Voting 2020 live updates: Hurricane Zeta disrupts Georgia voting; 75% of voters worried about violence; NC town defies state over BLM signs

John Bacon and Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY
·13 min read

Power outages due to Hurricane Zeta darkened early, in-person voting locations across parts of Georgia, where about 530,000 homes and businesses were without electricity Thursday at 6 p.m. ET.

Civil rights groups asked Gov. Brian Kemp to extend early voting through 9 p.m. Friday in affected areas like parts of metro Atlanta and north Georgia. Friday is the state's last day of early in-person voting.

The hurricane impacted polling in other large swaths of the southeast as well, with Power Outage US estimating more than 2.5 million customers were without electricity Thursday afternoon. Early voting sites in North Carolina were forced to operate on generators as more than 263,000 Duke Energy subscribers lost power.

In Mississippi, the utility that serves the southeastern portion of the state warned some Gulf Coast customers to expect a multiple-day wait before all electricity is restored. In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards said polling places would have a high priority in the efforts to restore electricity to the hundreds of thousands who lost it.

Some context: In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump won Georgia's 16 electoral votes by defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton 50%-45%. About 4 millions votes were cast. This year, almost 3.5 million votes already have been cast.

Talu Massey speaks about voting from her home in Detroit, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.
Talu Massey speaks about voting from her home in Detroit, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.

More news to keep in mind today: We're just five days away from Election Day, and USA TODAY is keeping track of what's happening as voters around the country cast ballots. Keep refreshing this page for updates.

  • In Texas, everyone who enters a polling place is now mandated to wear a face mask following a federal judge's ruling.

  • The governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, went to vote but learned someone had hacked his voter info. Now, a 20-year-old man is accused of changing the governor's address in the voter database, briefly stalling him while he was attempting to vote in Tallahassee.

  • Know your voting rights: If you encounter intimidation at the polls on Election Day, here's what to do.

If you want an in-depth look: The ongoing coronavirus pandemic and racial tensions have divided the nation and galvanized millions of people to cast their votes weeks before the Nov. 3 election. But the historic turnout has been challenged by a wide range of tactics to suppress voters, particularly voters in communities of color.

Voters are casting ballots: Numbers compiled by the U.S. Elections Project website show at least 80 million people, more than one-third of those registered, have already voted. Meanwhile, the Guardian and ProPublica report 26% 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.

'It's pretty scary': 75% of voters concerned about election violence

Large stretches of downtown Washington, within blocks of the White House, resemble a coastal community girding for a powerful hurricane as hotels, office buildings, coffee shops and restaurants have been sheathed in plywood in anticipation of possible violent unrest stemming from Tuesday's election.

That fear is felt across much of the country. Three-quarters of voters say they're concerned about the possibility of violence, while only 1 in 4 say they're "very confident" the country will see a peaceful transfer of power if Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden defeats President Donald Trump, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll finds.

"The people are very stressed out, and there is a lot of uncertainty in the country right now,'' said Alex Provenzano, who boarded up his downtown Washington salon. "It’s pretty scary."

-- Kristine Phillips, Kevin Johnson and Grace Hauck

Small North Carolina town battles state officials over Black Lives Matter signs

A North Carolina town just outside Chapel Hill has become a battleground between state and local officials regarding the presence of Black Lives Matter signs attached to the front of the voting site at the town hall.

The progressive community of Carrboro, pop. 21,000, refused to take down the BLM flags after receiving a letter from North Carolina election officials ordering the signs' removal and informing them of complaints by voters and the state GOP.

In her letter dated Wednesday, elections board Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell said the flags could be interpreted as an official endorsement of a particular movement and should be removed for the remainder of the early voting period, which ends Saturday.

The response from Mayor Lydia Lavelle and other officials was succinct: “After consulting with the town attorney, the Mayor and Town Council have chosen to leave the flags in place,” their statement said.

Hurricane Zeta cuts power to polling places in Georgia

Power outages due to Hurricane Zeta have darkened early voting locations across parts of Georgia, were more than 530,000 homes and businesses remained without electricity Thursday evening.

In Douglas County, in Atlanta’s western suburbs, all six polling locations were without power. Habersham County in northeast Georgia was hosting no voting at all on Thursday. Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger said 15 counties were affected.

Raffensperger said his office has asked utility officials to restore power to all polling locations as quickly as possible. A day earlier, Raffensperger's office announced record-breaking totals for early in-person voting.

Ballot selfies are your jam? Don't try them in Illinois

While the winner of next week's presidential election remains a mystery, you can count on this: “Ballot selfies” will be snapped at the polls. But the growing phenomenon of voters posting the selfies with their marked ballots on social media carries some risk.

California, Colorado and New Hampshire are among more than 20 states where it’s legal to take a ballot selfie. But in Illinois it's illegal to cast a ballot in a way that “can be observed by another person" – and it’s punishable by up to three years in prison.

The ballot selfie trend is all part of the age of social media, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“The explosion of social media and ‘selfie’ culture has also challenged the traditional thinking that voters should not disclose how they voted,’’ the conference says. “Many young people, who share everything on social media, find it logical that they should be able to share a photo of their voted ballot with friends and followers.’’

Josh Peter

Detroit woman who voted for FDR 80 years ago went with Biden in 2020

Talu Massey didn't let a world war rob her of her right to vote, so she certainly wasn't going to be stopped by a pandemic.

Massey, 103, is among the millions of Americans who have voted before Nov. 3, resulting in record-breaking early turnout. A Detroit resident for 102 years, she is proud of her lengthy voting record, saying it is everyone's civic duty.

Massey was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1917. She cast her first presidential ballot 80 years ago for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Among other Democrats she backed are John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama and now Joe Biden.

Massey recently made an appearance in a music video, “I Have a Right to Vote,” featuring “Hamilton” original cast member Christopher Jackson, actors Billy Porter and Hill Harper, and others reciting the words of voting-rights icons such as John Lewis and Frederick Douglass.

“As an American citizen, you have a right to cast your vote for who you want in office, who you want to be running the government,” Massey says.

Supreme Court backs Democrats on Pennsylvania, North Carolina absentee ballot issues

The U.S. Supreme Court refused for a second time to change Pennsylvania's election rules at the 11th hour, handing state Republicans a defeat in their effort to reimpose an Election Day deadline for the return of absentee ballots.

The unsigned order means that for now, ballots received by Nov. 6 will be counted. But ballots received after polls close on Tuesday will be segregated from those received earlier, and if the state turns out to be pivotal, the high court could consider the state GOP's challenge after the election.

The justices' action establishes the ground rules for mail-in voting in one of the nation's key battleground states, where President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden are competing for its 20 electoral votes.

The court also allowed North Carolina to count votes received up to nine days after the election as long as the ballots are postmarked by Election Day.

Richard Wolf

Loosened absentee voting rules a boon for people with disabilities

Many states are not requiring a specific reason for absentee voting this year due to the pandemic. That's a relief for some people with disabilities, said Doug Kruse, co-director of the disability research program at Rutgers University. As a result, he said, turnout among voters with disabilities may increase this year.

“Anything that makes it easier to vote is good for people with disabilities,” he said.

People with disabilities are estimated to be one-sixth of voters this year. A 2017 study of polling places used during the 2016 election found that 60% of them had one or more potential impediments. The most common were steep ramps outside buildings, a lack of signs indicating accessible paths and poor parking or path surfaces, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found.

Elaine S. Povich, Stateline

Florida may limit public access to examination of mail-in ballots

Recent changes to what the public can observe when a Florida canvassing board scrutinizes mail-in ballots have prompted concerns about the integrity of a final vote count in the Sunshine State.

In past years, the process of examining mail-in ballots and checking signatures on ballots that were being considered for rejection by a county's voter canvassing board was a public affair attended by party officials and anybody else interested. But a court case this summer threw the procedure into question over the concern that the secrecy of a voter's ballot would be compromised in a precinct with only a single vote cast.

As a result, Florida elections supervisors are weighing whether the public can view challenged signatures when canvassing boards meet.

Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon, Florida Today

Election problems: What to keep in mind

This cheat sheet from Columbia Journalism Review offers tips for media organizations reporting on Election 2020 that are a good reminder of what to expect on Election Day.

  • Voting problems aren't failures. They happen every year and, as CJR notes, hiccups such as voting machines not working or polling places opening late don't mean anything is "rigged."

  • Some problems, however, are significant. CJR recommends the media scrutinize areas that have a history of voter suppression or obstructing minority voters, calling out Georgia as a place to monitor.

  • Don't expect a winner on Election Night. This year is different because mail-in ballots could be as high as 30%. Previously, that number was 3%-5%. It will take a while to tally.

  • Seriously, expect to wait. State vote certification deadlines differ and don't have to be reported to the federal level until Dec. 8. Additionally, the Electoral College doesn’t meet until Dec. 14.

Texas judge overrules governor, voids mask exception at polling places

A federal judge in San Antonio has voided Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's exception to statewide mask mandates and ruled that everyone who enters or works at a polling place in the state must wear a face covering.

U.S. District Judge Jason Pulliam, appointed by President Donald Trump, said the exemption for polling sites violates the Voting Rights Act “because it creates a discriminatory burden on Black and Latino voters.”

The pandemic has disproportionately affected minorities, placing them at higher risk of severe illness and death and forcing them to make “the unfortunate choice required between voting and minimizing their risk” of exposure under Abbott’s poll exemption, the judge wrote. “This discriminatory effect can be eliminated, or at least mitigated, if all people wear masks at polling sites.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he will ask the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to block the order.

– Chuck Lindell, Austin American-Statesman

Florida governor learns his info was hacked when trying to vote

A Florida man who allegedly accessed the voter registration of several well-known figures stands accused of changing Gov. Ron DeSantis' address in the state's voter database.

Anthony Steven Guevara, 20, of Naples, was charged with unauthorized access of a computer and altering a voter registration without consent, both felonies. Authorities say he also accessed the voter registrations for U.S. Sen. Rick Scott and sports celebrities Michael Jordan and LeBron James, but made no changes.

Police arrested Guevara on Tuesday, a day after the governor discovered the issue while trying to cast a ballot.

– Frank Gluck, Fort Myers News-Press

Florida county to guard vote drop-off boxes around the clock

The supervisor of elections in Florida's Brevard County has deployed security personnel to guard vote-by-mail dropoff boxes outside her four offices around the clock.

Supervisor of Elections Lori Scott said she took the action after hearing of an incident Sunday of the contents of a ballot box being set on fire in Boston, a week after a similar incident in Baldwin Park, California. Scott said the Florida Division of Elections last week had suggested — but not required — that such dropoff ballot boxes be guarded.

She said the county plans to pay for the private security through money it received from a federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act grant.

– Dave Berman and Tyler Vazquez, Florida Today

Worried about voter suppression? Lawyers have election laws hotline

Nearly 24,000 lawyers are volunteering to help voters across the country navigate changes in what has become an unprecedented election cycle. Organizers of Election Protection, a national coalition of civil rights and voting rights groups, said the number of volunteers has quadrupled since the 2016 presidential election and the 2018 midterm elections. They’re bracing for even more calls as Election Day nears and in the days and weeks following.

The Election Protection hotline (866-OUR-VOTE) is available all year, but calls have ramped up in recent weeks as millions started casting ballots early in some states. The hotline has received more than 100,000 calls since July, averaging about 7,000 a day, organizers said. At this point in 2016, the group had fielded 21,000 calls since January of that year.

– Deborah Barfield Berry

Headlines from elsewhere and resources on voting

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Contributing: Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Voting 2020: 75% worried about election violence; Hurricane Zeta