Trump campaign abandons parts of Pennsylvania election lawsuit

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign on Sunday dropped a major part of a lawsuit it brought seeking to halt Pennsylvania from certifying its results in the presidential election, narrowing the case to a small number of ballots.

In an amended complaint filed in federal court, the Trump campaign dropped a claim that election officials unlawfully blocked observers from watching the counting of mail-in ballots in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

The pared-down lawsuit now focuses on a claim that Democratic-leaning counties unlawfully allowed voters to fix errors in their mail-in ballots in violation of state law. Officials have said the dispute affects a small number of ballots in the state, where Democrat Joe Biden is projected to win by more than 60,000 votes.

Pennsylvania officials have asked a judge to toss Trump’s lawsuit, saying the election observers were allowed to assess the processing of mail-in ballots and that all of the state’s counties were permitted to inform residents if their mailed-in ballots were deficient, even if it was not mandatory for them to do so.

In Pennsylvania’s populous Montgomery County, less than 100 voters fixed ballots with technical errors, a county official testified at a court hearing on Nov. 4.

The Trump campaign continues to seek a court order blocking the Pennsylvania secretary of state from ratifying the result.

Biden clinched the election after news media and Edison Research called him as the victor in Pennsylvania, putting him over the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Edison Research said on Friday that Biden had won 306 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 232.

Trump on Sunday briefly appeared to acknowledge that Biden’s victory, but then recanted and claimed he would soon file fresh challenges. His campaign has filed a string of long-shot lawsuits in several battleground states.

On Twitter on Sunday, Trump said many cases being filed were not from his campaign.

“Our big cases showing the unconstitutionality of the 2020 Election, & the outrage of things that were done to change the outcome, will soon be filed!,” he tweeted.

Legal experts say the lawsuits have little chance of changing the outcome of the election. A senior Biden legal adviser has dismissed the litigation as “theatrics, not really lawsuits.”

Pennsylvania is due to certify the election results on Nov. 23.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

Factbox: U.S. election: key tallies, undetermined states, certification deadlines

(Reuters) – Democrat Joe Biden won the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, beating Republican President Donald Trump after a longer-than-usual process of counting mail-in ballots that a record number of Americans relied on during the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden, who surpassed the 270 Electoral College votes needed to clinch the presidency on Saturday, ended with 306, Edison Research projected on Friday. Trump closed out the race at 232 Electoral College votes, according to Edison’s tally.

Votes, however, still need to be certified in most states and tallies are being challenged in several, including Michigan and Pennsylvania. At the same time, the Trump campaign has signaled it may seek a recount in Wisconsin.

Here are the key counts in the White House race, as of 3:25 p.m. EST on Friday (2025 GMT), as well as vote certification deadlines.

ELECTORAL COLLEGE: Biden 306; Trump 232

POPULAR VOTE:

Biden – 77,973,369; Trump – 72,654,368;

Biden leads by 5,319,001, or 5.3 million votes.

Biden – 50.8%; Trump 47.4%

VOTE CERTIFICATION DEADLINES:

Arizona – Deadline is Nov. 30

Georgia – Deadline is Nov. 20

Michigan – Deadline is Nov. 23

North Carolina – Deadline is Nov. 24

Pennsylvania – Deadline is Nov. 23

Wisconsin – Deadline is Dec. 1

(Reporting by Katanga Johnson; Editing by Tim Ahmann)

Explainer: U.S. election lingo, from naked ballots to a red mirage

By Tom Hals

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – Every U.S. presidential election has its own lingo, like the “hanging chads” on voting cards in Florida that led to a landmark court battle in 2000. Below is some of the jargon used in the days leading up to the Nov. 3 election pitting President Donald Trump against his Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

NAKED BALLOTS

Sixteen states, including Pennsylvania, require voters to return mail ballots in a special “secrecy” envelope. Ballots that don’t arrive in the envelope will be considered “naked” and might be disqualified. Celebrities including Naomi Campbell, Chris Rock and Sarah Silverman disrobed in a video to promote proper voting procedures, “the least sexy thing a completely naked person can say,” according to actor Josh Gad, who also stripped for the video by activist group Represent.Us. The group, which has promoted anti-corruption resolutions in U.S. cities, says it does not endorse either candidate.

RED MIRAGE/BLUE SHIFT

Fearing crowded polling places amid the coronavirus pandemic, a record number of Americans, particularly Democrats, cast mail-in ballots this year, and counting them could take days. As a result, initial results on Election Day may show Republicans, indicated by red on election maps, holding large leads in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, which counts mail-in ballots received three days after Nov. 3. As ballots are tallied in the ensuing days, that “red mirage” could fade, giving way to a “blue shift.” Experts see a possible “blue mirage” and “red shift” in Florida and North Carolina, which process mailed-in ballots before Election Day.

SPOILED BALLOTS

Ballots that are improperly marked can be rejected as spoiled. Trump said in an Oct. 27 Twitter post that the phrase “can I change my vote” was trending on Google and urged Americans to submit a new ballot for him. Some states allow voters to request a new absentee ballot but first they have to request their original ballot be marked as spoiled. Following Trump’s tweet, Google data showed a spike in searches for “spoiled ballots.”

DUELING ELECTORS

A candidate becomes president by securing the most “electoral” votes rather than a majority of the national popular vote. The Electoral College system allots electors to the 50 states largely based on their population, and the candidate who wins the popular vote in a state generally gets its electors. But legal experts say Trump could try to convince Republican lawmakers in closely contested states to approve the Republican slate of electors based on early vote tallies. As more ballots are counted, Biden might eventually be certified as the winner of the same state. The result: Dueling electors and an outcome that could be determined by Congress.

COURT PACKING

Republicans confirmed Amy Coney Barrett as a Supreme Court justice on Oct. 26 to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a hero to many for her advocacy for women’s issues. Democrats had argued Ginsburg’s seat should be filled after the election and in response to Barrett’s confirmation some have suggested that a Biden Administration could expand the court beyond its traditional nine justices. The idea surfaced briefly in the late 1930’s and was criticized as “court packing.” Biden has said he will establish a bipartisan commission to consider changes to the court system, which he said is “getting out of whack.”

POLL WATCHERS

The Republican National Committee is mobilizing thousands of supporters to monitor early voting sites and ballot drop boxes, looking for irregularities such as people dropping off multiple ballots in states where that generally is not allowed. This marks the first presidential election in nearly four decades in which the Republicans can engage in “ballot security” activities without prior review and approval from the Department of Justice. Some voting rights advocates worry that gun-toting groups might show up outside polling places and intimidate voters.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Daniel Wallis)

Polarized electorate, mail-in ballots could spark post-election legal ‘fight of our lives’

By Tom Hals

WILMINGTON, Del (Reuters) – U.S. Election Day on Tuesday has all the ingredients for a drawn-out court battle over its outcome: a highly polarized electorate, a record number of mail-in ballots and some Supreme Court justices who appear ready to step in if there is a closely contested presidential race.

The only missing element that would send both sides to the courthouse would be a razor-thin result in a battleground state.

“If it comes down to Pennsylvania and Florida I think we’ll be in the legal fight of our lives,” said Jessica Levinson, who teaches election law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Election disputes are not unusual but they are generally confined to local or statewide races, say election law experts.

This year, in the months leading up to the Nov. 3 showdown between Republican President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden, the coronavirus pandemic fueled hundreds of legal challenges over everything from witness signatures, U.S. mail postmarks and the use of drop boxes for ballots.

“As soon as the election is over,” Trump told reporters on Sunday, “we’re going in with our lawyers.”

Two court rulings on deadlines for counting mail-in ballots have increased the likelihood of post-election court battles in the event of close outcomes in Pennsylvania and another crucial state, Minnesota, the experts said.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Oct. 29 that Minnesota’s plan to extend the deadline for counting mail-in ballots was an unconstitutional maneuver by Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat.

Minnesota officials were instructed to “segregate” absentee ballots received after Nov. 3.

Simon has said officials will not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but further litigation in the lower courts will determine whether those ballots will be counted.

Meanwhile, on Oct. 28, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a ruling by Pennsylvania’s top court that allowed officials to count mail-in ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and received up to three days later.

The justices said there was not enough time to review the state court ruling. As in Minnesota, Pennsylvania officials will segregate those ballots, teeing up a potential court battle in the event of a close election.

If any post-election battles are heard by the Supreme Court, it will have a 6-3 conservative majority after Trump-appointed Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed on Oct. 26. Three of the justices were appointed by Trump.

The president said in September that he wanted his nominee confirmed because the election “will end up in the Supreme Court and I think it’s very important that we have nine justices.”

Election law specialists said the likelihood of the Supreme Court deciding the next president would require an outcome amounting to a tie in a state that would tip the election to one candidate or the other.

“Some of the president’s statements suggest he thinks the Supreme Court would simply be asked to decide who won the election,” said Adav Noti, senior director of trial litigation at Campaign Legal Center. “That’s not how election litigation works.”

Only one presidential election has been decided in the courts in the past 140 years. In 2000, Republican George W. Bush defeated Al Gore, a Democrat, who conceded after losing a decision at the U.S. Supreme Court over a recount in Florida.

Elections are governed by state laws and disputes generally play out in state courts where campaigns fight over recounts and the validity of voter registrations.

But in recent decisions, a minority of conservative Supreme Court justices appear to be setting the stage to aggressively review state courts when they are interpreting their own state’s constitutional voting protections.

On Oct. 26, the court kept in place Wisconsin’s policy requiring mail-in ballots to arrive by Election Day. Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a Trump appointee, wrote in an opinion accompanying the court’s action that “under the U.S. Constitution, the state courts do not have a blank check to rewrite state election laws for federal elections.”

Some scholars said the recent language could encourage campaigns to take an election challenge to the Supreme Court.

“It’s an invitation to challenge anything done to administer an election in a state that isn’t jot or tittle with what the legislature said to do,” Joshua Geltzer, executive director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy & Protection. “And that’s virtually everything.”

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Daniel Wallis)

With one day left, Trump and Biden search for last-minute support in key states

By Steve Holland and Trevor Hunnicutt

OPA-LOCKA, Fla./WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump hunts for support in four battleground states on Monday while Democratic rival Joe Biden focuses on Pennsylvania and Ohio during the final day of campaigning in their race for the White House.

The Republican Trump trails Biden in national opinion polls ahead of Tuesday’s Election Day. But the race in swing states is seen as close enough that Trump could still piece together the 270 votes needed to prevail in the state-by-state Electoral College that determines the winner.

Trump, aiming to avoid becoming the first incumbent president to lose re-election since fellow Republican George H.W. Bush in 1992, will hold five rallies on Monday in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

He won those states in 2016 against Democrat Hillary Clinton, but polls show Biden is threatening to recapture all four for Democrats.

In a year that has seen much of American life upended by the coronavirus pandemic, early voting has surged to levels never before seen in U.S. elections. A record-setting 94 million early votes have been cast either in-person or by mail, according to the U.S. Elections Project, representing about 40% of all Americans who are legally eligible to vote.

Trump will wrap up his campaign in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the same place he concluded his 2016 presidential run with a post-midnight rally on Election Day.

Biden, running mate Kamala Harris and their spouses will spend most of Monday in Pennsylvania, splitting up to hit all four corners of a state that has become vital to the former vice president’s hopes.

Biden will rally union members and African-American voters in the Pittsburgh area before being joined for an evening drive-in rally in Pittsburgh by singer Lady Gaga.

He also will make a detour to bordering Ohio, spending time on his final campaign day in a state that was once considered a lock for Trump, who won it in 2016, but where polls now show a close contest.

Former President Barack Obama, whom Biden served as vice president for eight years, will hold a get-out-the-vote rally in Atlanta on Monday before closing out the campaign in the evening with a rally in Miami.

Biden has wrapped up the campaign on the offensive, traveling almost exclusively to states that Trump won in 2016 and criticizing the president’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has dominated the race.

Biden accuses Trump of giving up on fighting the pandemic, which has killed more than 230,000 Americans and cost millions of jobs. Polls show Americans trust Biden more than Trump to fight the virus.

During a frantic five-state swing on Sunday, Trump – who was impeached by the Democratic-led House of Representatives last December and acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate in February – claimed he had momentum.

He promised an economic revival and imminent delivery of a vaccine to fight the pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious diseases expert, has said the first doses of an effective coronavirus vaccine will likely become available to some high-risk Americans in late December or early January.

Trump, who has often disagreed with Fauci publicly, suggested early on Monday he might fire him as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases after the election.

A ‘TERRIBLE THING’

Trump again questioned the integrity of the U.S. election, saying a vote count that stretched past Election Day would be a “terrible thing” and suggesting his lawyers might get involved.

Americans have already cast nearly 60 million mail-in ballots that could take days or weeks to be counted in some states – meaning a winner might not be declared in the hours after polls close on Tuesday night.

“I don’t think it’s fair that we have to wait for a long period of time after the election,” Trump told reporters. Some states, including battlegrounds Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, do not start processing mail-in votes until Election Day, slowing the process.

Trump has repeatedly said without evidence that mail-in votes are prone to fraud, although election experts say that is rare in U.S. elections. Mail voting is a long-standing feature of American elections, and about one in four ballots was cast that way in 2016.

Democrats have pushed mail-in voting as a safe way to cast a ballot in the coronavirus pandemic, while Trump and Republicans are counting on a big Election Day in-person turnout.

Both campaigns have created armies of lawyers in preparation for post-election litigation battles.

“We’re going in the night of – as soon as the election is over – we’re going in with our lawyers,” Trump told reporters without offering further explanation.

The attorneys general of Michigan and Pennsylvania, both Democrats, challenged Trump’s rhetoric on Twitter.

“The election ends when all the votes are counted. Not when the polls close,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel wrote.

In a sign of how volatile the election could be, buildings for blocks around the White House were boarded up over the weekend. Federal authorities planned to extend the perimeter fencing around the White House to by several blocks, encompassing the same area fenced out during this summer’s protests against racism and police brutality, according to U.S. media.

To help ensure mail-in ballots are delivered in a timely fashion, a U.S. judge on Sunday ordered the U.S. Postal Service to remind senior managers they must follow its “extraordinary measures” policy and use its Express Mail Network to expedite ballots.

A federal judge in Texas on Monday will consider a Republican request to throw out about 127,000 votes already cast at drive-through voting sites in the Democratic-leaning Houston area.

The FBI, meanwhile, is investigating an incident in Texas when a pro-Trump convoy of vehicles surrounded a tour bus carrying Biden campaign staff. The caravan, which Trump praised, prompted the Biden campaign to cancel at least two of its Texas events, as Democrats accused the president of encouraging supporters to engage in acts of intimidation.

(Reporting by Steve Holland in Opa-Locka, Florida, and Trevor Hunnicutt in Wilmington, Delaware; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)

Split screen: Trump and Biden to headline dueling town halls

By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden will hold dueling prime-time town halls on Thursday instead of their second presidential debate, which was canceled after Trump declined to take part in a virtual matchup.

With less than three weeks to go until the Nov. 3 vote, the Republican president is searching for ways to change the dynamics of a race in which Biden has a double-digit advantage in some national polls.

Nearly 15 million Americans, a record for this date, have cast ballots, according to the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida, as voters seek to avoid in-person lines on Election Day because of concerns about the novel coronavirus.

North Carolina, a highly competitive state, began more than two weeks of in-person early voting on Thursday. Local news reports showed long lines of voters eager to cast ballots, and Trump was due to hold an afternoon rally in Greenville in the eastern part of the state.

Trump’s campaign is counting on a surge of last-minute votes. But Reuters/Ipsos polling conducted between Oct. 9 and Oct. 13 shows there are far fewer undecided likely voters this year – around 8% – and they are just as likely to pick Biden as they are Trump.

Four years ago at this stage of the campaign, more than twice as many people were similarly wavering between Trump and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The Reuters/Ipsos polling shows Biden holding a 10 percentage-point lead nationally, with a tighter margin in the battleground states that will help decide the election.

Both candidates have been visiting those states this week, with Trump holding rallies in Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa and Biden traveling to Ohio and Florida.

Trump has pulled into a statistical tie with Biden in Florida, a key battleground, with 47% support versus Biden’s 49%, and a credibility interval of 4 points, a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll showed.

Thursday’s town halls, in which each candidate will field questions from voters, will take place at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT), with Trump on NBC from Miami and Biden on ABC from Philadelphia.

Trump pulled out of the scheduled debate when the commission in charge of organizing the event said it would be held virtually after the president contracted the coronavirus. A final debate is still scheduled for Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.

On Thursday, the Biden campaign said two people involved in the campaign had tested positive for COVID-19, including one on the staff of U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate.

Although neither Biden nor Harris was in close contact with the people, the campaign said it was cancelling Harris’ travel until after Sunday, “in line with our campaign’s commitment to the highest levels of precaution.”

Trump has returned to the campaign trail after spending several days being treated for the virus in a military hospital.

NBC said on Wednesday that Clifford Lane, clinical director at the National Institutes of Health, and the government’s top infectious disease specialist, Anthony Fauci, had concluded “with a high degree of confidence” that Trump was no longer “shedding infectious virus.”

The election could be the most closely contested in recent memory due to a deeply divided electorate and the possibility that Trump will challenge widely used mail-in ballots, claiming without evidence they are fraudulent.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Chris Kahn in New York and Doina Chiacu and James Oliphant in Washington; Writing by Joseph Ax and Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Matthew Lewis)

Cellphones in hand, ‘Army for Trump’ readies poll watching operation

By Jarrett Renshaw and Joseph Tanfani

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – Republicans are mobilizing thousands of volunteers to watch early voting sites and ballot drop boxes leading up to November’s election, part of an effort to find evidence to back up President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated complaints about widespread voter fraud.

Across key battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin, Republican poll watchers will be searching for irregularities, especially with regard to mail-in ballots whose use is surging amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to more than 20 officials involved in the effort. They declined to say how many volunteers have signed up so far; the campaign earlier this year said its goal was to recruit 50,000 monitors nationwide.

The mission, the officials said, is to capture photos and videos Republicans can use to support so-far unfounded claims that mail voting is riddled with chicanery, and to help their case if legal disputes erupt over the results of the Nov. 3 contest between Republican incumbent Trump and his Democratic opponent Joe Biden.

The campaign is already posting material of activity it claims is suspicious, including video of a Trump campaign observer being turned away from an early voting site in Philadelphia last month. The city says monitors are welcome in polling stations on Election Day but are not permitted in early voting facilities.

Some voting-rights activists are concerned such encounters could escalate in a tense year that has seen armed militias face off against protestors in the nation’s streets.

Poll watching by partisan observers is a normal feature in U.S. elections that dates back to the 18th century and is subject to various state laws and local rules.

Still, this year’s operation by the Trump campaign is highly unusual, voting rights advocates say, both in its focus on early voting and in its emphasis on finding evidence to support baseless assertions by the president and his supporters that Democrats plan to flood the system with phony mail ballots to steal the election.

In a recruitment video posted on Twitter in September seeking volunteers for this “Army for Trump,” the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., made the unfounded claim that Democrats plan to “add millions of fraudulent ballots” to rig the results. Trump repeatedly has refused to commit to accepting the outcome of November’s election. During the Sept. 29 presidential debate, he exhorted his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.”

Mail ballot requests are tilting heavily to Democrats in battleground states, which likely means Biden will be in the lead before in-person voting begins on Election Day.

In Florida, where Republicans have historically relied on mail ballots, nearly 2.5 million Democrats have requested them, compared with about 1.7 million Republicans. In Pennsylvania, more than 1.5 million Democrats have requested a mail-in ballot, nearly triple the requests from Republicans.

Republicans said they plan to monitor every step of mail voting, including setting up cameras to show people dropping off multiple ballots at drop boxes. Some states permit third-parties to drop off ballots, but the practice is banned in others, including Pennsylvania.

Pat Dion, head of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania’s Bucks County, a politically divided suburb near Philadelphia, predicted the process could get messy.

“There’s going to be lots of watchers, lots of cameras and lots of attorneys all across the country. It’s going to be chaotic,” said Dion, who said he nevertheless supports the effort.

Democrats and voting-rights advocates say Trump is trying to suppress the vote, not protect it.

“It’s an attempt to scare eligible Americans into thinking they are in danger if they go to vote,” said Myrna Perez, voting rights and elections director for the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan voting rights group.

Democrats say Trump’s team is also laying the groundwork for a challenge to mail ballots in the event he loses, possibly throwing the election to Congress or the courts to decide the outcome.

Trump campaign spokeswoman Thea McDonald said in a statement that “President Trump’s volunteer poll watchers will be trained to ensure all rules are applied equally. And if fouls are called, the Trump Campaign will go to court to enforce the laws.”

‘MAKE OUR REPUBLICAN PRESENCE KNOWN’

This is the first presidential election in nearly four decades that the Republican National Committee has been free to sponsor such “ballot security” operations without permission from a federal court. A 1982 consent decree restricted these activities after the party sent teams of gun-toting men to minority neighborhoods during a New Jersey election wearing uniforms saying “Ballot Security Task Force.”

That consent decree expired in 2018 and a federal judge declined Democratic attempts to renew it.

In Wisconsin, a state Trump won by less than a percentage point in 2016, volunteers will be posted in heavily Democratic counties around Milwaukee, Republican state party chairman Andrew Hitt told Reuters.

Pennsylvania, too, is shaping up to be a hotbed of activity. Trump won it by just over 44,000 votes in 2016. He has almost no path to securing a second term if he doesn’t win its 20 Electoral College votes again in November.

In Montgomery County, a formerly Republican bastion outside Philadelphia that is now reliably Democratic, the Republican Party is holding several virtual training sessions over the next two weeks for some 50 volunteers to monitor 11 proposed ballot drop boxes there, according to an email sent by the party to supporters and seen by Reuters. “It is critical that we make our Republican presence known, so voters know they cannot get away with fraud,” the email reads.

On the western side of the state near Pittsburgh, Trump supporter Bob Howard has volunteered to watch election offices where voters will be dropping off absentee ballots.

“We…need to make sure that all the rules are being followed, so people can trust the results,” the 70-year-old retiree said.

Democrats, meanwhile, are launching their own voter-protection efforts. But theirs is a more traditional approach that includes registered poll watchers and an army of attorneys.

In Pennsylvania, Biden’s campaign said it has launched the biggest such Democratic program there in history, with more than a thousand lawyers and volunteers. It would not provide details on whether its monitors will be deployed at drop boxes and other early voting locations alongside their Republican rivals.

LAWSUITS MULTIPLYING

Election experts said the explosion of mail balloting is testing voting laws designed around in-person balloting. There is no rule book for monitors that try to enter early polling sites or challenge voters trying to drop off their ballots, said Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall college in Pennsylvania.

“It all comes down to county election officials, and what they agree can happen. All of this seems headed to a major court battle,” Madonna said.

Confrontations have already emerged in Philadelphia, home to about 20% of Pennsylvania’s registered Democrats.

Election administrators there defended their decision to turn away the Trump campaign operative who filmed himself attempting to enter an early voting site on Sept. 29.

“To be clear: the satellite offices are not polling places and the Pennsylvania Election Code does not create a right for campaign representatives to ‘watch’ at these locations,” Andrew Richman, chief of staff to the city solicitor, said in a statement.

The Trump campaign quickly filed a lawsuit seeking access for poll observers in early voting sites. That suit is pending.

In Northampton County in northeastern Pennsylvania, meanwhile, the Republican Party tried to get sheriff’s officers assigned to drop boxes to request identification from voters dropping off ballots, according to Frank DeVito, a Republican member of the Board of Elections.

Pennsylvania law does not require voters to show an ID to vote. The Democratic-controlled board of elections denied that request.

Undeterred, DeVito said volunteers will be watching those boxes closely.

“We are telling them to take a folding chair, take video, take photos,” he said.

(Jarrett Renshaw reported from Pennsylvania and Joe Tanfani reported from New Jersey. Editing by Soyoung Kim and Marla Dickerson)

Trump encourages supporters to try to vote twice, sparking uproar

By James Oliphant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has urged residents in the critical political battleground of North Carolina to try to vote twice in the Nov. 3 election, once by mail and once in person, causing a furor for appearing to urge a potential act of voter fraud.

“Let them send it in and let them go vote,” Trump said in an interview on Wednesday with WECT-TV in Wilmington, North Carolina. “And if the system is as good as they say it is then obviously they won’t be able to vote” in person.

Trump has repeatedly asserted, without evidence, that mail-in voting – expanded by some states because of the coronavirus pandemic – would increase fraud and disrupt the November election, although experts say voter fraud of any kind is extremely rare in the United States.

Voting more than once in an election is illegal and in some states, including North Carolina, it is a felony not only to vote more than once but also to induce another to do so.

Ballots are due to be mailed in North Carolina on Friday.

The state’s Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter that Trump, a Republican, had “outrageously encouraged” North Carolinians “to break the law in order to help him sow chaos in our election.”

Stein wrote: “Make sure you vote, but do NOT vote twice! I will do everything in my power to make sure the will of the people is upheld in November.”

Trump’s campaign and the White House later denied that he meant to tell people to vote twice.

“The president is not suggesting anyone do anything unlawful,” White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News Channel on Thursday. “What he said very clearly there is make sure your vote is tabulated and if it is not, then vote.”

In a series of tweets on Thursday morning, Trump again urged his supporters to vote early by mail and then follow up by attempting to vote in person, however.

“On Election Day, or Early Voting go to your Polling Place to see whether or not your Mail In Vote has been Tabulated (Counted),” Trump wrote. “If it has you will not be able to Vote & the Mail In System worked properly. If it has not been Counted, VOTE.”

VOTING TWICE ‘A FELONY’

The Democratic National Committee accused Trump of encouraging voter fraud and said the president was undermining confidence in the fairness of the election.

“Let’s be clear: Voting by mail is a safe and secure way for Americans to participate in our democracy — and Trump should be working to make it easier to vote, not harder,” Reyna Walters-Morgan, the DNC’s director of voter protection, said in a statement.

Patrick Gannon, a spokesman for North Carolina’s state Board of Elections, said a person would not be able to cast two ballots, regardless of if they voted by mail or in-person first. The first vote that is received and processed is the one that counts, he said.

“Voting twice in an election is a felony,” Gannon said. “If you put a ballot in the mail, and it hasn’t arrived yet, and then you vote in-person before your absentee ballot has arrived, your in-person vote will count.”

He said if an absentee ballot showed up after a person had voted in-person, it would not be counted.

Many Americans vote by mail because they cannot make it to the polls in person. Nearly one in four voters cast presidential ballots by mail in 2016.

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to result in a record number of mail-in ballots this year as voters seek to avoid the risk of infection. Experts have cautioned the expected surge means a winner may not be clear on election night given the time it will take to count and verify all the ballots.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Michael Martina, Susan Heavey, James Oliphant, Kanishka Singh and Ann Maria Shibu; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Howard Goller and Sonya Hepinstall)

U.S. House to vote on $25 billion postal infusion, mail-in ballot safeguards

By David Shepardson and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Democrats unveiled on Wednesday legislation that would require same-day processing for mail-in ballots and give the cash-strapped Postal Service a $25 billion infusion while erasing changes pursued by the agency’s new leader, an ally of President Donald Trump.

The Democratic-led House is scheduled to vote on the legislation on Saturday, though there is little chance for passage in the Republican-led Senate. The bill would prevent the Postal Service from implementing policies to alter service levels that were in effect at the beginning of this year.

Democrats and other critics have accused the Republican president of trying to impair the Postal Service to suppress mail-in voting as he trails Democratic challenger Joe Biden in opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Under intense criticism, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced on Tuesday that he would put on hold until after the election cost-cutting moves at the Postal Service that Democratic lawmakers and state attorneys general argued could imperil mail-in voting. DeJoy said he suspended all “operational initiatives” through Election Day to “avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”

DeJoy, who has been a major political donor to Trump, assumed the job in June.

The Postal Service long has faced financial woes with the rise of email and social media, losing $80 billion since 2007, including $2.2 billion in the three months ending June 30.

Democrats want DeJoy to explain how he will reverse the changes he has made, including whether he will order the return of sorting machines already removed.

Separately, Senator Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, asked the Postal Service Board of Governors to release all materials related to the selection of DeJoy and for “additional information” regarding the role of Trump and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin in the search and selection process.

The board in May said it reviewed records of more than 200 candidates before narrowing the list to more than 50. The board then interviewed more than a dozen candidates in first round interviews, and invited seven candidates for follow-up interviews.

Trump has repeatedly and without evidence claimed that mail balloting is vulnerable to fraud. Voting by mail is nothing new in the United States, and Trump himself plans to vote by mail in Florida this year.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the White House was not involved in the Postal Service changes. The Treasury Department and the Postal Service did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by David Morgan, Susan Cornwell and David Shepardson; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. postal chaos prompts Democrats to reassess mail-ballot plan

By Jarrett Renshaw and Andy Sullivan

(Reuters) – Turmoil at the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is causing some Democrats and local election officials to rethink their vote-by-mail strategies for November’s presidential election, shifting emphasis to drop boxes and early voting that bypass the post office.

The 2020 contest promises to be the nation’s largest test of voting by mail. But U.S. President Donald Trump’s relentless, unsubstantiated attacks on mail balloting, along with cost-cutting that has delayed mail service nationwide, have sown worry and confusion among many voters.

Democratic officials who just weeks ago were touting their dominance in mail balloting during a recent rash of primaries are now cautioning supporters of presidential challenger Joe Biden to be wary. Operatives in battleground states, including Pennsylvania, are particularly concerned about ballots arriving too late to count for the Nov. 3 election.

“We are considering telling voters that if they haven’t mailed out their complete ballot by Oct. 15, don’t bother. Instead, vote in person or drop off the ballot” at an elections office, said Joe Foster, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Montgomery County, the most populous of Philadelphia’s suburban counties. “We want to make sure every vote counts.”

Other local Democratic leaders, from states like Florida and North Carolina, told Reuters they also are weighing urging voters to submit mail ballots weeks ahead of the election or else vote in person.

On Tuesday, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced he was suspending cost-cutting measures he had put in place in recent weeks that had led to widespread service disruptions. Those changes included limits on employee overtime, orders for trucks to depart on schedule even if there was mail still to be loaded, and the removal of some mail sorting machines.

“The Postal Service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall,” DeJoy said in a statement. He also promised to deploy “standby resources” beginning Oct. 1 to satisfy any unforeseen demand.

But some Democrats said the damage is already done. Many don’t trust DeJoy – who was a major Trump campaign donor before becoming postal chief – to restore service at the independent government agency amid a presidential race that polls say Biden is leading.

“Return the mailboxes you removed,” Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island said on Twitter. “Return the sorting machines you took out. Restore the regular hours of post offices you cut short. Return postal vehicles you took. The list goes on.”

A USPS spokesman declined to comment. DeJoy is expected to provide more detail on his plans in testimony before the Senate on Friday and the House of Representatives on Monday.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Tuesday that Trump never told the Postal Service to change its operations.

Democrats asked for $25 billion to shore up the balance sheet of the USPS in a massive virus aid package that passed the House of Representatives in May. Republicans have balked at that figure, and Trump last week said he opposed that funding because it might be used to encourage mail voting. But administration officials in recent days have said they are open to additional funding as public outrage over the USPS drama has grown.

Local Democratic officials, operatives and campaign workers said they are not waiting for a Washington solution.

In the competitive state of Michigan, Democratic voter outreach volunteer Karen McJimpson, 64, is phoning voters to encourage them to hand-deliver their absentee ballots directly to specified drop boxes or elections offices in light of concerns about mail delivery. She said Tuesday’s news about restored service gave her no comfort.“I don’t trust it,” said McJimpson, who volunteers with a nonprofit called Michigan United. “There has been too much noise around this, and someone is clearly pulling the strings. We are going to proceed as planned: drop the ballots off.”

Upheaval at the USPS has reshuffled some Democrats’ plans for other types of election mail as well.

Brad Crone, a Democratic strategist in North Carolina, plans to send up to two million mailers between now and Election Day supporting various state and congressional candidates. The campaign flyers are mailed directly from his printer, who last week sent him a notice: If Crone wants to mail anything beyond Oct. 19, he must sign a waiver acknowledging that it might not get there before Election Day.

Crone said he will now stop his mailings by Oct. 4, three weeks earlier than he had originally planned.

“It’s alarming,” Crone said. “Americans are witnessing major system breakdowns, whether it’s the postal system, COVID testing or their local schools. The average voter is seeing this and is just floored.”

DROP BOX BATTLE

Mail voting has grown steadily since the turn of the century. In the 2016 presidential election, mail ballots accounted for 23.6% of all ballots cast, up from 19.2% in 2008, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Interest has exploded this year as voters have sought to avoid crowded polling places due to the coronavirus pandemic. Mail ballots accounted for 80% of all votes cast in 16 state primaries this year, including Wisconsin, Nevada and Pennsylvania, according to an estimate by Charles Stewart III, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Some states, such as New York, have struggled to handle the crush.

The surge has sparked a slew of litigation. Republicans in Texas, for example, fended off a recent Democratic effort to make it easier for its citizens to vote by mail in the pandemic. The vast majority of Texans will be required to vote in person in November.

Democrats have prevailed elsewhere. In South Carolina, officials have agreed to provide prepaid postage for absentee ballots, easing a barrier for those who otherwise would have to provide their own stamps. In Minnesota, the state agreed to suspend a requirement that absentee voters get a witness to sign their ballots and to count ballots that are postmarked by Election Day.

The Democratic Party currently has ongoing litigation on mail voting in 14 states, according to Marc Elias, the lawyer overseeing the effort.

Trump has spent the last few weeks making unsupported allegations that mail voting is vulnerable to tampering and would result in Democrats stealing the election. He has sought to distinguish between states that provide mail ballots only to voters who request them – including Florida, where Trump himself votes absentee – and those that are moving to conduct their elections entirely by mail, which he claims could lead to widespread cheating.

Election experts say mail voting is as secure as any other method.

Trump’s attacks have forced state and local Republicans to engage in some damage control. Many of their most reliable supporters, particularly elderly voters, have long used mail balloting. Some Republicans fear the president’s broadsides will depress turnout.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released on Monday found that nearly half of Biden supporters plan to vote by mail in November, while just 11% of Trump supporters plan to do so.

The latest front in the voting battle is the dedicated election drop box, a sealed, sturdily built receptacle that has been a popular option for voters who prefer mail ballots but don’t want to return them via the USPS. Election officials collect those ballots and take them to polling locations for counting.

Election officials in South Carolina, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and elsewhere are seeking to expand drop-off locations or ease requirements such as those mandating that voters show identification to use them.

Those changes have met resistance from Republicans over concerns about fraud. On Monday, Trump turned his fire on drop boxes.

“Some states use ‘drop boxes’ for the collection of Universal Mail-In Ballots. So who is going to ‘collect’ the Ballots, and what might be done to them prior to tabulation?” he wrote on Twitter. “A Rigged Election? So bad for our Country.”

Rob Daniel, chairman of the Charleston County Democratic Party in South Carolina, said there is just one election drop box in the county of roughly 400,0000 people. He said some voters must drive 45 minutes to reach it because of the county’s odd shape.

Daniel said the county board of elections is seeking permission from the state to add more boxes, but that is no certainty. As a backup, the party is urging voters to request their mail ballots early and return them via the USPS as soon as possible.

“Even Trump can’t screw up the Postal Service so much that it can’t deliver mail across town in 30 days,” Daniel said.

Still, Democrats see a bigger worry: Trump has already raised the possibility that he might not accept the results of an election whose outcome could take days to decide because of the quantity of mail ballots that will need to be counted.

“That is absolutely our biggest threat,” Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist said.

(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw in Pennsylvania and Andy Sullivan in Washington; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Detroit and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Marla Dickerson)