Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: Trump threatens Michigan, Nevada over mail-in voting | Officials call for broadband expansion during pandemic | Democrats call for investigation into Uber-Grubhub deal

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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin headlining The Hill's Advancing America's Economy Summit tomorrow Thursday, May 21, 2020 [Beginning at 11AM EST/ 8AM PST] ... REGISTER NOW!!!

TRUMP TAKES AIM AT STATES: President Trump on Wednesday threatened to withhold federal funding to Michigan after its secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson (D), announced all of the state's registered voters would receive applications for absentee ballots in the mail this year.

Trump at first falsely claimed that Benson sent ballots, and not ballot applications, to the state's registered voters and alleged that the step was done "illegally." The president threatened to withhold funding if the state did not reverse course, suggesting its move would encourage voter fraud.

Trump later also threatened to suspend federal funding to Nevada, which is holding a mail-in primary election, claiming the state was creating a "great Voter Fraud scenario" and allowing people to "cheat in elections."

"Breaking: Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election," Trump tweeted. "This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!"

Trump copied acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and the Treasury Department on his tweet about Michigan and also copied Vought and the Treasury Department on the post about Nevada.

Benson responded to Trump's tweet, correcting him by saying that the state "sent applications, not ballots" and pointing out that Republican secretaries of state have done the same in other states.

Trump issued a new tweet hours later correctly saying that Michigan is sending "absentee ballot applications" ahead of the primary and general election but maintaining that the decision was done "illegally" and "without authorization." 

Trump has frequently voiced his opposition to expanding mail-in voting, leveling unsubstantiated and exaggerated claims that mail-in ballots are riddled with fraud and are "corrupt."

While experts say there are higher levels of voter fraud in mail-in voting than in-person voting, they agree that overall cases of voter fraud are extremely rare.

Read more about vote-by-mail efforts here.

BROADBAND FOR ALL: A top federal regulator and a House Democrat said Wednesday that the government needs to help expand internet access to more households as the coronavirus pandemic exposes significant gaps in coverage.

Speaking at a virtual event hosted by The Hill, FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly (R) said that while many classrooms, doctor's offices and workplaces have moved online, about 20 million Americans don't have broadband.

"COVID-19 didn't bring this issue upon us, but it's made it more prominent," O'Rielly said at The Vir{tech}tual World Ahead event, sponsored by Nokia.

O'Rielly told The Hill's Editor-at-Large Steve Clemons, who was moderating the event, that lack of equipment and affordability are the main obstacles for households who aren't able to log on.

Lawmaker weighs in: Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), co-chair of the Women's High Tech Caucus, also emphasized the need for connectivity, even for jobs that can't be done online.

"The situation we're in across the country has really highlighted how critical it is that we provide technology access, and particularly broadband," she said.

The first coronavirus relief package passed by Congress included $125 million for the Rural Utilities Service, but advocates and lawmakers say much more support is needed to close large gaps in connectivity.

Democratic lawmakers in both chambers have introduced legislation that would allocate resources for a fund at the FCC to disburse funds to schools and libraries to buy Wi-Fi hotspots, routers and internet-connected devices.

Read more about broadband expansion efforts here.

DEMS HAVE SOME QUESTIONS: A group of Democratic senators on Wednesday urged antitrust regulators to monitor Uber's potential acquisition of GrubHub and to launch an investigation if any deal goes through.

Multiple outlets reported last week that Uber, which operates Uber Eats, is in discussion to acquire GrubHub in a deal that would consolidate two of the biggest players in the meal delivery business.

"A merger of Uber Eats and Grubhub would combine two of the three largest food delivery application providers and raise serious competition issues in many markets around the country," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim and Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joseph Simons.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the ranking member of the Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust issues, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) called on the regulators to launch an investigation if a deal is met "to ensure that competition is preserved."

The letter cites work from research firm Second Firm reviewing the food delivery market in April.

The analysis found DoorDash as the national food delivery leader, earning 45 percent of meal delivery sales last month.

GrubHub, at 23 percent, and Uber Eats, at 22 percent, were not far behind.

"The merger under negotiation would create a sector in which the top two players control 90 percent of sales," the lawmakers wrote.

Read more about their concerns here.

SAFE HARBOR: Republicans in both chambers introduced legislation Wednesday that would shield digital gig companies from lawsuits over worker classification when providing protective equipment or wage boosts during the coronavirus pandemic.

The "Helping Gig Economy Workers Act" establishes protections that have long been advocated by gig companies like Uber, Lyft and Instacart at a time when pressure for them to classify their workers as full employees has intensified.

The bill was introduced by Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) in the Senate and Rep. Carol Miller (R-W.Va.) in the House.

"As Main Street Entrepreneur who has created hundreds of permanent jobs and have hired temporary contract workers, I know this legislation will let businesses like Uber, Lyft, and others provide COVID-19 assistance through financial assistance, cleaning materials, hand sanitizer, and other goods without being penalized for their goodwill," Braun said in a statement.

"Bottom line: this commonsense bill will provide a safe harbor for businesses who want to help gig economy workers helping us during COVID-19."

The protection would be in place until June 30, 2021, or until the current public health emergency is deemed to be over by officials.

Digital gig companies have exploded in popularity over the last decade all while classifying those who use the platforms for work as independent contractors who are not guaranteed basic protections like a minimum wage or a right to organize.

Read more about the bill here.

ALL GOOD: Tesla on Wednesday dropped a lawsuit against a California county that had barred the electric car company from reopening one of its factories.

The lawsuit, filed in early May against Alameda County, sought an injunction that would allow it to operate immediately, alleging the county violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.

The Fremont, Calif., plant closed in March, shortly after Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued a statewide stay-at-home order.

Earlier this month, California updated its guidance on manufacturing, allowing some factories to reopen but giving precedence to county-level restrictions.

Alameda County and five other Bay Area counties opted to keep factories closed.

Tesla then announced it would reopen the plant anyway and sued the county.

Read more here.

UPCOMING VOTE: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a vote this week on President Trump's nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media, despite an ongoing investigation. 

According to a schedule released by Committee Chairman Jim Risch's (R-Idaho) office, the panel will vote on Michael Pack's nomination as part of a business meeting on Thursday. 

The decision to move forward with the nomination comes after Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the committee, disclosed last week that Pack was under investigation by the D.C. attorney general's office. 

Asked about Menendez's disclosure, Risch referred questions to the Democratic senator. But Risch confirmed to The Hill that the attorney general's office had "communicated" with him. 

"I've turned it over to counsel, we'll deal with it. But certainly that doesn't disqualify him," Risch said. 

The committee had initially been scheduled to vote on Pack's nomination last week. But Risch postponed the meeting amid multiple requests from members to hold over items on its agenda.

Read more about the nomination here.

Lighter click: Hey all you cool cats and kittens 

An op-ed to chew on: Black students desperately need a new federal Lifeline

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

The great video chat faceoff: Six apps. Dozens of heads. One came out on top (The Washington Post / Geoffrey Fowler and Heather Kelly) 

Delivery companies are fighting city commission caps. Does anybody win? (Protocol / Biz Carson) 

Everything you need to know about slow internet connection speeds (The New York Times / Brian Chen) 

Virtual cybersecurity school teaches kids to fix security flaws and hunt down hackers (CNN / Samantha Murphy Kelly)

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