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Bannon Wants To Cheat, But Doesn’t Know How Votes Are Counted

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

One of President Trump's most loyal propagandists is predicting that Trump will claim victory on election night as soon as he is ahead among Election Day voters. But that scenario is based on a misconception of how all ballots are counted and the early returns are compiled, according to election and legal experts.

"At 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock… on November 3, Donald J. Trump is going to walk into the Oval Office, and he may hit a tweet before he goes in there… and he's going to sit there, having won Ohio, and being up in Pennsylvania and Florida, and he's going to say, 'Hey, game's over,'" said Stephen K. Bannon, Trump's 2016 campaign CEO and former White House adviser, during a defiant speech on October 10 forum hosted by the Young Republican Federation of Virginia.

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As Trump Stokes Right​-Wing Paranoia, Voting Advocates Fear Election Violence

For weeks police and private intelligence circles have predicted "coming violence" from right-wing vigilantes at some polling places in presidential battleground states. But President Trump's debate message to a white power group to "stand back and stand by," despite his retraction, has turned online chatter among extremists into organizing actions targeting Election Day, according to the FBI's former counterintelligence director Frank Figliuzzi.

"What we are seeing include calls for civil war, race-based conflict, and for increased acquisition of weapons," said Figliuzzi, speaking at an October 2 briefing by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on voter intimidation threats and responses. "Right-wing extremist groups, including QAnon, Proud Boys, Boogaloo Boys and violent militia groups, are all using the language of violent conflict in both their public and in their private communications online."

"They are also calling for a physical response and presence at the polling places," he said. "The specter of people who are violent in nature and have violent agendas, and often come armed with long guns, is becoming a very real possibility."

The Lawyers' Committee briefing suggested that recent incidents where Trump supporters have badgered voters and election officials in blue epicenters may be signs of bigger trouble as Election Day nears. Both parties have stepped up recruitment of partisan poll watchers and, in Trump's case, voting vigilantes.

While the committee's briefing emphasized there were laws protecting voters from last-minute electioneering and intimidation, as well as rules that regulate what partisan observers can and cannot do at election sites, its message was that public officials must speak out more forcefully to reject voter intimidation at polls or in the streets, and say how authorities would respond should it occur.

"One step that election officials can make is to make clear the campaign-free zone that applies in their states," Kristen Clarke, the Lawyers' Committee's president and executive director, said, referring to the buffer zone that surrounds polling places or buildings with voting sites inside, where supporters of candidates and causes cannot campaign. "In every state there is a certain perimeter in which electioneering activity is prohibited, and [in] which intimidating activity would also be prohibited."

"Officials often do a good job promoting the time and date for elections, and what's on the ballot," Clarke said, referring to the public information campaigns that have increased since Labor Day. "Going one step further to make clear that no intimidation is allowed within a certain zone outside the doors of a polling site would be one small step."

Local and state prosecutors should take strong stances condemning any menacing presence at polls, she added, especially since the U.S. Department of Justice has abdicated that role under Trump. "This may be a moment where we lean on state and local law enforcement to step into those gaps."

"There is also a tremendous role to play for law enforcement leaders in terms of messaging," agreed Kenneth Polite, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, speaking at the same briefing. His recommendation included "making public statements that emphasize… their commitment to protecting these constitutional rights, including their roles of protecting [against], evaluating and prosecuting this type of intimidation."

The week after the Lawyers' Committee's briefing saw some officials beginning to speak out. On October 6, the attorneys general of Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada, all Democrats, held a video press conference where they condemned Trump's call for unofficial poll watchers and vowed to prosecute voter intimidation. Other recent news reports have noted that local election administrators and police have been reevaluating their security plans.

Not a Normal Election

There were many reasons behind today's worries about voter intimidation that set 2020 apart from threats of election violence in the recent past, the committee's experts said. Foremost was Trump's role as an "instigator or radicalizer" with his attacks on the voting process and calls for supporters to confront what Trump said would be cheating by Democrats. Another factor was in 2018 the Republican National Committee was freed from a decades-old federal consent decree that barred it from using voter suppression tactics. And another was scenes from Midwestern states where right-wing zealots brought military-style guns into statehouseswhile protesting government-ordered COVID-19 precautions.

The most likely targets for voter intimidation were not polling places randomly chosen from the 100,000-plus voting sites that will be open on Election Day, November 3, the experts said. The targets would likely be polling places in communities of color in swing states, they said, especially in locales where anti-police brutality protests and Black Lives Matter rallies have occurred.

The fact that these settings have residents who distrust the police adds a complicating layer when it comes to how authorities will intervene should legal electioneering cross the line into illegal voter intimidation, disturbing the peace or criminal violence. Police have more authority than election officials to respond if threatening behavior or violence arises at polls or in the streets, but many voters in communities of color don't want to ask the police for help—or believe that the police will protect them—voting rights advocates said.

"It's one thing to say we need folks [waiting to vote] to be tougher. It's another thing to say, 'Who is going to protect you?'" said Jorge Vasquez Jr., Power and Democracy Program director for the nonprofit civil rights law firm Advancement Project. "[If] you're a Black or a Brown voter, and you see how Black or Brown people are being treated by law enforcement, you would understand that you're really talking about [a situation in which your]… life may be on the line in a way that it hasn't been in the past."

Gray Zones

Vasquez has been meeting with local police in six swing states—Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia and Florida—to try to set some ground rules in communities of color before Election Day. His efforts to get police to negotiate and sign memorandums of understanding about how they will engage with voters this fall had similarities to those of protest organizers engaging with law enforcement before holding rallies and demonstrations.

The problem facing both voting rights advocates and officials is not people respectfully exercising their First Amendment rights, but rather with dealing with provocateurs who disrupt events and seek to provoke a police response that interrupts others from exercising those rights, Edward Maguire, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State University, recently told NPR. "Police know how to handle peaceful protests. The harder part is when you have that gray zone in between, where you have protests that are largely peaceful, but you have people who are behaving in a violent or destructive manner."

When it comes to campaigning and voting on Election Day, there can be several gray zones. The first is where one person's actions in support of a cause—called electioneering—are legal but may be intimidating to others who don't share their views or ideology. Then there are clearly intimidating actions that likely violate election or criminal codes, if those actions were being monitored and those laws were being enforced. But people in opposing political parties and local authorities may not see or judge the same actions the same way.

There are a series of state and federal laws that protect voters. The most obvious are buffer zones around the entrances to polls where electioneering is not allowed. These distances are specified in state law and vary, from 10 feet in Pennsylvania, to 40 feet in Virginia, to 100 feet in Wisconsin and Michigan, to 150 feet in Florida and Georgia. There are state and federal laws barring voter intimidation, rules governing the conduct of partisan observers in election sites, and laws outlawing any election-related violence. (On the other hand, it is legal to bring guns into polls in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin, gun control groups have reported.)

There were two recent widely reported instances of Trump supporters badgering voters and election officials that illustrate the clear lines and ambiguities that arise as voters and authorities respond to loud but legal electioneering, and to what one seasoned observer concluded was illegal voter intimidation.

A clear line was seen in Philadelphia, where Trump supporters demandedto observe the start of early voting at a satellite voting center just before 2020's first televised presidential debate. Perhaps the gambit was a stunt to give Trump fodder to smear the city's elections, which he did. But local election officials told the Trump supporters that they could not stay because they had not followed the process to become credentialed partisan observers.

A blurrier line emerged during the first weekend of early voting in Fairfax County, Virginia. In that diverse Washington, D.C., suburb, a caravan of Trump supporters drove into the parking lot where voters were lined up at the county's government center, some revving their engines, which upset some voters. A small band of Trump supporters got out of their cars and trucks and converged at a plaza near the entrance, where they waved banners and cheered for Trump. Some voters who felt intimidated alerted officials, who came out, spoke to the campaigners, and then opened the government center so voters could wait inside in the hallways.

"There are two factors that go on that you should be thinking about," said Kevin Kennedy, who was Wisconsin's top statewide election official from 1982 to 2016 and a lawyer. "There's the electioneering factor, which is trying to influence voting. 'Don't vote for that jerk,' 'Vote for this party,' or whatever. And in Wisconsin, that [electioneering] stops 100 feet from the entrance of any building containing a polling place with the exception of a sign on private property."

"The second factor is you cannot interfere with the orderly conduct of the election," he said. "The general definition of disorderly conduct is something that tends to disturb the peace or create an issue… I would say that driving a truck through a parking lot [to disrupt waiting voters], even if you are more than 100 feet away, would probably qualify [as intimidation]. The question then is resource allocation for law enforcement."

Kennedy's last point highlights another gray zone that affects when and where police might step in—if they were present or were called upon to do so.

Election officials have narrower authority than the police to deal with bad behavior as it moves from the polls to the street. Kennedy concluded that Trump supporters toying with Fairfax County voters outside of Virginia's 40-foot electioneering boundary was illegal voter intimidation, but it did not prompt arrests. Since the incident, county officials are seeking to extend the buffer zone to 150 feet.

"We need individuals to use their discretion in a way that promotes democracy," said the Advancement Project's Vasquez. "I've seen in 2018 in Florida, voters come with horses waving an American flag where there are people with long lines, similar to the pickup trucks [in Fairfax County]. It is fact-specific and looking at the totality of the circumstances."

What Kind of Police Presence?

How visible police should be at polls, especially in communities in color, is a complicated question.

"The polling station has historically been a militarized space for Black voters," said Jeralyn Cave, Vasquez's colleague and Advancement Project spokeswoman, citing America's history of white vigilantes, segregation, Jim Crow and recent partisan voter suppression.

"So many people [police] don't want to use their discretion as it relates to elections," Vasquez said. "But any other time, they are willing to use their discretion. Most recently, I think what we could compare it to is we have millions of people storming the street to practice their First Amendment right to peaceful[ly] protest [police brutality]. And we have some police officers who are deciding that, 'You know what, you guys are in a group during a pandemic, and we're going to use our discretion to either charge you with something or not charge you with something.'"

The question, then, becomes one of nuance. What can government officials do now to assure voters in battleground states that voting this fall will be safe? Vasquez has been trying to negotiate ground rules with police in communities of color in swing states. But as of October 2, Cave said that no law enforcement agency had signed any memorandum of understanding.

Other voting rights advocates, such as the Lawyers' Committee's Clarke, did not want to see more police at polling places.

"In no uncertain terms, we object to the presence of law enforcement at the polls," she said at the same briefing where Figliuzzi described the growing threats from right-wing militants. "We observed in Wisconsin, officials resorting to using the National Guard to fill in gaps as they worked with insufficient numbers of poll workers. Many of them were in plain clothes. We're very concerned about any further efforts to activate law enforcement in any further fashion at polling sites, particularly in the communities with large numbers of voters of color."

Figliuzzi replied by listing some "warning signs and indicators" to look out for.

"One would be the presence of federal agents of any kind deployed to polling sites, which might, as you heard, be a specific violation of law," he said. (Armed federal agents and military personnel are not permitted at polls, despite Trump's claims.)

"Secondly, I would be particularly vigilant for any reports that off-duty police officers have been hired by any private organization, or an organization that may be linked to a particular campaign, to conduct some kind of so-called security or monitoring," he said. "That would be very troubling, particularly since many [police and sheriff] departments are canceling all off-duty work, or other duty work, because of the concerns about the polling place [on Election Day]."

But there were low-key roles that police could play to keep poll settings orderly.

"We don't want to call out [oppose] perimeter security, parking lot traffic management type things that will get people in and out safely," Figliuzzi said. "But [we] want to watch for the warning signs that would tell us that something is amiss with the presence of law enforcement."

The Lawyers' Committee briefing ended by imploring government officials, not just election administrators, not only to be more vocal about protecting the health of voters during a pandemic, but also to publicly state their commitment to voter safety in swing states. Journalists, too, should pressure state and local officials, they said. The panel's experts did not trust the federal Department of Justice's efforts to protect voters.

"Reporters should feel free to ask their law enforcement leaders—[police] chiefs, sheriffs, state officials—will you be setting up a command post or joint operation unit with law enforcement and federal partners for the election?" Figliuzzi said. "Will you be issuing press releases that remind people what the law is and what is permitted? Will you be engaging in proactive dialogue through your intelligence officers with known leaders of activists or groups? Will you be considering designated protest areas away from the polling place?"

What should voters do if they face intimidating actions at the polls or in the street?

"You never want anyone to be confrontational. And do document what is happening," Vasquez said. "Know who to contact. Certainly, contact Advancement Project's national office with any questions you have. Reach out to us on social media. We'll help you assess the situation and find a plan through it. But at this point, the best thing you can tell anyone is 'Don't be confrontational.'"

"It's not your place to necessarily be confrontational," he emphasized. "But it is your place in being able to safely cast a ballot."

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Conservatives Sue Over Zuckerberg's Election Assistance Grants To States

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

After local election officials from more than 1,100 jurisdictions in 40-plus states applied for private grants to better run the presidential elections, a conservative public interest law firm has sued three swing states to block officials from using those funds, stating in their briefs that "they do not want progressive candidates to win."

In addition to alleging that county and local governments in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota lacked the authority to take the money from the Chicago-based Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), the lawsuits from the Thomas More Society, the socially conservative firm, are claiming that the grants have a partisan benefit of favoring "progressive" candidates because some recipients included metro counties—which tend to be blue epicenters.

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At Debate, Trump Won't Pledge To Accept Election Result Or Calm Potential Unrest

Reprinted with permission from Independent Media Institute/Voting Booth

In the first televised presidential debate, President Trump questioned the ability of America's election officials to conduct an honest election this fall and said that he would not sit idly by "if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated. I can't go along with that."

"It means you have a fraudulent election," Trump continued, speaking over moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News, who asked both candidates if they would pledge to not "engage in any civil unrest" and "not declare victory" until all of the votes had been counted.

"You're sending out 80 million ballots. They're not equipped—these people [election officials, postal workers] are not equipped to handle it—number one," Trump said. "Number two, they cheat. They cheat. Hey, they found ballots in a wastepaper basket three days ago and they all had the name military ballot. They were military. They all had the name Trump on them."

Former Vice President Joe Biden, countered, "He has no idea what he is talking about. The fact is I will accept it [the results] after complete count. And he will too. You know why? Because once the winner is declared after all the ballots are counted, all the votes are counted, that'll be the end of it. That'll be the end of it."

Never before in modern history has as a presidential debate ended with the incumbent refusing to say whether he would accept the results of an upcoming election and not agreeing to an orderly post-Election Day process—and the challenger saying that it doesn't matter what the incumbent mistakenly believes, if he's voted out of office he will have to leave.

Beyond Trump's nonstop interruptions, accusations and bellowing that marked the debate, the president appeared to be inviting a constitutional crisis if the margins are close in swing states and the results are not known on Election Day, November 3—which they almost certainly will not, because, as Wallace noted, eight states only start processing absentee ballots that day.

"Can you imagine where they say you have to have your ballot in by November tenth, November tenth," Trump said. "That means, that's seven days after the election [winner] in theory should have been announced. We have major states with that. All run by Democrats. All run by Democrats. It's a rigged election."

Trump also said that he expected the U.S. Supreme Court to get involved—including the participation of his latest nominee, Amy Barrett, if she is seated by then.

"I am counting on them [the Supreme Court] to look at the ballots, definitely," Trump said, in response to Wallace question. "I hope we don't need them for the election itself. But for the ballots, I think so. Because what's happening is incredible. I heard, I read today, where at least 1 percent of the ballots for 2016 were invalidated. They take 'em. 'We don't like them. We don't like them.' They throw them out left and right."

Trump's false claims about widespread voter fraud in absentee—or mailed-out—ballots was not new. But the intensity of his belief that the 2020 election outcome is rigged against him unless he wins (which he also said in 2016) reached a new pitch in Tuesday's debate. Trump's misrepresentations of the voting process were as shrill as they were rampant, but, in sum, Trump basically said that he all-but expected to aggressively assail the election results.

What was most notable about Trump's assertions—beyond a demeanor that hovered between being anxious and unhinged for most of the debate—was that he repeatedly cited instances of mistakes in the voting process affecting a literal handful of votes. He had no perspective or sense of scale, whatsoever, that the issues he saw were rare exceptions and not the rule.

His rant about military ballots in a waste basket referred to a non-fired temporary election worker who mistakenly threw out 9 ballots in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, last week—of which two ballots did not contain Trump votes, despite what he said. That error could have been fixed the local officials, but the Justice Department heard about it and opened an FBI investigation over the matter in a state where 6 million people voted for president in 2016.

Trump cited other examples that showed blemishes, not fatal flaws, with local elections. He railed that his supporters were not allowed to observe early voting in Philadelphia on Tuesday, which he called a crooked city. The reality was no election observers had been credentialed yet. He said mailmen in West Virginia were "selling the ballots," which referred to one person who authorities caught and prosecuted, showing that the system worked, as Amber McReynolds, executive director of the National Vote at Home Institute (NVAHI), said after the debate.

"People on both sides of the aisle should be outraged by the level of misinformation about safe options for voters," NVAHI tweeted. "Voting by mail is a fundamental part of American voting. They deserved to hear the facts tonight."

Biden's Response

Biden didn't allow Trump's assertions and propaganda to go unanswered. His opening comments in the debate's final segment, on accepting the results and pledging not to foment civil unrest, was one of many attempts to factually talk to Americans about voting.

"His own Homeland Security director and, as well the FBI director, says there is no evidence at all that mail-in ballots are a source of being manipulated and cheating," Biden said. "The fact is there will be millions of people because of COVID voting with mail-in ballots, like he does, by the way. He sits behind the Resolute Desk [in the Oval Office] and sends his ballot to Florida."

Biden said Trump's smear of election officials and voting by mail—the healthiest option for many people in the pandemic—was a continuation of his effort to suppress voter turnout.

"This is all about trying to dissuade people from voting because he's trying to scare people into thinking that it will not be legitimate," Biden said, before pivoting to his message.

"Show up and vote," he continued. "You will determine the outcome of this election. Vote. Vote. Vote. If you're able to vote early in your state, vote early. If you're able to vote in person, vote in person. Vote whatever way is the best way for you. Because you will—he cannot stop you from being able to determine the outcome of this election."

"And in terms of whether or not, when the votes are all counted, and they all are accounted, that will be accepted," Biden said. "If I win, that will be accepted. If I lose, that will be accepted. But, by the way, if in fact he says that he is not sure what he's going to accept, well, let me tell you something. It doesn't matter, because if we get the votes, it's going to be all over. He's going to go. He can't stay in power. It won't happen. It won't happen."

"So, vote, just vote. Make sure you understand that you have it in your control to determine the way this country going to look like for the next four years," he concluded. "Is it going to change or are you going to get four more years of these lies?"

But just because Biden said that Trump will have to accept the election's results once the votes are all counted—if he loses—does not make it so. Biden is correct that the surest way to end Trump's presidency is with unassailable vote margins, which include the incomplete tallies on Election Night (which are from polling places, and, depending on the state, varying percentages of absentee ballots.) But Trump is counting on close counts where he can exaggerate the problems that always surface on Election Day to undermine the popular vote.

Trump wants the Supreme Court to step in, he said during the debate. He didn't say that he's also talked about red state legislatures appointing Electoral College slates that back him—disregarding their vote counts. Or other scenarios where he can retain the presidency.

"This is going to be a fraud like you've never seen," he said. "When you have 80 million ballots swamping the system, you know it can't be done. You know it can't. And already there's been fraud… it's a disgrace."

Did Obstreperous Trumpsters Break The Law At Virginia Polling Site?

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The photo showed six mask-less Trump supporters waving Trump-Pence signs outside the entrance to Fairfax County Government Center on September 19, Virginia's second day of early voting. The accompanying New York Times report describing their loud electioneering in the populous blue county outside Washington inflamed passions and went viral.

"No gang of goons is going to deter Fairfax from voting," tweeted Nate Jones, an area resident, who noted that local officials moved the line inside the center, where people still had to wait several hours to vote, as it was the county's only open early voting site.

The photo showed six mask-less Trump supporters waving Trump-Pence signs outside the entrance to Fairfax County Government Center on September 19, Virginia's second day of early voting. The accompanying New York Times' report describing their loud electioneering in the populous blue county outside Washington inflamed passions and went viral.

"No gang of goons is going to deter Fairfax from voting," tweeted Nate Jones, an area resident, who noted that local officials moved the line inside the center, where people still had to wait several hours to vote, as it was the county's only open early voting site.

"What happened was they just came in revving truck and cars around the parking lot where there was this mile-long line that you have been seeing on the national news," said Kristin Cabral, co-chair of the Fairfax County Democratic Party's election law and voter protection committee, speaking on an activist call on Monday. "Then they got out of their cars with all sorts of banners and sticks and the like, not wearing face masks, and they gathered on the center plaza, which is basically where the front entrance, the front door, is."

"They were creating such a ruckus," she said. "This is the start of election interference, voter intimidation, that we can expect throughout early voting and on Election Day itself… The one thing that I was surprised, here in the open-carry state of Virginia, which is also the headquarters of the NRA, [was] that more folks did not have their weaponry on them."

Cabral was hoping the county's prosecutor, an elected Democrat, would file charges to send a message. Other non-Virginians on the call suggested that activists and election officials meet with local police "who don't know anything about election law," to be clear on what constitutes disturbing the peace and intimidating voters.

The episode was, at best, a cautionary tale, and, at worst, a portent for battleground states. Inviting a police presence to polls is dicey. What some people see as protecting voters may be seen by others as intimidating voters.

The law, too, has inconsistencies. While federal law is clear on what constitutes voter intimidation, state law primarily regulates elections and has widely varying standards. In some states, electioneering activity—anything that urges voters to support one candidate or cause—has to stop hundreds of feet away from polling place entrances. In other states, it can follow voters up to the doors or even go inside.

Federal law says that "whoever intimidates, threatens, coerces, or attempts to intimidate, threaten, or coerce, any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote" can be fined or jailed up to a one year.

State law draws different lines. This chart, from the National Association of Secretaries of State, and updated as of January 2020, lists the varying distances that campaigners must stand from polls. Sometimes that distance is measured in feet from the entrance. Sometimes it is the distance from building's perimeter. Sometimes it is how far a partisan campaigner must stand from a voter in a hallway.

Louisiana has the largest berth, "a radius of 600 feet from the entrance to any polling place." In most states, that distance is 100 feet or more from the entrance. But there are exceptions in some 2020 battleground states.

In Virginia, electioneering has to stop "within 40 feet of any entrance." Pennsylvania partisans "must remain at least (10) ten feet distant from the polling place." North Carolina's line is 50 feet from the entrance door and 25 feet from the rest of the building.

In Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Wisconsin, it's 100 feet. In Georgia, it's 150 feet. In Mississippi and Alabama, it's 30 feet. In Missouri, it's 25 feet. In Vermont, electioneering must stop at the entrance to a building. In New Hampshire, it can continue inside, but voters must be given "a corridor 10 feet wide."

"I think what we have to do is meet with our boards of elections, meet with our mayors and city councils," said Joel Segal, a former House Judiciary Committee legal staffer who lives in North Carolina, speaking on Monday's activist call. "It is not unconstitutional to tell people that there's a limit on your freedom of assembly. I don't remember anything that said that could you block the entrance for people voting."

Why Younger Voters’ Absentee Ballots Are More Likely To Be Rejected

Reprinted with permission from VotingBooth

As half or more of the 2020 presidential election's votes will be cast on mailed-out ballots, a new study on why absentee ballots were rejected in three urban California counties in 2018 reveals why young voters' ballots were rejected at triple the rate of all voters.

Nationally, it is well known that absentee ballots arriving after state deadlines, problems with a voter's signature on the return envelope not matching their voter registration form, or a missing signature account for more than half of all rejected ballots, as the latest federal statistics affirm. But a new California Voter Foundation (CVF) study reveals the most likely causes behind those errors, especially for young voters.

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The Battle Over Another Florida Recount Has Already Begun

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

In November 2018, Florida faced its biggest recount nightmare since the 2000 presidential election. There were three statewide races to simultaneously recount, including a U.S. Senate race with a vexing problem. Days after the election, Sen. Bill Nelson, the Democratic incumbent, was trailing Republican Gov. Rick Scott by 12,500 votes. It looked like 30,000 voters in reliably blue Broward County had not voted in that high-stakes race. The missing votes seemed implausible.

Every Florida county, including Broward, used large ballot scanners to start their recount. Under state law, only a subset of ballots was hand-counted. The scanners set aside ballots with more than one vote, or no vote at all, from the closest races for manual examination. Even though the scanners were creating a crisp digital image of the ballot card from every race being recounted, state law barred that library from being used to assess what had happened in Broward County.

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Pandemic Delays May Plague Polling Places Soon After They Open

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

For the estimated 50 million Americans who will vote at a polling place this fall, delays and long lines will likely surface sooner than in past presidential elections—America's highest turnout elections—because of challenges due to COVID-19, according to election logistics experts.

"When do bottlenecks occur?" asked Charles Stewart III, the MIT director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, after noting that 50 million voters would likely cast ballots at polling places this fall. "There comes a point, it's when you reach 80-to-90 percent of [what] the theoretical capacity is, that the lines just go through the roof."

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Huge Numbers of Primary Absentee Voters In Swing States Must Reapply For November Ballot

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

On August 20, the Wisconsin Elections Commission announced that they would send letters to 2.6 million voters who have not yet signed up to receive an absentee ballot for the fall election, reminding them about their voting options and urging them to apply for a mailed-out ballot online or use an enclosed form.

What the announcement did not say was that a half-million of the voters getting the mailing had applied, received, and voted with an absentee ballot in April 2020's presidential primary. But unlike 800,000 other voters who this spring checked a box on an application to receive an absentee ballot for the rest of 2020's elections, those half-million voters had only applied for a mailed-out ballot in the primary.

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How We Can Prevent Electoral Disaster In November

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

After disastrous primaries in the early days of the pandemic, some of the same states have run better elections in August as voters have cast record numbers of mailed-out ballots and many in-person polling places reopened in metro areas, even though the same states' COVID-19 rates are now higher.

This rebound contrasts with headline-dominating worries that are beyond the control of local officials who actually run elections. Those include deepening Trump administration interference with timely postal delivery of absentee ballot applications and the ballots themselves, and senior Republicans issuing orders that prevent sensible steps to help voters such as widely deploying ballot drop boxes.

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How To Make Sure Your Vote Counts In 2020

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Voting is the most consequential way that ordinary Americans can exercise political clout. That is why partisan battles have gone on for decades over who can vote and how easy or complex voting is. This struggle continues today, even in a pandemic. This article is a guide to successfully voting this fall.

The 2020 general election is not just historic because of the stakes. The shift to voting from home with mailed-out ballots is unprecedented. Any new process can be confusing. But voting is a methodical process, even if some of the steps seem unnecessary or were designed to suppress participation.

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Why You Should Make Your Voting Plans Now

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Americans who want to vote this fall should make a plan, including what to do if something goes wrong—such as their requested mailed-out ballot does not arrive or is late—according to a range of election experts and grassroots activists.

"Pre-pandemic, we could all stop at the grocery store without having to think about it. Now we all have to make a plan," said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research. "Similarly, voters are going to need to make a plan that they haven't necessarily had to do before."

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How Ballot Drop Boxes Can Protect Voters — And Voting Rights -- During Pandemic

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

As 2020's pandemic primaries continue into mid-July, there has been a recurring pattern of poll worker shortages, last-minute poll closures and ensuing congestion for in-person voting—even as record numbers of voters cast mailed-out ballots in those same states.

Yet one relatively inexpensive countermeasure has not yet been widely used to smooth polling place voting, at least not yet, due to a mix of administrative hurdles and partisan obstruction. That remedy is drop boxes—akin to mailboxes—that can safely and securely accept and hold hundreds to several thousand ballot envelopes.

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Recruiting Poll Workers Can Thwart Trump’s Attacks On Our Voting Rights

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

In 2000, Ion Sancho had a front-row seat to the partisan mayhem and legal posturing surrounding Florida's presidential recount. The Florida Supreme Court asked Sancho, then supervisor of elections in Florida's capital, to be its technical adviser—second in charge—of overseeing the recount, which the U.S. Supreme Court abruptly halted in its Bush v. Gore decision, elevating George W. Bush to the presidency.

As the U.S. heads toward 2020's general election amid a pandemic and President Trump's continued attacks on voting from home, Sancho has been reviewing trends from the resumed primaries and sees both how Trump and the GOP are positioning the party for another court-decided electoral outcome—and the single remedy that would frustrate those plans.

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Looming Election Challenge: Mail Ballots That Never Reach Voters

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

After a poorly attended rally in Tulsa and falling support in opinion polls, President Trump has renewed his false attacks on mail-in voting.

But as states keep encouraging voting from home in response to the pandemic and 2020's primaries and runoffs continue, a recurring election administration problem may be playing into Trump's myths about Democrats voting more than once.

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Tech Glitches Plague An Already Chaotic Primary Season

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Washington, D.C.'s primary election on June 2 experienced many obstacles: Police officers told voters waiting in line that they were violating a curfew; the protests against police violence continued throughout the city; and fears of the spread of COVID-19 remained. One less-well-known primary breakdown happened when the city's high-tech tools intended to help people vote failed, according to a preliminary report from the D.C. Board of Elections.

"The Vote4DC Mobile App proved incompatible with various types of mobile devices used by some voters. The application's vendor was unable to triage and correct the problems," the June 16 report's executive summary said. It added, "Many voters who timely completed their ballot requests could not track the status of their ballots. This led to understandable confusion and frustration."

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Red Flags Signaled Trouble In Georgia’s Awful Primary

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The signs kept coming that Georgia's June 9 primary would not go well. On the last day of early voting, the Friday before the election, Jon Ossoff, a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, waited for more than three hours to vote on Atlanta's west side. It took Nikema Williams, the Georgia Democratic Party chair and a state senator from the city, more than five hours—on her wedding anniversary.

On the night before he voted, Ossoff told supporters that Fulton County in metro Atlanta had lost thousands of emailed requests for absentee ballots. That revelation suggested that voters who had never received their mail-in ballot would likely show up at what were fewer in-person polling places—reduced in number in response to an exodus of poll workers in the pandemic, and due to calls by officials to vote by mail. But Ossoff's news hinted at deeper dysfunctions.

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