Election Dwell Updates: Trump vs Biden, Voting Information and Extra

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Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

President Trump will hold four rallies across Pennsylvania on Saturday and his wife, Melania, will host a fifth event in the swing state, as both the president and his Democratic challenger, Joseph R. Biden Jr., zero in on what could be a linchpin in the race for the White House.

Mr. Trump prevailed in Pennsylvania in 2016 by fewer than 45,000 votes, and his itinerary on Saturday suggests some of the key demographic and geographic ingredients that he hopes to combine to create another surprise victory.

His first stop is in suburban Bucks County, where Hillary Clinton prevailed in 2016 by less than one percentage point. He will hold two events outside the major media markets, in Reading and in tiny Montoursville (population around 4,400), as he seeks to drive up turnout among the white, working-class and rural voters who overwhelmingly supported him four years ago.

He will also campaign in Butler, in western Pennsylvania, where he hopes his unabashed pro-fracking message holds sway. Melania Trump, meanwhile, will appear in Luzerne County in northeastern Pennsylvania, a historically Democratic region that Mr. Trump flipped into the Republican column in 2016.

The Trumps will hardly have the state to themselves in the last days before voting on Tuesday.

On Sunday, Mr. Biden will deliver one of his final speeches of the campaign in Philadelphia, the state’s biggest media market. And on Monday, Mr. Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California, will “fan out across all four corners of the state” with their spouses on the last full day of campaigning before voters head to the polls, according to the Biden campaign.

Mr. Biden, who represented neighboring Delaware in the Senate for decades, has long considered Pennsylvania something of a second home state, given the media market overlap and his own often-cited roots in Scranton, where he was born. He delivered his campaign kickoff speech in Philadelphia in May 2019; coming full circle, his Sunday speech, which his campaign says will be about “bringing Americans together to address the crises facing the country,” will take place in the same city.

Mr. Trump will return to Pennsylvania on Monday for an event near Scranton, with other stops in North Carolina, Wisconsin and Michigan.

In 2016, Mr. Trump flipped three Rust Belt states that had been reliably Democratic by fewer than 80,000 votes in total: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. And while polls have him trailing Mr. Biden in all three states, Pennsylvania has been the least Democratic-leaning in surveys this year, and its 20 Electoral College votes make it the biggest prize of the three.

Credit…Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York Times

Former President Barack Obama will join Joseph R. Biden Jr. for campaign appearances on Saturday in Michigan, a state where President Trump pulled off an upset win in 2016 but now trails the former vice president in recent polls.

Mr. Biden and his former boss are scheduled to appear at drive-in rallies on Saturday in Flint and Detroit, where Stevie Wonder — who entertained guests at a White House party in 2015 — is scheduled to perform.

The events are part of an all-out effort to maximize turnout, focusing special attention on Black voters in the state.

Mr. Trump scored an upset victory in Michigan four years ago, barreling through the so-called blue wall of Northern industrial states that had favored Democrats in presidential elections since the 1990s.

In Detroit, which leans heavily to the left, 41,625 fewer voters cast ballots in 2016 than in 2012, helping Mr. Trump win the state by a razor-thin margin of 10,704 votes.

But the president has struggled to maintain support in the Midwest during this campaign.

Mr. Biden, the Democratic nominee, leads Mr. Trump by eight percentage points in Michigan, according to a poll this week from The New York Times and Siena College, and his cash-rich campaign has been targeting the state’s Black voters with television ads.

Mr. Obama, who adopted a posture of neutrality during the Democratic primaries, was initially reluctant to take on Mr. Trump personally because he did not want to become an easy foil that could motivate the president’s base.

But in his address to the Democratic convention in August, Mr. Obama painted a dire picture of the country under Mr. Trump, calling the incumbent lazy, uncaring and self-interested. He grew so emotional at turns that he appeared on the edge of tears.

“This administration has shown it will tear our democracy down if that’s what it takes to win,” he said.

This month, Mr. Obama has been campaigning for Mr. Biden in two crucial states, Pennsylvania and Florida — and has clearly relished the chance to needle Mr. Trump.

“What’s his closing argument? That people are too focused on Covid?” Mr. Obama said at a rally in Orlando on Tuesday, referring to Mr. Trump’s efforts to downplay the coronavirus pandemic. “He said this at one of his rallies. ‘Covid, Covid, Covid,’ he’s complained. He’s jealous of Covid’s media coverage.”

Credit…Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

As the sun set on the C. Blythe Andrews Jr. Public Library in Tampa on Friday evening, a steady stream of mostly Black voters trickled in, hoping to cast their ballots four days before Election Day.

For Democrats, the question of what turnout looks like at early voting sites like this one is a crucial factor in their prospects for winning back Florida, an elusive battleground state. They hope to offset what is expected to be significant Republican turnout on Election Day, and they are counting on strong turnout from Democratic voters of color, as well as from white progressives and white moderates who have rejected the Republican Party in the Trump era.

But at a time when turnout has been especially high in heavily Republican counties, some Democrats have raised concerns about turnout so far among some Black and Latino voters in Florida who tend to support their party.

While there are signs that Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee, has cut into the traditional Republican advantage with senior citizens, there is also evidence that he is struggling with some more conservative-leaning Latino constituencies in Florida. Democrats also worry about his standing with Black and Hispanic men in particular.

At the Tampa library early Friday evening, while voters entered and exited at a quick clip and some dropped off ballots, there did not appear to be a line. Some of the voters on hand also did not appear especially enthused about Mr. Biden, though many said they were voting for him.

Antonio Payne, 48, said he would probably vote for him in part because he believed that President Trump was a racist.

Mr. Payne said he was voting for the first time after a ballot measure restored voting rights to people who had been convicted of a felony, like he once was. But he also expressed reservations about Mr. Biden, noting his work on the 1994 Crime Bill, which many experts now associate with mass incarceration.

“I was in that situation, and I’ve seen the effect it took on people and their families,” said Mr. Payne, a mechanic.

He added that he hoped Mr. Biden would “do a better job than Donald Trump.”

Barbara Turner, 48, was not so sure he would.

“To me it’s, who’s going to get the job done?” Ms. Turner, who works in customer service, said. “Sometimes they say the word ‘Democrat’ and it automatically means it’s for the Black people. But that’s not true.”

Would she support Mr. Trump?

“Who knows,” she said, as she walked in to vote.

Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — In the final three days of the election, one of the most desirable billboards on the internet — YouTube’s home page — will be devoted exclusively to promote the re-election of President Trump.

It is the conclusion of a yearlong tug of war between the two presidential campaigns for the ad space on YouTube’s home page, the front door to the internet’s second-most visited website. The Biden campaign secured the so-called masthead on the days after the presidential debates and the Republican convention. But it was the Trump campaign that landed the coveted ad property for the most critical days of the election cycle, starting Sunday and going through Election Day. How Google allocates the home page on important election dates has become a source of tension between the company and the Democratic National Committee.

The dates just before Election Day were decided almost a year ago, months before Mr. Biden secured the Democratic nomination. Working closely with Google, the Trump campaign locked in the key dates, including Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, with special early access that it was granted as part of an incentive program for big advertisers.

Without a nominee, the D.N.C. on behalf of the eventual candidate had not spent enough in 2019 to be part of the program, meaning its nominee would have to settle for the leftover days in the 2020 election. It is not clear how much an advertiser has to spend with Google in order to participate in the early sales period.

The cost of controlling the ads on the masthead of the site is about $2 million a day, according to some advertisers, and is available to only one advertiser per day.

After the early sales period ended, the D.N.C. requested to reserve specific dates that were still available, including Election Day. A D.N.C. official said it authorized its Google sales representative to put a hold on Nov. 3 but was told a few hours later that the date had gone to another customer. The Trump campaign said it followed YouTube’s rules to grab the ad inventory first.

“Our campaign planned early, partnering with Google in 2019 to secure the YouTube masthead for the most important dates this cycle, and thanks to our forward thinking, we’re ensuring the president’s message is reaching voters across the nation before they cast their ballots,” said Courtney Parella, deputy national press secretary for the Trump campaign.

Unlike the nearly century-old broadcast radio and television laws that require equal time for each candidate’s ads, internet ads are largely unregulated. Internet companies write their own political ad policies.

“At best, the process lacked transparency and clarity,” Chris Meagher, a spokesman for the D.N.C. said. “At worst, it intentionally cut Democrats out of the process, making the advertising inventory open only to Donald Trump and Republicans.”

Google, which owns YouTube, has said that it does not treat political advertisers any differently than brands like Verizon — meaning candidates who spend more in the past are given a leg up.

Charlotte Smith, a spokeswoman for Google, said altering the masthead reservation system or adjusting the process for a specific election or political party would be “inconsistent and unfair” to YouTube’s other advertisers.

In the course of human events that should probably be taking place virtually this year, in a house so divided that talk of jailing opponents registers as typical fare, in a country asking not what can be done, exactly, but whether anything can at this point, an election is happening on Tuesday.

By the standards of the times, the election’s very arrival can feel like a feat. But a tour of these final, furious campaign days makes clear that the abiding theme of 2020 is something like survival: getting to 2021 in one piece, individually and collectively.

“At this point, civil war is one bad joke away from happening,” said Jorge Puertas, 21, in Hialeah, Fla. “One misunderstanding.” He said he worked for a local Democratic group and cast his ballot for President Trump anyway to avoid disappointing his grandfather.

On one side, campaign rallies have often been reduced to car-bound honk-fests, for epidemiology’s sake. On the other, they are undimmed — and discouraged by public health authorities.

Taken together, the snapshots from the campaign in its final days can double as a sort of rolling testament to national contradiction, rendered often in dizzying succession: the swagger and the nihilism, the faith and the faithlessness (“Jesus 2020: Our Only Hope” is a popular sign choice), the blithe invocation of outright fracture.

“Guillotine 2020,” read another sign displayed on a West Philadelphia porch recently, among the wind chimes and planters. “No More Presidents.”

Most conversations across the ideological expanse tended toward such fatalism almost immediately.

There is the virus to outlive, the opponent to outlast, the threats that must be outrun, many say — eroding liberties, police violence, institutional rot — if the whole enterprise is to endure in recognizable form.

At stake, in their accumulated telling: “Freedom,” said one person. “Our liberation,” said another. “Kind of feels like everything,” said a third.

Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

American presidential elections always seize international attention, but this year is exceptional: Mr. Trump has dominated news cycles and frayed nerves in almost every corner of the earth like few leaders in history. Having lived through his impulsiveness, and his disdain for allies and dalliances with adversaries, the world is on tenterhooks waiting to see whether the United States will choose to stay that rocky course.

No country has watched the American election unfold with greater anger and grievance than China — and few have more at stake. Tensions over trade, technology and the coronavirus have brought relations to their worst level since Washington first recognized the People’s Republic in 1979.

Even so, few Chinese officials appear to harbor much hope that a defeat for Mr. Trump would usher in any improvement.

In Russia, which the C.I.A. has accused of mounting a clandestine effort to re-elect Mr. Trump, pro-Kremlin news organizations have played up the possibility of violence and chaos, allowing commentators who depict American democracy as rotten to the core to declare the campaign an I-told-you-so moment.

To the Europeans, a Trump re-election would confirm that the United States has abandoned its leadership role in the western alliance. Beyond questioning membership in NATO, Mr. Trump has labeled the European Union a competitor and rival, tried to drive wedges among European countries and promoted right-wing populism.

Many Europeans fear a more radical and even less constrained Mr. Trump in a second term, freer to act on his instincts — like those that guided his response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the Middle East, where Mr. Trump’s foreign policy has had the biggest impact, the biggest impact of a Democratic victory could be to leave the autocratic leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey with few friends in Washington, said Hisham Melhem, a columnist for the Lebanese newspaper Annahar Al Arabi.

Israel’s right-wing government has been showered with political favors by the Trump White House and backed to the hilt, culminating in normalization deals with three Arab countries that made the Middle East suddenly feel a bit less hostile to the Jewish state.

But a Trump victory offers Israel no guarantees. A second-term President Trump, unfettered of his need to please pro-Israel evangelical voters, might rush into an overly forgiving new deal with Iran, many Israelis fret.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

In the homestretch of the presidential election, the Biden campaign has dominated the paid media landscape.

On television and radio, the Biden campaign spent $66.2 million over the past week — from Oct. 23 to Oct. 30 — while the Trump campaign spent only about $19.4 million, according to Advertising Analytics, an ad tracking firm. The Republican National Committee has helped to pick up some of some of the Trump campaign’s slack and has run about $16 million worth of ads during the same period.

The spending advantage for Democrats holds on Facebook, where the Biden campaign has spent roughly $9 million over the past week, and the Trump campaign has spent $4.4 million during the same stretch on the platform.

The yawning spending gap between the two campaigns with just 72 hours to go until Election Day has persisted during the final weeks of the presidential race, as the Biden campaign has enjoyed an influx of donations at a time the Trump campaign has experienced a cash crunch.

President Trump had at one point raised more than $1 billion dollars for his re-election and had a fund-raising head start on Democrats. But that financial advantage has disappeared, and Joseph R. Biden Jr. entered October with roughly triple the funds at his disposal as Mr. Trump: $177 million to $63.1 million. The Biden campaign has leveraged that cash advantage on the airwaves, going up with ads as Mr. Trump’s team has slashed its ad spending budget.

Credit…Bridget Bennett for The New York Times

A federal judge on Friday ordered the U.S. Postal Service to implement “extraordinary measures” in 22 districts across the country — including several in battleground states — where on-time delivery of ballots has dipped below a rate of 90 percent for two days this week.

The postal districts in need of extra measures, according to Washington, D.C., District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, included Atlanta, central Pennsylvania, Detroit, Greater Michigan, Greensboro in North Carolina and Lakeland in Wisconsin — all key battleground areas in the presidential race between President Trump and his Democratic challenger, Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Nationally, more than 54 million mail ballots have been returned to election officials, while more than 36 million remain outstanding, according to the nonprofit U.S. Elections Project.

Judge Sullivan also ordered the Postal Service to file with the court “explanations for the current level of service and any corrective measures that are now being implemented.”

In a filing on Friday, the Postal Service said that staffing issues resulting from the coronavirus pandemic were causing problems in some facilities, including in central Pennsylvania and Detroit. Only 78 percent of employees are available, according to the filing.

“At the same time that staffing unavailability has become a factor, there has been an increased volume in package and market dominant products,” lawyers for the Postal Service wrote. “The Postal Service has worked diligently to employ corrective measures to resolve these issues.”

Figures reported by the service in court filings show that the nationwide figure for on-time delivery of mail ballots has bounced around this week, from 89 percent on Tuesday to 97 percent on Wednesday, amid wide variations in individual regions.

However, a video purportedly taken inside a Homestead, Fla., post office in disarray went viral on Friday, after Kionne McGhee, a candidate for Miami-Dade County commissioner and the Democratic minority leader in the Florida House of Representatives, posted it on Twitter. The video shows numerous bins of undelivered mail piled on top of one other.

Judge Sullivan instructed the Postal Service to look into the video during a hearing on Friday.

Katherine Fernández Rundle, the Democratic state attorney in Miami-Dade County, said in a statement that she had requested an audit of all the county’s postal distribution centers, and asked that any ballots in the centers be taken immediately to the Department of Elections.

To try to alleviate Democrats’ fears, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy — who has disputed criticism that he is trying to sabotage the election — authorized new measures this week that include “expedited handling, extra deliveries and special pickups” to accelerate ballot delivery.

Still, the Postal Service has contested claims that states have a protected right to certain delivery standards. In a separate court case against the Postal Service, the U.S. Department of Justice argued that states did not have a constitutional right to expect “a certain level of service” from the agency, which was reported on Tuesday by Bloomberg.

Patricia Mazzei contributed reporting.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

At a rally in Michigan on Friday, President Trump repeated an extraordinary and unfounded claim that American doctors were profiteering from coronavirus deaths.

“You know our doctors get more money if somebody dies from Covid,” Mr. Trump said, adding that in Germany and other countries, deaths are characterized differently if there appear to be multiple causes.

“With us, when in doubt, choose Covid,” he said.

Medical professionals and organizations quickly decried those comments and lauded the work of nurses, doctors and other health care workers, many of whom have risked their lives and worried about the health of their families as they cared for people who were infected with the coronavirus.

“The suggestion that doctors — in the midst of a public health crisis — are overcounting Covid-19 patients or lying to line their pockets is a malicious, outrageous and completely misguided charge,” said Susan R. Bailey, the president of the American Medical Association, in a statement on Friday.

“Rather than attacking us and lobbing baseless charges at physicians, our leaders should be following the science and urging adherence to the public health steps we know work — wearing a mask, washing hands and practicing physical distancing,” she added.

At a stop in Minnesota on Friday, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. brought up Mr. Trump’s accusation as he assailed the president over his handling of the pandemic.

“Doctors and nurses go to work every day to save lives,” Mr. Biden said “They do their jobs. Donald Trump should stop attacking them and do his job.”

The United States recorded over 99,000 coronavirus cases on Friday, a level reached for the first time since the pandemic began, as well as more than 970 deaths.

Michigan is one of a number of Midwestern states, including Illinois and Ohio, that are experiencing swift, alarming rises in case counts. This week, it recorded a 88 percent increase in new cases from the average two weeks earlier.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump has often declared that the virus was vanishing — even as case counts soared — and attacked Democratic governors and other local officials for keeping public-health restrictions in place.

Last weekend in Wisconsin, another state with a surging caseload, Mr. Trump said that “doctors get more money and hospitals get more money” for reporting more deaths linked to the coronavirus.

That prompted a backlash from organizations including the Society of Hospital Medicine, the Council of Medical Specialty Societies and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

“These baseless claims not only do a disservice to our health care heroes but promulgate the dangerous wave of misinformation which continues to hinder our nation’s efforts to get the pandemic under control and allow our nation to return to normalcy,” the American College of Emergency Physicians said in a statement.

Mitch Smith contributed reporting.

Credit…Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via Associated Press

Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, whose early efforts to lift pandemic restrictions in his state were deemed too hasty even for President Trump, has quarantined himself after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, his office said.

The governor spoke at a mask-optional “Make America Great Again” event on Tuesday in Manchester, Ga.; another speaker at the rally, Representative Drew Ferguson, a Georgia Republican, announced Friday that he had tested positive for the virus.

Mr. Kemp was exposed “within the last 48 hours to an individual who recently tested positive” and will be quarantining, the governor’s office said in a statement Friday. The governor tested negative for the virus, the statement said.

It is not clear if Mr. Ferguson was the infected individual the governor’s statement was referring to, but he did interact with Mr. Kemp more than once this week, according to local press accounts.

Pictures of the pro-Trump event, during which Mr. Kemp touted his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, show dozens of attendees standing close together at an outdoor venue, with many not wearing masks.

The event was intended to counter Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s socially distanced campaign appearance in nearby Warm Springs. No infections have been reported in the wake of the Biden event.

Mr. Trump has mocked his opponent for employing social-distance circles at his speeches, including the one at the spa town in Georgia, which was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s favorite vacation and rehabilitation site.

Mr. Ferguson said he had cold-like symptoms on Thursday night, but he downplayed the danger to people he has encountered since contracting the illness. The LaGrange Daily News reported that Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Kemp had appeared together again Thursday night at an indoor campaign event for a local candidate in Hogansville.

“While the vast majority of my recent schedule has been virtual, we are beginning the process of reaching out to anyone I have seen in recent days,” said Mr. Ferguson, adding that he was well enough to work from home.

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Trump’s Campaign Is Building an Army of Poll Watchers. What Can They Actually Do?

President Trump and his campaign have been calling for an army of poll watchers on Election Day. What is poll watching, and when does it cross the line? We look at how a federal consent decree restricted the Republican Party for decades, and why its expiration could make a difference in 2020.

This year, as the president has been talking about— “Fraud like you’ve never seen. They have these fake ballots. They’re trying to rig an election, and we can’t let that happen. I hope you’re all going to be poll watchers.” “His language has taken on an almost militaristic tone.” “Go into the polls and watch very carefully. Be poll watchers when you go there. Watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing they do.” There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in U.S. elections. Still, the president talks about recruiting an army of poll watchers. “It’s taken on such an aggressive nature in a way that we’ve kind of never seen before. It’s very frightening to election officials.” “It paints poll watching with a veneer of antagonism, combat and not in the spirit of protecting our elections.” But it’s more than just rhetoric. This year, the Republican Party can throw its full weight behind the president’s poll watching operations in ways we haven’t seen for nearly 40 years. To understand why, let’s take a trip back in time — “Wherever I go, people ask me what a New Jersey vacation is like” — to a governor’s race in New Jersey in 1981. “When I ran in that election, it was a very interesting election, to say the least.” This was the Democratic candidate James Florio. And here he is now. “That’s a long time ago, that’s 40 years ago.” The race was an early referendum on the Reagan administration. “I like Tom Kean.” “Kean has endorsed Reaganomics and proposed cuts in state taxes on business. The Democratic candidate, Congressman James Florio, attacks both Reagan’s and Kean’s economic plan.” “We thought it would be an election on the merits of the issues” — “revitalizing our railroads, cleaning up toxic waste, strengthening law enforcement” — “turned out that was not all involving the merits.” It was the closest fought election in the history of the state. But as it turns out, it wasn’t a clean fight. “Election day yielded some surprises to a lot of people who went to the polls because people saw off duty policemen with armbands that said ‘members of the Ballot Security Task Force.’” “That’s the Republican group, which according to state Democrats, intimidated some minority voters.” “It looked very official. And they were standing there with their guns.” “They obstructed voters from casting ballots. But also they obstructed access by poll workers.” More than 200 task force members showed up at the polls, confronting voters in Democratic strongholds. They were in Newark but not in Short Hills. They were in Trenton but not Princeton. And Camden but not in Cherry Hill. “If you look at the demographics of the neighborhoods that were targeted for these efforts, they were all predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhoods. White voters were not targeted in the same way at all.” “So it was clear that they’re not concerned about ballot integrity. They’re concerned about intimidation. It was a very clever, sinister initiative.” In the end, Florio lost by a razor thin margin. “1,797 votes out of 2.3 million votes. The intimidation had an impact on the outcome of the election.” “It’s a case of sour grapes from Democrats that don’t know how to take defeat.” But this wasn’t just a local effort. Investigations suggested that the task force was organized and paid for by the Republican National Committee. “A covert operation that was at the very least intentionally misleading and resulted in technical violations of our election laws.” Democrats sued the R.N.C. for violating the Voting Rights Act. The R.N.C. was forced to enter into a federal consent decree that would restrict them for years to come. “For the better part of the past four decades, the Republican National Party has been under a consent decree that has limited their ability to coordinate some of these poll watching activities.” “So it created a mechanism that deterred any additional voter intimidation and also created a check on future R.N.C. efforts that might target minority communities.” Under the terms of the consent decree, the R.N.C. had to get court approval for poll watching plans. The party tried unsuccessfully to get out of it for many years. “And they were found to be in violation of the consent decree at least three times since it was put into place.” Then in 2017, the court allowed the consent decree to expire, setting up a different kind of fight in 2020. “This will be the first presidential election where we will see the Republican National Party operating a poll watching operation without the consent decree hovering over their heads. Now that it has been lifted, it looks like there is going to be a more organized and a bigger poll watching operation coming out of the Republican National Party.” Republicans say they’re training more than 50,000 poll watchers in at least 15 battleground states. They’ve released a series of carefully worded training presentations for volunteers. “Poll watchers are the first line of defense for President Trump. Be courteous to county staff and other watchers. Yes, even our Democrat friends. Do not speak with voters and do not interfere with the orderly conduct of the voting process.” Their presence at the polls is perfectly legal if they follow the rules. In early voting this year, there have been a few potential violations. Pennsylvania’s attorney general called out illegal surveillance of a ballot dropbox in Philadelphia. And local news in Florida reported on two armed private security guards who posted themselves near an early voting site. “Two armed security guards showed up outside of the downtown St. Pete early voting location.” “Pretty much ever since the president has been calling on his supporters to watch the polls, election officials and law enforcement agencies across the country have kind of been preparing for what may be an influx of people who don’t know the rules and regulations of poll watching.” In a statement, the R.N.C. said its poll watchers have received rigorous training to follow state laws and are not there to be intimidating. “The big unknown is exactly how big and how widespread the deployment of these poll watchers will be and whether they will have any kind of marching orders from the Republican Party or the Trump campaign to really question a bunch of voters’ eligibility or whether they’ll just kind of follow the more traditional ways.” Ultimately, the consent decree offered a legal shortcut to stop the R.N.C.’s poll watching operations if they crossed the line. “What’s important to keep in mind is that the tactics that were unlawful in 1980 are just as unlawful in 2020. There has never been permission for any political party or any private party to engage in racially targeted voter intimidation or voter intimidation of any sort. And so we’re not without protection. We’re not without tools to combat it. But we do have one less in our arsenal.” “If we see a resumption of the same type of thing this time, we’ll have to go back to court. I can be authoritatively the person that can be definitive and say that small margins make a big difference.”

Video player loadingPresident Trump and his campaign have been calling for an army of poll watchers on Election Day. What is poll watching, and when does it cross the line? We look at how a federal consent decree restricted the Republican Party for decades, and why its expiration could make a difference in 2020.

President Trump and his campaign have been calling for an army of poll watchers on Election Day. And with the expiration of a decades-old court order, the Republican Party can throw its full weight behind the president’s poll-watching operations nationwide.

The R.N.C. says its poll watchers are carefully trained, but the campaign’s rhetoric has raised fears of voter intimidation, like the kind that lead to the original court order. Back in 1981, the Republican National Committee paid and organized armed, off-duty police officers to patrol polling stations in minority neighborhoods in New Jersey. Democrats sued, and got the R.N.C. to enter into a consent decree in 1982, restricting the party’s poll watching efforts for 35 years.

It expired in 2017, making 2020 the first presidential election without this extra layer of protection. Voter intimidation remains illegal, but without the consent decree the main challenge is litigation, which could take years.

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