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Voting 2020: Iran may be behind ‘Proud Boy’ emails; early voters could outpace Election Day ballots

  • October 22, 2020

U.S. authorities are blaming Iranian hackers for threatening emails claiming to be linked to the far-right, authoritarian group Proud Boys that were sent to voters in Florida, Pennsylvania and other states.

The emails threatened to “come after” voters who didn’t vote for President Donald Trump. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said late Wednesday that voter registration information had been obtained by Iran and by Russia in an attempt to undermine confidence in the 2020 election.

Also Wednesday, the Supreme Court blocked a trial judge’s ruling that would have allowed Alabama counties to offer curbside voting, in which a voter completes a ballot and gives it to a poll worker who inserts it into a tabulation machine. The system, allowed in some states, accommodates voters with disabilities and those at high-risk from COVID-19. (For the latest news on the coronavirus pandemic, you can follow our Thursday updates.)

Some context: Many court battles over state voting rules continue across the nation. The pandemic has prompted a record number of Americans to vote by mail and created concerns thousands of ballots could be rejected for a variety of technical reasons. An anxious country may have to wait weeks for election results

More news to keep in mind: We’re less than two weeks until Election Day. USA TODAY is keeping track of what’s happening as voters around the country cast ballots. Keep refreshing this page for updates.

If you want to go in-depth: Over the summer, Americans gathered in momentous numbers to protest racial injustice amid the COVID-19 pandemic that disproportionately affected Black people. Some protesters say the movement shows the importance of voting. Others say voting access has been a cudgel of their oppression. Read more.

Voters have already been casting ballots: Numbers compiled by @electproject show at least 44 million have voted. In other numbers, the Guardian reports that more than 17% of registered voters in swing states have had their mail-in ballots accepted. USA TODAY’s politics team has the latest updates from the campaign trail here.

Iowa Supreme Court upholds new law complicating absentee ballot requests

The Iowa Supreme Court has upheld a new law making it harder for county auditors to process absentee ballot requests with missing or incomplete information, days before Iowa’s deadline to request a ballot for the 2020 election. The court issued a decision Wednesday evening upholding a Republican-supported law that prevents auditors from using the state’s voter registration database to fill in any missing information or correct errors when a voter requests an absentee ballot. The law instead requires the auditor’s office to contact the voter by telephone, email or physical mail. 

“The overwhelming majority of Iowans have repeatedly said they support voter ID,” Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said. “It’s legal, constitutional and fair.”

Stephen Gruber-Miller, Des Moines Register

Advocacy group: Trumpers intimidated New Mexico voters in some areas

New Mexico Common Cause says caravans of flag-waving supporters of President Donald Trump appeared to obstruct and intimidate voters at two polling sites in predominantly Latino neighborhoods in the Albuquerque area last weekend.

Executive Director Heather Ferguson said the incidents took place on the first day of balloting at voter convenience centers in the South Valley and western reaches of Albuquerque on Central Avenue. Ferguson estimated that dozens of potential voters in each location left without voting immediately as a result of the incidents before authorities interceded.

“Voters felt like they had to run the gauntlet trying to get to the polling station,” Ferguson said.  “Many of them saw what was going on and just turned their vehicles around and left.”

Election problems: What to keep in mind

This cheat sheet from Columbia Journalism Review offers tips for media organizations reporting on election 2020. There’s a lot of good stuff to keep in mind:

  • 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.

Iran, Russia obtained voter registration information

Iran and Russia obtained U.S. voter registration information in an attempt to undermine confidence in the 2020 election, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said. Ratcliffe said Iran sought to sow unrest in the U.S. in an attempt to damage the candidacy of President Donald Trump. He also said that Russia has obtained voter information just as the Kremlin had done in when it interfered in the 2016 election.

“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” Ratcliffe said. “We will not tolerate foreign interference in our election.”

Kevin Johnson and Kristine Phillips

Early ballots will outnumber Election Day votes

For the first time in election history, more people are expected to vote early than on Election Day. With less than two weeks until the election, voter turnout nationally is already nearing 30% of the overall 138.8 million people who voted four years ago.

If voters on Election Day turn out as expected, the U.S. could have the highest percentage of eligible voters actually vote since 1908, according to Michael McDonald, associate professor of political science at the University of Florida, who manages the United States Elections Project.

Several states changed laws from four years ago to either offer or expand early voting, and more people are taking advantage of it, particularly voting by mail, amid the coronavirus pandemic. States have also gotten better at reporting their daily vote tallies.

Joey Garrison

Lawsuits, pandemic and Trump rhetoric fuel 2020 election concerns

Thousands of ballots could be rejected and voters might be forced to wait days or weeks before a winner is determined, throwing the 2020 election into disarray. Stoking the anxiety and deep political divisions is the incumbent candidate himself. Lagging behind Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, President Donald Trump has relentlessly claimed that massive voter fraud involving mail-in ballots is underway and has hinted he expects a conservative-leaning Supreme Court, with three of his appointed justices, to intervene in a disputed election. 

“If the election is not very close, then I don’t think the election is going to get a lot of litigation,” said Rick Hansen, an election law expert from the University of California Irvine. But if it’s close, Hansen said, expect a kind of “trench warfare” in several states. 

– Kristine Phillips

Headlines from elsewhere and resources on voting

☑️How to make sure your a mail-in ballot is counted and not discarded.

🗳️ USA TODAY’s Voter Guide has everything you need on registering to vote, when your state begins voting and what the candidates think about the issues.

📧For updates to your inbox, subscribe to our daily On Politics newsletter

Group monitoring foreign elections takes on American democracy

A global election monitoring group will be deployed across the U.S. for the presidential election on Nov. 3. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, an intergovernmental organization, has been monitoring elections among its 57 members in North America, Europe and Asia for two decades. Its mission is to assess how well a democratic vote is functioning and to make recommendations for improvements in areas that touch on transparency, accountability and voter pluralism.

The OSCE has observed eight previous U.S. elections, beginning in 2002 with the mid-term congressional elections that followed 2000’s presidential election of George W. Bush. OSCE called the 2000 vote “highly controversial, divisive and litigious.” Based on that assessment, 2020 could be eye-popping for the agency.

Kim Hjelmgaard

Contributing: The Associated Press

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