru. With more than 135,000 deaths, the United States ranks seventh in fatalities per capita among the 20 countries with the most cases.

Florida on Tuesday reported 133 new COVID-19 deaths, raising the state’s death toll to more than 4,500. Its previous record increase was 120 on July 9. Alabama reported a record increase of 40 deaths and North Carolina 35 deaths, bringing each state’s total to over 1,100.

The rising cases and deaths have left educators from California to Wisconsin opting for online learning rather than a return to classrooms when the school year begins in a few weeks.

Schools from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Fort Bend County, Texas, joined California’s two largest school districts, Los Angeles and San Diego, in announcing plans to keep teachers and students from the close contact that classrooms demand.

The decision puts the districts at odds with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has threatened to withhold federal funds or remove tax-exempt status if they refuse to reopen classrooms, even though most schools are financed by state and local taxes.

Trump’s campaign views the reopening of classrooms, enabling parents to get back to work, as a key to economic recovery and a boost to his re-election chances on Nov. 3.

New York state plans to reopen its schools in areas where the daily infection rate is below 5% of all COVID tests. The state has averaged an infection rate of about 1% for several weeks and is one of only four states where cases fell last week, according to a Reuters analysis. New York City, where social distancing and mask wearing are widely practiced, recently reported no new COVID deaths in a 24-hour period for the first time since March.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday added Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin to the state’s quarantine list. Travelers arriving in New York from a total of 22 U.S. states are now required to quarantine for 14 days.

Florida still plans for its schools to resume in-person learning in August. The state recorded over 9,000 new cases on Tuesday, down from 12,000 on Monday and a record increase of 15,000 on Sunday.

Teachers in Loudoun County, Virginia, protested outside school headquarters on Monday with one woman fully enclosed in a white lab suit and face shield holding a sign that said, “Our new school uniform.” To keep physically distant, the teachers honked their car horns in unison, according to a video.

Faculty members were protesting against a school board plan for hybrid instruction that would include two days of in-person teaching, according to local media.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani and Gabriella Borter in New York; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Howard Goller)

Moderna expects to start late-stage COVID-19 vaccine trial on July 27

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Moderna Inc said on Tuesday it plans to start a late stage clinical trial for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate on or around July 27, according to its listing for the phase 3 study at clinicaltrials.gov.

Moderna said it will conduct the trial at 87 study locations, all in the United States.

The experimental vaccine will be tested in 30 states and Washington, D.C. Around half of the study locations are in hard-hit states like Texas, California, Florida, Georgia, Arizona and North and South Carolina.

The United States has reported record numbers of new coronavirus cases in recent days, with much of the surge coming from those states.

The federal government is supporting Moderna’s vaccine project with nearly half a billion dollars and has chosen it as one of the first to enter large-scale human trials.

Tensions between the company and government scientists contributed to a delay of the trial launch, Reuters reported earlier this month.

Shares of Moderna rose about 2.5% on Nasdaq at midday.

(Reporting by Michael Erman, Editing by Franklin Paul and Richard Chang)

15 U.S. states to jointly work to advance electric heavy-duty trucks

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A group of 15 U.S. states and the District of Columbia on Tuesday unveiled a joint memorandum of understanding aimed at boosting the market for electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicles and phasing out diesel-powered trucks by 2050.

The announcement comes weeks after the California Air Resources Board approved a groundbreaking policy to require manufacturers to sell a rising number of zero-emission vehicles, starting in 2024 and to electrify nearly all larger trucks by 2045.

The 14 states said the voluntary initiative is aimed at boosting the number of electric large pickup trucks and vans, delivery trucks, box trucks, school and transit buses, and long-haul delivery trucks, with the goal of ensuring all new medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales be zero emission vehicles (ZEV) by 2050 with a target of 30% ZEV sales by 2030.

The states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Vermont.

The states committed to developing a plan within six months to identify barriers and propose solutions to support widespread electrification, including potential financial incentives and ways to boost EV infrastructure.

Trucks and buses represent 4% of U.S. vehicles, but account for nearly 25% of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.

California’s mandate will put an estimated 300,000 zero-emission trucks on the road by 2035. California’s planned rules will initially require 5%-9% ZEVs based on class, rising to 30%-50% by 2030 and nearly all by 2045.

The push comes as a rising number of companies – including Rivian, Tesla Inc., Nikola Corp., and General Motors work to introduce zero emission trucks.

Major businesses like Amazon.com, UPS and Walmart have also said they are ramping up purchases of electric delivery trucks.

California later plans to adopt new limits on nitrogen oxide emissions, one of the major precursors of smog, as well as require large fleet owners to buy some ZEVs.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Hogue)

‘It may save your life’: Facing virus surge, more U.S. states mandate masks

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – California, North Carolina and a string of U.S. cities mandated or urged mandatory mask use on Thursday to get a grip on spiraling coronavirus cases as at least six states set daily records.

Putting aside concerns about individual rights and political unpopularity, U.S. governors and mayors said they were turning to compulsory face coverings to stop the virus running out of control as economies reopened.

On a day when Florida posted 3,207 new cases, its second daily record in a week, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings ordered obligatory mask use, telling residents of Orlando and other cities it would help them avoid a second shutdown.

California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered mask use in most places as the state for the second day in a row registered over 4,000 new cases.

As Arizona posted another daily case record, the Democratic mayors of Tucson and Phoenix respectively ordered and prepared to vote on mandatory face coverings after Republican Governor Doug Ducey bowed to pressure and let cities set mask rules.

“This piece of protection may even save your life,” North Carolina Democratic Governor Roy Cooper told reporters, adding that he was considering statewide obligatory mask use on a day when statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations set a new high.

A month after many governors reopened their economies, a growing number are adopting U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance that masks are essential to prevent community spread.

Resistance to face masks took on a partisan edge after President Donald Trump opposed them, telling the Wall Street Journal in an interview published on Thursday that some people wear them to show opposition to him.

But with businesses ranging from Las Vegas casinos to hardware chains requiring their use, masks are becoming commonplace in the United States.

In Texas, the mayors of the state’s nine biggest cities asked Republican Governor Greg Abbott this week to grant them authority to set mask regulations.

As Oklahoma reported its second day of record coronavirus cases, the Tulsa arena hosting a Trump rally on Saturday said it would encourage all attendees to remain masked throughout the event and issue staff with personal protective gear.

Trump has pushed ahead with the rally – which would be the biggest U.S. indoor social gathering in three months – even as health experts worry assembling thousands of people inside an arena – particularly if many are not wearing masks – could turn it into a virus “super-spreader event.”

Nationwide, COVID-19 cases rose by 26,357 on Thursday to about 2.2 million, according to a Reuters tally, marking the biggest daily increase in nearly two weeks. There have been 118,377 U.S. deaths, an increase of 684 on Thursday.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Cañon, New Mexico; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing by Peter Cooney)