Eight days ahead of Americans going to the polls, early voting turnout has surpassed that of the 2016 election.
Almost 60 million people have already cast their ballots, with the pace of early voting suggesting this election could lead to the highest voter turnout in more than a century.
Most votes have been cast in Texas, California and Florida so far, according to the US Elections Project, with the majority thought to be backing Joe Biden.
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Biden: We’ve got to come together
It’s adding pressure on Donald Trump, as he continued to chase a comeback with visits on Sunday to the battleground states of New Hampshire and Maine.
While Mr Biden, who has been much less visible on the campaign trail, keeps a lower profile speaking at a virtual concert. The former vice president has more to lose at this stage but his lead is much narrower in many of the battleground states that will decide this election.
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‘I voted for a guy named Trump’
Speaking at his latest rally in New Hampshire on Sunday, President Trump once again told supporters “we’re rounding the turn” and the pandemic will soon end.
But it’s not even over in his own White House.
Infection has now spread to the vice president’s team with at least five members testing positive for COVID-19. Mike Pence and his wife have both tested negative, and he does not plan to alter his campaign schedule.
Meanwhile, it’s understood Mr Trump plans to hold up to five rallies a day in the final stretch, returning to Pennsylvania again on Monday. He won the key swing state by fewer than 45,000 votes in 2016 and even a marginal change there could flip it back to the Democrats.
This comes as positive coronavirus cases spike in the battlegrounds states of Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The US recorded more than 84,000 positive cases on Friday – its highest count so far in a 24-hour period, with hospitalisations increasing in 38 states in the last week.
The country looks set to be entering its toughest months for coronavirus yet the pandemic continues to converge with politics.
Recent polls indicated heavy backing for a new constitution despite opposition from conservative groups, and centre-right Piñera said after voting that he assumed the measure would be approved.
“I believe the immense majority of Chileans want to change, modify our constitution,” he said.
A special convention would then begin drafting a new constitution to be submitted to voters in mid-2022.
The current constitution was drafted by the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, and was sent to voters at a time when political parties had been banned and the country was subject to heavy censorship.
It was approved by 66 per cent of voters in a 1980 plebiscite, but critics say many voters were cowed into acceptance by a regime that had arrested, tortured and killed thousands of suspected leftist opponents following the overthrow of an elected socialist government.
“I think that many people went to vote out of fear,” said political scientist Claudio Fuentes, who wrote a book about that plebiscite titled, The Fraud.
“The current constitution has a flaw of origin, which is that it was created during the military dictatorship in an undemocratic process,” said Monica Salinero, a 40-year-old sociologist who supports drafting a new charter.
The free-market principles embodied in that document led to a booming economy that continued after the return to democracy in 1990, but not all Chileans shared.
A minority was able to take advantage of good, privatised education, health and social security services, while others were forced to rely on sometimes meagre public alternatives. Public pensions for the poorest are just over $US200 ($280) a month, roughly half the minimum wage.
Luisa Fuentes Rivera, a 59-year-old food vendor, hoped that “with a new constitution we will have better work, health, pensions and a better quality of life for older people, and a better education.”
But historian Felipe Navarrete warned, “It’s important to say that the constitution won’t resolve the concrete problems. It will determine which state we want to solve the problems.”
Claudia Heiss, head of the political science department at the University of Chile, said it would send a signal about people’s desires for change, and for a sort of politics that would “allow greater inclusion of sectors that have been marginalised from politics.”
Conservative groups fear the revamp could go too far, and endanger parts of the constitution that have helped the country prosper.
“The people have demonstrated saying they want better pensions, better health, better education, and the response of the political class” is a process that won’t solve the problems and will open a period of uncertainty,” said Felipe Lyon, 28-year-old lawyer and spokesman for the group “No, Thanks” that opposes the change.
The decision to allow the vote came after hundreds of thousands of Chileans repeatedly took to the streets in protests that often turned violent.
The vote was initially scheduled for April, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has killed some 13,800 Chileans. More than 500,000 people, or one in four Chileans, have been infected by the new coronavirus.
Officials trying to ensure voters felt safe barred infected persons or those close to them from the polls, and long lines formed at voting places. Voters had to wear masks — dipping them only briefly for identification purposes — and brought their own pencils.
The manner of drafting a new constitution was also on the ballot. Voters were choosing between a body of 155 citizens who would be elected just for that purpose in April, or a somewhat larger convention split equally between elected delegates and members of Congress.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
President Donald Trump voted in his adopted home of Florida before hitting the campaign trail for rallies in three swing states on Saturday, joining more than 54 million Americans who have cast early ballots at a record-setting pace ahead of the November 3 election.
Trump cast his ballot at a library in West Palm Beach, near his Mar-a-Lago resort, after switching his permanent residence and voter registration last year from New York to Florida, a must-win battleground for his re-election bid.
“I voted for a guy named Trump,” he told reporters after voting.
Democratic rival Joe Biden also hit the campaign trail on Saturday, speaking at a drive-in rally of supporters in the battleground state of Pennsylvania where he warned of a looming “dark winter” unless the Trump administration does not do a better job at fighting the coronavirus.
New Yorkers are getting to vote early for the first time in a general presidential election, an attractive option for anyone worried about socially distancing on Election Day or concerned about voting by mail.
In-person voting starts Saturday at 280 voting locations statewide and will last through Nov. 1. Poll workers then get a one-day reprieve before a final day of voting Nov. 3.
New York City’s 88 early voting sites include Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, home to the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Liberty.
Several thousand voters who have been assigned to those polling locations will be the first large groups to step inside the arenas since they closed their doors in March amid the pandemic.
Voting rights advocates hope more New Yorkers will choose to vote early in a year when overall turnout is projected to top two-thirds of 12 million registered voters.
“If we assume this will be a high interest, high turnout election, moving as many people off Election Day to participate earlier in the program is a better outcome for everyone involved,” said Jarret Berg, an attorney and a co-founder of the nonprofit Vote Early New York. “People can avoid lines entirely, they can avoid any uncertainties with the mail. So we’ve basically rebranded voting on Election Day as the last voting option instead of the first and only opportunity.”
Early voting has been an option in New York elections only since last year and to date a lightly used one.
Only 118,108 people chose in-person early voting during the state’s September primary — or about 6.7% of the total votes cast. Nationally, around 17.3% of votes in elections are cast early.
At least 51.8 million Americans have already cast ballots in election, either by mail or in early in-person voting, according to an Associated Press tally. That tally doesn’t yet include votes cast in New York.
And the apparent rush to vote is leading election experts to predict a record 150 million votes cast, with turnout rates higher than in any presidential election since 1908.
New York’s nine-day early voting period is shorter than many other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. California starts early voting 29 days before Election Day, while Virginia’s starts 45 days before. A bill sitting in the Assembly’s election law committee would extend New York’s early voting period to 14 days.
Some voters may again face long drives to get to early voting sites this year. About two-thirds of New York counties are offering just one voting location for a second year in a row.
During the June primary, state officials urged people to vote by absentee ballot rather than show up in person. New Yorkers also have that option in the general election, though some could hesitate to mail in a ballot because of mistrust of the U.S. Postal Service or because absentee ballots are often rejected for technical reasons that don’t arise when someone votes in person.
The Senate and Assembly passed a bill this year to require counties to set aside at least one polling place in their most populated municipality starting in 2021. That legislation, sponsored by Sen. Neil Breslin, a Democrat, has yet to be sent to the governor’s desk.
Berg said he worries that New York City voters may be confused by rules allowing them to vote early only at their assigned polling site. Outside the city, counties allow voters to vote at any early voting site.
“It makes it harder to tell people about this thing and encourage people to go vote,” Berg said.
And unlike states like California, New York hasn’t launched a statewide campaign aimed at educating voters about early voting. That has left it largely up to cash-strapped counties, voting rights groups and lawmakers to encourage early voting.
The Plus1Vote campaign is organizing marches of voters to head to early voting sites in Brooklyn and Manhattan on Saturday, when state Attorney General Letitia James and Sen. Zellnor Myrie will greet early voters at the Brooklyn Museum.
“To me, it’s just a simple, simple change to get people the opportunity to vote,” said Breslin, adding that he mailed out voting information to constituents. “Whether they do or not, that’s up to them.”
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has compelled people worldwide to quarantine. To mitigate the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, countries and workplaces have been under varying stages of lockdown since the detection of the infection in December 2019 in Wuhan, China.
In mid-April 2020, it was observed that 62% of employed adults were working remotely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This scenario is continuing, and there is no standardized multi-site social contact study conducted in workplace settings. A study of this order helps plan strategies to address the pandemic situation – before onset as well as during.
16% of influenza transmission is estimated to occur in the workplace setting due to social interactions and respiratory infection transmissions. Likewise, the conditions at the workplace determine the SARS-CoV-2 transmission percentage.
Any significant impact of remote work on COVID-19 needs to be evaluated; this can be achieved by assessing changes in social contact patterns. In this context, Moses C. Kiti et al. published a recent medRxiv* preprint paper studying social contact patterns. In this study, they characterized the mixing across workplace environments, including on-site or when teleworking.
The median number of contacts per person per day was found to be two contacts per respondent. The authors stratified this information by day of data collection, age, sex, race, and ethnicity. This information can be broadly employed in pandemic preparedness policy for similar settings.
This study involved two multinational consulting companies ((N1=275, N2=3000) and one university administrative department ((N3=560), located in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, from April to June 2020, when the shelter-in-place orders were in effect. The employees opted into the study by accepting an email invitation. Remote working was defined as any working location (home or public space) outside their designated workplace. Employees approached were 3,835, out of which 357 (9.3%) responded on the first day of contact, and 304 completed both days of contact. The results are summarized from those respondents who completed the dairy on both days.
This study was a cross-sectional non-probability survey that used standardized social contact diaries into which the respondents were to fill in. The respondents recorded their physical and non-physical contacts over two days, documented at the end of each day.
Panel (A) shows the distribution of contacts by attributes: duration (in minutes (mins) or hours (hr)). Types of contact were conversation with physical touch (Conv & Phys), physical only (Phys), or non-physical/conversation only (Conv only). A contact was repeated if observed on both days or unique if observed on only one day. Panel (B) shows the age-stratified average number of contacts over two study days. The gray area on the x-axis indicates that all respondents were over the age of 19, however they were able to report contacts under the age of 19 years. Data shown in the graphs are for 1,548 contacts recorded by 304 participants over 608 diary-days
A median of 2 contacts per respondent on both day one and two were observed.
Most of the contacts (55%) involved conversation only – occurred at home (64%) and cumulatively lasted more than 4 hours (38%). Most contacts were repeated and within the same age groups. Participants aged 30-59 years, however, reported inter-generational mixing with children.
This study compares to similar reports from the UK and China, effective during the shelter-in-place orders in the pandemic. Pre-pandemic data is unavailable for direct comparison. While the median contact number is 2, many of the contacts were repeated, which may limit the spread of infection.
Mathematical models are used to forecast and simulate the effects of interventions implemented during pandemics. These models are highly sensitive to assumptions about how people acquire infection and how they transmit it to others.
The data on the social contact patterns – the frequency and nature of contacts that individuals make daily – determine these assumptions. The authors discuss a few selection and information biases that may be present in this study.
The authors propose similar studies to assess the changes in contact patterns to parameterize mathematical models describing disease transmission and post-lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Such studies help reduce the transmission risks, investigate prevention methods, and mitigate infection in the workplace.
medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.
Social contact patterns among employees in 3 U.S. companies during early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, April to June 2020. Moses Chapa Kiti, Obianuju G Aguolu, Carol Liu, Ana Mesa Restrepo, Rachel Regina, Kathryn Willebrand, Chandra Couzens, Tilman Bartelsmeyer, Kristin Nicole Bratton, Samuel M Jenness, Steven Riley, Alessia Melegaro, Faruque Ahmed, Fauzia Malik, Ben Lopman, Saad B Omer medRxiv 2020.10.14.20212423; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.10.14.20212423, https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.10.14.20212423v1