Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor who specializes in American elections, says it appears that about 100 million early votes will be cast by Tuesday.
Florida could be ground zero for litigation. The race between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden is expected to be a close one, with a fat 29 electoral votes at stake – only California and Texas provide a bigger elections prize.
Some context: Democrats and Republicans in Florida have engaged legions of lawyers ready to rush to court at any sign of voter suppression or fraud. In 2000, the Florida vote was ultimately settled in George Bush’s favor by a margin of 537 votes when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Bush v. Gore, stopped a recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court.
The premiere legal issue this year is the use and counting of mail-in ballots, which President Donald Trump has criticized without evidence as a potential source of fraud. Pennsylvania, another swing state, has drawn Trump’s ire because it could take days for all the mail-in ballots were counted.
“As soon as that election’s over, we’re going in with our lawyers,” Trump said.
As Election Day approaches, USA TODAY is keeping track of what’s happening as voters around the country cast ballots. Here are some important headlines:
- A peaceful protest to get out the vote in Graham, North Carolina, has fueled controversy after local police twice pepper-sprayed marchers.
- About 100 “Trump Train” drivers clashed with several protesters in Louisville on Sunday before caravanning to the Kentucky Exposition Center for a rally in support of President Donald Trump.
- From pandemic fears to complex ID requirements to lack of nearby polling places, young voters are facing an unprecedented array of obstacles. But despite suppression tactics, young voters are “raising hell” with historic early voting turnout.
Will your ballot be safe? An in-depth look: Millions of voters going to the polls Tuesday will cast their ballots on machines blasted as unreliable and inaccurate for two decades by computer scientists from Princeton University to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
On Election Day, here is our promise to you: We’ll be monitoring polling places nationwide, correcting misinformation and providing accurate results. More from USA TODAY’s Editor-in-Chief Nicole Carroll.
Historic early voting: Numbers compiled by the U.S. Elections Project website show at least 94 million people have already voted.
#earlyvote day-end update 11/1
— Michael McDonald (@ElectProject) November 2, 2020
Trump caravans roll across nation
Trump supporters have been rolling in caravans through cities and towns across America in recent days, waving flags, honking horns and posting videos on social media with the #MAGADragTheInterstate hashtag. Some became controversial:
- In California, multiple caravans were reported, including one that paraded for 60 miles through Riverside County on Sunday, the Los Angeles Time reports. The Sheriff’s Department said officers made no arrests but did field a few complaints from intimidated voters.
- In Kentucky, about 100 “Trump Train” drivers clashed with protesters in Louisville. The protesters, upset the group was allowed to use school property, attempted to block vehicles from leaving the parking lot. Some members of both groups were armed, but no violence was reported.
- In Virginia, Richmond police say a mobile political rally dubbed a “Trump Train” entered the city Sunday, leading to incidents at the Robert E. Lee monument. One woman reported being peppered sprayed by someone in a vehicle, and police were investigating a possible gunshot.
In New Jersey, social media videos show Trump flags flying from vehicles that backed up traffic for five miles on the Garden State Parkway. “We shut it down, baby! We shut it down,” a man is heard saying in one clip.
Voting rights marchers in NC vow to return on Election Day
The leader of a march to get out the vote in Graham, North Carolina, that turned chaotic after local police used pepper spray and made several arrests vowed to lead another protest on Election Day.
“Our organization, marchers, demonstrators and potential voters left here sunken, sad, traumatized, obstructed and distracted from our intention to lead people all the way to the polls,” said the Rev. Gregory Drumwright, who organized Saturday’s march, in a news conference Sunday. “I want you to know, Nov. 3 is coming. We’re going to march on Nov. 3.”
As a crowd of about 200 people arrived on foot at the county courthouse to speak near a polling location about voting rights, officers with the Graham Police Department fired pepper spray while telling the civil rights group to get out of the street. Police said in a statement that pepper spray was fired onto the ground, not at protesters. Some protesters said children and a woman on an electric scooter were among those hit by the pepper spray.
A reporter with the Burlington Times-News, part of the USA TODAY Network, who was at the scene and was also pepper-sprayed, did not hear any advance warning before the police action.
– Dean-Paul Stephens, Rachel Berry and Isaac Groves, Times-News
Power will be on at voting sites across battered New Orleans
New Orleans polling stations darkened for almost a week after Hurricane Zeta will have power on Election Day, authorities said, easing a controversy between New Orleans’ Democratic mayor and Louisiana’s Republican secretary of state.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Sunday that up to 11 city precincts could still be without power Tuesday, nearly a week after the storm toppled power lines. She said Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and his commissioner of elections, Sherri Wharton Hadskey, were “refusing to provide support for generators.” Ardoin quickly lashed back, but the city later issued a statement saying that Entergy New Orleans was estimating that only three polling stations could be without power Tuesday. Portable generators and lighting will be provided by the company, the state’s Homeland Security office and the Secretary of State’s Office.
Florida bracing for litigation over mailed-in ballots
More than 4.2 million votes had been cast by mail statewide, according to the Florida Secretary of State’s office. Despite Trump’s chagrin at mail-in voting, both parties have promoted it in Florida during the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, however, advocates said thousands of mail-in ballots had been flagged in Florida because of signature problems. Juanica Fernandes, executive director of the nonprofit State Voices Florida, said too many of Florida mail-in ballots have been rejected because of issues such as new addresses and mismatched signatures.
“This leaves a voter without an opportunity to have their voice heard, and that’s not acceptable,” Fernandes said. “They are not counting the ballots at all.”
Expert projects 160 million will vote, 67% turnout
Michael McDonald, University of Florida professor behind the U.S. Elections Project, for months has been estimating that 150 million people will vote, has upped the ante in recent days.
“Now that more early vote data are available, I’m ready to make a more concrete prediction,” McDonald said. “Examining each state in turn, and rolling up the state estimates to a national estimate, I arrive at a total turnout rate of 160.2 million votes, or a turnout rate for those eligible to vote of 67.0%.”
In 2016, fewer than 140 million Americans voted, a turnout rate of about 56%. The total votes were the most ever cast in a U.S. presidential election.
Texas high court rejects GOP attempt to invalidate drive-through votes
The Texas Supreme Court on Sunday rejected a Republican petition to discard almost 127,000 votes cast via drive-through sites in Harris County, where Houston is located. Sunday’s ruling might not stand as the final word on the issue. A federal court judge has scheduled a hearing Monday on a separate case also addressing whether drive-through voting violates any laws. The Texas Secretary of State validated the practice as legal earlier this year.
Republicans in Harris County, the third-most populous in the country, argued that drive-through voting constituted an illegal expansion of curbside voting, which is only available to people with disabilities. After a successful run of the system during a July primary runoff, Houston set up 10 drive-through sites for the general election.
Lost ballots in Pennsylvania possibly in the thousands
Officials in Butler County, Pennsylvania – perhaps the most critical of battleground states in the election – are scrambling to get mail ballots to potentially thousands of voters who requested them and did not receive them. County call centers and email addresses set up to handle elections issues were flooded last week with messages, leading officials to conclude a large number of ballots had been lost and prompting them to make last-ditch efforts to deliver them.
“Our main focus – because it’s too late now to worry about this – we need to make sure we get these people their ballots,” Butler County Commissioner Leslie Osche said.
Nearly 40,000 registered voters in Butler County requested mail ballots, but only 24% of them have been returned to the county, by far the lowest rate among the state’s 67 counties. The U.S. Postal Service has been asked to immediately investigate. USPS said the agency was “unaware of any significant delays or issues.”
– Jamie Martines, Spotlight PA
Election problems: What to keep in mind
This cheat sheet from Columbia Journalism Review offers tips for media organizations reporting on Election 2020 that are a good reminder of what to expect on Election Day.
- Voting problems aren’t failures. They happen every year and, as CJR notes, hiccups such as voting machines not working or polling places opening late don’t mean anything is “rigged.”
- Some problems, however, are significant. CJR recommends the media scrutinize areas that have a history of voter suppression or obstructing minority voters, calling out Georgia as a place to monitor.
- Don’t expect a winner on Election Night. This year is different because mail-in ballots could be as high as 30%. Previously, that number was 3%-5%. It will take a while to tally.
- Seriously, expect to wait. State vote certification deadlines differ and don’t have to be reported to the federal level until Dec. 8. Additionally, the Electoral College doesn’t meet until Dec. 14.
Headlines from elsewhere and resources on voting
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Worried about voter suppression? Lawyers have election laws hotline
Nearly 24,000 lawyers are volunteering to help voters across the country navigate changes in what has become an unprecedented election cycle. Organizers of Election Protection, a national coalition of civil rights and voting rights groups, said the number of volunteers has quadrupled since the 2016 presidential election and the 2018 midterm elections. They’re bracing for even more calls as Election Day nears and in the days and weeks following.
The Election Protection hotline (866-OUR-VOTE) is available all year, but calls have ramped up in recent weeks as millions started casting ballots early in some states. The hotline has received more than 100,000 calls since July, averaging about 7,000 a day, organizers said. At this point in 2016, the group had fielded 21,000 calls since January of that year.
– Deborah Barfield Berry
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Voting 2020 live updates: Trump caravan scares voters in California; 100 million will vote early; lawyers line up to challenge results