Voting 2020 updates: Early-voting New Hampshire towns split presidential vote; GOP suffers courtroom losses in Texas, Nevada; 160M to vote?

John Bacon, Jorge L. Ortiz and Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY

Early voting numbers have been historic, but this presidential election could drag on well beyond Election Day as lawyers line up across the nation to challenge voting rules and individual votes.

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.

More updates: Follow USA TODAY's live coverage of voting issues on Election Day

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 premier 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 to be 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 97 million people have already voted.

Harris County, Texas, to close nine of 10 drive-thru vote centers Tuesday

Harris County, Texas, is going to close nine of its 10 drive-thru voting locations Tuesday despite having won a court victory on Monday that ensures almost 127,000 Houston-area votes will be counted, pending an appeal.

County Clerk Chris Hollins tweeted that although he believes drive-thru voting is "a safe and convenient option for Harris County voters," he noted U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen's belief that the tents used for most of the voting locations do not qualify as buildings, as required to be polling places.

"I cannot in good faith encourage voters to cast their ballots in tents if that puts their votes at risk," Hollins wrote. The only drive-thru voting center will be the Toyota Center.

Two early-voting New Hampshire towns split between Trump, Biden

Two tiny New Hampshire communities that vote for president just after the stroke of midnight on Election Day cast their ballots — and split for their favorites.

Dixville Notch cast five votes for former Vice President Joe Biden in a shutout for President Donald Trump. But in Millsfield, 12 miles to the south, Trump won 16 votes to Biden’s five.

Unlike past years, a crush of media couldn't watch the results revealed because of concerns about having too many people inside due to the coronavirus pandemic. And a third community, Hart’s Location, decided against midnight voting this year because of the virus.

– Chris Woodyard

Federal judge rejects GOP request to invalidate 127K votes in Houston area

A federal judge in Texas on Monday rejected an attempt by a group of Republicans in Harris County to throw out almost 127,000 votes cast at drive-through early-voting sites, ruling the plaintiffs waited too long to challenge the legality of the voting innovation prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

In dismissing the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen also said the Republicans lacked the standing to sue because their complaint – that Harris County was breaking the law – alleged a general harm that did not particularly affect them. The Republicans are appealing.

The Texas Supreme Court on Sunday rejected a similar petition to invalidate the votes.

– Chuck Lindell, Austin American-Statesman

Department of Justice will be watching: monitors at 44 jurisdictions

The increased concerns about voter intimidation this year are not lost on the Department of Justice.

The DOJ said Monday it would send monitors to 44 jurisdictions in 18 states to keep an eye on possible violations of voting rights laws at Tuesday's election. The department will also take complaints through its call center -- 800-253-3931 -- and website, https://civilrights.justice.gov.

Not surprisingly, the list of voting sites where the DOJ will have monitors includes battleground states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona, but also less contested states like California, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

“Our federal laws protect the right of all American citizens to vote without suffering discrimination, intimidation, and harassment,'' said Eric S. Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, which he said aims to "ensure that all of our citizens can freely exercise this most fundamental American right.”

Nevada judge rejects GOP demand for camera to record vote counting

A Nevada judge on Monday rejected efforts by President Donald Trump's campaign and the state's Republican party to stop processing mail-in ballots in Clark County, home to Las Vegas and most of the state's population.

The plaintiffs claimed in a lawsuit that they could not properly observe all aspects of the ballot-counting process and wanted a camera installed to record it. Carson City Judge James Wilson turned down that request, writing, “There is no evidence of any debasement or dilution of any citizen’s vote.”

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford welcomed Wilson's decision, saying, "Today's ruling makes clear that there is a proper procedure to observe an election that even the president must follow.''

Illegal voting in battleground Wisconsin? It's not a thing

Amid the nationwide paranoia over voting fraud, a study of illegal voting in Wisconsin determined that it pretty much just doesn't happen. The Wisconsin Elections Commission identified 158 suspected cases referred to 46 county prosecutors from 2016 to 2018. Even if all of them were actually illegal votes, the number is a minute fraction of ballots cast. The highest number of referrals came in the 2018 general election after the elections commission expanded its capability to detect fraud. The 58 suspected cases out of 2.7 million votes cast represents 0.002% of all votes, or about 1 in every 46,000. Most of the issues, it turned out, were from errors and not fraud.

"In case after case and time after time, allegations of material numbers of people intentionally committing vote fraud, they just don’t withstand any scrutiny,” said Kenneth Mayer, professor of American politics at the University of Wisconsin.

Eric Litke, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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 Texas, a caravan of vehicles displaying Trump campaign flags and signs swarmed a Biden campaign bus Friday, leading the Democrats on board to call 911 and cancel an Austin stop. Trump defended his backers, but the FBI is investigating.

  • 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.

In Oregon, few concerns about counting mail votes

While national elections analysts are cautioning voters that there may not be definitive winners on Election Night because of the preponderance of mail ballots, the picture will likely be much clearer in Oregon, which votes only by mail. The state's experience with vote-by-mail elections allows officials to routinely announce a significant number of ballots immediately after polls close. Late afternoon or early evening on Election Day, vote tallies are taken via flash drive to a secure computer with different software and uploaded to the county's and Secretary of State's results webpages.

“A paper ballot is verifiable," Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement urging Oregonians to vote. "It’s safe. You don’t have to put your health or your life at risk to participate.”

Bill Poehler, Salem Statesman Journal

Voting rights marchers in North Carolina 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," the Rev. Gregory Drumwright, who organized Saturday's march, said 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 for a demonstration 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.

– 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 since Wednesday 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, according to 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 have 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 about 21,000 mail-in ballots had been flagged in Florida because of signature problems, and only a third of them had been fixed.

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.

Expert projects 160M Americans will vote in 2020 election, 67% turnout

Michael McDonald, the University of Florida professor behind the U.S. Elections Project, for months has been estimating that 150 million people will vote. In recent days he has upped the ante.

"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.

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 problems, updates: Texas judge keeps ballots; many lawyers