Ever since early voting started, New Yorkers have stood in lengthy lines, with some waiting hours to cast their ballot in person. Why? USA TODAY's New York state team offers some answers: A relative lack of polling places in some areas of the state, enhanced cleaning protocols in the COVID-19 era and a turnout that appears to have caught some officials off guard. On the last weekend of early voting, we're guessing many will be in Halloween costumes.
For the first time this year, all New York voters had three options to cast a ballot: Early voting, traditional Election Day voting and, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, absentee voting.
Some context: Election-reform advocates say what's happening in New York is evidence of an energized presidential electorate eager to participate in early voting, which lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo first adopted last year after dozens of other states had already done so. It's also laid bare the system's growing pains. Read more.
More news to keep in mind today: We're just four 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.
After Zeta caused power outages and other issues across the South, voter advocacy groups are asking Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to extend the state's Friday deadline for early voting.
Walmart has removed guns and ammunition from store displays ahead of the election, citing worries about civil unrest. (Earlier this week, Trevor Hughes wrote about how worried Americans are indeed buying guns and toilet paper.)
Voters in jail often rely on outside civic groups to register them. Many of those initiatives were limited this year due to the coronavirus, disenfranchising hundreds of thousands.
Know your voting rights: If you encounter intimidation at the polls on Election Day, here's what to do.
Legal battles are happening on a massive scale: A record-setting number of lawsuits have been filed this year, with even more likely after the polls close. More than 230 election-related federal lawsuits were filed from Jan. 1 to Oct. 23, higher than any of the past three presidential election years during the same time period, a USA TODAY analysis of federal court data found.
Voters are casting ballots: Numbers compiled by the U.S. Elections Project website show at least 82 million people, more than one-third of those registered, have already voted. Meanwhile, the Guardian and ProPublica report 16.4% 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.
>> Read more: It's not just young people voting for the first time. At age 99, Barbara Duvall survived COVID-19, pneumonia and five days in the hospital. Last week, the Indiana resident voted for the first time. "I decided this time that I wanted the right man in there."
Early votes in Texas surpass total cast in 2016 with Election Day still to go
Early voting has surged to unprecedented levels in the 2020 election, especially in Texas where the number of early votes has already surpassed the total number of ballots cast four years ago.
According to the Texas Secretary of State office, 8,969,226 out of 15,101,087 registered voters cast ballots in the entire 2016 general election. The official vote count in Texas through Thursday is already at 9,009,850 – with a full day of early voting and Election Day left to go.
Voters in Texas do not register by party, so the early returns don't indicate whether the high numbers favor either Democrats or Republicans. Polling indicates a very tight race in the Lone Star State, which Trump won four years ago by nine percentage points.
– William Cummings
Florida early voting site closes because of COVID-19 among election workers
A Palm Bay, Florida, early voting site has been closed after election workers there tested positive for COVID-19, Brevard County Supervisor of Elections Lori Scott announced Friday.
The affected site is at the supervisor of elections' Palm Bay administrative offices, 450 Cogan Drive SE, which also is temporarily closed.
Citing the "stringent safety protocols" in place since the since the March presidential preference primary, Scott said: "It is a tribute to our strict safety measures that we have been able to process almost a half a million voters through the election process this year before having our first positive case.”
Early in-person voting continues from 8 am. to 6 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and voters were urged to visit other early voting sites in the area. (You can follow Friday's coronavirus news here.)
– Dave Berman, Florida Today
After Zeta, civil rights groups ask for Georgia voting extension
A group of civil rights organizations is asking Georgia’s governor to extend early voting hours Friday after the storm disrupted voting Thursday in the battleground state.
Groups including the Georgia NAACP and Fair Fight Action called on Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to use emergency powers to order voting be extended through 9 p.m. Friday in affected areas. Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger said that 15 counties were affected. Friday is Georgia’s last day of early in-person voting.
Voting was disrupted at some sites in metro Atlanta and north Georgia after the storm caused power outages. Several polling places opened late.
– Associated Press
Will the weather impact turnout? Turns out, it should be a nice day
The weather on Election Day itself could be less important this year than it has been in past presidential elections because of the surge in early voting. In any case, most of the nation should be seeing mild temperatures. Warmer-than-normal conditions are expected for the western two-thirds of the U.S.
“We know from polling that weather can have a major impact on voter turnout, and that bad weather impacts Democratic voters’ ability to reach the polling sites more than Republican voters," said Paul Walsh of the Weather Company, in an e-mail to USA TODAY.
"Of course this is 2020 and anything can happen, but the forecast is calling for most of the country to have relatively dry and seasonal weather conditions, which provides yet another tailwind for high turnout," Walsh said.
– Doyle Rice
New citizens in Massachusetts given bad info on their voting eligibility, report says
Federal immigration officials incorrectly told more than 400 new U.S. citizens in Massachusetts that they couldn’t vote in this year’s general election because the state’s registration deadline had passed before they took their citizenship oaths, according to a published report.
Denis Riordan, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Boston, acknowledged the error in a statement to GBH News.
Some agency officials presiding over naturalization ceremonies Monday and Tuesday informed newly sworn-in citizens that Massachusetts’ Oct. 24 voter registration deadline had already passed, so they would not be able to vote, he said. The agency has since confirmed that in Massachusetts, residents naturalized after that deadline may still register to vote up until 4 p.m. on Nov. 2.
– Associated Press
Many in jail are eligible to vote. But casting a ballot behind bars isn't easy
Some hundreds of thousands of people are in local jails around the country, the majority of whom retain their voting eligibility as they await trial or serve misdemeanor sentences. Yet many face "de facto disenfranchisement" by structural barriers that prevent their access to voting information, registration materials and absentee ballot applications, legal experts and advocates say.
Although a smaller group than those disenfranchised by felony convictions, people in jails encounter hurdles to access voting than most other voters never face. Voters in jail often rely on outside civic groups to register them, and many of those initiatives were limited this year due to the coronavirus: "COVID has exacerbated all the existing barriers that make voting from jails difficult," said Dana Paikowsky, a legal fellow at the Campaign Legal Center who focuses on access to voting in jails. Read more.
– Ryan Miller
Headlines from elsewhere and resources on voting
From ProPublica: Their Electionland project goes deep on issues that can affect eligible voters' ability to cast a ballot.
From Pew/Stateline: The Barriers to the Ballot Box project takes on how changes to polling places impact communities.
Ballotopedia: Resources and guides to not just the election, but also voting.
From the Associated Press: More voting headlines that should be on your radar.
☑️How to make sure your 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.
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75% of voters fear election violence as Chicago, DC board up
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.
-- Kristine Phillips, Kevin Johnson and Grace Hauck
Paul Rudd treats drenched New York voters to cookies as long lines plague state
Some New Yorkers got a sweet surprise from Paul Rudd on Thursday, as they braved the rain to vote early in the 2020 election. According to videos and pictures circulating on Twitter, the beloved (and ageless) actor handed out cookies to people waiting in the rain to vote at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
"I’m voting in Brooklyn and Paul Rudd is handing out cookies," tweeted user @Bowl_of_Worcel, along with a 17-second video of the "Ant-Man" star wearing a hat, raincoat and face mask. As of Thursday evening, the video has garnered over three million views.
"I wanted to say thank you, for coming out and voting and doing your part," Rudd says in the video, as he hands a voter a cookie.
Long lines in New York have been making headlines amid early voting, showing not only this year's voter enthusiasm but also significant growing pains for the state's new early-voting system.
– Charles Trepany, Jon Campbell, David McKay Wilson, Nancy Cutler, Mark Lungariello, Brian Sharp
From the Editorial Board: Early voting is breaking records amid COVID-19. Hail to you, determined voters
Walmart removes guns, ammo from displays amid concerns of civil unrest
Walmart has pulled guns and ammunition from its sales floors ahead of the election, company officials confirmed to USA TODAY.
The news was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, which said the retailer was looking to head off any potential theft of firearms if stores are broken into amid any civil unrest caused by the upcoming presidential election on Tuesday.
"We have seen some isolated civil unrest and as we have done on several occasions over the last few years, we have moved our firearms and ammunition off the sales floor as a precaution for the safety of our associates and customers," Walmart said in a statement to USA TODAY. "These items do remain available for purchase by customers.”
Walmart sells firearms in about half of its 4,700 stores.
– Kelly Tyko
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
Worried about voter suppression? Call an election hotline run by lawyers for help
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
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Voting 2020 updates, news: New York lines; Zeta in Georgia; weather