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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."

"We must change our language from '[the] November Election,' 'Election Day,' and 'November 3rd' to 'the fall election' or 'the general election,'" says Mimi Kennedy, an actress and activist on the board of Progressive Democrats of America, in a voter guide that suggests making a calendar that starts with checking one's voter registration information. "All voting requires advance planning from now on."

This voter-centric advice contrasts with much recent media coverage surrounding voting this fall. Those narratives have been dominated by President Trump saying he might not accept the results, predictions of November meltdowns, and the question of whether or not Congress will appropriate more funds for the fall's state and local elections.

Stepping back, experts like Becker say that the landscape and options for voting this fall are mostly known. The smartest course is for voters to think about making plans to vote and for election officials to anticipate that there won't be many more procedural changes.

Voters have three options this fall: Voting with ballots that are mailed to their home; voting early, in person; and voting in person on Election Day, November 3.

Within these three choices is a second set of decisions. If you receive a ballot by mail, do you have to return it by mail? Or can you return it in person? The return choices typically are a mix of drop boxes, early voting sites, Election Day sites and election offices. Election rules vary among states and counties, but details can be found on government election websites.

Voting starts with registration (in all states except North Dakota, which does not require voter registration). Kennedy's voting guide suggests that voters check their registration information after August 5. That's 90 days before November 3, after which it is illegal to remove voters from the rolls. September is "Order Your Mail Ballot Month," Kennedy advises. October is the month to "Vote Your Mail Ballot" or vote early in person.

"We've made a Voters' Calendar for the Voting Season," Kennedy says. "It stretches our attention span so high-turnout elections can become a task that mere mortals can perform."

The newest reason why it is more important than ever to verify one's registration status is because registration forms include information that determines how election officials will be contacting voters this fall. That's the address to which ballots will be automatically be sent in some states. It's the address to which applications for a mailed-out ballot will be sent in other states. This information is what's used to check in voters at polls and validate all of the ballots that are filled out at home and returned to election officials.

Becker suggested that whenever possible, voters use government websites to interact with election officials for several reasons. First, voters should directly engage with the officials who will issue and count their votes, he said. Second, these websites and their data are likely to be more secure and accurate amid an environment that is seeing increasing disinformation. The National Association of Secretaries of State has a "Can I Vote" portal that redirects voters to their official state sites to solve most issues.

Looking past the registration stage, voters will have to decide how they want to vote—with a mailed-out ballot or in person. This spring, many election specialists assumed that voting from home would solve the unexpected challenges of voting in a pandemic. But spring and summer primaries have shown that many voters, especially in cities, want to vote in person. Thus, the options for the fall are a mix of voting by mail or in person: either early or on Election Day.

"Decide if mail voting is for you. Mail voting might not be for you," Becker said. "If you haven't filled out [absentee] ballots often, if you don't feel confident about mail delivery in your area, mail voting is probably not for you… Do what's right for you. That's really important."

If your mailed-out ballot doesn't arrive within a week of Election Day on November 3, then shift gears and be prepared to find an early, in-person voting center.

Kennedy, who has been a poll worker for a decade in Los Angeles, says each state will have varying rules on how it will process a voter who was listed as voting from home but shows up in person. Some states will let voters exchange an unvoted, mailed-out ballot for a regular, in-person ballot. Others will ask them to cast a provisional ballot—where a voter's eligibility is checked before it counts.

"This is voter PPE—Personal Protective Education—in the time of pandemic," she says. "Voting Season is not just about November 3rd anymore, not for vote-counting (it might take weeks) and not for vote-casting. Protection of your voting rights starts three months out. Plan to vote and follow your plan. We all know why this election matters."

"We can either complain about a bad process and be angry or work to improve the process and educate voters, and be successful," Becker said. "I am one of those people who on November 4 would be happier if we all thought election officials had performed a job well done."

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.


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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

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.

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