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A Supreme Court Split on Voting

The Supreme Court issues a ruling with implications for Election Day, while Trump steps up his attacks on Fauci. It’s Tuesday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

  • The Supreme Court’s decision yesterday on absentee ballots in Pennsylvania offered a preview of how the court may rule on the raft of voting-rights cases that are bound to show up on its docket as Republicans seek to limit voting amid the pandemic.

  • In a split decision, the justices let stand a ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that will allow the state to count absentee ballots received up to three days after Election Day. Republicans had challenged Pennsylvania officials’ plan to count ballots after Nov. 3 as long as they were mailed by that date, but the state court upheld it.

  • Hypothetically speaking, if Pennsylvania came down to a margin of less than one percentage point in the presidential election, as it did four years ago, even a relatively small volume of extra mail-in ballots could tip the scales in Democrats’ favor. Polls and data on absentee ballots returned so far affirm that Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to vote by mail.

  • Chief Justice John Roberts yesterday joined the liberal wing, which is now down to three members after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in rejecting Republicans’ request for a stay on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling.

  • The justices’ deadlocked ruling — with the four conservative justices besides Roberts united in support of Republicans’ request to limit voting — suggests that Judge Amy Coney Barrett may play a decisive role in deciding any postelection legal cases if the Senate confirms her to the court this month, as it is expected to do.

  • A number of voting-related lawsuits in Pennsylvania remain undecided, including whether election officials will have to perform signature matching on absentee ballots.

  • Here’s a state-by-state guide on the battlegrounds, assessing the readiness of each state’s election system to handle voting during the pandemic.

  • The Commission on Presidential Debates would like to avoid another shoutfest. So yesterday it announced new rules for the debate on Thursday, the final one between President Trump and Joe Biden: Each candidate’s microphone will be muted while his opponent delivers an initial two-minute response to questions, then turned on during the period of “open discussion.”

  • The Trump campaign had said it opposed making amendments to the rules, and it issued a statement last night bashing what it called “last-minute rule changes from the biased commission in their latest attempt to provide advantage to their favored candidate.” But the campaign said the president remained committed to participating in the debate.

  • As he struggles to regain momentum in the face of Biden’s lead in the polls, Trump has not exactly been modulating his tone in an effort to reach moderate voters. Yesterday he complained that people were “tired” of hearing about the coronavirus pandemic, and called Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, “a disaster.”

  • In fact, with virus cases rising in many places across the country, Americans are growing only more likely to mention Covid-19 as a major concern, according to surveys. And polling continues to show that Fauci is considerably more trusted and better liked by voters than Trump.

  • More than 70,000 new coronavirus cases were reported in the United States on Friday, the highest figure since July 24, according to a Times database.

  • Fauci has advised Americans to stay focused on preventing the spread of the coronavirus, and he has warned the public to “hunker down” in preparation for a difficult winter. The president, on the other hand, has painted the virus as an inconvenience, rather than a proven killer.

  • “He’s been here for 500 years,” Trump said on a call with his campaign team that several reporters listened in on. “Every time he goes on television, there’s always a bomb, but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him.”

  • As Trump has publicly clashed with Fauci, he has elevated his own pandemic adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no experience in infectious disease or epidemiology. He has promoted a strategy that calls for allowing the virus to spread naturally while shielding only the most vulnerable.

  • A New York Times/Siena College poll out today found that Biden is leading Trump by nine percentage points among likely voters nationwide. The former vice president held a 23-point advantage over Trump among women, while trailing by six points among men.

  • The poll found that half of likely voters said they were actually better off now than they were four years ago, while under one-third said they were doing worse now. But respondents said by an even wider margin that the country was in worse shape, 55 percent to 39 percent.

  • When it comes to the pandemic, a majority of voters said they thought the worst was yet to come, and seven in 10 said they wanted Congress to pass a multitrillion-dollar stimulus package to mitigate its effects.

  • Officers in the same Russian military intelligence unit that helped publicize stolen Democratic Party emails in 2016 have been accused of a vast hacking campaign with targets around the world.

  • The Justice Department yesterday unsealed the charges, which say that six officers participated in an effort that included disrupting a French presidential election, the electricity grid in Ukraine and internet access at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. The actions cost institutions in the targeted countries billions of dollars, according to the indictment.

  • This was the first time a major law enforcement agency made an allegation that the Russians were behind these breaches. The new charges did not address the Russian interference in the 2020 election, although American intelligence agencies say it is occurring.

Credit…Saul Martinez for The New York Times

A poll worker deposited a mail-in ballot at a drop box in Westchester, Fla.


MILWAUKEE — When Biden named Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, many leaders of color here instantly recognized a “sister” in the vice-presidential nominee.

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That’s because Harris is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, one of the historically Black sororities and fraternities known as the Divine Nine.

Members of the Divine Nine have a strong presence in Wisconsin activism and politics, and Harris’s presence on the Democratic ticket has helped energize their efforts in this election year — one marked by unrest over racial inequality, a pandemic that has disproportionately affected people of color and fears of voter suppression.

In Milwaukee — a city ranked among the worst places in the nation to be Black according to metrics like employment, education and incarceration — Black voters are hearing an increasingly vocal and unified message from neighbors they trust.

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When Harris debated Vice President Mike Pence this month, about 25 members of Alpha Kappa Alpha’s Marquette University chapter, Mu Beta, gathered for a watch party via Zoom.

“The question about racial justice was really important and could be a deciding factor for voters,” said JaMisha Matos, one of the people on the call.

Camille Willis, who was also watching, noted how Harris attacked Trump’s record on judges. “I didn’t know Trump didn’t appoint any African-Americans to the federal appellate court,” she said.

Jasmine Johnson, 39, who is a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, which is part of the Divine Nine, said in an interview that Harris’s nomination was empowering. “In corporate America, I almost never interact with someone who looks like me” in high-ranking positions, said Johnson, who has a master’s degree in management.

The nomination has also re-energized the coalition Johnson spearheaded in 2018 to merge the efforts of 15 local Black community organizations — including the N.A.A.C.P., Jack and Jill of America, the Milwaukee Urban League, the Links and Divine Nine chapters — to hold voter registration drives and candidate forums and staff local polling sites on Election Day.

While the Divine Nine, like other nonprofit groups, do not endorse political candidates, Johnson said their “unified messaging” emphasized voting and health care rights.

Johnson said much of the negative pushback toward the Biden-Harris campaign that she was hearing was often related to Harris’s record as a prosecutor. “Folks are paying attention to how many Black men she locked up,” Johnson said. “She could benefit by spending time on that issue.”

Several Black politicians in Wisconsin are Divine Nine members, including Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, State Senator Lena Taylor and State Representative LaKeshia Myers, all of Milwaukee; and State Representative Shelia Stubbs of Madison.

Some of them appeared in a “Divine 9 Weekend of Excellence” voter motivation video last month. “Our Black and brown communities have been dealt the hardest impact of the pandemic,” Barnes said, citing “historic numbers of people out of work” across the state.

Stubbs warned that “many out there would like our voting suppressed.”

This item was part of a series of short Battleground Dispatches our reporters have been filing from swing states, offering an in-person snapshot of what it’s like to be on the ground in Arizona, New Hampshire and elsewhere. You can read all of the dispatches here.

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