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Economy

4 reasons you shouldn't fear a tax audit

Biden likely to raise corporate, individual taxes: Gasparino

FOX Business’ Charlie Gasparino says sources are telling him that Wall Street is preparing to warn clients about changes in fiscal policy if presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden wins in 2020.

The tax-filing deadline is coming up quickly, and that means many filers will no doubt be scrambling in the next week or so to get their returns in order. But while you may be concerned with rounding up your documents and paperwork and checking your tax details carefully, one thing you should be less concerned about is the idea of a tax audit. Here's why.

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SOME AMERICANS SAY IT'S OK TO CHEAT ON TAXES

1. They’re highly uncommon

You'll often read about tax audits in the news or see them happen on TV. But in reality, they don't happen all that often. In fact, less than 1% of tax returns get audited each year, and given the COVID-19 crisis, it's unlikely that that percentage will climb this year. Many IRS offices remain closed in light of the pandemic, and so there's a good chance the agency will be even less equipped to deal with audits in 2020 than it was in years past.

FILERS MISSING JULY 15 DEADLINE MUST REQUEST EXTENSION, IRS SAYS

2. They’re even less common for average earners

If you're an extremely high earner — or you have no income to report at all — then your chances of getting audited are higher than usual. But if you're reporting an income between $25,000 and $500,000, then the chances of having your tax return flagged are actually well below 1%.

IRS URGES AMERICANS TO ACTIVATE PREPAID STIMULUS CARDS

But don't assume you're bound to get audited because you do have a higher income to report. Filers with earnings between $500,000 and $1 million only have a 1.10% chance of getting audited, and that figure only climbs to 2.21% for those with earnings between $1 and $5 million. It's only the ultra-rich — those earning above $5 million a year — whose audit chances begin to climb substantially.

3. They rarely happen in person

A lot of people picture a tax audit as a face-to-face confrontation with a scary IRS agent. And why wouldn't they? That's how the movies tend to portray it. But one thing you should know about the IRS is that it's understaffed, and so the agency doesn't have the means to come to the door of each filer whose taxes need a second look. Rather, the overwhelming majority of tax audits are conducted by mail, and generally, all you'll need to do is supply the IRS with extra information to back up what you've claimed on your return. In other words, even if you are audited, it will likely be a non-event.

TAX DEADLINE DRAWS NEAR: HOW TO APPLY FOR AN EXTENSION OF TIME TO FILE

4. You can take steps to lower your risk

Let's be clear: Try as you may to steer clear of an audit, in some cases, they can't be helped. But a few key moves on your part could lower your audit risk substantially. For one thing, report all of your income — that includes the $20 in interest income you received from the bank and the $600 you were paid to do a project on the side. Each time you get a 1099 form summarizing income outside of your regular wages, the IRS gets a copy as well, and having that information match up is crucial to avoiding an audit.

Close-up Of Person Hand Filling Social Security Benefits Form

Next, make sure your deductions are based on firm numbers, not guesses. If you're claiming a medical expense deduction, it's unlikely that it worked out to exactly $3,000, whereas $2,892 is a more believable figure.

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Finally, make sure the deductions you claim make sense given your income. It's unusual for someone earning $50,000 a year to give $20,000 away to charity, and if that's what you claim, your return may get flagged. On the other hand, if you report an income of $250,000, it's conceivable that you may have indeed given $20,000 of that away.

Many people worry about getting audited each year, but the reality is that you're much better off focusing your energy on getting your taxes done on time and without error. Avoid rushing through the filing process, and there's a good chance the IRS won't come back asking questions.

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World News

FOX News Media to capitalize 'Black'

Fox News Flash top headlines for July 6

FOX News Media will capitalize “Black” when it is used as an adjective to describe people, a community or culture, the company announced on Monday.

The decision comes after other news organizations, such as the Associated Press, have made the style change in the wake of nationwide conversations about race relations following George Floyd’s death in police custody.

FOX News Media made the decision after consulting with its diversity team and researching the history of language, culture and customs.

FOX NEWS CHANNEL FINISHES SECOND QUARTER WITH RECORD-SETTING VIEWERSHIP  

Other colors that are commonly used to describe a race, such as “White and “Brown,” also will be capitalized when used as adjectives, coinciding with the recommendation by the National Association of Black Journalists.

The change will take place immediately across all FOX News Media properties, including Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, Fox News Digital and Fox Nation.

This noteworthy style change ensures terms such as “Black” and “White” are consistent with FOX News Media style for other words used to describe racial and ethnic groups, such as Asian, African American, Latino, Hispanic and Native American – which are also capitalized.

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Floyd died in May after Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes. The former Minneapolis police officer is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Floyd's death sparked nationwide protests and discussions about race relations and police practices in America, with significant changes being made as a result.

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World News

Wisconsin GOP to Hold Convention Despite Virus: Campaign Update

The Wisconsin Republican Party will go forward with its planned in-person convention this weekend in Green Bay amid rising COVID-19 cases in the county.

Brown County is currently experiencing one of the highest rates of coronavirus in the state and has seen a rise in the number of cases in recent weeks. The county currently has over 3,000 positive cases, second only to Milwaukee County which has over 12,000 positive cases.

The Wisconsin Republican Party did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The convention was originally scheduled for the weekend of May 15 in Green Bay but was pushed back while Governor Tony Evers put the state in lockdown. Wisconsin already experienced a spike in COVID-19 cases after the state’s GOP-controlled legislature refused to delay its primary in April and successfully challenged Evers in state court to keep the primary date set.

The Democratic National Committee will hold its convention in Milwaukee in August but has significantly scaled down the event and asked state delegates to stay home and plan to conduct official convention business remotely.

Coming Up

Today, Biden will attend a fundraiser with Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth. Tomorrow, Biden’s home state of Delaware will hold its presidential primary.

The Democratic National Convention is scheduled for the week beginning Aug. 17 in Milwaukee, while the Republicans are slated to meet a week later with events in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Jacksonville, Florida.

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Economy

Citrix Systems Stock Could Gain 30% in the Third Quarter

Nasdaq 100 component Citrix Systems, Inc. (CTXS) took off in a powerful March rally when Wall Street analysts realized that video conferencing could replace business travel as the most prevalent form of remote communications, even after the pandemic runs its course. Citrix stock posted impressive gains into May's all-time high at $155.10 and eased into a trading range that's now carved a bullish "flag on a flagpole" pattern, forecasting much higher prices.

Rival Zoom Video Communications, Inc. (ZM) has gotten most of the bullish press during the advance and has posted stronger second quarter upside. However, Citrix software is far more mature, with higher adaption in the business community. Citrix stock is also less volatile, even though both issues carry similar outstanding floats, and Citrix isn't plagued by Zoom security issues that have exposed user data to unwelcome eyes.

Analyst consensus is surprisingly mixed on Citrix, with six "Buy," seven "Hold," and one "Sell" rating. The stock is now trading just below the median $154 price target and about $50 below the Street-high $200 target. Investors have chosen to ignore Wall Street skittishness, lifting accumulation readings to all-time highs even though price has failed to post a new high for two months. This bodes well for strong gains in coming months.

Citrix Systems Long-Term Chart (1995 – 2020)

The company came public at a split-adjusted $2.05 in December 1995 and entered an immediate uptrend that topped out at $7.47 one year later. The stock then crashed, posting an all-time low at $1.28 before recouping 100% of those losses and resuming its strong uptrend. The rally finally topped out at $96.58 in March 2000, marking the highest high for the next 18 years, ahead of a bear market decline that gave up an astonishing 96% into the 2002 low at $3.71.

A two-legged recovery wave recouped about one-third of the downside into the 2006 high at $35.93 and eased into a trading range, ahead of a failed 2007 breakout attempt. Citrix stock held up relatively well during the 2008 economic collapse, dropping to a four-year low, setting the stage for strong price action into the new decade. This buying impulse stalled nearly 30 points under the 2000 peak in 2011, establishing a resistance level that took another five years to overcome.

A 2016 breakout completed the round trip into the 2000 high in 2017, yielding a larger-scale breakout that stalled near $117 in the summer of 2018. A decline into year end tested new support successfully, underpinning a strong 2019 uptick that topped out in January 2020. The stock returned to that level in March after a 30-point downdraft and broke out once again, posting an all-time high in May.

Citrix Systems Short-Term Chart (2018 – 2020)

The on-balance volume (OBV) accumulation-distribution indicator topped out ahead of price in 2018 and entered a shallow distribution phase that ended at an 18-month low in August 2019. Subsequent buying power reached resistance in November, yielding a March 2020 breakout that has continued to post new highs, even though the rally stalled two months ago. This establishes a bullish divergence, predicting that price will soon follow.

The trading range since March doesn't fit the perfect definition of a bullish pennant pattern. but these are strange times, and the mishmash of price bars should act according to the traditional mechanics – i.e., acting as the halfway point between two vertical rally impulses. If so, the next wave has the potential to reach into the $190 to $200 price zone, marking a high-percentage return from currently traded levels.

The Bottom Line

Citrix stock has worked off overbought technical readings after a dramatic first quarter breakout and could post strong gains in the third quarter.

Disclosure: The author held no positions in the aforementioned securities at the time of publication.

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World News

The San Diego police's reported use of smart streetlights to gather evidence against protesters may turn the public against future smart-city solutions

To gather evidence relating to the protests that took place in June, the San Diego Police Department accessed the city's network of smart streetlights at least 35 times in the span of five days, according to The Voice of San Diego. San Diego's smart streetlight initiative — launched in 2016 through a partnership with General Electric, which provided a $30 million loan to fund the project — was originally intended to reduce energy costs and inform transit operations using anonymized data.

The purview of the project expanded after its launch, however, as police began requesting access to streetlight video footage in mid-2018, per The Voice of San Diego. In May 2020, Mayor Kevin Faulconer advocated shutting down many of the smart streetlights, although doing so would leave the city owing considerable debt to General Electric.

San Diego's streetlight troubles attest to the fact that, when cities adapt smart city solutions to meet emerging needs, they risk jeopardizing public confidence in future initiatives. In early 2020, Business Insider Intelligence spoke to a number of leaders in the smart city space who emphasized the importance of engaging citizens to get their support for smart city projects. For instance, Mike Zeto, vice president of IoT Advanced Solutions at AT&T, told us, "it's really important to get the citizens involved early so they understand the technology that is going to be deployed in their neighborhood and why."

When cities expand the scope of a smart city solution after initial deployment, they risk sowing public distrust, as this mission creep can short-circuit the process of citizen engagement. Lack of community buy-in plagued Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs' $3.9 billion smart city development in Toronto, contributing to the eventual abandonment of the project. It also appears to have motivated the movement to shut down San Diego's streetlight initiative, and will suppress public support for future smart city initiatives. 

Cities have turned to smart city solutions to battle the coronavirus pandemic, but this risks tarnishing long-term public support for such initiatives. Digital infrastructure for smart city solutions can be repurposed to help governments battle the coronavirus pandemic. China, for instance, used CCTV cameras to monitor citizens' adherence to the 14-day quarantine guidelines. Similarly, South Korea tapped into its Smart City Data Hub to monitor the movements of individuals suspected of being infected.

Even if such programs are phased out once the pandemic ends, they will likely still influence public perception of smart city solutions and their related privacy implications. On the other hand, if the programs prove to be an effective tool in curbing the spread of the coronavirus, governments may consequently increase their budgets for smart city programs. We therefore expect that smart city spending trajectories will be significantly reshaped by the pandemic, but that these impacts will vary by region — the privacy-minded EU could further limit the acceptable scope of smart city solutions, for instance, while the US and China accelerate such endeavors. 

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World News

With an eye on the environment, New Zealand wants to overhaul the way buildings are constructed

  • The structures people live and work in have quite a significant impact on the environment.
  • Many firms are now attempting to design and build developments that are sustainable and beneficial to the people using them.

The New Zealand government unveiled plans for a program which aims to tackle greenhouse gas emissions in the building and construction sector, and potentially futureproofs the built environment against the impacts of climate change.

Initially, the Building for Climate Change program will focus on the expansion of "insulation and glazing requirements in new homes" with the aim of boosting buildings' warmth, dryness and ventilation. These initiatives are slated for consultation at the start of next year.

In a statement issued Friday, Jenny Salesa, the country's minister for building and construction, said the scheme would "reduce greenhouse gas emissions during the construction of buildings, and while we are living and working in them."

In addition, Salesa said it would prepare buildings for what she described as "the ongoing effects of climate change, such as rising temperatures and increased rainfall."

"It means changing the way we think about building and construction," she added. "Energy efficiency and carbon emissions will become core considerations when building — just as important as cost and aesthetics."

While the program will start out by looking at new builds, the government added that it was "likely that changes will also need to be made to existing buildings."

From office blocks to housing, the structures people live and work in have quite a significant impact on the environment.

According to a recent report from the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, International Energy Agency and the UN Environment Programme, building construction and operations were, globally, responsible for 36% of final energy use in 2018.

Published in December 2019, the Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction also stated that, worldwide, the sector accounted for 39% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2018. 

Whether it's factories that use renewables or buildings that use novel materials, many developers and businesses are now attempting to design and build structures that are both sustainable and beneficial to the people using them.

Just last week John Sisk & Son announced it would build a U.K.-based "campus" for major lender Santander that will host more than 6,000 workers.

Based in the English town of Milton Keynes, the development —a £150 million ($187.68 million) investment — has been designed with an emphasis on sustainability as well as employee wellbeing.

To this end, the project will incorporate a fitness center and its roof will host a "walking and running track."

The notion of buildings integrating design features that allow for contemplation and recreation is not new. The White Collar Factory development in Shoreditch, London — which houses firms like Adobe — boasts a running track of 150 meters, for example.

In Australia, tech firm Atlassian recently unveiled plans to construct what it described as "the world's tallest hybrid timber building."

The design will incorporate timber and a façade of glass and steel that will also use solar panels and have "self-shade capabilities." Plans are also in place for a staggered outdoor garden to be integrated into the structure.
 

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Business

Op-ed: Investors should watch how companies are retooling their sales efforts to meet coronavirus challenges

  • Many companies need to reimagine their sales efforts amid the pandemic.
  • Face-to-face interactions are a mainstay of many industries in which there is often a costly and lengthy selling process.
  • So far, the market has not punished stocks with high sales and marketing expenses.

What seemed like a few decades ago, I mean in February, people used to occasionally ask "How's business?" Despite usually responding, "Fine, thanks," I would often think of the inquiry as two-part. One, and probably most important, was about our investment performance, but the other concerned our operations, particularly new business.  

One of my Covid-induced fears is that we don't know how to attract new business in the remote age. We have never landed a good-sized account without one in-person encounter, but that needs to change. I crave a different "demand pull" model where potential shoppers need to come to us and realize I wouldn't like the one stuck in my mind – a grocery store.  Once we have accommodated the prospects whom we met with pre-Covid, what is our strategy? At least, we operate under an ongoing fee model, thanks to clever investment industry pioneers centuries ago. 

Face-to-face interactions are a mainstay of many industries in which there is often a costly and lengthy selling process for each order. Would those firms with the highest selling burden, whether pharmaceuticals, computer hardware, medical equipment, or automobiles, be penalized by the stock market, which recognizes the intense difficulty social distancing and travel restrictions places on their businesses? Have some been successful in depersonalizing their marketing efforts through new online and social media practices? 

Historically, buying a new model of any expensive type of industrial or transportation vehicle (Tesla being the exception with only online sales), as well as, real estate, would also require at least one face-to-face encounter. If current constrained selling is depressing some stocks, that pain should persist until we either have better control over the virus or have adopted new tools that replace the in-person experience. Investors might, therefore, be smart to avoid such exposed companies.  

Can we tell which corporate sales department rely most on face-to-face meetings? The most obvious proxy would be sales, general and administrative expenses, or SG&A. The table below, which ranks industry sectors by SG&A as a percent of sales, shows little correlation between higher SG&A and price action this year. Among the worst-performing groups have been energy and utilities, which dedicate relatively little to selling expenses. Technology, which ranks second to heath care in average spend, is by far, the best-performing group of 2020, up almost 15% in the first half.  

To put it simply, we know that many tech firms can provide the service and products seamlessly as long as the wifi is working, whether in the office or at home. On the opposite end, health care has been overwhelmed by Covid-19 and all elective surgeries, procedures and doctor visits were cancelled or held virtually for many months, decimating revenues.

General and administrative expenses

Sector # of Cos SG&A > 40% of Revs Avg SG&A % of Revs LTM EBIT % of Revs Performance 12/31/19 – 6/30/20 Performance 3/23/20 – 6/30/20

 In fact, SG&A is not even a good indicator of face-to-face sales efforts, because of the broad inclusion criteria in that category. Since the overall SG&A bucket includes everything from legal, rent, advertising, and management salaries, teasing out the sales force that meets with potential customers is extremely difficult. 

Some companies break out their selling and marketing expense from SG&A, so we examined those companies with heavy S&M spending. The table below illustrates that 17 of the top 20 on the list are technology participants, such as Salesforce.com, Autodesk, and Citrix, all software firms with enormous gross margins. That cushion allows them to spend heavily on the sales effort, whether in-person or virtual, and still maintain hefty profit margins.

Most of these stocks have been strong outperformers in 2020. In contrast, Expedia, the company that topped the list, saw its stock collapse this year, not because of its high marketing spend, but because it sits squarely at the center of the withered travel industry.

 

Selling and marketing

Ticker Sector LTM S&M % of LTM Rev LTM EBIT % of Revs Performance 12/31/19 – 6/30/20 Performance 3/23/20 – 6/30/20

Rather than simply consider corporate selling percentages, which offer very limited insight into how the funds are used, investors should apply common sense to the exercise. The factors that clearly have a negative effect on revenues, profits, and expected returns, in a remote world are:

  1. An intrinsic, legacy sales force, built on face to face practices.
  2. Very high-ticket prices for the company's complex products.
  3. Management resistance to shift toward online and virtual sales methods.

Drug companies have sold, for decades, by visiting doctors' offices and hosting events or speaker series about innovative, newly approved therapies. They now are aggressively promoting new therapies online, directed at specific patient populations. 

The market has not punished stocks like Booking Holdings, Coca Cola, Merck, and Caterpillar because they have high sales and marketing expenses. Companies like PayPal, Microsoft, Akamai and Activision are also huge spenders in that category, and their stocks also have soared this year. Investors have sold and bought stocks based on perceptions of how the pandemic will impact their business. 

However, all of us who have relied on in-person selling need to creatively devise outreach programs that supplement or replace our traditional methods in order to thrive. Investors should listen carefully to how managements describe their efforts to reimagine their selling process. I'll be listening too, hopefully for some good ideas.

Karen Firestone is chairman, CEO, and co-founder of Aureus Asset Management, an investment firm dedicated to providing contemporary asset management to families, individuals and institutions.

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Business

China rebukes UK for its 'gross interference' over Hong Kong

  • Britain has described the security law as a "clear and serious" violation of the 1984 Joint Declaration under which it handed back its colony to China.
  • The country has also said that it would offer around 3 million residents a path to British citizenship.

China's ambassador to London accused Britain on Monday of gross interference and making irresponsible remarks over Beijing's imposition of new security legislation in Hong Kong that he said could damage future Chinese investment.

Britain has described the security law as a "clear and serious" violation of the 1984 Joint Declaration under which it handed back its colony to China 13 years later and said that London would offer around 3 million residents a path to British citizenship.

"The UK government keeps making irresponsible remarks on Hong Kong affairs," Ambassador Liu Xiaoming told reporters in the strongest rebuke Beijing has issued to London since Britain criticized the security law.

On the British offer to give British National (Overseas) (BNO) passport holders in Hong Kong a path to British citizenship, he said: "This move constitutes gross interference in China's internal affairs and openly tramples on the basic norms governing international relations."

He said China would decide on its response after seeing how Britain proceeded with its passport offer.

Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson describes himself as a "Sinophile", he has also spoken of the need to "stick up for our friends in Hong Kong", straining relations with Beijing.

He has also toughened his language on a provisional decision to allow China's Huawei <HWT.UL> to be involved in the development of Britain's 5G infrastructure, saying he would protect critical infrastructure from "hostile state vendors".

Johnson has faced intense pressure from the United States and some British lawmakers to ban the telecommunications equipment maker on security grounds and Britain's media minister said on Monday the Huawei decision was not set in stone.

Liu said that, although China wanted friendly relations with Britain, there might be many consequences if Britain treated Beijing as an enemy or with suspicion.

"We want to be your friend. We want to be your partner. But if you want to make China a hostile country, you will have to bear the consequences," he said.

He said a U-turn on its Huawei decision would damage Britain's image as an open, business-friendly environment and it meant London was having to "bounce to the tune of the other countries".

"The China business community are all watching how you handle Huawei. If you get rid of Huawei it sends out a very bad message to other Chinese businesses," Liu said.

In 2015, former British prime minister David Cameron heralded a "golden era" in bilateral relations with Beijing but these have soured amid growing dissent in Hong Kong. Liu said he hoped it was not over but Britain had to be careful how it characterized China.

"Whether it is over or not is not up to the Chinese side," he said. "We have every reason to have good relations with the UK."

Hong Kong returned to China on July 1, 1997, under a "one country, two systems" formula guaranteeing wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent judiciary.

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Business

Court orders Dakota crude pipeline shutdown, in win for Native American tribes in long-running saga

A district court ruled Monday the Dakota Access Pipeline must shut down within 30 days, by August 5, according to a copy of the brief obtained by USA Today.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia scrapped a key permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, and ordered the pipeline to end its three-year run of delivering oil out of North Dakota's Bakken shale basin to its endpoint in Illinois. The decision marked the end of a years-long legal battle over the Energy Transfer Partners-owned pipeline's environmental damage to the Missouri River.

President Donald Trump granted the permit in 2017 over the objections of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and environmental activists, arguing the oil spills could contaminate their water source and put their culture at risk. 

The court ruled the pipeline be shut down pending a full environmental review ordered previously.

"The Corps had failed to produce an Environmental Impact Statement despite conditions that triggered such a requirement," the court ruling stated. "Although mindful of the disruption such a shutdown will cause, the Court now concludes that the answer is yes."

"Given the seriousness of the Corps' NEPA error, the impossibility of a simple fix, the fact that Dakota Access did assume much of its economic risk knowingly, and the potential harm each day the pipeline operates, the Court is forced to conclude that the flow of oil must cease," the ruling said.

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World News

Supreme Court says states can require presidential electors to vote for candidate who wins state's popular vote

  • The Supreme Court says states can require presidential electors to back the candidate that won that state in the Electoral College.
  • Electors almost always do that anyway, but this ruling upholds laws mandating it that already exist in 32 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that states can require presidential electors to back their states' popular vote winner in the Electoral College.

The ruling, just under four months before the 2020 election, leaves in place laws in 32 states and the District of Columbia that bind electors to vote for the popular-vote winner, and electors almost always do so anyway.

So-called faithless electors have not been critical to the outcome of a presidential election, but that could change in a race decided by just a few electoral votes. It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court that a state may instruct "electors that they have no ground for reversing the vote of millions of its citizens. That direction accords with the Constitution — as well as with the trust of a Nation that here, We the People rule."

The justices had scheduled arguments for the spring so they could resolve the issue before the election, rather than amid a potential political crisis after the country votes.

When the court heard arguments by telephone in May because of the coronavirus outbreak, justices invoked fears of bribery and chaos if electors could cast their ballots regardless of the popular vote outcome in their states.

The issue arose in lawsuits filed by three Hillary Clinton electors in Washington state and one in Colorado who refused to vote for her despite her popular vote win in both states. In so doing, they hoped to persuade enough electors in states won by Donald Trump to choose someone else and deny Trump the presidency.

The federal appeals court in Denver ruled that electors can vote as they please, rejecting arguments that they must choose the popular-vote winner. In Washington, the state Supreme Court upheld a $1,000 fine against the three electors and rejected their claims.

In all, there were 10 faithless electors in 2016, including a fourth in Washington, a Democratic elector in Hawaii and two Republican electors in Texas. In addition, Democratic electors who said they would not vote for Clinton were replaced in Maine and Minnesota.

The closest Electoral College margin in recent years was in 2000, when Republican George W. Bush received 271 votes to 266 for Democrat Al Gore. One elector from Washington, DC, left her ballot blank.

The Supreme Court played a decisive role in that election, ending a recount in Florida, where Bush held a 537-vote margin out of 6 million ballots cast.

The justices scheduled separate arguments in the Washington and Colorado cases after Justice Sonia Sotomayor belatedly removed herself from the Colorado case because she knows one of the plaintiffs.

In asking the Supreme Court to rule that states can require electors to vote for the state winner, Colorado had urged the justices not to wait until "the heat of a close presidential election."

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