Voting across the US live updates: Texas court rejects GOP petition; North Carolina voting rights marchers pepper-sprayed; 93M have voted

John Bacon, Grace Hauck and Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY

Just two days from Nov. 3, at least 93 million people have already votedabout 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.

Early, in-person voting ended Saturday in five states and was scheduled to end Sunday in Florida, New York and Wisconsin. A voting rights protest in North Carolina devolved into a clash with police and arrests were made. Historic early vote totals in Texas have Democrats dreaming big.

FOLLOW MONDAY'S UPDATES: More news on voting around the US

Look for an increase in younger women working at polling sites Tuesday. Many older people are declining the volunteer work because of COVID-19 and other concerns, so younger women are filling the void.

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, turned chaotic Saturday after local police twice pepper sprayed marchers.

  • A federal judge has 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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, and even more are 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.

Texas Supreme Court nixes GOP attempt at invalidating 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.

Police pepper-spray voting rights marchers in North Carolina

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 fired pepper spray while telling the civil rights group to get out of the street. Police said participants were blocking the roadway without authorization. Eight were arrested.

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.

Police said in a statement that pepper spray was fired onto the ground, not at protesters. Others said children and a woman on an electric scooter were among those hit by the pepper spray.

"With my own eyes, I saw someone from the Sheriff’s Office attack someone in one of those electric scooters'' with pepper spray, said local attorney Jamie Paulen said. “That person wasn’t doing anything."

A tussle on stage ensued as officers tried to confiscate the audio equipment and speakers. A dozen or more people were arrested.

– Dean-Paul Stephens and Rachel Berry, Times-News

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 county with the next-lowest return rate, Fayette, has received 50% of requested ballots.

The U.S. Postal Service has been asked to immediately investigate. A USPS spokesperson said the agency is “unaware of any significant delays or issues.”

Jamie Martines, Spotlight PA

Some New Orleans polling sites may still be dark Tuesday after Hurricane Zeta

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said as many as 11 precincts could still be without power Tuesday after Hurricane Zeta knocked out electricity to large parts of the state Wednesday, which could impact the election.

The Democratic mayor has been engaged in a war of words with Louisiana's Republican secretary of state, Kyle Ardoin, over who's responsible for supplying generators to polling sites that haven't regained electricity. Ardoin said in a statement Saturday that polling places without power would receive generators for Election Day, but it did not specify whether that would be a state or local responsibility.

Zeta initially left about 2.5 million homes and businesses without electricity, the majority in the southeastern U.S., but most of them have gotten power back.

Joe Biden supporter in New Jersey finds threatening flier on windshield

A Joe Biden supporter in Spring Lake, New Jersey, filed a complaint with police after finding what he considers a threatening flier on the windshield of his car Friday after he parked with a “Veterans for Biden’’ sign on the rear window.

On the front of the flier was a firing-range outline of a human body riddled with bullet holes, said John Clark, 73, who said he served in Vietnam from 1970 to '71. On the back of the flier, someone had printed in all capital letters, “I AM A VET FOR TRUMP.’’

“People don’t go around providing bullet-riddled body profiles – you don’t hand them out as party favors,’’ Clark said in a phone interview Saturday. “I consider it a threat, a serious threat, and I consider it voter intimidation.’’

– Kathleen Hopkins, Asbury Park Press

Boom in voting raises hopes among Texas Democrats

A record number of ballots cast during the early voting period in Texas has Democrats optimistic the party could make inroads in the rock-solid Republican state. More people voted early this year in Texas than voted in the entire 2016 presidential election, including on Election Day. Recent polling has shown President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden running neck-and-neck in Texas, and the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, a leading election forecasting site, moved the state from "lean Republican" to "toss up." Still, Democrats can't get too comfortable.

"We don’t have a whole lot of experience with Texas as a battleground state," wrote Amy Walter, a Cook Political Report staff writer. "Neither do national pollsters."

– Madlin Mekelburg and Nicole Cobler, Austin American-Statesman

The country needs poll workers. Young women are stepping up.

Across the country, retired women – who experts estimate have made up the bulk of poll workers – are taking a step back from the seasonal work that has long been critical to running America’s decentralized election system. Age data reported for 53% of poll workers in 2016 showed that 56% were older than 60. There is no comprehensive data on the gender of poll workers, but researchers believe women have led the charge.

This year, some election groups have warned of a growing shortage of poll workers, and long lines during the primaries in states such as Georgia and Wisconsin put a spotlight on their absence. Young women have begun to take up the mantle. Read more here.

– Barbara Rodriguez, The 19th

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 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

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 that 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 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 after Florida House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee tweeted video taken by a postal worker of the piles of undelivered mail.

Michigan again a target of election disinformation

Disinformation tactics used to mislead voters are continuing and evolving just days before the presidential election. What role disinformation may play on Election Day in Michigan isn’t yet clear, but in the four years since the last presidential election, questions still linger about how social media changes what happens in the voting booth. Some strategies from 2016 seem to be continuing, including targeting minority groups with messages meant to discourage them from voting.

After the 2016 presidential election in Michigan, proof of Russia’s deliberate attempt to mislead U.S. voters through a coordinated disinformation campaign on social media began to emerge. Michigan was one of nine states that two Russian agents visited in June 2014 as part of an intelligence-gathering mission, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Read more here.

– Ashley Nerbovig, Detroit Free Press

Black voters could make all the difference in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is a top prize for President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, and some activists say Black voters could prove crucial to deciding who wins the presidential race and earns the state's 20 electoral votes. Organizers expect social unrest, the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on communities of color and the renewed national focus on civil rights for Black Americans will spur more Black voters to show up at the polls in Pennsylvania than in 2016.

"There's a lot of energy out there,’" said Stephanie Young, chief officer for communications and culture for When We All Vote, a nonprofit civic engagement group launched in 2018 by Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda and others. "All of the circumstances that we've been faced with this year have really created a more informed and more passionate and a more engaged electorate."

To activate those voters, groups are hosting socially distant rallies featuring local artists, running phone banks from home, setting up voter information booths at outdoor events and leading caravans through Black neighborhoods.

– Deborah Barfield Berry

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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Contributing: Joel Shannon, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Voting 2020: Texas court nixes GOP move; NC marchers pepper sprayed