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With three days until Election Day, more than 90 million people have already voted – more than two-thirds of the total votes counted in the 2016 general election, according to Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida who runs the U.S. Elections Project.
"The numbers are stunning," McDonald said in an update on his website this week. "The pace of some states' early voting is such that with almost certainty states will begin surpassing their total 2016 total vote this week."
One such voter who talked to USA TODAY this week: Barbara Duvall who at age 99 survived COVID-19, pneumonia and five days in the hospital. She voted for the very first time last week.
"I guess I didn't have time before because of my kids, my husband and our family. I stayed with them," she said. "I decided this time that I wanted the right man in there." Read the full story.
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 from this week:
"I can’t ask people to vote if I don’t vote": What Shaquille O'Neal told USA TODAY Sports for a story about what led four professional athletes to cast their first ballots.
Voters in jail often rely on outside civic groups to register them. Many of those initiatives were limited this year due to the coronavirus, disenfranchising hundreds of thousands.
Voting is widely billed as a patriotic duty, but it can be a confusing one, filled with unfamiliar rules and terms. Here are some important terms to brush up on.
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.
Know your voting rights: If you encounter intimidation at the polls on Election Day, here's what to do.
Legal battles are happening on a massive scale: A record-setting number of lawsuits have been filed this year, with even more likely after the polls close. More than 230 election-related federal lawsuits were filed from Jan. 1 to Oct. 23, higher than any of the past three presidential election years during the same time period, a USA TODAY analysis of federal court data found.
After backlash, Missouri polling place covers noose in exhibit
A historical exhibit featuring a replica of the noose used in Missouri’s last legal hanging drew fire Friday from Democrats who said its presence near polls amounted to racist “voter intimidation.”
The exhibit in the Stone County Courthouse, which also features other artifacts and newspaper clippings about the 1937 execution of Roscoe Jackson, a white man convicted of murder, first drew notice more than a week ago.
A voter who found the display offensive took a photo and provided it to federal civil rights enforcement and state Democratic Party officials. Democratic officials in turn provided the photo to news outlets Friday and released multiple statements demanding the noose's removal.
Mark Maples, Stone County’s presiding commissioner, said the noose is part of a collection of items from a historic event that happened right outside the courthouse. It has been covered by a brown sheet of paper, which he said would remain through Election Day.
“It never once entered our minds as an intimidation issue,” Maples said. “We just don’t think that way.”
— Austin Huguelet, Springfield News-Leader
Texas event canceled after Biden bus swarmed by Trump supporters
A caravan of vehicles displaying Trump campaign flags swarmed a Biden campaign bus between San Antonio and Austin on Friday afternoon, leading the Democrats on board, including congressional candidate Wendy Davis, to call 911 and cancel the Austin close of their “Battle for the Soul of the Nation” tour.
According to the Biden campaign, the vehicles with Trump signs and flags surrounded the bus trying to slow it down in the middle of the highway or run it off the road.
“Rather than engage in productive conversation about the drastically different visions that Joe Biden and Donald Trump have for our country, Trump supporters in Texas instead decided to put our staff, surrogates, supporters, and others in harm’s way,” Tariq Thowfeek, Texas communications director of the Biden campaign, said in a statement Saturday.
No one was injured. No one was arrested. It is evident on a video of the incident that there was a glancing but obvious contact between a black Trump pickup and a white car apparently being driven behind the bus by a Biden campaign staffer, but no apparent serious or disabling damage.
On Saturday, Trump shared an edited video that appears to be of the incident, tweeting "I love Texas!" in all caps.
— Jonathan Tilove, Austin American-Statesman
Undelivered ballots found at Florida post office
Postal and law enforcement officials are investigating after four dozen mail-in ballots were found undelivered at a post office in Florida.
U.S. Postal Service Office investigators said Saturday they found six completed ballots and 42 blank ballots among piles of undelivered mail in a post office near Homestead on the Florida peninsula’s southern tip. Video taken by a postal worker shows they had been sitting there for more than a week.
Miami-Dade County elections officials said Saturday that 18 of the affected voters have already cast ballots in person at an early voting site or through a replacement mail-in ballot. The department has received the six completed ballots and is contacting the remaining 24 voters to help them get their ballots returned by the 7 p.m. Tuesday deadline.
The investigation was launched Friday after Florida House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee tweeted video taken by a postal worker of the piles of undelivered mail.
— The Associated Press
Police pepper spray mostly Black voting rights marchers in North Carolina, make arrests
A peaceful protest to get out the vote in Graham, North Carolina, turned chaotic Saturday after local police twice pepper sprayed marchers.
"This incident is unacceptable," tweeted North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. "Peaceful demonstrators should be able to have their voices heard and voter intimidation in any form cannot be tolerated."
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 doused them with pepper spray while telling the civil rights group to get out of the street. A reporter with the BurlingtonTimes-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.
After the police stopped spraying, they let marchers gather at the town square and set up and speak on stage. After 45 minutes, Graham police began arresting people on the fringes of the event, apparently who were just listening. And the Alamance Sheriff's Office deputies arrived. A tussle on stage ensued as officers tried to confiscate the audio equipment and speakers. A dozen or more people were arrested roughly and spray was used.
– Dean-Paul Stephens and Rachel Berry, Times-News
Federal judge: USPS must take 'extraordinary measures' to deliver ballots
A federal judge on Friday ordered the U.S. Postal Service to implement "extraordinary measures" to ensure that ballots are delivered by Election Day in 22 districts in more than a dozen states, where deliveries are lagging.
District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ordered the postal service to provide a written explanation for each district that delivered fewer than 80% of ballots on time each day, or fewer than 90% of ballots on time for two days in the same week.
Across the U.S. as of Saturday afternoon, more than 57 million of the mail-in ballots requested had been returned, and more than 33 million were outstanding, according to McDonald, the Florida professor who runs the U.S. Elections Project.
Heading into election week, the USA TODAY Network's effort to measure mail efficiency showed high rates of on-time delivery in some swing states but continuing signs of problems in others. Of 62 packages mailed since Oct. 13, a dozen took more than the three-day shipping standard set forth by the post office. Five took a week or more.
Last day for early voting in 5 states
Early, in-person voting ends Saturday in New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia and West Virginia, as well as in several Florida counties.
New Mexico had reported more than 700,000 early votes Saturday morning, according to McDonald.
"NM is at 93.2% of its 2016 total vote. I did not have NM going over 2016 on my bingo card," McDonald said on Twitter. "Today is the last day of in-person early voting, and there are still some mail ballots outstanding."
North Carolina had reported more than 4.3 million votes so far, Oklahoma more than 300,000, Virginia more than 2.5 million, and West Virginia more than 100,000, according to McDonald.
Six-hour wait time for voters in Greenville, South Carolina
There was a six-hour wait for the last person in line to vote just before 10 a.m. Saturday at County Square in Greenville, South Carolina. The line stretched twice the length of the buildings before snaking through a parking lot on the eastern side of the complex.
Voters will likely find much shorter waits if they elect to vote on Tuesday, said Conway Belangia, the county's elections director. There will be 151 precincts open in the county — not only the one at County Square.
With in-person absentee voting available to any registered voter thanks to the pandemic, South Carolina and other states have shattered early voting records. More than 1.1 million people in South Carolina had cast absentee ballots by Thursday night, and that was already twice the record 503,000 cast in 2016.
– Elizabeth LaFleur, Greenville News
New York county early voting hours extended, following state Supreme Court ruling
Early voting hours have been extended this weekend at all four Rockland County, New York, locations and signage offering accommodations for voters who require them is being added, following a lawsuit by the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Polls will be open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. — an extra two-and-a-half hours — both Saturday and Sunday at the Clarkstown, Haverstraw, Orangetown and Ramapo town halls, said Rockland's Democratic elections commissioner, Kristen Zebrowski Stavisky.
Stavisky's efforts to have the hours extended were thwarted when her Republican counterpart, Patricia Giblin, opposed the move. But state Supreme Court Justice Rolph Thorsen issued his ruling late Friday afternoon in support of the Civil Liberties Union's legal action. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Spring Valley and Nyack branches of the NAACP and several individual voters.
– Robert Brum and Nancy Cutler, Rockland/Westchester Journal News
This North Carolina county struggles to find polling places
Polling place pickings are slim in Halifax County, a largely rural county in the Roanoke River basin near the Virginia border where more than half the residents are Black, according to U.S. Census numbers.
In poor, rural counties like Halifax, election challenges loom large. Not only are there no stadiums to serve as polling places, but there often are not enough suitable, well-located public buildings that work either. Distances are vast, and poll worker positions are hard to fill.
Since 2012, Halifax County has reduced the number of Election Day polling places by nearly a quarter, from 25 to 19, a Center for Public Integrity/Stateline analysis of polling place data found. Voters saw the average distance to their polling place increase about four-tenths of a mile between 2012 and 2018 — the second-largest jump in the state after Cleveland County, on the South Carolina border. Read more here.
– Matt Vasilogambros, Tim Henderson, Carrie Levine and Pratheek Rebala, Stateline and The Center for Public Integrity
Native voters still find obstacles, but advocates work to remove barriers
There are multiple challenges affecting Native voters, including the lack of traditional mailing addresses and unequal access to early-voting sites.
Patty Ferguson Bohnee, the director of the Indian Law Clinic at ASU, said fewer than half of people who live on tribal lands have access to broadband internet, and that impedes access to the polls. Native voters are also faced with isolating conditions, language barriers and various socioeconomic disparities.
But advocates are working to remove barriers. The Arizona Native Vote Elections Protection Project works with the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, the National Congress of American Indians, and the Native American Bar Association of Arizona on ways to address Native voting issues.
– Shondiin Silversmith, Arizona Republic
What led these professional athletes to cast their first ballots?
Many athletes are longtime voters, but there are plenty of others who will be casting a ballot for the first time.
"I don’t like being a hypocrite if I’m asking everybody to vote and enact change," Basketball Hall of Fame player, NBA broadcaster and first-time voter Shaquille O'Neal told USA TODAY Sports. "I can’t ask people to vote if I don’t vote."
Some athletes have been motivated to vote for the first time by this summer's social justice movement or a specific issue they want to support. Others say they've come to see voting as a civic duty. And some are only just now eligible to vote, either due to their age or citizenship status.
USA TODAY Sports spoke with four athletes who are casting their first ballots in a presidential election — and why they're voting. Read more.
– Tom Schad and Nancy Armour
Early votes in Texas surpass total cast in 2016 with Election Day still to go
Early voting has surged to unprecedented levels in the 2020 election, especially in Texas where the number of early votes has already surpassed the total number of ballots cast four years ago.
According to the Texas Secretary of State office, 8,969,226 out of 15,101,087 registered voters cast ballots in the entire 2016 general election. The official vote count in Texas through Thursday is already at 9,009,850 – with a full day of early voting and Election Day left.
Voters in Texas do not register by party, so the early returns don't indicate whether the high numbers favor Democrats or Republicans. Polling indicates a very tight race in the Lone Star State, which Trump won four years ago by nine percentage points.
The number of early votes in Hawaii has also surpassed the state's total in 2016. More than 484,000 Hawaiians have already voted this year, according to McDonald, about 60,000 more than votes cast in 2016.
– William Cummings
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.
Florida early voting site closes because of COVID-19 among election workers
A Palm Bay, Florida, early voting site has been closed after election workers there tested positive for COVID-19, Brevard County Supervisor of Elections Lori Scott announced Friday.
The affected site is at the supervisor of elections' Palm Bay administrative offices, 450 Cogan Drive SE, which also is temporarily closed.
Citing the "stringent safety protocols" in place since the March presidential preference primary, Scott said: "It is a tribute to our strict safety measures that we have been able to process almost a half a million voters through the election process this year before having our first positive case.”
Early in-person voting continues from 8 am. to 6 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and voters were urged to visit other early voting sites in the area. (You can follow Saturday's coronavirus news here.)
– Dave Berman, Florida Today
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
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 to not just the election, but also voting.
From the Associated Press: More voting headlines that should be on your radar.
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Contributing: Ryan Miller, Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Voting 2020 news, updates: Texas voter numbers; COVID at Florida poll