Election officials across the nation continued to review security plans Tuesday at early and Election Day voting sites, strengthening ties with local law enforcement and training poll workers to prepare for voter intimidation tactics.
There are already signs of wrongdoing, as a ballot drop box in a California town east of Los Angeles was set on fire.
Even before the Sept. 29 presidential debate – when President Donald Trump urged his supporters to "go into the polls and watch very carefully" – there was concern over the prospect of voter harassment at the polls.
Some context: Poll watching or poll observing has long been a way for parties and outside groups to monitor voting, but such observers typically have to be certified in advance, and detailed rules vary from state to state.
More news to keep in mind: We're just two weeks away from Election Day. USA TODAY is keeping track of what's happening as voters around the country cast ballots. Keep refreshing this page for updates.
The Supreme Court ruled that absentee ballots in Pennsylvania can be received up to three days beyond Election Day. This could have an impact in other states where the deadline for mail-in ballots has been the subject of court battles.
Early in-person voting began Monday in Florida, the battleground state where the Donald Trump and Joe Biden campaigns have increasingly spent time and money. (A new Florida poll shows Biden with a narrow lead.)
Trump and Biden's microphones will be cut off during portions of Thursday's debate in Nashville, but the moderator won't have a mute button as some had speculated.
If you want to go in-depth: Trump said absentee ballot fraud is a real threat. But a USA TODAY analysis of alleged cases shows that is not true. Also: We checked the facts on whether Pennsylvania ballots need two envelopes to be counted. Rating: True.
Voters are already casting ballots: Numbers compiled by @electproject show 3.3 million people have already voted. In other numbers, the Guardian reports 14% of registered voters in swing states have had their mail-in ballots accepted. USA TODAY's politics team has the latest updates from the campaign trail.
— Michael McDonald (@ElectProject) October 20, 2020
California AG sues state Republican Party, wants details on unofficial ballot boxes
California's attorney general sued the state's Republican Party on Tuesday, asking a judge to make them hand over the names and contact information of every voter who used one of the GOP's unofficial ballot drop boxes.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla — both Democrats — last week ordered Republicans to remove their unofficial drop boxes, declaring them to be illegal. But they relented on Friday after GOP leaders said the boxes were only used as tools to collect ballots under the state's “ballot harvesting” law.
Becerra is still investigating how the GOP is using the drop boxes. Friday, he issued subpoenas to state and local Republican party officials ordering them to reveal the location of every box plus the names, addresses and dates of birth for everyone who had used them.
GOP leaders refused, saying that information is protected by the Constitution and disclosing it would “violate the secrecy of the ballot and the trust of the voters.”
Drop box fire in California may have damaged 100 ballots
Up to 100 ballots may have been damaged when a ballot drop box in a majority-Latino town in California was set on fire Sunday night. Los Angeles County officials are investigating the box fire in Baldwin Park, a suburb about 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
“The arson of an official ballot drop box by the Baldwin Park Library in the First District has all the signs of an attempt to disenfranchise voters and calls into question the security of our elections,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said in a statement. “Tampering, or attempts to tamper, with our democracy will not be tolerated.”
Drop boxes, more commonly used this year because of the pandemic, became a source of controversy last week when Republican Party representatives admittedly distributed several unauthorized ones in three California counties, prompting the state to issue a cease-and-desist order.
– Joshua Bote
Miami police officer wearing pro-Donald Trump mask faces discipline
A uniformed and armed Miami police officer spotted wearing a pro-Trump face mask at a polling station will be disciplined, Police Chief Jorge Colina said, according to the Miami Herald. The officer, Daniel Ubeda, was on duty and voting at the city's Government Center on Tuesday. His mask read, "Trump 2020'' and "No more bull----'' below that.
“Obviously this is a clear violation of our department policy regarding campaigning while on duty,” Deputy Chief Ron Papier said. “Additionally, the mask has offensive language, which is also a violation of department policy.”
Also in Miami, a U.S. Postal Service carrier is accused of stealing a Miami-Dade County mail-in ballot among several other pieces of mail, including prepaid debit cards. The Postal Service Office of Inspector General said in a federal complaint that between Oct. 5 and Oct. 16, Crystal Nicole Myrie “embezzled letters, postal cards and mail which came into her possession intended to be carried or delivered by her,” the Miami Herald reported.
Nonwhite voters in Georgia wait hours in line to vote, report says
Places to vote in Georgia have decreased, causing long lines at polling locations, and it's affecting nonwhite neighborhoods the most, according to a report by ProPublica, Georgia Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio.
In 2013, a Supreme Court decision eliminated federal oversight of election decisions in states with histories of discrimination. Since then, Georgia's voter rolls have grown by nearly 2 million people while polling locations have been cut by nearly 10%, according to an analysis by Georgia Public Broadcasting and ProPublica. The group reports that young, nonwhite voters have fueled the growth in the voter rolls, especially in Atlanta.
"The metro Atlanta area has been hit particularly hard (by closures). The nine counties – Fulton, Gwinnett, Forsyth, DeKalb, Cobb, Hall, Cherokee, Henry and Clayton – have nearly half of the state’s active voters but only 38% of the polling places," the group reported.
Headlines from elsewhere and resources on voting
From ProPublica: Their Electionland project goes deep on issues that can affect eligible voters' ability to cast a ballot.
From Pew/Stateline: The Barriers to the Ballot Box project takes on how changes to polling places impact communities.
Ballotopedia: Resources and guides for not just the election, but also voting.
Associated Press: More voting headlines that should be on your radar.
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Millions purged from state voter rolls
Voters who might not have gone to the polls in recent years and show up to vote on Election Day might be in for a surprise: Their vote may not count.
Across the nation, states canceled 17.3 million registrations from the 2016 presidential election through the 2018 midterms, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. A look at some states:
In New York, 1.2 million voters are currently on the inactive voting list.
In New Jersey, 430,000 are deemed inactive, meaning they either hadn't voted in recent presidential elections or their status as a registered voter is uncertain.
Georgia removed 300,000 registrations last year.
Wisconsin had a court battle over whether it must strip 200,000 names.
Voter purging can disenfranchise voters, particularly targeting communities of color, and can suppress totals across the nation, experts said.
It's a situation playing out in states, and in courtrooms, across the country. Voters can be purged from voting rolls, or removed erroneously, leaving them and poll workers confused on Election Day.
"Voter purges are an often-flawed process of cleaning up voter rolls by deleting names from registration lists," a 2018 report by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice said. "Done badly, they can prevent eligible people from casting a ballot that counts." Was your voter registration purged? Why it might have been, and what you can do about it.
– Joseph Spector, Madeleine O'Neill, Terrence T. McDonald, Sarah Gamard and Candy Woodall
Supreme Court allows Pennsylvania to count ballots received up to Nov. 6
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that absentee ballots in Pennsylvania can be received up to three days beyond Election Day, setting a precedent that could apply to some other states. A shorthanded court split 4-4 on the decision, and because of the tie, the lower court ruling by the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court stands. That court had ruled in favor of a three-day extension.
The justices' order establishes the ground rules for mail-in voting in one of the nation's key battleground states, where President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden are fighting hard for its 20 electoral votes. The ruling could have an impact in other states where the deadline for mail-in ballots has been the subject of court battles, including Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Georgia, Indiana and Montana.
Pennsylvania's Democratic Party initiated the legal action, urging state courts to extend the Nov. 3 ballot return deadline in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which presents risks for in-person voting. Republican Party and state Senate leaders asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block the state court's ruling as a violation of federal law, which sets Election Day as the first Tuesday in November. They also said the extension violates the Constitution. Read more here.
– Richard Wolf
Tennessee poll worker fired after turning away Black Lives Matter voters
A Memphis poll worker was fired Friday after election officials learned he had turned away voters who were wearing masks and T-shirts that said Black Lives Matter. “What he did was patently wrong and he was fired,” said Suzanne Thompson, spokeswoman for the election commission in Shelby County, Tennessee, where Memphis is located. State law prohibits people from wearing items with the name of a political party or candidate currently on the ballot while in a polling place, but statements like “Black Lives Matter” or “I Can’t Breathe” are not violations of that law.
– Katherine Burgess, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Pentagon reiterates that troops have no role in US election
While President Donald Trump casts doubt on the legitimacy of the vote and refuses to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, Pentagon leaders have sought in varying degrees to shelter the military from the president's political battles.
Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been emphatic: Troops have no role in elections. His boss, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, told Congress the military will adhere to the Constitution. Concern about Election Day violence escalated after 14 men were charged in domestic terror plots, including a plan to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic governor of Michigan.
Intimidation at polling places by armed groups has the potential to be a serious problem in areas such as the Midwest, said Kenneth Mayer, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A private security firm has been recruiting former special operations troops to patrol polling sites on election day in Minnesota, the Washington Post reported. Though the law varies by state, any poll watchers typically have to be certified in advance.
Federal law prohibits the deployment of federal troops or law enforcement agents to polling places, according to the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice. Read more here.
– Tom Vanden Brook
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Voting updates: Drop box fire; Pennsylvania; BLM voter turned away