Voting 2020 live updates: Trump urges Biden voters to 'spoil' ballot and vote for him; charges of voter suppression scheme in Ohio, Michigan

John Bacon, Cara Richardson and Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY
·14 min read

Voters relying on the post office to deliver their ballots should drop them in the mail today as a "common-sense measure" to ensure they arrive in time to be counted, the Postal Service says.

Most states require ballots to be received by Election Day, some earlier.

>> More live updates: Wednesday's updates on voting across the US

"Our general recommendation is that, as a common-sense measure, you mail your completed ballot before Election Day, and at least one week prior to your state’s deadline," the Postal Service said in a statement. Mail ballots have gained a high profile this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, with many voters anxious about to going to the polls in-person. (Follow Tuesday's COVID-19 news here.)

Some context: The Postal Service and its leader, Louis DeJoy, fueled controversy after ordering that some mail sorting machines be dismantled and deactivated. Overtime was barred, and carriers and trucks were required to start routes at certain times, regardless of whether the mail was ready. A lawsuit temporarily blocked the new operational changes that were criticized as causing delayed mail delivery.

News from one swing state: In Florida, ballots have been rolling in for more than a week, and with so much attention on absentee voting options, election supervisors said they expect potentially 60% of the state's registered voters to have cast ballots before Nov. 3.

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

  • President Donald Trump lobbied early voters who backed Democratic challenger Joe Biden to change their votes in favor of four more Trump years. But can voters do that? Some states, including Michigan and Wisconsin, do allow voters to "spoil" their ballots and vote anew in some cases.

  • Two men facing voter intimidation charges in Michigan have been indicted in Ohio for a voter-suppression scheme.

  • Clerks have asked Wisconsin's high court to issue an order that would allow them to ensure votes are counted despite a misprint on tens of thousands of ballots. Also in Wisconsin: The Supreme Court upheld current voting law, a win for the GOP.

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

Looking for a long read? Americans worried about Election Day violence and chaos are buying guns and toilet paper. Check it out here.

Votes are rolling in: Numbers compiled by the U.S. Elections Project website show at least 64.7 million people have already cast their ballots. In other numbers, the Guardian and ProPublica report 22% 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.

Can they do that? Trump urges Biden voters to change their votes

President Donald Trump, sensing a momentum swing in his favor, on Tuesday lobbied early voters who backed Democratic challenger Joe Biden to change their votes in favor of four more Trump years. Some states, including swing state Wisconsin, do allow voters to "spoil" their ballots and vote anew in some cases.

"Strongly Trending (Google) since immediately after the second debate is CAN I CHANGE MY VOTE?," Trump tweeted. "This refers changing it to me. The answer in most states is YES. Go do it. Most important Election of your life!"

In Wisconsin, "absentee voters can request to spoil their absentee ballot and have another ballot issued as long as the appropriate deadline to request the new absentee ballot has not passed." That deadline has not passed. In Michigan, another close state, the law allows voters to "spoil" their vote until 5 pm. on the Friday before Election Day.

Pair accused of voter intimidation in Michigan now indicted in Ohio

Two men accused of voter intimidation against minorities in Michigan have been indicted on felony charges of telecommunications fraud and bribery in Ohio.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley said John "Jack'' Burkman, 54, of Arlington, Virginia, and Jacob Wohl, 22, of Los Angeles were indicted for an alleged robocalling scheme meant to intimidate voters in minority neighborhoods into not voting.

As part of the plot, more than 67,000 calls were made in August targeting areas of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- three battleground states.

"The calls purported to advise the people on the other end of the call that they ought to be very careful about asking for an absentee ballot because bill collectors were going to mine that information and come after them,'' Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said.

-- Rick Rouan, The Columbus Dispatch

Report warns five states are at high risk of activity by armed groups

Five states are at high risk for activity by armed groups of self-styled militias around Election Day, according to a new report.

The analysis by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) and MilitiaWatch identified the states as Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Oregon. All but Oregon are regarded as tightly contested in the presidential race.

“Militia groups and other armed non-state actors pose a serious threat to the safety and security of American voters,” the report said. “Throughout the summer and leading up to the general election, these groups have become more assertive, with activities ranging from intervening in protests to organizing kidnapping plots targeting elected officials.”

-- J.D. Prose, Beaver County Times

What state has the most barriers to voting? It might be Mississippi.

The opposition to Black voters in Mississippi has changed since the 1960s, but it hasn't ended, some experts say. There are no poll taxes anymore, no tests on the state constitution. But voters face obstacles such as state-mandated ID laws that mostly affect poor and minority communities and the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of former prisoners.

Voters face a series of government-created barriers that make it, according to a study in the Election Law Journal in 2018, the most difficult state in which to vote. And despite having the largest percentage of Black people of any state, a Black person hasn't been elected to statewide office in 130 years.

"Sometimes I think we beat ourselves," said Kim Houston, a Black woman who leads the Meridian City Council. "There's this mindset that (voting) doesn't matter, that nothing is going to change, that the election system is rigged." Read more here.

Ohio fully staffed for pandemic election

Ohio has had 11 days of more than 2,000 new cases of coronavirus in the last two weeks, but officials say the surge will not get in the way of the election in the battleground state, which has plenty of workers ready to staff polling sites.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose said Ohio recruited more than 140,000 poll workers and trained at least 50,000 to deploy to precincts on Election Day next Tuesday. The state has been preparing for its pandemic presidential election since the spring, when the virus led Gov. Mike DeWine and then-state health director Dr. Amy Acton to delay the March 17 primary election at the last minute.

"There have been some folks wondering, 'Will election day happen as scheduled?' Of course it will,'' LaRose said. "Election Day is unchangeable ... it has been unchanged since 1843."

-- Max Filby, The Columbus Dispatch

Huge early-vote totals encouraging – and spreading out election workload

The 64 million-plus votes already cast represent 37% more than all pre-election votes cast for the 2016 election, according to University of Florida Professor Michael McDonald's U.S. Elections Project.

The current vote total is almost half of the 139 million total votes cast four years ago. All this, McDonald says, is good news. Concerns about the ability to conduct an election during a pandemic appear somewhat allayed. Not only are people voting, but they are voting over a longer period of time, thereby "spreading out the workload" election officials face, McDonald says.

"Yes, there have been problems, and in many places lines are intolerably long," McDonald says. "But people are voting. And there are more opportunities for them to do so by Election Day. Americans’ resilience and support for their democracy is very heartening in these trying times."

Battleground Florida: GOP narrows gap in votes cast

In the Sunshine State, Republicans are counting on a surge during in-person early voting and on Election Day to overcome the advantage in mail ballots notched by Democrats so far. A week ago, Florida Democrats had cast 481,892 more votes than Republicans. By Sunday morning, aided by in-person early voting, the lead had dropped by 119,043 votes, to 363,849.

Nationwide, most Republican voters are expected to vote on Election Day. Florida is among the states whose electoral college votes (29) are crucial. To win Florida, Trump will need a solid showing with absentee voters. In August, he backtracked on railing against mail-voting there, which he has done continually without any evidence of fraud, calling Florida an exception.

Zac Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune; Ledyard King, USA TODAY

Supreme Court backs Wisconsin absentee-ballot laws

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Wisconsin's voting laws, rejecting an effort to require counting any absentee ballots postmarked on or before Election Day even if they don't reach election officials on time. The court's 5-3 ruling Monday means that absentee ballots will be counted only if they are in the hands of municipal clerks by the time polls close on Nov. 3. The justices determined the courts shouldn't decide the state's election rules.

Democrats, their allies and some nonpartisan groups in the battleground state had argued the state law requiring absentee ballots be returned by Election Day should be loosened because of the pandemic and a slowing of mail service.

Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Ohio constitution still bars 'idiots' from voting

Technically, you’re not supposed to vote in Ohio if you are an “idiot.” The use of the term to describe the mentally infirm has been considered derogatory for decades. But Article V, Section 6 of the state constitution says that “No idiot, or insane persons, shall be entitled to the privileges of an elector.”

The 170-year-old terminology was not meant for the more-common use of “idiot” in social media and other discourse today. Ohio lawyer Mark Weaver said he knows of no litigation to block a particular mentally infirm person from voting. Nor has the law been tapped based on the more modern use of the word – a foolish person – Weaver said.

“If idiots in Ohio are not allowed to vote, all of us on Twitter would be banned," he said.

Marc Kovac, The Columbus Dispatch

Court OK's Indiana law banning voters from seeking extended voting hours

Indiana voters cannot petition county judges to allow polling places to extend voting past 6 p.m. should problems emerge on Election Day, a federal appeals court has ruled. A law passed by the GOP-led Legislature last year gives county election officials the sole power to make those requests.

A three-judge panel on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the law does not infringe on Indiana residents' right to vote. The ruling also said the lower court executed poor judgment in its original ruling in September against the election law because the court acted too close to the Nov. 3 elections.

“Just like voters had many months since the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic ensued in this country this March to adjust to the election rules, the plaintiff had more than a year to challenge these amendments,” wrote the judges, referring to voting rights group Common Cause Indiana.

Johnny Magdaleno, Indianapolis Star

Wisconsin Supreme Court to review misprint on thousands of ballots

Election clerks asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Monday to issue an order that will allow them to make sure all votes are counted despite a misprint on tens of thousands of ballots in northeastern Wisconsin.

About 24,600 ballots in Outagamie and Calumet counties have a misprinted "timing mark" along their edges. Electronic tabulators use those marks to read the ballots, and they can't count the ones with the errors on them.

State law doesn't provide a clear way to address the problem, and the clerks are asking the justices to help them figure out what to do. State law requires defective ballots to be remade by clerks so they can be fed into machines. Remaking the ballots would be time-consuming, and clerks fear they will miss a deadline that requires them to tally votes by 4 p.m. on the day after the election.

– Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Florida man stole bulldozer, ran down Biden signs, authorities say

A 26-year-old man has been accused of stealing a bulldozer from a Florida construction site, driving it into a neighborhood and knocking down campaign signs for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, according to authorities and homeowners.

The man took the bulldozer in Haines City, Florida, on Saturday and repeatedly destroyed Biden signs in full view of people who live in the neighborhood, witnesses said. James Blight was charged with grand theft auto and trespassing, according to the Haines City Police Department.

Former Vice Mayor Adam Burgess lives in the central Florida neighborhood, which he said is predominantly Black. He called it a hate crime.

Election problems: What to know

This cheat sheet from Columbia Journalism Review offers tips for media organizations reporting on Election 2020.

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.

Concerned about voter suppression? Lawyers set up national hotline

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

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

– Deborah Barfield Berry

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Contributing: Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Voting 2020 news, updates: Trump spoil ballot; Florida early voting