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Live Updates of the 2020 Presidential Election: Trump vs. Biden


Credit…Brittany Greeson for The New York Times

Whatever the outcome, the 2020 election is already one for the history books, with an astonishing 96 million ballots already submitted through in-person early voting and by mail — more than two-thirds of the number of votes cast in the entire 2016 election.

As of Monday, the day before Election Day, with some states still holding early voting, 35 million people had voted in person and 61 million had cast ballots by mail, according to the U.S. Elections Project, a nonpartisan website run by Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor who tracks county-level data.

Those numbers represent a tectonic shift away from one-day voting, the staple of the American electoral system for centuries.

And they make it likely that the total turnout for 2020 will break the record set in 2016, when nearly 139 million people voted.

They also create fresh uncertainty for two presidential campaigns facing the prospect of motivating a smaller, more-volatile reservoir of available voters to tap on Election Day itself.

Democrats, buoyed by polls showing Joseph R. Biden Jr. with small but durable leads in battleground states, have focused on turning out Black and Latino voters, who typically prefer voting in person, to offset an expected Election-Day surge by Trump supporters.

Texas and Hawaii have already surpassed their total 2016 voter turnout, and the battleground states of North Carolina, Georgia and Florida have topped 90 percent of their 2016 turnout.

In the 20 states that report the party registration of early voters, the elections project found that 45 percent of those who have voted early are registered Democrats, 30 percent are Republicans and 24 percent list no party affiliation.

Officials with both the Biden and Trump campaigns have viewed the split between early voters and Election-Day voters as highly partisan, with Democrats in most states making up a clear majority of early voters and Republicans, motivated by President Trump’s effort to undermine the legitimacy of mail-in balloting, waiting to show up to the polls.

The Trump campaign continues to wage an all-fronts fight in court to limit the time states have count ballots, while Democrats, citing the challenges posed by the pandemic, have pressed for more time and for looser scrutiny of ballot signatures that could invalidate some votes.

On Sunday, Mr. Trump falsely suggested that states like Pennsylvania, which can take days to count mail-in ballots, needed to complete vote counts on Election Day. He vowed to mount a legal challenge to the Pennsylvania vote.

“We’re going to go in the night of, as soon as that election’s over, we’re going in with our lawyers,” the president said.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times; Erin Schaff/The New York Times

President Trump, adopting a double-barreled closing strategy of maximizing uncertainty over the election and minimizing the pandemic, is vowing to mount a legal challenge to Pennsylvania’s vote count while threatening to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, the person Americans trust most to tell the truth on the coronavirus.

At a raucous late-night rally in Florida early Monday, Mr. Trump smiled as a crowd, many mask-less and crammed together, began chanting “Fire Fauci!” — a response to the epidemiologist’s repeated criticism of the administration’s downplaying of the deadly fall surge.

“Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait until a little bit after the election,” Mr. Trump said as the audience in Opa-locka erupted. “I appreciate the advice.”

Speaking to reporters earlier on Sunday, Mr. Trump vowed to mount a legal challenge in Pennsylvania even before all votes were counted, which could take days as mail-in ballots continue to arrive after the election.

“We’re going to go in the night of, as soon as that election is over, we’re going in with our lawyers,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Trump made his remarks during a frenetic five-rally day where he jumped from event to event, sowing uncertainty and stoking passions. He has scheduled another five rallies for today.

Election Day is usually a moment of tension and release, of anger and some bitterness, but also the closure that comes with watching Americans choose their next president.

But this campaign is ending on an unsettled and unsettling note. These dyspeptic final days have been marked by threats of violent skirmishes and street demonstrations in places like Beverly Hills. Store owners are putting plywood on their windows, anticipating a return of this summer’s unrest.

Democrats and Republicans are following every gyration of the last round of polls, looking for reasons for hope and posting anguished observations on Twitter and Facebook.

It is building up to an election night that seems increasingly unlikely to end with the customary punctation mark when one candidate concedes and the other declares victory.

President Trump has made it clear that he will not concede even if he appears to be losing — if, for example, Florida tilts to Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee. Mr. Trump has hinted he might even declare victory based on early results.

While voters who turn out on Election Day tend to skew Republican, the majority of mail-in ballots have been cast by Democrats, meaning that early returns may not accurately reflect the full vote.

The president, who has spent months undermining public confidence in the election system, said that he would also probably mount legal challenges in other states, including Nevada, because the governor there is a Democrat.

Mr. Trump repeated his desire that vote-counting stop after Election Day — something that has never been done in any presidential race in the country’s history.

Asked to comment on Mr. Trump’s attempts to undermine faith in the process on Sunday, Mr. Biden said, “The president is not going to steal this election.”

Joseph R. Biden Jr. kicked off the final day before the election with a foray into a state that for four years has been a symbol of Democratic disappointment: Ohio.

“Ohio: One more day!” Mr. Biden said at a drive-in rally at an airport hangar in Cleveland. “Tomorrow we have an opportunity to put an end to a presidency that’s divided this nation. Tomorrow we can put an end to a presidency that has failed to protect this nation. And tomorrow we can put an end to a presidency that’s fanned the flames of hate all across this country.”

“My message is simple,” Mr. Biden said. “The power to change the country is in your hands.”

His remarks there come amid record-setting early in-person voting in Cuyahoga County, a major Democratic county in a Trump-friendly state. Ohio, which helped deliver the presidency to Donald J. Trump in 2016, is still seen by many Democrats as a reach for Mr. Biden, who is otherwise expected to spend the day campaigning in nearby western Pennsylvania.

But his campaign is seeking to create as many pathways to 270 electoral votes as possible, and a number of officials on Mr. Biden’s team have personal connections to the state, including Steve Ricchetti, a top Biden adviser and Ohio native.

Mr. Biden also referenced the electoral success of Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, in a state that has become increasingly challenging for Democrats. “So when Sherrod tells me to come to Ohio the day before, I come to Ohio,” Mr. Biden said.

Ohio twice voted for the Obama-Biden ticket, Mr. Biden reminded voters on Monday.

“In 2008, 2012, you placed your trust in me and Barack,” Mr. Biden said. “In 2020 I’m asking you to trust me again. I’m proud of the coalition this campaign has built. We welcome Democrats, Republicans and independents.”

In his remarks, Mr. Biden took aim at Mr. Trump’s remarks on Sunday in which he appeared to entertain the idea of firing Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert.

“Elect me and I’m going to hire Dr. Fauci,” Mr. Biden said. “We’re going to fire Donald Trump.”

In his address in Ohio, Mr. Biden hit many of the same things he has been stressing for months, even years in some cases: that Mr. Trump’s divisive presidency poses a unique threat to the nation’s character, that he does not respect even members of the military, that he does not grasp the threat of climate change and that he has mishandled the pandemic at every turn.

“The first step to beating the virus,” Mr. Biden said, “is beating Donald Trump.”

Mr. Biden then headed to Pennsylvania, where he, Senator Kamala Harris and their spouses, Jill Biden and Doug Emhoff, are fanning out across the state, seeking to promote his message to a broad coalition of voters and, in some cases, also targeting their message toward key House districts.

Credit…Go Nakamura for The New York Times

After the Texas Supreme Court on Sunday denied an effort by Republicans to throw out more than 120,000 votes that had already been cast at drive-through locations in largely Democratic Houston, a hearing on a nearly identical federal suit is scheduled before a U.S. District Court judge this morning.

Democrats were hopeful that Sunday’s decision from the state court, which leans conservative, would bode well in the federal case, which was to be heard at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time by Judge Andrew S. Hanen of the Southern District of Texas, who was appointed by President George W. Bush.

The Republicans’ lawsuits contend that the 10 drive-through voting sites in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, are operating illegally and are arranged in locations that favor Democrats.

Texas has long been a Republican stronghold, but this year, the presidential race is close, with President Trump holding a slender lead over Joseph R. Biden Jr. and some polls showing the candidates tied.

The drive-through voting stations were put in place for the first time this year by Chris Hollins, the clerk for Harris County, which includes Houston, with unanimous approval by county commissioners, after being tested in a pilot program over the summer.

More than 127,000 voters have cast ballots at the sites, which were scheduled to stay open through Tuesday, said Susan Hays, a lawyer for Harris County. She described the Republicans’ suit as “voter suppression.”

“It’s nuts,” she said. “Votes should count.”

The plaintiffs, who include State Representative Steve Toth and the conservative activist Steve Hotze, argue that drive-through voting “is a violation of state and federal law and must be stopped.”

Sunday’s Texas Supreme Court ruling came without comment.

In a telephone interview on Saturday, Mr. Toth said that only the legislature had the authority to implement a drive-through voting system. He also said the arrangement of the sites was tilted toward Democratic voters, noting that Mr. Hollins is vice chairman of finance for the Texas Democratic Party.

“If Hollins is really concerned that everybody is accurately represented, why is it that nine of the 10 are set up in predominantly Democratic areas?” said Mr. Toth, who represents part of neighboring Montgomery County.

He denied that the lawsuit was aimed at blunting Democratic momentum amid record rates of early voting in Houston and other strongly Democratic areas.

“We’re not the ones who are disenfranchising anybody,” he said. “This is Hollins who did this.”

In a statement on Twitter on Saturday, Mr. Hollins called drive-through voting “a safe, secure and convenient way to vote. Texas Election Code allows it, the Secretary of State approved it, and 127,000 voters from all walks of life have used it.”

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

A final Monmouth University poll of Pennsylvania, released Monday morning, shows Joseph R. Biden Jr. hanging on to a modest but meaningful lead over President Trump in the state that the candidates are fighting hardest over on the campaign’s final day.

The poll, conducted from Wednesday to Sunday, showed Mr. Biden leading the president 51 to 44 percent among likely voters in a model with high election turnout and 50 to 45 percent in a low-turnout scenario. Both are outside the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. The previous Monmouth poll, taken a month ago, showed Mr. Biden with an 11-point lead.

Mr. Biden has led Mr. Trump in Pennsylvania throughout the campaign. A New York Times/Siena College poll released on Sunday found the former vice president ahead by six percentage points.

The candidates and their surrogates are blanketing the state, which Mr. Trump won by less than a percentage point in 2016, in the campaign’s closing hours. Pennsylvania has more Electoral College votes, 20, than any other traditional battleground state except Florida, and both campaigns see it as increasingly crucial to victory.

Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden held multiple rallies in the state over the weekend, and today, the candidates and their running mates are scheduled to hold a total of nine separate events there.

While much of the country has already voted early, with turnout already equivalent to nearly 70 percent of the whole nationwide vote tally for the 2016 election, most Pennsylvanians may be waiting for Election Day to cast their votes: As of Monday morning, early voting turnout in Pennsylvania was at just under 40 percent of the number of votes cast in the 2016 election.

Democrats are flooding the state with door-knockers and Republicans hope to parlay Mr. Trump’s signature rallies into big turnout once again. The president is set to make an appeal to white, working-class voters this afternoon near Scranton, where Mr. Biden was born, while Mr. Biden is aiming to solidify a broad coalition of white suburbanites and voters of color on a swing through Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and elsewhere in western Pennsylvania.

The president is already preparing legal challenges over the vote if it ends up close, telling reporters on Sunday, “As soon as that election’s over, we’re going in with our lawyers.”

In Pennsylvania in particular, the possibility of extended court battles and confusion hangs over the race, with the state Republican Party hoping the Supreme Court will reconsider its decision last week to allow the state to continue receiving absentee ballots for three days after Election Day.

“Every day is a new reminder of how high the stakes are, how far the other side will go to try to suppress the turnout,” Mr. Biden said as he campaigned on Sunday. “Especially here in Philadelphia. President Trump is terrified of what will happen in Pennsylvania.”

Credit…Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

MIAMI — Florida Democrats improved their turnout on the last day of early voting, according to state data released on Monday, slightly widening their narrow lead over Republicans in votes already cast.

About 108,000 more registered Democrats in Florida have voted early by mail or in person than registered Republicans, data from the Florida Division of Elections and the nonpartisan U.S. Elections Project shows.

Of the nearly 9 million early votes in Florida, 39 percent have been cast by registered Democrats and 38 percent by registered Republicans, according to the elections project. The rest were cast by voters registered with third parties or without affiliation.

Whom these voters actually voted for will not be known until the votes are tabulated. A voter registered with one party is free to vote for another party’s candidate.

Democratic turnout got a boost from the last Sunday of early voting, known as “souls to the polls” because Black churches bring their congregants to cast ballots.

Before Sunday, the Democratic lead stood at about 94,000 votes, down from a peak of about 487,000 votes before Republicans began casting ballots in big numbers during in-person early voting.

Mail ballots, which continue to arrive at county elections offices and must be received by 7 p.m. on Tuesday to be counted, could further increase Democrats’ numbers, given that many more of the party’s voters have been voting by mail this year because of the coronavirus. Republicans, on the other hand, are expected to outnumber Democrats at the polls on Election Day.

Going into Election Day in 2016, registered Democrats had cast about 90,000 ballots more than Republicans. President Trump won the state by about 113,000 votes.

Credit…Edgard Garrido/Reuters

The Republican Senator Martha McSally, a Trump ally facing a stiff re-election challenge, is on an 11-city barnstorming tour of Arizona in the final days of a race that could help determine control of the Senate.

For the kickoff on Sunday, she was joined by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and her red golden retriever, Boomer, behind a machine shop in Tucson.

“The eyes of the entire country right now are on Arizona — they’re on Arizona for the president and they’re on Arizona for Martha,” Mr. Cruz told the tightly packed, mostly-unmasked crowd of fewer than 100.

Ms. McSally, the first American servicewoman to fly in combat, has consistently polled behind her Democratic challenger, the former astronaut Mark Kelly. After losing an open Senate race to Kyrsten Sinema in 2018, she was appointed by Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, to fill John McCain’s seat after he died. In this year’s special election, Arizona voters will decide whether Ms. McSally should serve the remainder of the term.

As of Monday morning, Arizona, the country’s 14th most populous state, had recorded 247,484 coronavirus cases — the ninth most in the nation — and 5,981 deaths, the 11th highest tally, according to a New York Times database. An early-summer surge in cases declined after Governor Ducey reversed himself and let local governments require mask-wearing. Arizona’s September unemployment rate was 6.7 percent — below the national average of 7.9 percent, but higher than four years ago, when it was 5.3 percent.

In her final push, Ms. McSally is focusing mostly on rural areas. Mr. Kelly — the husband of Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman who survived a gunshot to the head in 2011 — is one of the nation’s best-funded Democratic challengers and has used his cash advantage to blanket the airwaves with issue-focused ads.

Ms. McSally has tried to portray Mr. Kelly as an insincere independent who would reveal his true colors if he helped Democrats take control of the Senate.

“Mark Kelly will be the 51st vote to enable the radical left agenda to be shoved down our lives,” she told the crowd in Tucson.

Rather than campaign as a moderate in the mold of Mr. McCain, Ms. McSally has focused on turning out the Republican base. Her decision to position herself as a strong conservative ally of the president could backfire in a state where Joseph R. Biden Jr. appears stronger than any Democratic presidential candidate in years.

Mr. Cruz appearance was more of a draw than Ms. McSally for some in the crowd, including Judy Betty, a 79-year-old retired principal who said her mood has swung like a pendulum depending on which news source and which polls she reads. She said that she believed Mr. Trump would win Arizona but was uncertain about Ms. McSally.

“I’m a little concerned about her, but I’m still hopeful she can pull it off,” Ms. Betty said. “She’s a really good senator and a hard worker, but I think there’s a certain lack of charisma on her part.”

DAILY SCHEDULES

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

It is the day before Election Day. Here are the schedules of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates for Monday, Nov. 2. All times are Eastern time.

President Trump

11:45 a.m.: Holds a rally in Fayetteville, N.C.

2:15 p.m.: Holds a rally in Avoca, Pa., near Scranton.

5:15 p.m.: Holds a rally in Traverse City, Mich.

8 p.m.: Holds a rally in Kenosha, Wis.

10:30 p.m.: Holds a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Early afternoon: Speaks in Cleveland, Ohio.

Mid-afternoon: Speaks to union members and labor leaders in Beaver County, Pa.

Late afternoon: Holds a drive-in rally in Pittsburgh.

Evening: Holds another drive-in rally in Pittsburgh with Lady Gaga.

Vice President Mike Pence

11:30 a.m.: Holds a rally in Latrobe, Pa.

2 p.m.: Holds a rally in Erie, Pa.

Senator Kamala Harris

Afternoon: Speaks in Luzerne County, Pa.

Late afternoon: Speaks at a Latino get-out-the-vote event in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania.

Evening: Holds a drive-in rally in Philadelphia with John Legend.

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Caravan parades for President Trump clogged roadways in New York and California, adding a new layer of tension in the days leading to Election Day.CreditCredit…Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

As the United States races toward Election Day, the tensions and acrimony surrounding an extraordinarily divisive campaign, coming after months of protests and racial unrest, are bleeding into everyday life and adding further uncertainty to an electoral process in which President Trump has not committed to a peaceful transfer of power.

Cars and trucks with Trump flags halted traffic on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey and jammed the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge between Tarrytown and Nyack, N.Y., on Sunday, and a pro-Trump convoy in Virginia ended in a tense shouting match with protesters as it approached a statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond.

In Georgia, a rally for Democrats was canceled shortly before it was scheduled to begin on Sunday, with organizers worried about what they feared would be a “large militia presence” drawn by a Trump event nearby.

A pair of flags urging people to “Vote” and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement were set ablaze on Friday in front of Binkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, N.C., though Marcus McFaul, the church’s senior minister, said they had replaced the flags and added a new one.

“You Can Burn Our Signs, But Not Our Resolve,” he said, quoting the new banner.

Tensions had flared on Friday in Texas when a group of Trump supporters driving trucks and waving Trump flags surrounded and slowed a Biden-Harris campaign bus as it drove on Interstate 35, leading to the cancellation of two planned rallies — an episode that the F.B.I. said it was investigating.

On Saturday, Mr. Trump tweeted a video of the incident with a message, “I love Texas!” After the F.B.I. said on Sunday that it was investigating, he tweeted again, saying, “In my opinion, these patriots did nothing wrong,” adding that instead, “the FBI & Justice should be investigating the terrorists, anarchists, and agitators of ANTIFA.”

In Graham, N.C., a get-out-the-vote rally on Saturday ended with the police using pepper spray on some participants, including young children, and making numerous arrests. Organizers of the rally called it flagrant voter suppression.

“These people are afraid,” the Rev. Gregory B. Drumwright, his eyes still burning, said as he assailed the police action in Graham. “There’s a climate of fear around this.”

Twenty miles east, in Hillsborough, N.C., it was Trump supporters who found their signs stolen and vandalized. The chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, Waddy Davis, said that the party was scrambling to help Trump supporters replace over 400 Trump-Pence signs had been stolen from people’s yards.

“I’ve had them taken right out of my yard. It’s just wrong, and it’s a crime,” he said. The party secretary, Trish Randall, said, “They deface our signs. They tear them up, they run them over with their cars, they shoot them. It’s just really disheartening to see how they behave like children.”

Credit…Sarah Rice for The New York Times

The Senate race in Maine — in which Sara Gideon, the state’s Democratic House speaker, is challenging Senator Susan Collins, a Republican — is the most expensive contest in the state’s history.

But despite a presidential impeachment trial, a pandemic and yet another partisan Supreme Court confirmation, neither candidate has been able to maintain a steady advantage.

One recent poll called the contest a “statistical dead heat.”

And if neither candidate can secure 50 percent of the vote, the race’s outcome — and potentially the power balance in the Senate — may come down not to which candidate Maine voters name first, but to which one they name second.

The contest on Tuesday is likely to be the first time that Maine will count second choices in a Senate race using a ranked-choice voting system that has been in place since 2018. (An earlier headline on this item said incorrectly that the system itself was being tested for the first time.)

It allows voters to list a second candidate, and then tallies those preferences as votes if no one reaches 50 percent when the first-choice votes are tabulated.

The system could prove particularly dangerous for Ms. Collins — who like Ms. Gideon has consistently drawn below 50 percent in public polls in recent months — because Lisa Savage, a progressive running as an independent, has urged her supporters to list Ms. Gideon second.

Ms. Savage says she is trying to help attract otherwise reluctant, young and first-time voters who are wary that Ms. Gideon is not liberal enough. Several experts say that Ms. Savage’s supporters could tip the scales and give a victory to Ms. Gideon.

Both Ms. Collins and Ms. Gideon have delved into a flurry of last-ditch campaigning in an effort to persuade undecided voters.

Credit…Kristian Thacker for The New York Times

Officials in a Central Pennsylvania county were deeply unsettled by a request from the Trump campaign last week for details about election security protocols, including specific information about the storage and transportation of ballots.

The request, first reported by The Sentinel of Carlisle, Pa., was sent last Tuesday to officials in Cumberland County, which includes Carlisle and sits just outside Harrisburg, the state capital.

“On behalf of Donald J. Trump for President,” the email began, going on to instruct officials to answer more than two dozen questions “regarding your office’s compliance with existing statutes and law” and insisting on a response by 5 p.m. the next day.

The questions included where ballots and voting machines would be stored after polls closed — including “address and room number” — the names of people who were transporting them, the “security (if any) provided during transport” and the manner in which ballots and voting machines would be secured.

“I’ve been here 16 years and I’ve never seen a request anywhere like that,” said Gary Eichelberger, the Republican chairman of Cumberland County’s Board of Commissioners.

Thea McDonald, the Trump campaign’s deputy press secretary, said that the campaign has made similar requests of many local officials “as part of the Trump campaign’s efforts to ensure a free and fair election.”

“Given that more than 500,000 mail ballots were tossed out in this year’s primaries, we must look into these critical issues,” she added, referring to the 534,000 mail ballots that were rejected across 23 states. “The information we’ve asked for includes standard election transparency details, and election officials should have the answers on hand. When did transparency become a bad thing?”

The request came as legal challenges to Pennsylvania’s election system and policies have multiplied down the homestretch of a race for perhaps the single most hotly contested state in the country, where Joseph R. Biden Jr. has held a consistent polling lead over President Trump. Mr. Trump suggested over the weekend that he would challenge the state’s election results before vote counting even finishes.

Cumberland County is one of the counties in Pennsylvania that will not begin counting mail-in ballots until Wednesday.

In a news conference on Monday morning, Pennsylvania’s top elections official, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, suggested that the request was improper.

“No county should provide any election security information to any third party ever,” Ms. Boockvar said, adding that she had been in touch with the F.B.I. about the request.

For now, Mr. Eichelberger said that the county would treat the request as a routine public records inquiry, responding in the coming days but possibly withholding some information on the advice of the county attorney.

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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.”

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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.

Amid the clamor of President Trump’s continuing demands for his supporters to look out for fraud at polling places, it is easy to overlook the fact that in many polling places, someone already is keeping watch.

And in most of those cases, they are not fighting fraud so much as the urge to nod off.

“If you’re the type of person who likes to talk to people, do not apply for this job,” said Jane Whitley, the Democratic Party chair in Mecklenburg County, N.C., home to Charlotte. “You will be bored out of your mind.”

The job is poll monitor, also known as poll observer, poll watcher and poll challenger. It is not the self-appointed position of election-integrity enforcer that some expect militia members and political operatives to assume outside some polling places on Tuesday. Nor is it the job of workers inside the polling places who greet voters and check their eligibility before clearing them to enter the voting booth.

Rather, this is a task performed by ordinary citizens, often volunteers, whose job is to sit quietly in polling places, making sure that voting machines are in order, no one gets rowdy and balloting proceeds without political chicanery. By any name, it has long been an integral part of the nation’s election machinery, one meant to increase confidence in election results in an era when faith in those results is under assault.

It also may be the most thankless one. Whatever chicanery or voter suppression is part of American politics, there is not that much of it that goes on in plain sight as people vote, and the mere fact that a monitor is watching makes it all the more unlikely that any will occur.

“Done right, it’s not the sinister, suppressive or intimidating thing it’s been cast to be,” said Justin Levitt, who oversaw voting laws in the Justice Department during the Obama administration. “The vast majority of the time, voters don’t notice they’re there, and poll watchers get thoroughly bored in the first half-hour.”

In polling places, as in firehouses, he added, you want it to be “the most boring job on the planet.”

Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

At the Pennsylvania long-term care facility where Tisheia Frazier works, the coronavirus was a terror. During the most harrowing weeks of the pandemic in April and May, she said, four residents died in a matter of hours, and 70 people in a 180-bed unit died in less than a month.

Another caregiver, Ellen Glunt, recalled watching an older couple celebrate their 80th wedding anniversary. The wife held a wedding photo up to the glass window, as her ailing husband remained on the other side.

And then there is Bob Lohoefer, a nursing director in Philadelphia with almost 40 years of experience who has had flashbacks to the trauma rooms he worked in decades ago. At the height of the pandemic, he sat at his desk, a shield over his face, so frustrated by the government’s handling of the virus and his own organization’s bureaucracy that he thought to himself: “I don’t want to do this.”

Few groups have witnessed more of the virus’s horrors than caregivers — frontline workers who have grappled with the public health crisis while trying to help older people at risk of isolation, distress and, in some cases, death. The deaths of almost 40 percent of all Americans killed by the coronavirus have been linked to nursing homes and similar facilities — indoor spaces crowded with vulnerable adults. The share is even higher in Pennsylvania, where deaths in nursing and personal-care facilities account for close to two-thirds of coronavirus deaths statewide.

In interviews ahead of the election with more than a dozen caregivers in Pennsylvania, one of the country’s most important battleground states, they described how their experiences are shaping their political outlooks. It has hardened some convictions and transformed some caretakers, otherwise apolitical, into activists. It has forced others to reassess their beliefs about American exceptionalism, the role of government in their lives and their industry, and their decision about whom to vote for in November.

“Nine months ago, I would have told you that I was 100 percent behind Trump,” Mr. Lohoefer, a lifelong Republican, said of the president. “But as a result of Covid, I’m not 100 percent sure where I stand now.”





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