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President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is expected to nominate retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, a former commander of the American military effort in Iraq, to be the next secretary of defense, according to two people with knowledge of the selection.
If confirmed by the Senate, General Austin would make history as the first African-American to lead the country’s 1.2 million active-duty troops and the enormous bureaucracy that backs them up.
General Austin, 67, was for years a respected and formidable figure at the Pentagon, and is the only African-American to have headed U.S. Central Command, the military’s marquee combat command, with responsibility for Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria — most of the places where the United States is at war.
General Austin is known as a battlefield commander who has shown flashes of tactical brilliance. But he is less known for his political instincts, and he has sometimes stumbled in congressional hearings, including a session in 2015 when he acknowledged, under testy questioning, that the Defense Department’s $500 million program to raise an army of Syrian fighters had gone nowhere.
Still, General Austin, who retired as a four-star general in 2016 after 41 years in the military, is respected in the Army, especially among African-American officers and enlisted soldiers, as one of the rare Black men to crack the glass ceiling that has kept the upper ranks of the military largely the domain of white men.
Supporters of General Austin say he broke through that barrier because of his intellect, command experience and the mentorship of a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, who plucked him to run the staff of the Joint Chiefs’ office.
Shortly after the election, General Austin took part in an online session that Mr. Biden had with former national security officials. His selection was reported earlier by Politico.
In choosing General Austin, Mr. Biden bypassed Michèle A. Flournoy, a former top Obama administration Defense Department official, who would have been the first woman in the job.
Like Jim Mattis, who was President Trump’s first defense secretary, General Austin would have to get a congressional waiver to serve, since he has been out of the military for only four years. American law requires a seven-year waiting period between active duty and becoming Pentagon chief.
General Austin is a graduate of the United States Military Academy. He and his wife, Charlene, have been married for 40 years.
ATLANTA — Georgia’s secretary of state Monday recertified the results of the state’s presidential race after another recount reaffirmed Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory over President Trump, the third time that results showed that Mr. Trump had lost the state.
The announcement delivered an important punctuation mark to a tumultuous postelection campaign in the state by Mr. Trump and his allies to subvert the outcome of the election there, which caused infighting and name-calling among some Republicans.
“We have now counted legally cast ballots three times, and the results remain unchanged,” Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, said Monday morning. The results of the machine recount on the secretary of state’s website show Mr. Biden with a lead of about 12,000 votes.
Mr. Raffensperger’s announcement came less than 48 hours after Mr. Trump appeared in the state at a rally intended to support Georgia’s two Republican senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who are locked in high-stakes runoff races. The president, however, spent much of his appearance airing grievances over his losses to Mr. Biden in Georgia and elsewhere, claiming falsely, as he has for more than a month, that fraudulent voting had stolen the election from him.
Mr. Biden has prevailed in three counts of the vote in Georgia: the initial election tally; a manual hand recount of over five million ballots ordered by the state; and the latest recount, which was requested by Mr. Trump’s campaign and completed by machines.
Mr. Raffensperger on Monday chastised both Mr. Trump and Stacey Abrams, the 2018 candidate for governor who acknowledged her loss but who claimed that her race was rendered fundamentally unfair because of Republican-designed policies that Democrats have described as voter suppression efforts. Some of Ms. Abrams’s supporters have claimed that the race was stolen from her.
“All this talk of a stolen election, whether it’s Stacey Abrams or the president of the United States, is hurting our state,” Mr. Raffensperger said.
He also said that he would support legislation offering “a major reform of our election processes” in the coming state legislative session.
It was one of numerous signs that the future of elections in Georgia — a once reliably red state that has seen a Democratic resurgence in recent years — is likely to remain an emotional and litigious battleground over voting rights and access to the polls.
On Sunday, Georgia’s lieutenant governor, Geoff Duncan, and Mr. Raffensperger both said in television interviews that it was clear that Mr. Biden had won. But in an evening debate between Ms. Loeffler and her Democratic rival, Raphael Warnock, Ms. Loeffler declined to say, when questioned, that Mr. Trump had lost the election.
Mr. Trump has been pushing Gov. Brian Kemp to order an audit of voter signatures. The governor has said that he would also like to see an audit, but he has argued that his office does not have the authority to order one. The president has also urged the governor to order a special legislative session in which lawmakers might assign a new slate of delegates that would favor him. But the governor has repeatedly declined to call for a special session.
The House will vote on Wednesday to approve a stopgap spending bill that will stave off a looming lapse in government funding for a week, aiming to buy additional time to cement the details of a sweeping omnibus spending package.
With funding set to lapse on Friday and an agreement on the dozen spending bills still elusive, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, announced the vote as a way to keep the government functioning while negotiations continue. The Senate is expected to approve the measure afterward, likely on Thursday.
“We senators are no strangers to end-of-year drama,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said on the Senate floor. “This time, the stakes are far higher.”
If a spending deal is reached, congressional leaders have suggested that additional relief to address the toll of the pandemic could be tied to that legislative package. A bipartisan group of lawmakers worked through the weekend to continue hammering out the details of a $908 billion compromise that would include billions for small businesses, unemployed workers and schools. The package will also likely include some money for cash-strapped state, local and tribal governments, a key Democratic priority that many Republicans have resisted.
“That would be our hope because that is the vehicle leaving the station,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week, referring to the omnibus bill, a sentiment Mr. McConnell has also expressed.
Lawmakers and staff members are still working on legislative text, and have yet to finalize details of a number of critical provisions — particularly a Republican demand for a sweeping liability shield, which remains the most thorny issue for negotiators. Ms. Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, have called for Congress to use the framework as a baseline for a final agreement.
Mr. McConnell, for his part, has not yet explicitly weighed in on the offer. Instead, he reiterated Monday that a targeted framework he circulated among Senate Republicans earlier this month would address vaccine funding, expired unemployment benefits and funding for small businesses.
“A targeted compromise on the most urgent items would pass by a massive bipartisan margin,” he added.
Without a relief package from Congress since the spring, small businesses, unemployed workers and state and local governments have found themselves reeling. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has called on Congress to act on a coronavirus relief package and predicted that lawmakers would return to the negotiating table for an additional round of relief after he assumes office.
“I believe leaving without getting something done before Christmas is not an option,” Mr. Hoyer told reporters on Capitol Hill.
Lawmakers face another hurdle — the threat of a presidential veto — to passing the latest National Defense Authorization Act. Leading Republicans and Democrats alike said they would press ahead on the legislation, despite President Trump’s demand that lawmakers add an unrelated repeal of a legal shield for social media companies. Mr. Trump threatened to veto the legislation over the provision, but in a rare move, Republicans have balked at his request.
As President Trump on Monday continued to falsely claim that he won the election, his top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, praised members of President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s economic team as qualified to help steer the U.S. economy.
Mr. Kudlow’s public comments underscore the reality that while Mr. Trump continues to deny his election loss and pursue fruitless legal challenges, his top aides are moving on and cooperating with the transition.
“I think the Janet Yellen pick at Treasury was a good idea,” Mr. Kudlow said of the former Federal Reserve chair, whom Mr. Biden has tapped as his Treasury secretary. Mr. Kudlow said Ms. Yellen, whom Mr. Trump did not reappoint as Fed chair, “did a decent job at the Fed” and has “very sensible views on the economy.”
Mr. Kudlow, speaking at a Washington Post Live event, said he had disagreements with Mr. Biden’s incoming economic team on spending and tax policy. But he said that he expected that Ms. Yellen would not seek to raise taxes next year while the economy is recovering from a recession and emerging from the pandemic.
Mr. Kudlow said he had also offered congratulations to Jared Bernstein, whom Mr. Biden picked for his Council of Economic Advisers and who Mr. Kudlow said was a personal friend.
Even as Mr. Kudlow spoke, Mr. Trump again falsely asserted that the election was rigged, telling reporters at the White House that the outcome of the election was “a disgrace to our country. It’s like a third world country, these ballots pouring in from everywhere.”
The president and his campaign have offered no proof of that baseless allegation, and judges across the country have rejected Mr. Trump’s attempts to overturn the election. But the president said on Monday that he believed he had won.
“Well in politics, I won two. So I’m two and 0 and that’s pretty good too. We’ll see how that turns out,” Mr. Trump said during a ceremony in which he presented the Medal of Freedom to Dan Gable, a wrestler. (An earlier version of this article had a photo showing a different Medal of Freedom winner, Lou Holtz, and misidentified him as Mr. Gable.)
Mr. Kudlow noted in the interview that Mr. Trump had not yet conceded defeat and that the Electoral College voting process must still play out.
But he allowed that he was already planning his post-White House career, which will include relocating to New York and a return to television and radio.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is expected to formally name members of his health team on Tuesday, led by Xavier Becerra, a former congressman who is now the California attorney general, as his nominee for secretary of health and human services.
The senior officials Mr. Biden will appoint will face the immediate challenge of slowing the spread of the coronavirus, which has already killed more than 281,000 people in the United States and has taken a particularly devastating toll on people of color.
Mr. Biden’s announcement, in Wilmington, Del., will coincide with a “virus summit” hosted by President Trump at the White House, featuring government and industry leaders who have been working on producing a vaccine.
Mr. Becerra, 62, a Democrat who had carved out a profile more on the issues of criminal justice, immigration and tax policy, was long thought to be a candidate for attorney general, and he emerged as Mr. Biden’s clear choice for health and human services secretary only over the past few days, according to people familiar with the transition’s deliberations. It was a surprise ending to a politically delicate search that brought complaints from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus about a lack of Latinos in the incoming cabinet.
In addition to Mr. Becerra, Mr. Biden has also chosen Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ms. Walensky will replace Dr. Robert R. Redfield and will be charged with changing the direction of the nation’s pandemic response.
Mr. Biden has also selected Dr. Vivek Murthy to serve as the surgeon general, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith to lead the Covid-19 equity task force, Jeff Zients to be the coordinator of the Covid-19 response, and Natalie Quillian as Mr. Zients’s deputy.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, whom Mr. Biden has recruited to be his chief medical adviser in addition to continuing in his role as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is not expected to appear in-person at the event tomorrow, though he is expected to make an appearance via video.
Mr. Trump’s “vaccine summit” at the White House comes just two days before a committee of outside experts will meet to make recommendations to the F.D.A. about whether to grant emergency approval to Pfizer’s vaccine.
Britain has already given emergency authorization to the Pfizer vaccine, clearing the way for inoculations to begin on Tuesday at select hospitals, and increasing pressure on U.S. regulators, who are under fire from the White House for not moving faster to get doses to people.
The New York Times reported on Monday that Trump administration officials passed when Pfizer offered in late summer to sell the U.S. government additional doses of its Covid-19 vaccine, according to people familiar with the matter. Now Pfizer may not be able provide more of its vaccine to the United States until next June because of its commitments to other countries, they said.
Mr. Trump plans on Tuesday to sign an executive order “to ensure that United States government prioritizes getting the vaccine to American citizens before sending it to other nations,” according to a draft statement and a White House official, though it was not immediately clear what force the president’s executive order would carry.
The Labor Department on Monday released the final version of a rule that would allow more federal contractors to hire and fire workers based on religious considerations, a policy that civil rights advocates said could enable vast discrimination.
Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said in a statement that the department put forth the rule so that religious organizations would “not have to fear that acceptance of a federal contract or subcontract will require them to abandon their religious character or identity.”
The rule is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 8, not long before Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s inauguration as president.
In a call with reporters, a senior Labor Department official said the rule was meant to clarify the scope of an existing religious exemption, adding that some religious organizations had been hesitant to apply for federal contracts without that additional clarity.
The official also emphasized that the rule could not be used as a pretext for religious organizations to discriminate against people on the basis of protected categories like gender or race.
Under the new rule, a nonprofit group providing kosher food to a state facility like a prison could probably insist on hiring only Jewish workers, even in positions unrelated to food preparation, like janitors or clerical employees. Until now, many lawyers believed that the organization could insist on hiring Jews only for positions related to food preparation.
But civil rights lawyers said they worried that rule — which would apply both to nonprofit and for-profit entities with a stated mission that includes a religious purpose — opened the door to more sweeping forms of discrimination affecting groups like unmarried pregnant women, or gay and lesbian employees.
While the rule doesn’t explicitly allow such broader discrimination, said Jennifer C. Pizer, the law and policy director of Lambda Legal, an L.G.B.T. advocacy group, it does not explicitly preclude it. “This final rule doesn’t give us a limiting principle,” Ms. Pizer said. “It invites massive mischief.”
If the Biden administration wants to eliminate the rule, it will probably have to undertake a somewhat lengthy rule-making process of its own. In the meantime, Ms. Pizer predicted that civil rights organizations would challenge the rule in court.
Arguing that “a license to practice law is not a license to lie,” nearly 1,500 lawyers issued a letter on Monday calling on bar associations across the country to investigate and, if needed, penalize the members of President Trump’s legal team, including the architect of his post-election strategy, Rudolph W. Giuliani.
“It is indefensible for lawyers to falsely proclaim widespread voting fraud, submit a pattern of frivolous court claims and actively seek to undermine citizens’ faith in our election’s integrity,” said the letter, which was signed by several former judges, former federal prosecutors and law professors. “We condemn this conduct without reservation.”
The letter comes as Mr. Trump and his Republican allies have lost or withdrawn from nearly 50 legal challenges to this year’s election, including five in five different states within about three hours on Friday evening alone. Even so, Mr. Trump’s lawyers and those representing his Republican allies have continued filing lawsuits, igniting criticism that they are acting frivolously, even irresponsibly.
In their letter on Monday, the signers noted that Mr. Giuliani — who recently tested positive for Covid-19, according to President Trump — has made baseless arguments in public about “massive fraud” in the election, but has tempered his claims under questioning in court, saying he was not alleging fraud.
“Mr. Giuliani’s aim is obvious,” the letter said. “To fuel Mr. Trump’s campaign to delegitimize the outcome of the election.”
Among the signers were Philip Lacovera, a former deputy solictor general who worked on the case that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon; Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics at New York University; and Thomas Vanaskie, a former judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia.
The letter also took aim at another lawyer for Mr. Trump, Joseph DiGenova, who late last month publicly threatened Christopher Krebs, the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, who was fired by Mr. Trump after he declared that the 2020 elections were “the most secure in American history.”
During an interview on the conservative TV outlet Newsmax, Mr. DiGenova said that because of Mr. Krebs’s remarks he should be “taken out at dawn and shot.”
For the moment, only a handful of challenges to the election are still moving through the courts, including an emergency petition by Mike Kelly, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, requesting that the Supreme Court hear his appeal of a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the state’s election results.
There are also state cases still alive in Georgia and Arizona and a federal case filed by the Trump campaign in Wisconsin. Sidney Powell, a former lawyer for Mr. Trump whom the campaign has disavowed, has filed four more federal cases of her own — in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona. On Monday, a federal judge dismissed Ms. Powell’s Georgia case after a hearing in Atlanta, and another judge in Michigan denied her emergency request to overturn the state’s election.
All of the remaining efforts are running out of time to succeed. On Tuesday, the nation will reach the so-called safe harbor deadline, the date by which all state-level election challenges are supposed to be completed.
Then on Dec. 14, the Electoral College will cast its votes, making any attempt to overturn the results of the election nearly impossible.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has spent at least $43,000 in taxpayer funds to host a series of intimate dinners as he mulled his political future, according to a watchdog group that has sued the State Department for details of the events.
Mr. Pompeo and his wife, Susan, invited about 12 guests to each of the so-called Madison Dinners, held in a State Department reception room, according to documents released on Monday by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW. The guest lists for about two dozen of the dinners, held between 2018 and 2020, included American business leaders and conservative political officials.
Shortly before he was fired as the State Department’s inspector general, Steve A. Linick had asked about the Madison Dinners as part of an internal inquiry into possible misuse of official funds.
Mr. Pompeo has denied any wrongdoing and insisted he was merely hosting the same kinds of activities as had secretaries of state in previous administrations.
In an emailed statement Monday, the State Department defended the dinners as a “world-class opportunity” to discuss complex issues facing the world. “Foreign policy-focused social gatherings like these are in the finest tradition of diplomatic and American hospitality and grace, and the secretary has benefited greatly from these gatherings as he has gained insight listening to his guests from all across the political spectrum and all around the world,” the statement said.
But the documents show that State Department officials sought to avoid questions from Congress about the events. In a series of emails in November 2018, officials agreed to describe them as the “U.S. Foreign Policy Discussion Dinner Series” — even though only about 14 percent of people who attended reportedly were diplomats or foreign dignitaries.
“I don’t want to get any questions from the Hill about why we call it the Madison dinners,” wrote Lisa Meterko, identified in documents as the acting director of the office that oversees funding for diplomatic and consular services emergencies, in an email dated Nov. 9, 2018.
Those funds also can be used for “authorized activities that further the realization of U.S. foreign policy objectives,” according to the State Department.
Mr. Pompeo is widely believed to be considering a run for president in 2024. On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal also named him as a possible contender for a run for Kansas governor in 2022.
As President Trump’s presidency comes to a close, expenditures that appeared to benefit the president’s businesses — like using donor money to host an inaugural event at his hotel in Washington in 2017 — are receiving renewed legal scrutiny in the form of a civil case being pursued by the attorney general for the District of Columbia.
At the heart of the case is a question — whether Mr. Trump and his family have profited from his public role, sometimes at the expense of taxpayers, competitors and donors — that has been a persistent theme of his tenure in the White House.
More than 200 companies, special-interest groups and foreign governments patronized Mr. Trump’s properties during his presidency while reaping benefits from him and his administration. Sixty of them spent $12 million at his properties during the first two years he was in office.
The Trump family business has received millions of dollars in payments by the Secret Service, the State Department and the United States military to Trump properties around the country and the world.
The president has visited his properties on at least 417 days since taking office, at times with world leaders. And he and his affiliated political committees spent more than $6.5 million in campaign funds at his hotels and other businesses since 2017, including a million-dollar final burst in the weeks before the election last month.
In the lawsuit now moving forward, Attorney General Karl A. Racine of Washington State is arguing that Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee illegally overpaid his family business by as much as $1.1 million for events held at the Trump International Hotel in the city in January 2017. Ivanka Trump was deposed in the case last week.
But for all the attention focused on the issue, Mr. Trump is set to leave office without a clear resolution of what limits there should be on a president’s ability to profit from his public role.
Supporters of President Trump on Saturday night took their anger over the results of the election from the steps of the state Capitol to a quiet neighborhood in Detroit, Mich., where Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson lives.
About 20 protesters, some of them armed, stood in front of Ms. Benson’s home for about a half-hour, chanting through bullhorns that they refused to accept the results of the election, which President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. won in Michigan by more than 154,000 votes.“No audit, No peace,” they shouted, adding that Ms. Benson was a “murderer” and a “felon.” Officers with the Detroit Police Department showed up after about 20 minutes, but no arrests were made.
The demonstration was the latest example of the hostility facing some state elections officials across the country. Many have received emails, telephone calls and letters loaded with menace and even threats of violence, resulting from their work in the election. In Georgia, even the wife of the secretary of state received “sexualized threats.”
Ms. Benson put out a statement that she was at home with her family, including her 4-year-old son, at the time of the protest.
“Through threats of violence, intimidation, and bullying, the armed people outside my home and their political allies seek to undermine and silence the will and voices of every voter in this state, no matter who they voted for,” Ms. Benson, a Democrat, said in the statement. “Their goal is to overturn and upend the results of an election that are clear and unequivocal.”
Video of the protests were posted on the “Stop the Steal Michigan” Facebook site and showed that the group, which has sponsored several protests at the State Capitol and at busy intersections in Detroit since the Nov. 3 election, were becoming more targeted with their demonstrations.
The protests come after the Trump campaign or his allies have filed at least five lawsuits, trying to overturn the results of the election in Michigan. All have failed as county, state and federal judges have noted that the claims of a rigged election were baseless and affidavits filed by Republican poll challengers have not been credible. The election has been certified by the 83 counties in Michigan and by the state Board of Canvassers.
In addition to the lawsuits, Republicans have held two separate legislative committee hearings featuring 11 hours of testimony over two days from Republican poll challengers and Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani. Mr. Giuliani is trying to get the state to award its 16 electors to Mr. Trump, but legislative leaders have said they would follow state law, which requires the winner of the popular vote be awarded the 16 Electoral College votes.
Advisers to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. told lawmakers on Monday that Dr. Vivek Murthy, Mr. Biden’s choice for surgeon general, would likely not be designated a member of the cabinet, rejecting pleas from Asian-American Democrats who have urged Mr. Biden to elevate Dr. Murthy’s position, several people familiar with the conversation said.
Three members of the Biden team — Jeffrey Zients, Ted Kaufman and Steve Ricchetti — conveyed that expectation in a call with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus on Monday afternoon. Representative Judy Chu of California, who chairs the group, called it a “very disappointing” decision, according to one person on the call.
The lawmakers on the call, including Ms. Chu and Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington State, the chair of the House Progressive Caucus, pressed Mr. Biden’s team to do more to include Asian-Americans in the transition process, pointing out that Mr. Biden did not have an Asian-American co-chair of his campaign, transition team or inaugural committee.
Only one Asian-American has been nominated for the cabinet so far: Neera Tanden, Mr. Biden’s choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget, who is already facing stiff resistance from Republicans in the Senate.
The push to make Dr. Murthy a cabinet-level official — a status the surgeon general does not typically enjoy — had come in part from a concern about Asian-American representation in the uppermost ranks of the Biden administration.
Mr. Ricchetti sought to reassure the lawmakers that the transition team was sensitive to their concerns, but made no specific commitments about other top administration slots. The group of Democratic lawmakers urged the Biden team to consider several Asian-American candidates for positions yet to be filled, including Indra Nooyi, the former PepsiCo executive, and Andrew Yang, the former presidential candidate, for commerce secretary, and Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois for secretary of defense.
All of the names mentioned were already under review by the Biden team, the transition officials said.
WILMINGTON, Del. — The hometown of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has long wrestled with its image problem. Namely, it does not have one.
If people could find Wilmington on a map — and many couldn’t — they thought of it as a convenient pit stop along the Northeast Corridor, which was dominated by far larger, more important, more colorful places. It is a city lacking a well-known culinary dish, historical event, professional sports team or even a particular turn of phrase.
And yet, against dubious odds not unlike those that Mr. Biden overcame in reaching the presidency after three tries, Wilmington appears determined to ride the Biden wave to long-elusive glory.
“Usually, nobody pays attention to us, and now we are on the news every night!” exclaimed Karen Kegelman of the Delaware Historical Society, whose first memorable encounter with Mr. Biden dates back to when he spoke at her high school graduation. She is 53.
The president-elect has transformed the city into a federal-government-in-waiting. He delivers speeches and television interviews from the Queen, a restored theater downtown. His motorcade, 20 vehicles long, regularly brings traffic to a halt, and gawking drivers appear delighted. Cabinet nominees swan through the opulent lobby of the Hotel Du Pont. Suddenly, all of Wilmington is bathing in the dizzying warmth of an unexpected spotlight.
“It creates great curiosity about the city,” Mayor Michael S. Purzycki said, “people coming by all the time wanting to know what is going on, tell me about your city.”
Mr. Purzycki harbors no illusions regarding the colorless reputation of his town: “Wilmington has always been on I-95 between Washington, Philly and New York, you know.” He compared its famously dull, corporate vibe to the unvarying “Mad Men” uniform worn by the legions of lawyers and chemical engineers who once populated its downtown: “a white shirt, a sincere tie and 12-pound wingtips.”
Election officials in Cobb County, Georgia, the state’s third most populous county, are planning to open fewer than half the early voting locations for the Senate runoff elections in January. It is one of the only counties in the state to make such a drastic reduction in voting access while the pandemic surges.
The county swung heavily to Democrats in the general election, with President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. winning it by 14 percentage points. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the county by 2.2 percentage points.
In the 2020 election, the county had 11 early voting locations. For the January runoffs, the county is planning to have only five. Janine Eveler, the Cobb County director of elections, said that the county was forced to reduce the number of early voting spots because of severe staffing shortages.
“It was not our desire to reduce the number of early voting locations for the runoff, but unfortunately it became a necessity,” Ms. Eveler said in a statement. She said that the county lost some managers to holidays, a continuing workload from the November elections and the pandemic. “We are at the end of the election cycle and many are tired or just unwilling to work so hard, especially during this time of year.”
But Democrats in the state see partisan politics at play in a county controlled by Republicans. They noted that the locations that were closed were in largely Democratic neighborhoods.
“There is the stated reason that we’ve been given why they’re doing it, which is the lack or inability to find staff to work, but then there’s also the perceived action of having 10 polling locations open to early voting in an area that didn’t fare well for the current majority parity,” said Erick Allen, a state representative and Democrat in Georgia. “The perception is that there is a fear that doing the same thing would have the same result or contribute to the same result that would be unfavorable to the majority party.”
While Mr. Biden easily carried the county, Democrats also cleaned up at the local level. The county board went from a 4 to 1 Republican advantage to a 3 to 2 Democratic advantage.
Some of the locations being closed, such as the Smyrna Community Center in Smyrna, are in neighborhoods with large Black populations, drawing a rebuke from voting rights and civil rights groups, who pleaded in a letter to the county elections director to keep all 11 sites open.
“Georgia’s Black and Latinx residents are more likely to live in poverty than other residents and will have more difficulty traveling long distances to access advance voting locations, especially because of the limited public transportation options in Cobb County,” the letter stated. “As a result, the elimination of advance voting locations will discourage or prevent many of Cobb County’s Black and Latinx voters from participating in the runoff election.”
While numerous groups, including the N.A.A.C.P. and Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group led by Stacey Abrams, have offered to help recruit more staffing, Ms. Eveler said they would require more training to be full voting managers, and there is not enough time to fully train.
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