Election Live Updates: Trump vs Biden, Voting News and More

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Trump predicted on Saturday that the presidential election would not be decided on Tuesday, warning that “you’re going to be waiting for weeks” and suggesting — with no evidence — that “very bad things” could happen while states are counting ballots in the days after Election Day.

The president’s comments came as he kicked off four Saturday campaign stops in Pennsylvania with a subdued speech to several hundred people, boasting about his accomplishments and attacking his rival while he predicted victory next week.

“Many, many days. So you’re going to be watching on November 3rd. I think it’s highly likely you’re not going to have a decision because Pennsylvania’s very big,” Mr. Trump said at his first stop in Newtown. “We’re going to be waiting, November 3rd is going to come and go, and we’re not going to know. And you’re going to have bedlam in our country.”

The president’s campaign has aggressively sought to prevent Pennsylvania and other states from extending the time they are allowed to count mail-in ballots, which have been used in greater numbers than ever before because of concerns about in-person voting during the pandemic. On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that Pennsylvania officials can accept absentee ballots for three days after Tuesday.

“This is a horrible thing that the United States Supreme Court has done to our country,” Mr. Trump said. “And I say it, and I say it loud and I say it proud.”

Despite his concerns about ballots, Mr. Trump predicted that Republicans will win the presidency and do well in congressional elections, waving aside polls which suggest that Democrats are leading in battleground states across the country.

“A great, red wave is forming,” Mr. Trump said, showing little of the energy he does when he speaks in front of thousands of people at bigger rallies. “As sure as we’re here together, that red wave is forming. They see it on all sides and there’s nothing they can do about it.”

The president’s first speech took place in a field in front of the farmhouse where George Washington planned the crossing of the Delaware River. The small crowd sat close together, mostly unmasked. Mr. Trump was missing his typical backdrop: His campaign did not position energetic supporters in a stand behind him.

Mr. Trump has three more rallies scheduled in Pennsylvania on Saturday that are expected to be larger as he races to try to catch up to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., his Democratic rival, who has consistently led in polls in the crucial swing state.

The president criticized Mr. Biden’s trade practices in a state hit hard in recent years by job losses.

“For decades, they targeted your steel mills, shut down your plants and sent millions of your jobs overseas, all while lining their pockets with special interest cash,” Mr. Trump said. “No one embodies this betrayal and treachery more than Joe Biden.”

Mr. Trump’s teleprompter appeared to have problems at one point, but for the most part the president tried to stick to a speech that appeared designed to present him in a more “presidential” light, avoiding some of the angry and defensive rants that have been central to his rallies.

He did mock Mr. Biden for wearing sunglasses and dismissed his Democratic rival as merely a puppet of liberal Democrats in Congress.

And he went on a long, improvised riff about his administration’s production of ventilators as he downplayed concerns about the coronavirus, even as the country recorded 99,784 new cases on Friday, with hospitalizations spiking. He insisted that “we are rounding the turn” and claimed without evidence that a vaccine to “end the pandemic once and for all” will be ready within weeks.

“We have done an incredible job. At some point they are going to recognize that,” Mr. Trump said after mocking Mr. Biden for focusing too much on the virus. “We’ve done an A-plus job. I give ourselves a D, or maybe an F, in terms of public relations.”

AUSTIN, Texas — Multiple vehicles bearing Trump flags and signs surrounded a Biden-Harris campaign bus heading from San Antonio to Austin on Friday, forcing campaign officials to scrap two campaign events, according to reports by Democratic officials on Saturday.

The vehicles surrounded the bus on busy Interstate 35 and appeared to be attempting to slow it down and force it to the side of the road, according to social media posts from witnesses and accounts by party activists. In one instance, the vehicles pulled in front of the bus and tried to stop in the middle of the highway.

Katie Naranjo, chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, tweeted that Trump supporters also “ran into a person’s car, yelling curse words and threats.” The bus was occupied by campaign staff workers, who notified local law enforcement, which assisted the vehicle in reaching its destination, party officials said.

Out of “an abundance of caution,” they said, the campaign canceled an event scheduled for later that day at a parking lot belonging to the Texas A.F.L.-C.I.O. in downtown Austin. A campaign event in suburban Pflugerville was also scrapped.

“Rather than engage in productive conversation about the drastically different visions that Joe Biden and Donald Trump have for our country, Trump supporters in Texas instead decided to put our staff, surrogates, supporters, and others in harm’s way,” Tariq Thowfeek, the Texas communications director for the Biden for President campaign, said in a statement.

“Our supporters will continue to organize their communities for Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and Democrats up and down the ballot,” Mr. Thowfeek said, “and to the Texans who disrupted our events: We’ll see you on November 3rd.”

A spokesman for the Texas Republican Party could not be immediately reached for comment.

Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

More than 90 million votes have already been cast in the 2020 presidential election — about 65 percent of the total turnout in 2016, according to data updated Saturday afternoon by the U.S. Elections Project, an effort led by Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida who specializes in American elections.

The number of early votes cast has already shattered the previous early turnout record set in 2016, thanks in large part to expansions of mail and absentee voting put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. More than 91 million ballots have been sent to voters through the mail, and as of Saturday, 57 million of them have been returned. Over 32 million votes have been cast early and in person, according to the Elections Project.

A New York Times analysis of polling and ballot-request data shows that more Democrats have requested absentee ballots than Republicans have, and that most Republicans are likely to vote in person on Election Day. Experts have warned against drawing conclusions about the outcome of the race from early vote data for that reason and others. (Indeed, Hillary Clinton’s apparent edge in the early vote was widely reported in 2016 in the days before she ultimately lost the Electoral College.)

Still, experts have acknowledged that the early vote data so far does suggest turnout may exceed the 139 million votes cast in 2016.

The early vote is being watched particularly closely in crucial swing states like Florida, a state the president narrowly carried against Mrs. Clinton in 2016 and where polling is showing Joseph R. Biden Jr. slightly ahead. Data from the Elections Project shows that about 8.3 million ballots have been cast in Florida, a total representing roughly 59 percent of the registered voters in the state.

In Texas, more than 9.6 million ballots had been cast as of Friday, more than the roughly 8.9 million Texans who voted statewide four years ago. Polling averages there show a tight race in which President Trump is ahead.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. tag-teamed President Trump in their first joint appearance of 2020, with the former president joking that Mr. Trump was “traumatized” by low turnout at his childhood birthday parties and Mr. Biden suggesting he would have bopped Mr. Trump in their younger days.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama began Saturday at a drive-in rally in the packed parking lot of a high school in Flint, Mich., in a bid to maximize turnout in this Democratic stronghold on the final weekend of the campaign. They were scheduled to appear later at an event in Detroit where Stevie Wonder was set to perform.

Mr. Obama won Michigan twice, and Genesee County, home to Flint, is an example of a place where Democrats lost significant ground in 2016 compared with how the Obama-Biden ticket had fared.

The Biden campaign is also planning to deploy Mr. Obama to South Florida and Atlanta on Monday, where he will try to help not only Mr. Biden but also two Democratic Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, Democratic officials said.

The former president, wearing a black windbreaker against the late autumn chill, began by praising Mr. Biden’s “responsible” approach to governance, then pivoted to offense, the task he has pursued with vigor in appearances over the past week. He laced into his successor for suggesting, on Friday, that physicians are magnifying the severity of the pandemic to make money.

“He cannot fathom, or does not understand, that someone would risk their lives for another person without making a buck,” Mr. Obama said.

The former president also took aim at Mr. Trump’s claims, made throughout his presidency, that he attracts larger crowds than the former vice president and president.

“What’s his obsession with crowd sizes?” he asked, to the sound of honking horns. “Did no one come to his birthday party when he was a kid? Is he traumatized?”

Mr. Biden criticized Mr. Trump for his reported comments about America’s war dead and noted that Mr. Trump “likes to portray himself as a tough guy.” Then he suggested he would have wanted to punch Mr. Trump back in the day. “When you were in high school, wouldn’t you have liked to take the shot?” Mr. Biden said. “Anyway, that’s a different story, but anyway. A macho man.”

Saturday’s trip to Michigan was also an opportunity for Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama to lend a hand in a close Senate race, as Gary Peters, an incumbent Democrat, is trying to fend off a challenge from his Republican opponent, John James.

Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

PITTSBURGH — In 2016, Allegheny County, which includes the city of Pittsburgh, voted for Hillary Clinton by a 16-point margin. At the same time, it gave Donald Trump more votes than he received in any other county in the state.

The battle over these margins is a matter of suburban geography, as a solidly blue city pushes further out against an ever-reddening western Pennsylvania, a shoving match that will go far in determining the winner of the state.

On the front lines of that Democratic push is an army of “resistance” groups formed immediately after the 2016 election, mostly consisting of midcareer women who were electrified by Mr. Trump’s election. Marie Norman, 55, a professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, is one of them: Her group, called the Order of the Phoenix, has been churning out postcards and deploying door-to-door canvassers since forming nearly four years ago.

On Saturday morning, Ms. Norman was canvassing in the suburbs south of the city for statehouse candidates, including a state senator trying to hold a seat in hotly contested territory on the frontiers of the Democrats’ post-2016 suburban advance. “I feel a lot of energy this time canvassing — different from 2018,” she said. “I’m sure there’s more energy for Trump, too.”

A few minutes later, an S.U.V. driving down the quiet street proved her point: It was covered with Trump decals and flying Trump flags.

Along three suburban blocks, Ms. Norman met Biden voters who were fervently hoping that he wins and others who were somewhat skeptical of him; a Trump voter who ripped up Ms. Norman’s fliers at the door; and another who had a friendly discussion about not wanting to brainwash his children with his own political opinions. That she would be meeting all of these people while campaigning for a state house candidate would have been unthinkable before the 2016 election.

Ms. Norman said she felt confident in a Biden victory in the county in terms of votes already cast — the Democrats currently hold a nearly 4-1 advantage in returned mail-in and absentee ballots — but she worried about whether the ballots would all be counted. A Trump win will be hard to recover from, she said, but win or lose, she plans to keep the Order of the Phoenix going, with a future focus on judicial elections.

The 2016 election, she said, “totally changed my life.”

Credit…Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York Times

Former President Barack Obama will travel to to Atlanta and South Florida on Monday, the Biden campaign announced Saturday afternoon, a move aimed at boosting turnout in closely contested states where victories for the former vice president would open multiple paths to the White House.

The advisory released Saturday by the Biden campaign did not say where exactly in South Florida Mr. Obama would appear or provide any additional details about his pair of 11th-hour stops.

But Florida is among the most closely watched contests of the 2020 presidential election. More than 8.3 million ballots have been cast there as of Saturday, a total representing roughly 59 percent of the registered voters in the state.

Polling is showing Joseph R. Biden Jr. slightly ahead in the state. But polls do not always match up with turnout, and in 2016, Florida surveys overestimated support for Hillary Clinton, who went on to narrowly lose Florida to President Trump.

The biggest Florida county, Miami-Dade, has seen robust early turnout but not as high as other counties, raising alarms among Democrats. Much of the party’s base of Black and Hispanic Americans lives in South Florida, and Democrats worry that if those voters stay home, Mr. Trump might have an easier path to victory in the state. Both Black and Hispanic Democrats tend to vote later in the state, so weekend turnout numbers will be crucial for Mr. Biden’s campaign.

Polls in Georgia, a traditionally red-leaning state, have showed a similarly tight race in which Mr. Biden is slightly ahead. Democrats have long eyed the state as an expansion opportunity, and strong insurance if Mr. Biden were to lose swing states in the rust-belt, like Pennsylvania, or in the Sun Belt, like Florida.

Georgia is also home to two pivotal Senate races whose outcomes could play a role in determining which party has control of the chamber.

One of the races features Senator David Perdue, the Republican incumbent, who is facing a tough challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff. In the other, Senator Kelly Loeffler is in a special election that includes candidates from both parties. The Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, leads the entire field, according to a recent New York Times/Siena College poll of the state. But the special election is all but certain to go to a January runoff because no candidate is near earning 50 percent support.

Credit…Lynsey Weatherspoon for The New York Times

In the final days of an historic campaign season, Democrats in Georgia are searching for people like Linda Wingfield.

On Friday, Ms. Wingfield left her shift as a fast-food cook and cast a ballot for the very first time — at 59 years old.

“It means a lot to me,” Ms. Wingfield said as she lined up along with about 15 other Black voters outside the Adams Park Library in Atlanta.

After decades of staying away from the polls, Ms. Wingfield was spurred to vote by a strong dislike for President Trump.

“We need somebody to help us, not destroy us,” she said, calling on “God’s faith” to elect Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Friday was the final day for early, in-person voting in Georgia. And as the numbers were posted on Saturday, some experts saw worrying signs in the numbers for Democrats.

Of the nearly 2.7 million people who cast their ballots in early, in-person voting, only 709,000, or 26.4 percent, were identified as Black.

The number does not include absentee ballots, and thousands of those have not been received.

Even so, Charles Bullock, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia in Athens, said the percentage of Black voters was in line with the numbers in the state during Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential race in 2016. “I believe Democrats would be concerned about the Black turnout where it is,” he said.

Hoping to make sure the scales tip in their favor, Democrats are mounting a last-minute push, urging not only their loyal supporters to vote, but also reaching out to the apathetic and even chronic nonvoters, such as Ms. Wingfield.

“I don’t have to tell you the stakes,” Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate running against the incumbent, Senator David Perdue, said during in a Zoom call on Saturday with college students running a get-out-the-vote phone bank.

He also announced that former President Barack Obama would be coming to Atlanta on Monday in an effort to “turn out voters and get everybody out to the polls on Election Day.”

And on Saturday, Raphael G. Warnock, the pastor who is running against Senator Kelly Loeffler, was holding get-out-the-vote rallies with Democrats in DeKalb County and with South Asian voters in Suwanee, Ga.

Credit…Michelle Gustafson for The New York Times

PHILADELPHIA — The corner of Limekiln Pike and East Pastorius Street was bustling with people bundled for a chilly day of door-to-door canvassing here in northwest Philadelphia.

Wearing masks with the word “vote” on them and clutching signs reading “African Americans for Biden,” they fanned out across this predominantly Black neighborhood, knocking on the doors of likely Democratic voters who had not yet returned their absentee ballots, or who hadn’t requested one at all.

The city, which is the beating heart of Democratic support in this crucial battleground state, has been returning absentee ballots at a relatively high rate, with 74 percent returned as of Saturday, according to data from the U.S. Elections Project, an effort led by Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida who specializes in American elections.

But Philadelphia, where 38 percent of registered voters requested absentee ballots, did not embrace the method as strongly as Allegheny County — home to Pittsburgh and the other major Democratic county in the state — where 44 percent of registered voters requested absentee ballots.

Part of that is because the Democratic Party in Philadelphia began telling voters this month that they should instead focus on in-person voting, and part of that is because the city has a strong Election Day voting tradition, which was evident on Saturday as canvassers knocked on numerous doors and were greeted with supportive fist pumps and pledges to vote early on Election Day.

“I’ll be there,” said Edward Tomlin, 70, as he leaned out of his door to greet a Biden canvasser.

His neighbors, members of the Griffin family, are all planning to vote in person on Election Day, including one person who will be voting for the first time.

When Mr. Tomlin was told that there might be a line and he might want to bring a chair, he waved it off.

“I’ll be fine,” he said.

“The Daily,” The Times’s morning podcast, will have its first-ever live broadcast on Election Day. Michael Barbaro, the host of the podcast, and Carolyn Ryan, a New York Times deputy managing editor, will talk to reporters and voters across the country to make sense of what’s happening on a history-making day.

Over the four-hour broadcast, you can expect to hear from dozens of Times reporters. Our correspondents will be on the ground in key battleground states, speaking to voters as they head to the polls. Our technology reporters will keep an eye on social media — and potential disinformation — while our polling experts will discuss the latest on the state of the race.

Tune in on Tuesday, Nov. 3, from 4 to 8 p.m. Eastern time at nytimes.com/thedaily.

Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — In the final three days of the election, one of the most desirable billboards on the internet — YouTube’s home page — will be devoted exclusively to promote the re-election of President Trump.

It is the conclusion of a yearlong tug of war between the two presidential campaigns for the ad space on YouTube’s home page, the front door to the internet’s second-most visited website. The Biden campaign secured the so-called masthead on the days after the presidential debates and the Republican convention. But it was the Trump campaign that landed the coveted ad property for the most critical days of the election cycle, starting Sunday and going through Election Day. How Google allocates the home page on important election dates has become a source of tension between the company and the Democratic National Committee.

The dates just before Election Day were decided almost a year ago, months before Mr. Biden secured the Democratic nomination. Working closely with Google, the Trump campaign locked in the key dates, including Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, with special early access that it was granted as part of an incentive program for big advertisers.

Without a nominee, the D.N.C. on behalf of the eventual candidate had not spent enough in 2019 to be part of the program, meaning its nominee would have to settle for the leftover days in the 2020 election. It is not clear how much an advertiser has to spend with Google in order to participate in the early sales period.

The cost of controlling the ads on the masthead of the site is about $2 million a day, according to some advertisers, and is available to only one advertiser per day.

After the early sales period ended, the D.N.C. requested to reserve specific dates that were still available, including Election Day. A D.N.C. official said it authorized its Google sales representative to put a hold on Nov. 3 but was told a few hours later that the date had gone to another customer. The Trump campaign said it followed YouTube’s rules to grab the ad inventory first.

“Our campaign planned early, partnering with Google in 2019 to secure the YouTube masthead for the most important dates this cycle, and thanks to our forward thinking, we’re ensuring the president’s message is reaching voters across the nation before they cast their ballots,” said Courtney Parella, deputy national press secretary for the Trump campaign.

Unlike the nearly century-old broadcast radio and television laws that require equal time for each candidate’s ads, internet ads are largely unregulated. Internet companies write their own political ad policies.

“At best, the process lacked transparency and clarity,” Chris Meagher, a spokesman for the D.N.C. said. “At worst, it intentionally cut Democrats out of the process, making the advertising inventory open only to Donald Trump and Republicans.”

Google, which owns YouTube, has said that it does not treat political advertisers any differently than brands like Verizon — meaning candidates who spend more in the past are given a leg up.

Charlotte Smith, a spokeswoman for Google, said altering the masthead reservation system or adjusting the process for a specific election or political party would be “inconsistent and unfair” to YouTube’s other advertisers.

Credit…Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

TAMPA, Fla. — Across the country, President Trump faces staggering challenges with well-educated, upscale voters who have rejected the Republican Party under his leadership.Here in Hillsborough County, Democrats hope those national trends extend to affluent and traditionally conservative corners of this city, as Joseph R. Biden Jr. seeks to drive turnout among early voters in Florida ahead of a big Republican push on Election Day.

But on Saturday afternoon, three days before Election Day, there were reminders at an early-voting site in south Tampa that some areas might not be changing as rapidly as Democrats might like. Plenty of longtime Republican voters said they still separate Mr. Trump’s character from the policies of the Republican Party that they have always supported.

“I’ll be disappointed and I’ll be concerned for the economic future of our country and very concerned for the next generation” if Mr. Biden wins, said Don Blair, 53, who works in investment banking. Mr. Blair also stressed his support for Mr. Trump’s policies on issues from the Supreme Court to “his support of people of faith.”

Irene Tran, 34, an accountant, said she was deeply concerned about another lockdown and the economic fallout that would result, even as virus cases soared and many Americans remained out of work on Mr. Trump’s watch.

“Everybody needs someone like him to boost the economy, move this country forward,” she said. “There can’t be a lockdown. The country has to be still somewhat open.”

Voters at this early-voting site offered just the briefest of snapshots of the state of play in a broadly Democratic-leaning county that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, and where plenty of Biden supporters might have voted early or mailed in their ballots. But some of the Democrats arriving did not dispute the idea that the area remained an uphill battle in the race.

Jennifer, 57, would only confess in a whisper that she supported Mr. Biden.

“Look at this neighborhood,” she said, suggesting that it was Republican territory as she declined to give her last name. Asked about the idea that it was changing politically, moving away from its conservative tilt, she said, “Not as quickly as I would have hoped to have seen it.”

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

In the homestretch of the presidential election, the Biden campaign has dominated the paid media landscape.

On television and radio, the Biden campaign spent $66.2 million over the past week — from Oct. 23 to Oct. 30 — while the Trump campaign spent only about $19.4 million, according to Advertising Analytics, an ad tracking firm. The Republican National Committee has helped to pick up some of some of the Trump campaign’s slack and has run about $16 million worth of ads during the same period.

The spending advantage for Democrats holds on Facebook, where the Biden campaign has spent roughly $9 million over the past week, and the Trump campaign has spent $4.4 million during the same stretch on the platform.

The yawning spending gap between the two campaigns with just 72 hours to go until Election Day has persisted during the final weeks of the presidential race, as the Biden campaign has enjoyed an influx of donations at a time the Trump campaign has experienced a cash crunch.

President Trump had at one point raised more than $1 billion dollars for his re-election and had a fund-raising head start on Democrats. But that financial advantage has disappeared, and Joseph R. Biden Jr. entered October with roughly triple the funds at his disposal as Mr. Trump: $177 million to $63.1 million. The Biden campaign has leveraged that cash advantage on the airwaves, going up with ads as Mr. Trump’s team has slashed its ad spending budget.

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Trump’s Campaign Is Building an Army of Poll Watchers. What Can They Actually Do?

President Trump and his campaign have been calling for an army of poll watchers on Election Day. What is poll watching, and when does it cross the line? We look at how a federal consent decree restricted the Republican Party for decades, and why its expiration could make a difference in 2020.

This year, as the president has been talking about— “Fraud like you’ve never seen. They have these fake ballots. They’re trying to rig an election, and we can’t let that happen. I hope you’re all going to be poll watchers.” “His language has taken on an almost militaristic tone.” “Go into the polls and watch very carefully. Be poll watchers when you go there. Watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing they do.” There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in U.S. elections. Still, the president talks about recruiting an army of poll watchers. “It’s taken on such an aggressive nature in a way that we’ve kind of never seen before. It’s very frightening to election officials.” “It paints poll watching with a veneer of antagonism, combat and not in the spirit of protecting our elections.” But it’s more than just rhetoric. This year, the Republican Party can throw its full weight behind the president’s poll watching operations in ways we haven’t seen for nearly 40 years. To understand why, let’s take a trip back in time — “Wherever I go, people ask me what a New Jersey vacation is like” — to a governor’s race in New Jersey in 1981. “When I ran in that election, it was a very interesting election, to say the least.” This was the Democratic candidate James Florio. And here he is now. “That’s a long time ago, that’s 40 years ago.” The race was an early referendum on the Reagan administration. “I like Tom Kean.” “Kean has endorsed Reaganomics and proposed cuts in state taxes on business. The Democratic candidate, Congressman James Florio, attacks both Reagan’s and Kean’s economic plan.” “We thought it would be an election on the merits of the issues” — “revitalizing our railroads, cleaning up toxic waste, strengthening law enforcement” — “turned out that was not all involving the merits.” It was the closest fought election in the history of the state. But as it turns out, it wasn’t a clean fight. “Election day yielded some surprises to a lot of people who went to the polls because people saw off duty policemen with armbands that said ‘members of the Ballot Security Task Force.’” “That’s the Republican group, which according to state Democrats, intimidated some minority voters.” “It looked very official. And they were standing there with their guns.” “They obstructed voters from casting ballots. But also they obstructed access by poll workers.” More than 200 task force members showed up at the polls, confronting voters in Democratic strongholds. They were in Newark but not in Short Hills. They were in Trenton but not Princeton. And Camden but not in Cherry Hill. “If you look at the demographics of the neighborhoods that were targeted for these efforts, they were all predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhoods. White voters were not targeted in the same way at all.” “So it was clear that they’re not concerned about ballot integrity. They’re concerned about intimidation. It was a very clever, sinister initiative.” In the end, Florio lost by a razor thin margin. “1,797 votes out of 2.3 million votes. The intimidation had an impact on the outcome of the election.” “It’s a case of sour grapes from Democrats that don’t know how to take defeat.” But this wasn’t just a local effort. Investigations suggested that the task force was organized and paid for by the Republican National Committee. “A covert operation that was at the very least intentionally misleading and resulted in technical violations of our election laws.” Democrats sued the R.N.C. for violating the Voting Rights Act. The R.N.C. was forced to enter into a federal consent decree that would restrict them for years to come. “For the better part of the past four decades, the Republican National Party has been under a consent decree that has limited their ability to coordinate some of these poll watching activities.” “So it created a mechanism that deterred any additional voter intimidation and also created a check on future R.N.C. efforts that might target minority communities.” Under the terms of the consent decree, the R.N.C. had to get court approval for poll watching plans. The party tried unsuccessfully to get out of it for many years. “And they were found to be in violation of the consent decree at least three times since it was put into place.” Then in 2017, the court allowed the consent decree to expire, setting up a different kind of fight in 2020. “This will be the first presidential election where we will see the Republican National Party operating a poll watching operation without the consent decree hovering over their heads. Now that it has been lifted, it looks like there is going to be a more organized and a bigger poll watching operation coming out of the Republican National Party.” Republicans say they’re training more than 50,000 poll watchers in at least 15 battleground states. They’ve released a series of carefully worded training presentations for volunteers. “Poll watchers are the first line of defense for President Trump. Be courteous to county staff and other watchers. Yes, even our Democrat friends. Do not speak with voters and do not interfere with the orderly conduct of the voting process.” Their presence at the polls is perfectly legal if they follow the rules. In early voting this year, there have been a few potential violations. Pennsylvania’s attorney general called out illegal surveillance of a ballot dropbox in Philadelphia. And local news in Florida reported on two armed private security guards who posted themselves near an early voting site. “Two armed security guards showed up outside of the downtown St. Pete early voting location.” “Pretty much ever since the president has been calling on his supporters to watch the polls, election officials and law enforcement agencies across the country have kind of been preparing for what may be an influx of people who don’t know the rules and regulations of poll watching.” In a statement, the R.N.C. said its poll watchers have received rigorous training to follow state laws and are not there to be intimidating. “The big unknown is exactly how big and how widespread the deployment of these poll watchers will be and whether they will have any kind of marching orders from the Republican Party or the Trump campaign to really question a bunch of voters’ eligibility or whether they’ll just kind of follow the more traditional ways.” Ultimately, the consent decree offered a legal shortcut to stop the R.N.C.’s poll watching operations if they crossed the line. “What’s important to keep in mind is that the tactics that were unlawful in 1980 are just as unlawful in 2020. There has never been permission for any political party or any private party to engage in racially targeted voter intimidation or voter intimidation of any sort. And so we’re not without protection. We’re not without tools to combat it. But we do have one less in our arsenal.” “If we see a resumption of the same type of thing this time, we’ll have to go back to court. I can be authoritatively the person that can be definitive and say that small margins make a big difference.”

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President Trump and his campaign have been calling for an army of poll watchers on Election Day. What is poll watching, and when does it cross the line? We look at how a federal consent decree restricted the Republican Party for decades, and why its expiration could make a difference in 2020.

President Trump and his campaign have been calling for an army of poll watchers on Election Day. And with the expiration of a decades-old court order, the Republican Party can throw its full weight behind the president’s poll-watching operations nationwide.

The R.N.C. says its poll watchers are carefully trained, but the campaign’s rhetoric has raised fears of voter intimidation, like the kind that lead to the original court order. Back in 1981, the Republican National Committee paid and organized armed, off-duty police officers to patrol polling stations in minority neighborhoods in New Jersey. Democrats sued, and got the R.N.C. to enter into a consent decree in 1982, restricting the party’s poll watching efforts for 35 years.

It expired in 2017, making 2020 the first presidential election without this extra layer of protection. Voter intimidation remains illegal, but without the consent decree the main challenge is litigation, which could take years.

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