Why the 2020 US Presidential election has millions of Americans waiting in line for hours to vote early


The line just wasn’t going to be tamed.

The city had tripled the number of polling stations. The workers had opened the doors 10 minutes early. And a few people left without completing what they came to do, possibly put off by the crowds in the age of coronavirus, or maybe just by the 3 degrees Celsius cold.

But even 40 minutes after early voting began on Tuesday morning in Wisconsin, the line at Milwaukee’s Midtown Center was still swelling instead of shrinking.

Ulont arrived at her polling place 40 minutes after it opened. The line stretched over two blocks.(ABC News: Emily Olson)

It coiled in two fat loops through the converted storefront, slithered out the door and onto the sidewalk, past the gym, past the grocery store, past the beauty salon, past the abandoned lots and dusty windows and brick walls and “masks required” signs, nearly tumbling into the street.

At 8:32am, Ulont Sherrod was standing at the end of it.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but I’m prepared to wait,” she said, shifting onto her tiptoes to assess the mass ahead of her.

“Yep, I’m gonna wait.

All across the US, early voting is breaking records

There’s still nine days until election day, but already more than 57 million Americans have cast their ballots. That’s more than 40 per cent of the overall 2016 turnout.

A sign outside a building reading "vote"
More than 18 million Americans have voted in-person, fuelled by a distrust over mail-in ballots and fear of election day crowds.(ABC News: Emily Olson)

That figure includes 39 million mail-in ballots, a voting method that most states increased access to when it became clear that coronavirus was more of a resident than a tourist.

The other 18 million Americans who voted early did so in-person.

Lining up for a short window before election day, which is not a public holiday in the US, has always been an option in 43 states, but it’s never been such a popular choice before.

All across the nation, voters are waiting one, two, three, four hours to cast their ballots. In one spot in Georgia, the wait lasted nearly a whole day.

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Some are reading the lines like tea leaves for the election outcome, noting that 49 per cent of the early votes are from Democrats, compared to 27 per cent from Republicans.

But it’s hard to predict whether President Donald Trump’s party will close the gap on the actual election day.

A long line of people standing outside a building
The line at Milwaukee’s Midtown Center was among the longest in the state as Wisconsin kicked off early voting on Tuesday.(ABC News: Emily Olson)

It’s also hard to say that the Democrats’ turnout will be high and not just early.

A fear of election day crowds amid coronavirus surely plays a role in why some are casting their ballots now.

So does a deep distrust of the voting system.

Some voters don’t trust mail-in ballots

Ulont, for one, just didn’t want to rely on the mail-in ballot she could’ve applied for, excuse-free, in the state of Wisconsin.

“I’m not paranoid,” she says.

A woman in a red coat holding a coffee cup stands in line outside a building
Ulont Sherrod says this election feels like the most important in her lifetime.(ABC News: Emily Olson)

She said she read a lot about Trump’s connections with US postmaster-general Louis DeJoy. She doesn’t like hearing about the mail delivery delays, or the decrease in mail boxes or the missing mail sorting machines.

There’s stories about external tampering, too, which are harder to believe, but can’t be ignored, Ulont says. Not in this election, when the stakes feel personal and urgent.

“Even my grandchild is watching this election, and she’s six. I want her to know that voting can be fair. That the world isn’t always this crazy,” Ulont said.

“It’s even more important than the Obama election — more important than voting in a black man. We’ve got to get this current man out.”

So now Ulont is here, dedicated to standing outside for hours on a grey Milwaukee morning, determined to cast an early ballot for the first time in her life.

In a long voting line, headphones and folding chairs are little luxuries

There’s a distinct rhythm to line waiting, and she gets it down quickly.

A long line of people standing outside a building near a sign reading "curbside voting only"
Voters bring folding chairs, coffee and crossword puzzles to get through the long wait.(ABC News: Emily Olson)

Three or four socially distanced steps, every one to two minutes. Stop. Wait. Engage with your choice of entertainment. Shuffle forward again.

A man a few spots ahead of her has a thermos full of something warm, which he shares with people he’s carpooled with for company.

A woman a few spots behind unfurls a crossword puzzle.

Headphones, face shields and folding chairs dot the queue like little luxuries, eyed with envy.

Ulont says she considered going back home for a book once she realised what she was up against, but decided it was better to just “get it over with — just get it done”.

“I don’t think the line will be moving this quickly after work,” she says.

“That’s when a lot of people come. I was just on the phone with my daughter, and that’s when she’s coming.”

She nurses a takeaway coffee in her hand, making it last, letting it get cold.

She pulls out her phone and sends a text, then slides it back into her pocket and watches a car drive past.

She eavesdrops on the hum of conversation around her.

By 8:44am, she’s in front of the grocery store. A man with a shopping cart pauses to ask her what the line is for.

“Voting. Early voting,” she says, and the man’s eyes light up in recognition.

“Oh, right,” he says.

“Yep, don’t be late.”

“No ma’am, I won’t.”

Early voting numbers could lead to election delays

Wisconsin is one of six states where the election is so close that a win or lose in any one of them could be the deciding factor.

Mr Trump beat Hillary Clinton here by less than one point in 2016. He’s been trailing Joe Biden by about five points since summer.

Yet Democrats aren’t resting confidently, in part because of the act of voting itself.

A woman in a red coat and face mask standing in a line outside
In states where the race is particularly close, early voting could lead to delayed results — and more waiting.(ABC News: Emily Olson)

Wisconsin emerged as a test case for pandemic voting back in April, when the state’s Democratic minority lost a Supreme Court battle to delay a primary election.

The logistics were decided too late, and the result was an election that earned national scorn for videos of Wisconsinites queuing for four hours in the cold, amid peak coronavirus concern.

The state ended up invalidating roughly 23,000 ballots during that primary. That’s nearly the exact amount of votes that delivered the state to Trump in 2016.

As if Wisconsin weren’t already teetering on a political edge, the state’s laws say ballots cast early cannot be opened until election night, and a rule about ballot deadlines is tied up in the Supreme Court.

With a record-setting 1.1 million ballots already cast, with so much distrust in the system, with a race so close, it could be days until Wisconsin’s results become clear.

And Wisconsin is just one state with early voting and messy consequences.

It could be days until the overall presidential election result becomes clear — days of uncertainty, days of doing what Ulont is doing right now: waiting.

New friendships are forged in the long wait

At 9:14am, a man in a black leather jacket and blue baseball cap starts walking up and down the line, flyers in hand and a grin on his face.

“Who y’all know that wants to buy a car?” he says.

“Anyone in the market for a car? Anyone in the market for a truck, SUV, minivan?”

People standing in a line outside a building rugged up in coats and face masks
Voters like David Woolfolk (right) told the ABC that “getting to know your neighbours” was an upside of waiting hours to vote.(ABC News: Emily Olson)

It’s unclear whether the man is legally permitted to solicit at a polling place, but the crowd doesn’t seem to mind. He’s found a captive audience, one that appreciates the distraction, if not the goods he’s peddling.

“How about a hearse for Trump?” asks the man directly in front of Ulont. The salesman stops, considers engaging, but shakes his head and presses on.

Ulont laughs and says: “Nah he don’t get it.”

The man turns to tell Ulont why he hopes Trump will lose and within a few minutes, they’re in full-on conversation, quick friends brought together by shared purpose in unusual circumstance.

The man, whose name is Dick Stenzel, stands out like a sore thumb in this line, wearing a sweatshirt when others have coats. He’s also white, voting in a neighborhood that’s 81 per cent black.

But when it comes to politics, Dick and Ulont seem to be on the same page.

Neither is completely sold on Joe Biden, but they believe him to be a far better candidate than Trump, and this, above all else, is the reason why they’re waiting. And waiting.

“The closer we get, the slower we go,” Ulont says right around the one-hour mark. She can see the door now. She’s maybe 15 people away.

Dick says he waited nearly three hours to vote in the now-infamous primary — the one that served as a test case for pandemic voting.

Ulont didn’t get a chance to vote in that one.

“When I got off work, the line was hours and hours,” said the mum-of-five who works as a nurse’s assistant at a local hospital.

“And with COVID … you know, I was scared, to be honest. I didn’t want to be in that crowd.”

When voting gets hard in America, it gets harder for black Americans

If Wisconsin’s fiasco primary was a test case on voting logistics during a pandemic, then nowhere delivered a clearer lesson than the state’s Democratic heart, Milwaukee, and more specifically, Milwaukee’s north side.

In a metro area consistently ranked as America’s most segregated, Milwaukee’s north side is home to an overwhelming majority of the city’s black population, which accounts for 40 per cent of the city’s overall population.

Race is one of the strongest predictors of how long an American will wait in line to vote.

A 2019 study showed residents of black neighbourhoods waited 29 times longer to vote and were 74 per cent more likely to spend 30 minutes or more voting.

Milwaukee proved this when the April primary was ordered to go ahead.

Hundreds of people who signed up to be poll workers suddenly quit out of fear of coronavirus.

The city consolidated its 180 polling stations into just five. And only one of those polling stations was on the north side.

The lines at Riverside High School, where Ulont would have voted, stretched longer than anywhere else in the state.

But, for black voters, the alternative to in-person voting isn’t always better.

In North Carolina, another battleground state, early data sets show 40 per cent of rejected mail-in ballots came from black voters, even though ballots from black voters only accounted for 16 per cent of those returned overall.

The line inside is just as long as the line outside

It’s 10:24am at Milwaukee’s Midtown Center, and Ulont has been waiting for nearly two hours.

“Maybe I should’ve signed up to be a poll worker,” she says while waiting at the second of four stations involved in casting her ballot.

The desk at this step is empty. There’s one poll worker manning it, and she walked off to help a woman figure out a ballot. The line is stagnant.

Ulont and those around her were in high spirits when they finally got through the door and could watch the wheels of bureaucracy turning. They thought they’d be finished up in a little over an hour.

A table with 'I voted early' stickers
Tens of millions of ballots have already been cast in the 2020 election as more people vote early due to the pandemic.(ABC News: Emily Olson)

But even with all the stations, poll workers and toing-and-froing, it soon became clear the overall pace inside moved just as slowly as the outside. If anything, it was slower.

“At least we’ve got a heater now,” Dick says. Ulont nods with resignation.

Experts warn election day could erupt in violence

Ulont doesn’t say anything about a pair of volunteers sitting in folding chairs in the corner of the room, watching voter after voter enter the space.

They’re easy to miss, cordoned off from the action with blue masking tape, but they say they’re every bit as integral to the process as the voters themselves.

As trained poll watchers, their job is to oversee the voting process and report any potential slip-ups.

And despite the long lines, they say things are going according to plan.

“When you talk about voter intimidation, they do it underground. It’s ID laws. It’s removing voter places. They’re scaring people about going to the polls, saying there’s violence.”

Across the US, the long lines and air of uncertainty, combined with a toxic political atmosphere, are leading experts to worry that election day could erupt in physical clashes.

A woman signs a ballot on a desk
For Ulont, the wait inside the polling place was just as long as outside.(ABC News: Emily Olson)

A report from watchdog groups says Wisconsin is one of five states most likely to see activity from armed militia groups on November 3.

US media report a far-right militia group known as the Proud Boys is self-stationing members in the Great Lakes region where Wisconsin is located.

Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” at the first presidential debate while saying far-left groups might erupt in violence.

The Trump campaign says they’ve been recruiting poll watchers, which they refer to as “Trump’s army”, to detect irregularities in key battleground states.

They said their goal was to train 50,000 monitors nationwide.

The poll workers at Milwaukee’s Midtown Center are Democrats, trained by the state’s party.

They’re aware of what’s going on with “Trump’s Army”, and when asked if they were concerned they might encounter tension with other poll watchers today, Maria Jaszewski answered with a bring-it-on energy.

“Well, there aren’t any Republican poll watchers here.”

It never once occurred to Ulont to leave the line

When Ulont finally gets to the business of voting, she’s flying. There’s no hesitation on which candidates she wants. No confusion over how this thing works.

She takes her finished ballot and moves onto the next station.

There’s no line, and it throws her for a second. She pauses to catch the eye of the woman working the station, who quickly waves her over.

A woman waits in line while inspecting the ballot in her hands
Ulont inspects her ballot while waiting at the second of four steps in early voting.(ABC News: Emily Olson)

It’s a signature for each of them, then a drop in the box. Ulont grabs an “I voted early” sticker. Then she heads for the door.

The time is 10:48am.

It took Ulont 2 hours and 16 minutes to cast her ballot.

In the grand scheme of American early voting, it wasn’t the longest wait or the shortest wait.

Ulont didn’t face voter intimidation or broken voting machines, but what may be most notable is that she didn’t lose hope in the process.

It never once occurred to her to give up and leave the line.

“I didn’t mind it one bit,” she says when she’s back outside, where the sun is starting to lift the fog.

“It’s my constitutional right, and it’s so important. Everything about this election is so important.

And then she turns and walks away, past a line that’s still not shrinking, brimming with voters willing to take steps, no matter how slow, towards change.



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Van Jones says Trump ‘doesn’t get credit’ for ‘good things’ he has done for African Americans


Van Jones, the former Obama administration official and current CNN commentator, said on Friday that President Trump ‘doesn’t get credit’ for the ‘good things’ he has done for African Americans, prompting Twitter users to call for his firing.

Jones made the comment while providing on-air analysis during Jake Tapper’s daily CNN broadcast on Friday.

Tapper began the segment by panning Trump’s comment during Thursday’s debate in which the president said he had done more for black Americans than any of his predecessors aside from Abraham Lincoln.

The CNN host, who mentioned Lyndon Johnson’s signing into law of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as an example of a president who did more for African Americans than Trump, then played a clip from the debate. 

Van Jones (top right), the CNN pundit, said on Friday that Trump ‘doesn’t get credit’ for the ‘good things’ he has done for the black community. Jones appeared alongside Jake Tapper (left) and commentator Scott Jennings (bottom right) on CNN on Friday

Jones has praised Trump in the past for signing into a law the First Step Act, which is aimed at easing prison sentences for those convicted of nonviolent offenses. Trump is seen above in the Oval Office with Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old black woman who was freed from prison by the president after she served more than 21 years for a nonviolent drug offense

Jones has praised Trump in the past for signing into a law the First Step Act, which is aimed at easing prison sentences for those convicted of nonviolent offenses. Trump is seen above in the Oval Office with Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old black woman who was freed from prison by the president after she served more than 21 years for a nonviolent drug offense

Jones has worked with Trump administration officials, including Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and White House advisor, on criminal justice reform. Jones is seen second from left alongside Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, at the White House in May 2018

Jones has worked with Trump administration officials, including Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and White House advisor, on criminal justice reform. Jones is seen second from left alongside Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, at the White House in May 2018

In the footage, Trump says he is the ‘least racist person in this room.’

‘Eight in ten black Americans believe that Trump is a racist, according to a Washington Post/Ipsos poll earlier this year,’ Tapper said.

‘Why does the president make comments like that instead of acknowledging that he has said things that seem insensitive but he wants to work on it?’

Jones responded that it wasn’t in the president’s character to admit to wrongdoing.

He then pivoted to praise Trump for doing ‘good things’ for the black community.

‘I think it’s really unfortunate because Donald Trump, and I get beat up by liberals every time I say it but I keep saying it, he has done good stuff for the black community,’ Jones said.

‘Black college stuff, I worked with him on criminal stuff, I saw Donald Trump have African American people, formerly incarcerated, in the White House – embraced them, treated them well.

‘There is a side to Donald Trump that I think he does not get enough credit for.’

During Thursday's presidential debate in Nashville, Trump claimed he was the 'least racist person in this room,' after debate moderator Kristen Welker asked him about calling Black Lives Matter a 'symbol of hate' and sharing a video to Twitter of a man shouting 'white power'

During Thursday’s presidential debate in Nashville, Trump claimed he was the ‘least racist person in this room,’ after debate moderator Kristen Welker asked him about calling Black Lives Matter a ‘symbol of hate’ and sharing a video to Twitter of a man shouting ‘white power’ 

But Jones then said that Trump’s actions made it harder for the public to give him credit.

‘But the reason he doesn’t is because he also says the most incendiary stuff, he retweets white nationalists, and he violates the number one rule of blackness, which is, I don’t mess with people who mess with people I don’t mess with,’ Jones said.

‘In other words, I’m not friends with people who are friends of my enemies.

‘And so the black community can appreciate some of the stuff he’s done, but when they see him playing footsie on Twitter with these white nationalist organizations, it just wipes it all out.’

While Trump called himself the ‘least racist person in this room’ on Thursday night, Democrat Joe Biden gave the exact opposite assessment during a tussle over race during the Nashville presidential debate. 

‘Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents in modern history,’ Biden said. 

Trump had tried to tarnish Biden’s civil rights record by pointing to his Senate vote in the 1994 crime bill and falsely claimed the former vice president had referred to black men as ‘super predators.’ 

‘Nobody has done more for the black community than Donald Trump… with the exception of Abraham Lincoln, possible exception, but with the exception of Abraham Lincoln, nobody has done what I’ve done,’ Trump said, repeating a boast he’s been making all year, name-dropping the president who ended slavery. 

The president pointed to his record of funding historically black colleges and universities, signing the bipartisan First Step act – a big criminal justice reform bill – and creating so-called ‘opportunity zones’ to boost minority communities. 

Debate moderator Kristen Welker asked Trump about a different part of his record – noting how he had called the Black Lives Matter movement a ‘symbol of hate.’ 

She also mentioned how Trump had shared a video of a man chanting ‘white power’ and he lashed out at athletes who have taken a knee over racial inequality. 

‘The first time I ever heard of Black Lives Matter, they were chanting “Pigs in a blanket,” talking about our police, “fry them like a bacon,” I said that is a horrible thing,’ the president said. 

‘I thought it was a terrible thing.’

He then made the claim, ‘I am the least racist person in this room.’    

Biden then made fun of Trump’s Abraham Lincoln line. 

‘He pours a fuel on every single racist fire,’ Biden said. ‘Every single one.’ 

‘He started his campaign coming down the escalators that he was going to get rid of those Mexican rapists. 

‘He banned Muslims because they are Muslims. He said about the poor boys last time he was on stage, he told them to stand down and stand ready,’ Biden said.

Biden misstated the name of the group, Proud Boys. 

Jones has angered liberals in years past by praising Trump for his moves toward enacting criminal justice reform.

It has also been reported that Jones secretly advised Trump administration officials on crafting an executive order that aims to reform police departments.

Jones has praised Trump for his moves toward criminal justice reform, though his comments have earned him scorn from liberals.

Jones has praised Trump for his moves toward criminal justice reform, though his comments have earned him scorn from liberals.

Another Twitter user tweeted: 'Every time I think Van Jones has turned a corner, he disappoints'

Another Twitter user tweeted: ‘Every time I think Van Jones has turned a corner, he disappoints’

One Twitter user tweeted that they change the channel every time he appears on CNN.

One Twitter user tweeted that they change the channel every time he appears on CNN.

One person tweeted on Friday in response to Jones' comments on CNN: 'Jeeesus why is Van Jones still talking about anything? What an embarrassment.'

One person tweeted on Friday in response to Jones’ comments on CNN: ‘Jeeesus why is Van Jones still talking about anything? What an embarrassment.’ 

'Maybe he should tell the families of the ones that have lost love ones to Covid-19 how good he has done,' another Twitter user wrote.

‘Maybe he should tell the families of the ones that have lost love ones to Covid-19 how good he has done,’ another Twitter user wrote.

Another Twitter user called on CNN to fire him. 'Time for CNN to let Van Jones go,' they said.

Another Twitter user called on CNN to fire him. ‘Time for CNN to let Van Jones go,’ they said.

Jones is said to have access to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser.

According to The Daily Beast, Jones has been an occasional dinner guest of Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, at their Washington, DC, home.

It was Kushner who introduced Jones to Kim Kardashian-West, the reality television star whose public lobbying of the president helped secure the release from prison of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old black woman who was sentenced to life for involvement in a cocaine trafficking ring. 

In June 2018, Trump commuted Johnson’s prison sentence after she served more than 21 years behind bars. 

This past August, Trump invited Johnson to the Oval Office, where he signed a full presidential pardon. 

Kushner was the driving force behind the First Step Act, which was signed into law by Trump after getting bipartisan support in Congress.

The First Step Act gives judges more discretion in sentencing, eases mandatory minimum sentences and encourages inmates to participate in programs aimed at reducing recidivism. 

The Trump administration has promoted the overhaul as a rare bipartisan effort to address concerns that too many Americans were imprisoned for nonviolent crimes as a result of the drug war.     

Jones has praised Trump for his moves toward criminal justice reform, though his comments have earned him scorn from liberals.

When Trump signaled his support for criminal justice reform in November 2018, Jones went on CNN and said: ‘I think you’ve got to give him some credit… I say the 99 times I don’t agree with the president I’m going to give him hell. 

‘But on this one, I’ll give him a salute and applause.’

Despite Trump’s support for criminal justice reform, African Americans overwhelmingly favor his opponent, Biden. 

On Twitter, Jones was slammed by Trump’s critics. 

One person tweeted on Friday in response to Jones’ comments on CNN: ‘Jeeesus why is Van Jones still talking about anything? What an embarrassment.’

‘Van Jones is an idiot,’ commented another Twitter user.

Another Twitter user tweeted: ‘Every time I think Van Jones has turned a corner, he disappoints.’

One Twitter user tweeted that they change the channel every time he appears on CNN.

Another Twitter user called on CNN to fire him. ‘Time for CNN to let Van Jones go,’ they said.

‘Maybe he should tell the families of the ones that have lost love ones to Covid-19 how good he has done,’ another Twitter user wrote. 



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‘Please Be Responsible’: Actress Jennifer Aniston Tells Americans Voting for Kanye West ‘Not Funny’



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In the run-up to the 3 November presidential election in the United States, candidates are contesting to be the voice of America. Besides the two main candidates, sitting Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden, US rapper Kanye West joined the White House race at the last minute.

American actress and producer Jennifer Aniston on Friday told her fans, less than two weeks ahead of Election Day, that voting for Kanye West to be the US president is “not funny”, pleading with everyone to be “responsible” when picking the next US commander in chief.

“It’s not funny to vote for Kanye,” Aniston, 51, told her 35.7 million Instagram followers. “I don’t know how else to say it. Please be responsible.”

The remarks from the renowned actress, who shared a photo of her dropping off her ballot eleven days before the 3 November election, revealed that she has cast her voice to the Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris.

“I voted for them because right now this country is more divided than ever. Right now, a few men in power are deciding what women can and can’t do with their own bodies,” Aniston, one of Hollywood’s highest-paid and most popular actresses, wrote.

The Emmy Award winner slammed Republican President Donald Trump for what she described as his administration’s lackluster response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and noted that the Trump White House has dismissed racism in the US as “a non-issue”.

“Our current president has decided that racism is a non-issue. He has repeatedly and publicly ignored science […] too many people have died,” she posted. “I urge you to really consider who is going to be most affected by this election if we stay on the track we’re on right now.”

Aniston also called on Americans to make the right choice, arguing that it was about the country’s future.

“This whole thing isn’t about one candidate or one single issue, it’s about the future of this country and of the world,” Aniston wrote. “Vote for equal human rights, for love, and for decency.”

Kanye West announced that he would join the US presidential race and launched a campaign on 4 July. On 16 July, the campaign filed a Statement of Candidacy with the Federal Election Commission. Although the 43-year-old rap star has missed many deadlines to file presidential candidate paperwork in many US states, he nonetheless has said he is still available for the Election Day vote. The “Yeezus” rapper held only one rally, in North Carolina, on 19 July.





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Earnings Reports Show Americans Spending Again: Live Updates


Credit…Ralph Orlowski/Reuters

A top executive of German carmaker Daimler said Friday that he does not expect a new surge in coronavirus infections to be as destructive to vehicle manufacturing as the first wave earlier in the year, when almost all major carmakers were forced to suspend production and close dealerships.

Harald Wilhelm, Daimler’s chief financial officer, said that showroom traffic remained strong and that parts were flowing, even though infection rates were reaching new highs in many European regions.

“I’m not aware that we have any problems with supply chains,” Mr. Wilhelm told reporters during a conference call. He added that the company was watching developments closely.

If big manufacturers like Daimler are able to keep operating and employing people, the economic impact of the pandemic may not be as bad as it was in March and April. Still, as countries like France, Denmark and Germany impose curfews and other restrictions on daily life, the impact is certain to be significant and unpredictable.

Daimler, the maker of Mercedes cars and trucks, said Friday that net profit in the third quarter rose 19 percent to 2.2 billion euros, or $2.6 billion, as the company was able to offset a decline in sales with cost cuts. While sales have improved from low points a few months ago, Daimler said it does not expect to be able to recoup all of the sales it lost earlier in the year.

Credit…Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

With a vaccine still out of reach and many companies pushing return-to-office dates back until at least summer 2021, people with the means to do so are increasingly buying what they need to hunker down for the pandemic long-haul.

“Traditionally, during an economic recession, you would expect to see discretionary categories, such as home furnishings, consumer electronics or big-ticket items like appliances, take a hit,” said Andrew Lipsman, an analyst at the data analytics firm eMarketer. “What’s interesting is that the pandemic has caused a couple of these categories to really buck that trend.”

Even as millions of Americans remain unemployed, workers who have kept their jobs and are not dining out or going on vacations may find themselves with seemingly more discretionary money to spend.

Whirlpool reported that net sales were up 3.9 percent in the third quarter compared with the same period last year, after sales were down 22 percent in the second quarter.

“If you’re still working from home and you’re getting a steady paycheck, you may feel confident enough to splurge on a renovation,” said Ted Rossman, an industry analyst for CreditCards.com. “There’s actually a shortage of things like refrigerators, as we’re seeing a big increase in demand.”

Others, sick of grocery shopping and the taste of their own cooking, are choosing take out instead. Chipotle said revenue increased 14.1 percent in the third quarter compared with last year. Revenue decreased 4.8 percent in the second quarter.

As the holiday season approaches, earnings reports already show demand rising for gifts. The toy company Mattel reported on Thursday that doll sales were up 22 percent for the third quarter.

Sales of basic necessities like groceries are leveling out, months after people panic-bought toilet paper and cleaning supplies.

Kimberly-Clark reported that consumer tissue sales were up 11 percent in North America, a smaller increase than the previous quarter.

The grocery chain Albertson’s reported sales and other revenue increased more than 11 percent to $15.8 billion during the second quarter, compared to $14.2 billion during the same period last year, with revenue from digital sales up 243 percent as consumers looked to avoid crowded stores.

Abbott Laboratories Inc. and Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc, both big players in coronavirus testing, reported significant growth. Abbott’s $881 million in Covid-19 testing revenue accounted for nearly 10 percent of its total sales in the third quarter, and Thermo Fisher generated $2 billion in Covid-19 related revenue, up from $1.3 billion last quarter.

Most economists agree this much is clear: The main thing holding back the economy is not formal restrictions. It is people’s continued fear of the virus itself.

A growing body of research has concluded that the steep drop in economic activity last spring was primarily a result of individual decisions by consumers and businesses rather than legal mandates, report Ben Casselman and Jim Tankersley.

Iowa was one of only a handful of states that never imposed a full stay-at-home order. Restaurants, movie theaters, hair salons and bars were allowed to reopen starting in May, earlier than in most states. Gov. Kim Reynolds has emphasized the need to make the economy a priority, and has blocked cities and towns from requiring masks or imposing many other restrictions.

Even so, Iowa has regained just over half of the 186,000 jobs it lost between February and April, and progress — as in the country as a whole — is slowing. Many businesses worry they won’t be able to make it through the winter without more help from Congress. Others have already failed. Now, coronavirus cases are rising there.

“You can’t just open the economy and expect everything to go back to pre-Covid levels,” said Michael Luca, a Harvard Business School economist who has studied the impact of restrictions during the pandemic. “If a market is not safe, people won’t participate in it.”



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With older poll workers sidelined, young Americans step up



Leo Kamin is just 20 days too young to vote this year, but that was no excuse to sit out the election. He became a poll worker in March and has since helped recruit 30,000 poll workers, many of them high schoolers like himself, through Poll Hero Project.

Even in a good year, the small army of election officials needed each November is hard to rally. Add in a pandemic, which disproportionately affects the older Americans who make up the majority of poll workers, and many feared a crisis.

Yet even if some shortages still remain, the deluge of young people stepping up to take their place has been enormous – and may ripple into a new generation of poll workers civically engaged for years to come.

“There are a lot of stereotypes about my generation: We’re lazier, not connecting to the real world. We’re zombies to social media and our phones and stuff,” Mr. Kamin says. “But this has truly shown me that is just not at all true. There are so many people my age who are just looking for any opportunity to get involved.”

The air was freezing, the sun had yet to rise, and Leo Kamin had just arrived at the church for his 6 a.m. shift – which meant he only had 15 hours to go.

Out came the tents and tables, mercifully arranged around heating lamps in the gusty parking lot. Inside, he and a team of poll workers puzzled together dividers, printers, tables, tablets, computers, and their all-
important voting machines. 

All that was left was the voters. And at Mr. Kamin’s polling station in Denver on March 3, they would soon arrive in hundreds. By the time he left at 9 in the evening, Mr. Kamin had used so much hand sanitizer his skin was beginning to crack.

But among the many ballots he saw cast that day, not one was his own. A high school junior, Mr. Kamin is 17 and just 20 days too young to vote this year. For him, that wasn’t an excuse to sit out the election. Mr. Kamin turned to poll working and first pitched in during the primaries in March. This November he’ll return, and likely send thousands of other young poll workers to voting stations.  

Partly motivated by his experience in March, Mr. Kamin helped found the Poll Hero Project, a nationwide drive to register poll workers for this year’s election. Their initial goal, says Ryan Schwieger, a senior at Princeton University and another co-founder, was to recruit 1,000 poll workers in the first month. They hit that number in a week, and have since added almost 30,000 more – mostly still in high school, and like Mr. Kamin, unable to vote themselves. 

Poll Hero’s work is at the vanguard of a countrywide call to action for young people to help run this year’s election. Even in a good year, the small army of election officials needed each November is hard to rally. Add in a pandemic, which disproportionately affects the older Americans who make up the majority of poll workers, and many feared a crisis. 

Yet even if some shortages still remain, the deluge of young people stepping up to take their place has been enormous – and may ripple into a new generation of poll workers civically engaged for years to come.

“There are a lot of stereotypes about my generation: We’re lazier, not connecting to the real world. We’re zombies to social media and our phones and stuff,” Mr. Kamin says. “But this has truly shown me that is just not at all true. There are so many people my age who are just looking for any opportunity to get involved.”

The heart of democracy

If there ever was a time to get involved in elections, it’s this year, says Quentin Palfrey, chairman of the Voter Protection Corps (VPC).

A national election requires about 115,000 polling places and 900,000 poll workers, he says. But since in a typical season some 60% of poll workers are age 60 or older, the people most likely to work the polls are also those most threatened by COVID-19. 

During the primaries, the pandemic led to mass shortages of poll workers in states like Georgia and Wisconsin – shuttering more than 90% of polling places in some locales. These closures forced tight bottlenecks and hourslong waits to vote. The result, says Andrea Hailey, CEO of Vote.org,
was logistical disenfranchisement of voters who didn’t know where to vote or have the time to wait. 

There is no comprehensive data for American election officials, but research from the VPC and Carnegie Mellon University suggests that 485 counties in eight battleground states are still at a high risk for poll worker shortages. 

While absentee voting and voting by mail are now more available than ever, not everyone has or prefers that option, says Mr. Palfrey. Particularly for long-disenfranchised groups, he says, there’s a certain comfort in casting a ballot in person. 

And to do that, people need poll workers, says Rachael Cobb, chair of political science and legal studies at Suffolk University in Boston.

From answering questions to keeping records to reporting votes, these front-line election workers manage American democracy’s most important day from start to finish.

“The whole health and wellness of our democracy at the end of the day comes down to people filling out their ballots,” says Ms. Hailey. “When you go in person, poll workers are the people who are going to guide that experience.”

Answering the call of duty

A desire to experience that other side of elections brought Bree Baccaglini, a law student at Stanford University, to a four-hour poll worker training in 2018. In that informational monsoon, she learned how to troubleshoot the voting machines, handle ballots, and manage the human error bound to come. 

When she arrived at the polling place weeks later at 6 a.m., she entered one of the most rigorous civic educations of her life. 

“Elections are mammoth national events run by bajillions of individuals,” she says. “We view it as a rarefied process, but it’s really just a lot of normal people showing up to do their jobs.”

Ms. Baccaglini will return to work the polls this November, freshly motivated to play her part during the pandemic. Her sense of purpose – shared by thousands of other young people working the polls this November – hints at a rise in collective spirit among a group often viewed as civically apathetic. 

Of the more than 600,000 poll workers that the nationwide campaign Power the Polls has attracted this year, around 40% are under 35 and 65% are under 50, says Robert Brandon, president and CEO of Fair Elections Center, one of the campaign’s founding organizations.

Each of the many young poll workers interviewed for this story mentioned a desire to protect voting rights and more at-risk Americans who may need to stay at home. 

“Older and more immuno-vulnerable people should definitely not have to bear this burden,” says Ms. Baccaglini. 

The upshot is a new sense of collective engagement among some, brought to light by the pandemic and tense election. To steal a phrase, says Ms. Hailey of Vote.org, many younger Americans are not asking what the election can do for them. They’re asking what they can do for their election. 

Emily Luan, an adjunct professor who lives in Brooklyn, plans to work the polls for the first time this November. She doesn’t feel particularly inspired by the candidates this year, but she wants to be sure that anyone around her who wants to vote can vote. 

Anika Rice, who will work the polls even while working on her Ph.D. in geology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, hopes to engage with her community and help protect voting rights. 

Leah Rocketto, an editor at Woman’s Day in New York, is stepping up on Election Day just because she can. She feels privileged to be young, healthy, and employed during the pandemic. Why not use that privilege to help people vote? 

And then there’s Mr. Kamin, who will return to the polling place hoping for better weather this November. 

His first foray into election work let him witness some heartwarming moments: applause for first-time voters, civic excitement from new citizens, the grace of the older poll workers who remind him of his grandmother. He hopes for more such moments in the fall, and another chance to participate in the collective effort of Election Day.

“For people like me especially who cannot vote, it just feels good to make an impact,” he says. “And you’re making an impact on hundreds of people instead of just casting one ballot.”



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Is Donald Trump right that more Americans voting is bad for Republicans? Let’s take a look


The 2016 and 2018 US elections were historic for plenty of reasons — like the unlikely election of a businessman-turned-reality-TV star to the presidency, and the wave of diverse candidates who were elected in the backlash to it two years later.

The 2016 presidential election was also noteworthy for just how few eligible Americans actually voted — just 55 per cent. A 20-year-low for a presidential election.

The 2018 midterms were historic for the opposite reason: a nearly 100-year-high turnout, where still only 50.3 per cent of eligible Americans voted.

In both elections, roughly half of eligible Americans chose to have their say. So, what if the rest joined them?

How would future US elections change if every person who could vote, did?

A lot of money is spent trying to convince Americans to vote

From the beginning, it’s important to understand how federal elections are run in the US.

Rather than being administered by a single body like the Australian Election Commission, the US operates on a decentralised system, with each state responsible for its own elections.

The federal US government isn’t responsible for running elections.(AP: J Scott Applewhite)

It means the rules for a voter in Wisconsin can be wildly different to the rules for a voter in California.

But there is one common rule across all 50 states: Voting is optional.

“The American culture, by and large, does not like to be required to do anything,” Capri Cafaro, executive in residence at American University School of Public Affairs, said.

For American political parties, that means convincing someone to vote for you is only half the battle. The first step is convincing them to vote at all.

Every election, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by political parties, governments and corporate America on something known as Get Out The Vote (GOTV). Think television ads, flyers, doorknocking campaigns, emails, phone calls and more all trying to convince Americans to turn up to the polls.

A roll of "I Voted!" stickers
Stickers are part of the GOTV effort in America. They aren’t exactly a democracy sausage.(AP: Wilfredo Lee)

Some states also try to make voting easier by allowing things like mail-in voting, early voting, absentee voting, same-day registration, automatic registration and online registration.

Generations of GOTV efforts mean just about every trick in the book has been tried.

Short of rolling out the humble Australian democracy sausage, it still hasn’t convinced almost half of eligible Americans — somewhere in the ballpark of 100 million people — that voting is worth it.

Sausages and onion cooking on a barbecue.
The traditional Australian method of luring voters to the polls.(ABC News: Isabel Dayman)

So why doesn’t the US Government make them do it?

First, the US Federal Government can’t without a hell of a fight.

“I think one of the reasons that the Federal Government would not do that is because there would be massive pushback from a number of states and their representatives in Congress, individuals that feel very strongly about states’ rights,” Cafaro said.

And remember how Americans don’t like being told what to do by the Government?

“I don’t think that the American public, by and large, would want to be forced to vote. Because I think part of the view is that part of your right to vote is not doing it,” Cafaro said.

Another hurdle is the perception that compulsory voting would advantage one party over another.

Anthony Fowler, a professor at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, said that was a “critical” obstacle to any future of compulsory voting in the US.

“There would be lots of politicians who think that this is bad for them and may be bad for their own personal re-election chances. It may be bad for their party,” Fowler said.

“And that’s going to be a natural deterrent to doing anything.”

Yard signs supporting U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic U.S. presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden
Politicians themselves are an obstacle to compulsory voting in the US.(Reuters: Al Drago)

It’s not as simple as ‘if more people voted, Trump would lose’

But it’s an entrenched idea.

Forget a massive change like compulsory voting for a second. Even simple efforts just to try to increase the number of Americans who vote often meet resistance because of the perception that more voting is bad news for Republicans.

Speaking about a Democratic Party effort to make voting easier amid the pandemic, US President Donald Trump told Fox News earlier this year:

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We can examine the President’s scenario of high levels of voting.

Let’s say US governments gave up asking nicely and did something extreme, like, copying Australia’s system of compulsory voting. Would a Republican ever be elected again?

Voting booth at Bondi beach
You can vote pretty much anywhere in Australia, wearing pretty much anything.(Fairfax Media: Edwina Pickles)

“Lots of things would change,” Fowler said.

How does he know? Because Fowler studied what happened when Australia introduced compulsory voting.

“I think the [same] logic essentially would also apply to the United States, where poor, working-class people are much less likely to vote under voluntary voting. They become more likely to vote under compulsory voting, and that does change elections and changes policy as a result,” Fowler said.

Senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Karlyn Bowman, agreed the average American voter had a higher level of education and income. But would introducing compulsory voting turn every election afterwards into a landslide for one party?

So it’s not the end of one of the United States’ major political parties as the President suggests. Here’s Fowler to explain why:

Basically, if compulsory voting suddenly dumped 130 million votes onto the American electoral map, the Republican and Democratic parties wouldn’t think twice about shifting their platforms to appeal to them.

COVID-19 made voting in 2020 even more complicated. It’s not stopping Americans

Only a few primary elections escaped the chaos coronavirus wrought on elections in the US in 2020.

But despite shifting deadlines, significant changes to methods of voting and very real concerns about the safety of casting a ballot in person, plenty of Americans still did their civic duty.

Voting stations are set up in the South Wing of the Kentucky Exposition Center
Voting hasn’t been the same for Americans in 2020.(AP: Timothy D. Easley)

In the Democratic primary process, 34 million voters cast their ballots, up from 31 million in 2016 according to the New York Times.

And despite Trump running essentially unopposed in the Republican primary, 14 million voters still turned out.

After the record turnout at the 2018 midterms, the buzz about more Americans than ever voting in 2020 is growing.

But it might be too early to say what will happen.

“Either people are so disgusted, they all sit at home because they’re defeated, or everybody shows up because they feel that they’re sort of on the line.”

Voters line up outside polling boohts in Georgia
Long lines at polling booths don’t necessarily mean more Americans are turning out to vote in 2020.(Reuters: Dustin Chambers)

Bowman said reading the turnout tea leaves as a boon for one party over the other could be misguided.

Sure, voting against Trump might be a motivating factor for Democrats. But they’re also far more likely to be fearful of the pandemic (which in turn could be an excuse not to vote).

Don’t hold your breath for a future where every American votes. But change could happen

Fowler said there was a time (the late 1800s to be precise) when the records show a huge majority of Americans chose to vote.

The catch?

“That was the period where there was probably a lot of fraud, a lot of double voting, a lot of vote buying and things that we actually don’t think of as being very desirable for democracy,” he said.

In modern American history, the highest turnout in a presidential election was 62 per cent in 1960. That year featured the nail-biting contest between Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy right as televisions became a fixture in US households.

Fowler said it was hard to ever see something like 70 per of Americans voting under the systems in place now.

People wait in a socially distant line at an early voting site at the Fairfax County Government Center in Fairfa
Americans are already voting in the 2020 election.(Reuters: Al Drago)

But there’s a way a small step towards compulsory voting could have a big impact on the outcome of a presidential election.

“Because we have the electoral college, it does mean that there’s those few critical states and what they do essentially determines who wins the presidency,” he said.

Say a small but influential state such as Pennsylvania chooses to implement compulsory voting on its own.

“It would arise somewhat organically. You know, maybe one city does it first. And then other cities in the same state are doing it because they want to make sure that they’re equally represented. And then eventually maybe have a state doing it and so on.”

So slowly … town by town, city by city, state by state … the US might find a way to a future of compulsory voting.

And they might not even need a democracy sausage to do it.



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COVID, segregation is killing Black Americans in New Jersey


EAST ORANGE, N.J. – Angenetta Robinson shut her door, sat at the edge of her queen bed and stuck the thermometer under her tongue. It climbed to 99. Two hours later, it read 101, then 103. She last remembers 105.

“I wasn’t checking anymore because I was in La-la Land,’’ Robinson said.

Then came visions of getting up each morning to go to a job she never had, talking to co-workers who didn’t exist. It felt real, but it wasn’t. 

What was real was COVID-19 was ravaging the Black and brown community in Essex County, New Jersey, and had Robinson holed up in her bedroom hallucinating most of those 10 days in early April. 

Days earlier, Robinson had rushed a sick friend to the hospital. He tested positive for the virus, sending Robinson into quarantine.

She was terrified it would spread to the four other people in the apartment she shared with family and friends, including her 9-year-old grandniece who has asthma. 

“I wasn’t even scared of dying, but I just didn’t want anybody in here to catch it,’’ the 57-year-old said. “If I had to stay in here and not go out for 14 days, that’s what I was going to do.”

Steps away in the living room, her housemate, Zayid Muhammad, couldn’t sleep and started having chills.

In the days that followed, Robinson got so weak she could hardly move from her bed. Water tasted like sugar, chicken soup like turpentine. Her hair was brittle. Her skin felt like fish scales.

Her brother called 911.

At the height of the first wave of the pandemic, Essex County was among the top 10 in the country for its death rate from the novel coronavirus. 

It still hovers in the top 15 months later. Much of that has been driven by cases in Newark and other predominantly Black and brown communities in the county, including East Orange, where Robinson calls home.

Housing segregation made Essex County ripe for the virus’s spread, dozens of public health experts, community activists, researchers and housing advocates said.

New Jersey addresses inequities that fueled coronavirus spread

New Jersey leaders try to address the inequities that allowed COVID-19 to hit parts of Essex County harder than communities that have more whites.

Jarrad Henderson, USA TODAY

They point to decades of housing policies – some unspoken, some written –  that banned white property owners from selling homes to Black buyers. Those practices also excluded Black residents from the midcentury homeownership and wealth-building boom, and they kept communities of color concentrated in often poor and neglected neighborhoods.

Today, Essex County is home to some of the most segregated and impoverished communities in the U.S., where some residents jam together in cramped apartments, multi-generational homes and housing projects.

This reality, experts and local officials say, has contributed to an alarmingly high number of the county’s Black and brown residents catching the virus and dying from COVID-19.

“These are real people,’’ said Maria Lopez-Núnez, a community activist in Newark. “The pain’s been felt along racial and class lines. And I don’t think that what family you were born into should dictate whether or not you survive a pandemic or your ZIP code should dictate whether you survive a pandemic.”

Funeral Director John B. Houston can still hear the pleas. 

Can you please pick my daddy up? Can you come and pick up mama? Can you come and pick up my uncle?

The calls came from Orange, East Orange, Newark and as far away as New York City. Notifications kept buzzing on his phone. 

Death. Death. Death.

‘‘It was like living in the Twilight Zone,’’ said Houston, owner of the Cushnie-Houston Funeral Home in East Orange. 

Houston and his staff picked up bodies from hospitals and nursing homes – all people of color, mostly from segregated communities nearby. The funeral business, which he said is also segregated, is often the first to see what’s coming. His funeral home handled arrangements for more than 100 people in March and April. It usually buries that many in a year.

Nothing in his 25 years in the business had prepared him for COVID-19’s deadly sweep.  

“It was just heartbreaking,’’ he said.

The funeral home, a Victorian-style house on a tree-lined street, is surrounded by communities of mostly immigrants from African countries and Caribbean islands. 

One recent morning, Houston bent low to unzip a tent behind his funeral home and pull back the vinyl flap. Inside were empty racks that could hold at least six bodies. Houston bought two tents and extra racks because of the unexpected spike in business. A refrigerated garage also filled up. 

“All you could see was a sea of bodies,’’ recalled Houston, 61.

He called in reinforcements, including his grown children. Despite the crush of work, Houston said they took care to treat each body with respect.

“That’s somebody’s mother. That’s somebody’s father,” he said. “That’s somebody’s child.”   

Nearly 2,000 people had died from COVID-19 in Essex County by mid-September, according to state health department data. Of those, about 50% were Black, 18% were Hispanic and 28% were white.

Housing and population density played a major role, experts say. 

The urban centers have blocks of apartment buildings and multi-family homes, said Eric Forgoston, chair of applied mathematics and statistics at Montclair State University. 

“Whether or not you’re talking about just a dense urban environment or dense housing … certainly we know that most infections are occurring within the home,” he said.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said the alarming number of cases in his city terrified him. His own mother testified positive.  

“I was scared. My wife was scared because I had to be outside doing all types of stuff,’’ Baraka said. “Early on nobody even knew what was happening. You don’t know who can get it. Who is dying? Why? … And then we found out, ‘Oh, Black and brown people are dying.’ That scared the heck out of us even more, especially in this town.’’

Newark, a city of about 280,000, is nearly 50% Black, 36% Hispanic and 26% white, according to Census data

The city far outpaces neighboring towns with 8,981 cases of COVID-19 as of this week, according to county data. More than 650 Newark residents have died from the virus. In bordering Bloomfield, a predominantly white community with a population of about 50,000, there were 1,276 cases and 69 deaths according to the county data.

At one point, Baraka said, Newark averaged 300 cases a day. On April 6, 37 people died in one day. Two days later, another 37.

“We were pulling dead bodies out of senior buildings,’’ Baraka said. 

Entered , State

Cases:

Deaths per 10,000:

National deaths per 10,000: 5.6

Population:

Population breakdown by race:

Asian: %
Black: %
Hawaiian: %
Hispanic: %
Native American: %
White: %
Multi-race: %
Other: %

Select your location to compare with Featured County, State

Note: some areas of the United States are unincorporated or independent from a county or parish. In a few select cases, such as New York City and Denali Borough, Alaska, these areas may not be available for comparison in this interactive graphic because the scope of the data is not universally available.

Cases and Deaths

Essex County, New Jersey, has a COVID-19 death rate of compared to in your area. Essex County is also majority Black, where the share of the population that is Black is compared to in .

Rate of Uninsured

Consider your health insurance status. In Essex County, of the population is uninsured while, in your area, that rate is .

Income

Think about your income level. In Essex County, the median household income is whereas that number is in .

Poverty

Are you living below the poverty line? In Essex County, of the population is under the poverty line compared to with .

Home Ownership

Do you own your home? Chances are Essex County has a lower homeownership rate than . In Essex County, of the population own a home compared to in your area.

Segregation

Is your neighborhood majority white? Neighborhood segregation and white flight has also been a particular challenge in Essex County where the segregation index is compared to in .

Sources: Milken Institute Research Department COVID-19 Community Explorer, COVID-19 Data Repository by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University and the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 U.S. American Community Survey. Data last updated: Sept. 1, 2020.

It was hard early on to convince residents they were vulnerable, said Baraka. News reports were “confusing and chaotic,’’ conspiracy theories were running rampant, and then there were the rumors that Black people couldn’t get the virus.

“I had to make the point salient to our folks over and over. I had to say our prescription is different from everybody else’s,’’ Baraka said. He was asked, “‘Mayor, why are they doing that over in that town?’ I had to say: ‘I don’t care what they’re doing over there. Those people don’t look like us. They don’t live like us.’”

At the turn of the 20th century, Essex County was a hub of manufacturing jobs, attracting Black Americans from the South.

Who got to live where, why and how aligned with the racial order of the time, experts said.

In the late 1800s, affluent white people who wanted an exclusive enclave formed Glen Ridge, a tony suburb west of Newark, said New Jersey City University professor Max Herman. The town had restrictive covenants to keep everyone else out, he said. 

The New Jersey Turnpike crosses the Passaic River and underpasses the Pulaski Skyway in Newark, N.J., as seen in this 1952 aerial view.

The New Jersey Turnpike crosses the Passaic River and underpasses the Pulaski Skyway in Newark, N.J., as seen in this 1952 aerial view.
AP

Federal and state policies also fueled suburbanization and segregation in Essex County. The Federal Housing Administration subsidized home mortgages to white borrowers while also funding highway and infrastructure projects that bulldozed Black communities. 

“Newark was like an insurance capital, an office capital … It was kind of the backdoor to New York City. So the idea is if you build the highways, then you’ll bring in more commerce into the city of Newark,” Herman said. “But what it also did was had the effect of enabling people to leave the city and live out in the suburbs, mostly white people.”

Leslie Wilson, an urban historian at Montclair State University, said that not only did white people flee west, but so did some wealthier Black residents. The western communities, once mostly farmland, are almost exclusively white, he said.

“They didn’t move to a neighboring suburban ring,’’ Wilson said. “They moved almost as far away as possible.”  

Local and state officials, real estate agents and homeowner associations adopted their own measures. They redlined communities considered undesirable for lending and investment. They bought up homes in white neighborhoods, moved in Black residents, then warned remaining whites property values would plummet. 

Max Herman, professor at New Jersey City University
You go from an area where the schools are underfunded, where there’s potholes on the streets, where infrastructure is challenged. And then you go into Glen Ridge and there’s gas lamps, manicured lawns, huge homes, but almost exclusively white.

“You go from an area where the schools are underfunded, where there’s potholes on the streets, where infrastructure is challenged,” Herman said. “And then you go into Glen Ridge and there’s gas lamps, manicured lawns, huge homes, but almost exclusively white.”

Essex County is No. 1 on a segregation index of counties in New Jersey, according to the 2020 County Health Rankings, a program from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Civil rights activists have long challenged the state-sanctioned segregation. 

In 1947, the New Jersey Afro-American newspaper in Newark submitted testimony to a congressional committee examining postwar housing shortages in Essex County. 

The newspaper complained prejudice was a barrier to housing opportunities. “We are moved particularly by the tragedy visited upon our colored citizens and other minority groups by municipal and State policies as well as by private groups,’’ the testimony read.

“We were confined to houses owned by someone else who had moved to the suburbs,’’ says Newark historian and activist Junius Williams. “It perpetuated their wealth at the expense of people who couldn’t move.”

“We were confined to houses owned by someone else who had moved to the suburbs,’’ says Newark historian and activist Junius Williams. “It perpetuated their wealth at the expense of people who couldn’t move.”
Jarrad Henderson, USA TODAY

The next year, the U.S. Supreme Court banned racially restrictive covenants. But that didn’t eliminate housing discrimination or white flight. By the late 1960s, discontent about segregation and other civil rights issues reached a boiling point. 

In the summer of 1967, Newark police arrested and beat a Black cab driver. During days of unrest and violence, 26 people were killed, millions of dollars in property destroyed and the city forever changed.

The uprising was about more than the beating of John Smith, experts and locals said. It was fueled by decades of systemic inequities that entrenched and empowered white people and corralled many Black residents into shoddy and crowded housing.

“We were confined to houses owned by someone else who had moved to the suburbs,’’ said historian and activist Junius Williams. “It perpetuated their wealth at the expense of people who couldn’t move.”

The protest sped up the shifting demographics of the city. 

In 1950, Newark was 83% white. By 1970, according to the first census after the rebellion, the white population had dropped to 44%. By 2010, it was 28% white. 

Junius Williams, Newark historian and activist
A lot of people think that the rebellion was the only reason white people left and went to the suburbs. No. White people were leaving Newark long before that. They were leaving because they could.

“A lot of people think that the rebellion was the only reason white people left and went to the suburbs,” said Williams, who moved to Newark in 1965 to help fight racial injustices there. “No. White people were leaving Newark long before that. They were leaving because they could.”

In the wake of the uprising, the Newark Area Planning Association, a group Williams co-founded, helped negotiate a deal with the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry to, among other things, set aside land to build affordable housing.

Williams has been working with Baraka, son of the late poet and activist Amiri Baraka, on a plan to turn the Fourth Precinct where the cab driver was beaten into a museum.

Today, Newark is dotted with blocks of low-rise public housing developments many built to replace decaying high-rise structures. Nearby are older Victorian-style homes on tree-lined streets. Sprinkled among the communities are high-rise senior citizen buildings.

Newark is also home to an international airport, power plants, the largest garbage incinerator in the state and a sewage treatment plant. In those surrounding neighborhoods you can smell and almost taste chemicals in the air, said Lopez-Nunez, deputy director at the Ironbound Community Corporation, a social justice group.

“It’s pretty rough when you’re stuck at home’’ amid the pandemic, she said.

But in recent years there has been an influx of new businesses downtown. Not far from City Hall, an ornate building with a gold dome, sits a Whole Foods and Starbucks. One recent afternoon, cranes hummed every few blocks.   

This revival draws white visitors during the day for work and entertainment, but many leave by nightfall and return to homes outside the city, Wilson said. 

The pandemic laid bare inequalities that still exist, including segregation and overcrowded housing. 

“It really just went after people who are vulnerable, from our elderly citizens to folks who are often struggling with a lot of other issues, economic issues, housing issues,’’ said New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, a former mayor of Newark. “People who didn’t have the privilege of being able to isolate themselves.’’

That’s what happened in Robinson’s apartment. 

Night sweats and fatigue left Muhammad, who was temporarily staying with the family, so drained he could hardly push up from the brown chair in the living room. He was nauseous, barely ate. Then came shakes, chills.

“It was like being a junkie on withdrawal while at the same time having somebody like Joe Frazier beat the hell out of me,’’ recalled the 59-year-old community activist, who boxed in his younger years. “It was really bad, and very dark.”

Muhammad had taken steps to ward off the virus – popping vitamin C, wearing masks, pulling on latex gloves and venturing out only when necessary. 

“It’s very sneaky,’’ he said.

He got the virus anyway. He suspects he may have gotten it from Robinson. 

To prevent others from getting it, Muhammad used a sponge and bleach to feverishly wipe the sinks, the utensils, the countertops. And as much as he could, he stayed in a corner of the living room. Others sought safety in their rooms.

Meanwhile, Robinson’s condition worsened, and an ambulance crew took her to the hospital. She doesn’t remember those early days in the hospital. It was a haze.

She returned home four days later, walking with a cane. She has since returned to her job at a distribution warehouse lifting boxes and operating a forklift. She still sometimes has shortness of breath.

Muhammad, who has lung issues, didn’t have health insurance and didn’t go to the hospital. He had heard horror stories about people dying there, alone. 

“I’m a Black man in America,’’ he thought. “I can’t take that risk.’’

Instead, Muhammad turned to a free city program that helped people who needed to isolate, including those who are homeless and those with no place to quarantine at home. For 14 days, he stayed in a room on the sixth floor of a boutique hotel downtown. Food was delivered outside his door. He was tested when he got there and when he left.

When Muhammad returned to Robinson’s apartment, everyone was COVID-19-clear. “It could have been worse,’’ he said. ”We could have all gotten sick.”

Housing is one of the primary social determinants of health, experts said, and homeownership is the primary driver of wealth. 

“COVID was never the great equalizer,” said Michellene Davis, executive vice president and chief corporate affairs officer at RWJBarnabas Health, a network of independent health care providers in New Jersey. “It was the great magnifier. And so it has been magnifying inequity, lack of access, health disparity, all of it.”

Michellene Davis, executive vice president and chief corporate affairs officer at RWJBarnabas Health
COVID was never the great equalizer. It was the great magnifier. And so it has been magnifying inequity, lack of access, health disparity, all of it.

It’s no accident that Newark and other predominantly Black cities in the state were disproportionately hard hit by the pandemic, said Ryan Haygood, president of the New Jersey Institute of Social Justice. Residents in those cities also experienced major wealth gaps and other inequities.

“Coronavirus is so devastating because it preys on the most vulnerable,’’ he said.

Doug Massey, a sociology professor Princeton University in New Jersey and a renowned expert on residential segregation, called the disparities “a conglomeration of disadvantages.”

The segregation of Essex County is emblematic of what happened in most major metropolitan regions during the 20th century, he said. But because New Jersey is sandwiched between New York and Philadelphia, the suburbanization there was much more rapid and much more complete.

People who live in these segregated communities are essential workers and use public transportation, putting them at risk for getting the virus, Massey and other experts said. Some others commute to New York City, another hot spot.

Dubra Shenker’s 65-year-old husband, Vic, tested positive for COVID-19 in March. They suspect he got it on his train commute to a Manhattan hotel, where he helped set up for large conferences.

Shenker grew anxious as her husband shook with fever, chills and a hacking cough. Friends offered advice.

“Don’t take him to the hospitals in Newark,” she was told.

Shenker dropped her husband off at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, a majority-white suburb.

“It really was a split-second decision,’’ said Shenker, realizing she wouldn’t be able to visit. “I want to take him to the best hospital I can find, frankly, in the wealthiest neighborhood I can find, because that’s where he’s going to get good care.” 

He has since recovered.

Alarmed by the outbreak’s spread and frustrated by the state’s slow response, faith leaders, community activists and city officials ramped up their own efforts. They handed out masks, served up hot meals of fried chicken and fried whiting, gave out bags of groceries, set up testing sites and went door to door swabbing noses in public housing complexes.

“Jesus didn’t wait for his disciples to come to him,’’ said David Jefferson, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark. “We couldn’t wait for people to come to us in their cars.”

Volunteers, mostly city employees, help pack bags of food for families in need at the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center in Newark.

Volunteers, mostly city employees, help pack bags of food for families in need at the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center in Newark.
Jarrad Henderson, USA TODAY

New Jersey scrambled to set up enough testing sites and lagged behind dozens of other states providing racial breakdowns of COVID-19 cases, said Leslie Kantor, chair of the Department of Urban Global Public Health at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

“It was challenging at first just to get the test, get any kind of testing going … much less collecting demographic data,” Kantor said. 

Jefferson, who hopes to also set up a clinic to treat COVID-19 patients, said some of the same people coming to get tested desperately need groceries.

By 8 a.m. one recent day, people started lining up two hours before volunteers handed out bags of food at Metropolitan’s outreach center.

The line started at a side door, stretched up the long walkway, curved around past the white tent used for coronavirus testing, then into the parking lot already filled with cars.

The church’s Willing Heart Community Care Center is a few blocks from what was once a pandemic hot spot. Many in line, said Maryanna Williford, are the working poor. 

“That’s what breaks your heart,’’ said Williford, who oversees the center’s programs.  “Food is so expensive, and the rent is so expensive.”

Inside, swarms of mostly senior citizens, wearing masks and gloves, plucked cans of sliced carrots, tuna fish and Campbell’s salsa de pollo from yellow plastic bins. With assembly-line precision, teams stuffed bags with raisins, cereal and granola bars. Most of the French bread and rolls had disappeared by 11 a.m.

Jefferson said government officials have “absolutely not’’ done enough.

“They’re not there. They’re not in it. They don’t feel it.’’ he said. “They don’t see the long lines. They don’t see the mother with no diapers and people who don’t have on a mask.”

Fifteen minutes away in Orange, Gaynor Singh and his wife, Carol, inched their way to the front door of Saint Matthew AME Church on a recent morning. 

They stopped at the blue tape to distance themselves from others in line for a free coronavirus test.

They took a seat inside a small room where Andrea Shanay Lee gently tilted back their heads, held their necks and pushed a swab into their nostrils.

“That’s not so bad,’’ said Gaynor Singh, 71,  a retired licensed practical nurse.

It was the third time the couple had gotten tested. 

Carol and Gaynor Singh line up for COVID-19 testing at Saint Matthew AME Church in Orange, N.J.

Carol and Gaynor Singh line up for COVID-19 testing at Saint Matthew AME Church in Orange, N.J.
Jarrad Henderson, USA TODAY

“It’s better to know,’’ said Carol, 71, a retired teacher in Newark. 

Testing at Saint Matthew has been underway since late May. Sometimes 350 people show on testing days. Hundreds lined up for free Sunday dinners in August, and one day nearly 1,000 boxes of food were snapped up in one hour.

“We’re a long way from this thing being over,’’ said the Rev. Melvin Wilson, pastor of Saint Matthew.

Nearly 21,000 people in Essex tested positive as of mid-September, according to state data. 

Wilson, who had stopped in-person services in March, has officiated 10 to 15 funeral services for people who died of COVID-19. Some were at Houston’s funeral home, a few blocks away.

“It was horrible,’’ he said. “I’m praying that the numbers don’t return to what they were.’’

Joenika Ponder,  a member of Wilson’s church, brought her family to Saint Matthew in June to get a COVID-19 test. Her teenage daughter tested negative. Ponder and her boyfriend tested positive for the antibody.

Ponder, 43, woke up one morning in March and couldn’t breathe, couldn’t stop coughing.

Her doctor told her to go to the hospital, where she was given a mask and waited six hours in a tent outside. Cold. Frustrated. Anxious. Scared. 

Outside the tent, she could hear a parade for first responders – firefighters, police officers, nurses. She could hear people clapping.

Finally, inside the hospital, staffers gave her a COVID-19 test, hooked her up to a machine to test her breathing, then sent her home to quarantine.

For 18 days, Ponder holed up in her bedroom isolated from her boyfriend and her then 12-year-old daughter, Trinity. 

Inside her bedroom, Ponder, texted, then, as she felt better, Facetimed her daughter to check on her schoolwork. She also texted family who lived hundreds of miles away in Georgia. She couldn’t catch her breath long enough to talk.

“They didn’t know everything that I was feeling inside,’’ she said. 

She didn’t tell anyone she was finishing her will.

As the virus spread, protesters took to the streets after the death of George Floyd.

Instead of a Black Lives Matter sign, Courtney Cooperman showed up at a June protest in her hometown of Millburn, a wealthy white suburb, with a poster featuring an old map of redlining practices in Essex County. 

“It did feel a bit hypocritical to have our whole town rally around racial justice when in many ways we live in a suburb that’s built on racial exclusion,’’ Cooperman said.

Courtney Cooperman attended a Black Lives Matter rally in Millburn, N.J., in June with a poster showing a history of redlining in Essex County.

Courtney Cooperman attended a Black Lives Matter rally in Millburn, N.J., in June with a poster showing a history of redlining in Essex County.
Courtesy of Courtney Cooperman

People walked over, searched the map, and asked questions.

Cooperman, a 22-year-old recent graduate of Stanford University in California, didn’t learn about the history of her county’s segregation until college. She organized a virtual public forum on the topic in August. Nearly 90 people tuned in. 

She said it’s important to connect housing segregation and the spread of the pandemic, noting how much easier it is to social distance in the suburbs.

“We’ve constructed American cities and suburbs in a way that basically gives white people greater access to space,’’ Cooperman said. “And right now, that’s not just a luxury, it’s a health resource.”

Courtney Cooperman
We’ve constructed American cities and suburbs in a way that basically gives white people greater access to space. And right now, that’s not just a luxury, it’s a health resource.

Earlier this year, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice released “Erasing New Jersey’s Red Lines,” a report calling for more investigations into lending practices and expanding homeownership programs.

According to the report, white families in New Jersey have a median net worth of $352,000, while Black and Latino households have $6,100 and $7,300, respectively. It also noted that 80% of residents in Millburn own their homes, which have a median value of more than $1 million. In Newark, where most people rent, the median home value is $231,500. 

Baraka successfully pushed for a law in Newark that requires developers to make at least 20% of their units affordable for a certain size project. He said the law is one tool to combat gentrification. 

“So we’re not pushing everybody out of the community,’’ he said.

Last month, Baraka unveiled a plan to raise $100 million for the “40 Acres and a Mule Fund” that would, among other things, provide loans to Black and Latino businesses, many of which are struggling amid the pandemic. 

Even in more diverse communities in Essex County, it has been hard to undo the damage of racist housing policies, experts and activists said. But efforts are underway.

Montclair Township, for example, is 66% white, 24% Black and 10% Hispanic, Census data show. But segregation persists, said lifelong, 70-year resident William Scott, co-chair of the town’s housing commission and chair of the Montclair NAACP housing committee. 

Scott has been advocating to change local zoning laws so that affordable housing, senior housing and supportive housing is built outside of a predominantly African American ward of Montclair. He’s also helped an initiative to institute a rent control ordinance.  

“We’ve had to fight for everything in this country. Voting rights. Human rights. Civil rights. And housing rights,” Scott said. “Montclair is no different.”

Donna Williams plopped down in the reclining chair in her mother’s downstairs den and yelled to her nephew to call 911. She had been holed up in her upstairs bedroom for days – struggling to breathe, struggling to take a shower, struggling to eat, struggling to just get up.

“I believe if I had waited one more day … you would’ve got obituary information,’’ she said.

Donna K. Williams, who recovered from COVID-19, talks about the challenges facing communities of color in Essex County in dealing with the pandemic.

Donna K. Williams, who recovered from COVID-19, talks about the challenges facing communities of color in Essex County in dealing with the pandemic.
Jarrad Henderson, USA TODAY

Back at the two-family house Williams shared with her 79-year-old mother, Frances, her brother was laid out on the couch facing his own battle against COVID. He had come up from Alabama to help care for their mother, a beloved social worker who was in hospice for dementia and other ailments.

The siblings suspect they may have contracted the virus from their mother who had recently returned from a nursing home after hip surgery.

Four days into Williams’ hospital stay, her brother called. “Mom has gone on to glory.’’ 

Williams is now fighting COVID-19 on another front. She’s channeling her grief into trying to help protect those who could become victims of the pandemic’s latest fallout: evictions.

Williams, a legislative aide on policy, works for New Jersey State Rep. Britnee Timberlake, a co-sponsor of a bill that would provide mortgage forbearance and payment plans for renters impacted by the pandemic. Timberlake and housing advocates worry many people who lost their jobs or were furloughed during the pandemic will be unable to pay all at once. 

Those families, they said, may be forced to double and triple up, making them more vulnerable to the spread of the virus.

Legal aid and housing groups are bracing for thousands to seek help whenever state and federal eviction moratoriums are lifted. State officials said that won’t happen until two months after Gov. Phil Murphy declares the crisis over.

In Essex County, there was a backlog of more than 5,000 eviction cases by the end of August.

“It’s going to be a disaster,’’ said Yvette Gibbons, executive director of the Essex County Legal Aid Association. “This is a vicious circle.”

Contributing: Rick Jervis, Mark Nichols 



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A Holocaust Was What the Americans Did to the Germans



Eisenhower’s Starvation Order

By James Bacque

Never had so many people been put in prison. The size of the Allied captures was unprecedented in all history. The Soviets took prisoner some 3.5 million Europeans, the Americans about 6.1 million, the British about 2.4 million, the Canadians about 300,000, the French around 200,000. Uncounted millions of Japanese entered American captivity in 1945, plus about 640,000 entering Soviet captivity.

As soon as Germany surrendered on 8 May 1945, the American Military Governor, General Eisenhower, sent out an “urgent courier” throughout the huge area that he commanded, making it a crime punishable by death for German civilians to feed prisoners. It was even a death-penalty crime to gather food together in one place to take it to prisoners … The order was sent in German to the provincial governments, ordering them to distribute it immediately to local governments. Copies of the orders were discovered recently in several villages near the Rhine … The message [which Bacque reproduces] reads in part: “… under no circumstances may food supplies be assembled among the local inhabitants in order to deliver them to the prisoners of war. Those who violate this command and nevertheless try to circumvent this blockade to allow something to come to the prisoners place themselves in danger of being shot….”

Eisenhower’s order was also posted in English, German and Polish on the bulletin board of Military Government Headquarters in Bavaria, signed by the Chief of Staff of the Military Governor of Bavaria. Later it was posted in Polish in Straubing and Regensburg, where there were many Polish guard companies at nearby camps. One US Army officer who read the posted order in May 1945 has written that it was “the intention of Army command regarding the German POW camps in the US Zone from May 1945 through the end of 1947 to exterminate as many POWs as the traffic would bear without international scrutiny.”

… The [American] army’s policy was to starve [German] prisoners, according to several American soldiers who were there. Martin Brech, retired professor of philosophy at Mercy college in New York, who was a guard at Andernach in 1945, has said that he was told by an officer that “it is our policy that these men not be fed.” The 50,000 to 60,000 men in Andernach were starving, living with no shelter in holes in the ground, trying to nourish themselves on grass. When Brech smuggled bread to them through the wire, he was ordered to stop by an officer. Later, Brech sneaked more food to them, was caught, and told by the same officer, “If you do that again, you’ll be shot.” Brech saw bodies go out of the camp “by the truckload” but he was never told how many there were, where they were buried, or how.

… The prisoner Paul Schmitt was shot in the American camp at Bretzenheim after coming close to the wire to see his wife and young son who were bringing him a basket of food. The French followed suit: Agnes Spira was shot by French guards at Dietersheim in July 1945 for taking food to prisoners. The memorial to her in nearby Buedesheim, written by one of her chidren, reads: “On the 31st of July 1945, my mother was suddenly and unexpectedly torn from me because of her good deed toward the imprisoned soldiers.” The entry in the Catholic church register says simply: “A tragic demise, shot in Dietersheim on 31.07.1945. Buried on 03.08.1945.” Martin Brech watched in amazement as one officer at Andernach stood on a hillside firing shots towards German women running away from him in the valley below.

The prisoner Hans Scharf … was watching as a German woman with her two children came towards an American guard in the camp at Bad Kreuznach, carrying a wine bottle. She asked the guard to give the bottle to her husband, who was just inside the wire. The guard upended the bottle into his own mouth, and when it was empty, threw it on the ground and killed the prisoner with five shots.

….Many prisoners and German civilians saw the American guards burn the food brought by civilian women. One former prisoner described it recently: “At first, the women from the nearby town brought food into the camp. The American soldiers took everything away from the women, threw it in a heap and poured gasoline [benzine] over it and burned it.” Eisenhower himself ordered that the food be destroyed, according to the writer Karl Vogel, who was the German camp commander appointed by the Americans in Camp 8 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Although the prisoners were getting only 800 calories per day, the Americans were destroying food outside the camp gate.

James Bacque, Crimes and Mercies: The Fate of German Civilians Under Allied Occupation, 1944-1950, pp. 41-45, 94-95.

Note from RI: See also Thomas Goodrich’s: Summer 1945—Germany, Japan and the Harvest of Hate



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Herschel Walker joins Graham’s team, tells Americans to vote ‘truth’


Former NFL running back Herschel Walker is backing Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., as the incumbent and the GOP tries to retain control of the chamber in the Nov. 3 election.

Graham tweeted Saturday: “Honored to have the great @HerschelWalker join #TeamGraham! Herschel is a college and NFL great, an entrepreneur, and a terrific conservative. Thank you so much!”

Walker spoke on Twitter Sunday that Americans shouldn’t vote for their feelings or their opinions. “Truth will set you free … vote the truth.”

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In August, Graham said President Trump should make a campaign ad out of Walker’s speech on the first night of the Republican National Convention.

“If we don’t make a commercial out what of Herschel Walker said, it’s political malpractice,” Graham told host Sean Hannity. “I want people all over the country to hear what Herschel Walker said about Donald Trump [and his] 37-year friendship. I can’t get out of my mind Donald Trump in the ‘[It’s a] Small World ride in a suit.”

Walker, who once played for the Trump-owned New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League, blasted Democrats over their repeated accusations that the president is racist.

“I take it as a personal insult that people think I’ve had a 37-year friendship with a racist,” Walker said. “People that think that don’t know what they’re talking about.”

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This week is setting up to be a contentious hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee – chaired by Graham – on Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Graham’s commitment to confirming Trump’s third nominee to the court has become a focal point in the Senate campaign.



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