Joe Biden is vastly outspending President Trump in TV advertising, maintaining a nearly 2-to-1 advantage on the airwaves. The Trump campaign is projecting a confidence that doesn’t match the difficult reality his team is grappling with.
Biden rallies voters in North Carolina, a critical state for Trump to keep in his column.
Biden is vastly outspending Trump in TV advertising, maintaining a nearly 2-to-1 advantage on the airwaves.
Senator John Cornyn says getting Trump to mend his ways is like someone trying to ‘change their spouse.’
President Trump on Sunday is campaigning in the crucial battleground of Nevada, where early voting began this weekend.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. maintains a steady lead in polls of the state, which Hillary Clinton won by less than 3 percentage points in 2016. According to a recent Times/Siena College poll, Mr. Biden leads Mr. Trump 48 percent to 42 percent, with six percent of the state’s voters saying they remain undecided.
But even if Mr. Trump is behind in the polls, he did get encouragement, and a blessing, from some evangelical leaders: early Sunday, he attended services at the International Church of Las Vegas, where a church leader said that she had a prophecy that God would give the president “a second wind” to carry him through the campaign, and “that he will be the president again.”
Mr. Trump then attended a fund-raiser in Newport Beach, Calif. on Sunday afternoon, and returned to Nevada for a rally at an airport in Carson City.
Sunday’s events marked the president’s second swing through Nevada in the last two months — in September he hosted two rallies, including one indoors. The business that hosted the indoor rally in Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb, was later fined, because thousands of people were present, despite state health regulations limiting gatherings to 50 people.
Current state guidelines say gatherings should be limited to more than 250 people. Mr. Trump has described his campaign events as “protests,” which he says should exempt them from limits on large gatherings.
Over the past decade, Democrats in Nevada have notched one hard-fought victory after another. In 2010, Senator Harry Reid won his hotly contested re-election campaign, even as the party lost other battles all over the country. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the state, though with a smaller margin of victory than Democrats garnered in the previous two presidential contests. And in 2018, the Democrats managed to capture the governor’s office and the state Senate.
The state has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, which brought tourism to a halt and left 90 percent of members of the powerful Culinary Union, which represents tens of thousands of workers in Las Vegas and Reno, unemployed. The union has long been credited with helping Democrats win in the state.
With just over two weeks until Election Day, Joseph R. Biden Jr. held a drive-in rally in North Carolina on Sunday, a state that could be crucial both to the presidential contest and the battle for control of the Senate.
At a high school in Durham, part of the Research Triangle region that is an area of strength for Democrats, supporters cheered him by beeping their car horns as he spoke.
The event was the latest in a string of drive-in rallies that Mr. Biden has held in battleground states. His campaign has stressed the importance of following health precautions, and the drive-in events reflect a starkly different approach to campaigning during a pandemic compared with the large rallies that President Trump is holding.
Early in-person voting is underway in North Carolina, which Democrats have not won in a presidential election since Barack Obama narrowly carried the state in 2008. At the rally, Mr. Biden urged people not to wait to vote.
“Go vote today, and don’t just vote for me and Senator Harris,” he said, listing a number of other races in the state, including contests for governor and senator.
Polls in North Carolina show a close race between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump. A recent New York Times/Siena College poll found Mr. Biden with the support of 46 percent of likely voters, compared with 42 percent for Mr. Trump.
“Without North Carolina, it’s very hard to imagine Donald Trump winning,” Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, Mr. Biden’s campaign manager, said during a virtual event with supporters on Friday.
North Carolina is also a crucial state in the fight for control of the Senate, where Republicans are hoping to hold on to their majority. Senator Thom Tillis is trying to keep his seat in a close and expensive race against Cal Cunningham, his Democratic challenger.
Mr. Cunningham has been embroiled in a scandal over exchanging romantic text messages with a woman who is not his wife, and he did not have a speaking slot at Mr. Biden’s rally.
Afterward, Mr. Biden participated in a virtual event with African-American faith leaders, during which he asked for their prayers. “Pray I have the capacity to step up and do this job, because four more years of Donald Trump will fundamentally change the nature of this country for several generations,” he said.
Mr. Biden made the trip to North Carolina with his granddaughter Finnegan Biden. Before flying back to Delaware, they stopped to get milkshakes.
“I’m running as a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American president. No red states, no blue states, just the United States. I promise you. I’ll work as hard for those who don’t support me as those who did. That’s the job of a president: A duty to care, to care for everyone in America. Folks, and you too have a sacred duty: to vote. And it matters. North Carolina matters. And Senator Harris and I are asking you for your trust and support. We will always have your back. I promise you. So please, please vote. And help get out the vote.” “We got to keep the incredible momentum going. We can’t let up. You can vote early in person until the 31, but don’t wait. Go vote today and don’t just vote for me and Senator Harris. You’ve got a governor’s race, a Senate race, a record number of Black women on the ballot. Congress and lieutenant governor, labor commissioner and the courts. Folks, they are ready to deliver for North Carolina families. So vote. Vote. It’s time.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan on Sunday condemned President Trump after his supporters at a Saturday rally in the state broke out in a chant to “lock her up,” just a week after she was the target of a kidnapping plot.
Speaking to NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Ms. Whitmer said, “It’s incredibly disturbing that the president of the United States, 10 days after a plot to kidnap, put me on trial and execute me — 10 days after that was uncovered — the president is at it again and inspiring and incentivizing and inciting this kind of domestic terrorism.”
Ms. Whitmer has been the target of conservative criticism for her strict policies in the spring to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and Michigan’s Supreme Court recently ruled that her use of executive orders to extend the state’s emergency declaration order was unconstitutional. Since a peak in the spring, Michigan had successfully kept coronavirus cases from climbing until the last few weeks, which have seen a sharp rise.
“I’m not going to get distracted by attacks from the White House or a Supreme Court here in the state that is undermining my work,” Ms. Whitmer said on Sunday. “I’m going to keep going forward and doing everything I can to protect my people.”
At the Saturday rally, held at the Muskegon airport, Mr. Trump responded to the “lock her up” chants by saying, “Lock them all up.”
On Sunday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi also condemned the president over the episode, while Trump campaign surrogates played down his remarks.
Ms. Pelosi, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” said Mr. Trump’s rhetoric was “irresponsible,” particularly targeting a female governor.
“The president has to realize that the words of the president of the United States weigh a ton,” Ms. Pelosi said. “And in our political dialogue, to inject fear tactics into it, especially a woman governor and her family, is so irresponsible.”
Jason Miller, a senior adviser for the Trump campaign, said on “Fox News Sunday” that Mr. Trump does not regret his remarks made during the rally.
“I think the fact of the matter is that many residents of Michigan are pretty frustrated with the governor,” Mr. Miller said.
“I’m glad that President Trump’s D.O.J. was able to get these psychopaths and put them away,” he added of the 13 men arrested in connection with the domestic terrorism plot.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Lara Trump, a senior adviser for the campaign and the wife of Mr. Trump’s son Eric, said the president “wasn’t doing anything, I don’t think, to provoke people to threaten this woman at all.”
Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, said on Sunday he is open to expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court should Senate Republicans continue to rush forward to confirm President Trump’s nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Mr. Coons, a key ally of the Democratic nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr., called Judge Barrett “extreme” and “unqualified” during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Mr. Coons added he was “not a fan” of expanding the number of justices on the court, but said he would consider it if necessary.
“If we happen to be in the fact pattern where we have a President Biden, we’ll have to look at what the right steps are to rebalance our federal judiciary,” Mr. Coons said.
Mr. Coons’s refusal to rule out expanding the court carries particular weight because he is one of the more bipartisan Senate Democrats, and because he is close to Mr. Biden and has his ear.
The Judiciary Committee, controlled by Republicans, is expected on Thursday to vote in favor of Judge Barrett, a conservative Catholic who personally opposes abortion rights. Mr. Coons also defended Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the highest-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, from calls that she be replaced after she praised and hugged Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and chairman of the committee, at the end of last week’s hearings on Judge Barrett’s nomination.
“Senator Feinstein was clear in her opposition to Judge Barrett. She has a long record of fighting for reproductive rights, for gender equity,” Mr. Coons said. “She carried the torch well for those of us on the Democratic side who were fighting this nomination. I don’t think we should put too much weight on just a few sentences at the end of four long days where she was being gracious to the chairman.”
He said Ms. Feinstein and other Democrats on the committee remain “angry” at Mr. Graham for “racing through” Judge Barrett’s nomination.
President Trump is being vastly outspent by Joseph R. Biden Jr. in television advertising in the general election battleground states and elsewhere, with the former vice president focusing overwhelmingly on the coronavirus as millions of Americans across the country begin casting early votes.
Mr. Biden has maintained a nearly 2-to-1 advantage on the airwaves for months. His dominance is most pronounced in three critical swing states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — where he spent about $53 million to Mr. Trump’s $17 million over the past month, largely on ads assailing the president’s handling of the virus as well as the economy and taxes, according to data from Advertising Analytics, an ad tracking firm.
In Pennsylvania alone, Mr. Biden ran 38 different ads during a single week this month, a sign of how comprehensive his effort there has been.
The president’s ad strategy, in turn, reflects the challenges facing both his campaign finances and his Electoral College map. He has recently scaled back advertising in battleground states like Ohio and Iowa and, until this past week, slashed ads in Michigan and Wisconsin, despite being behind in polls. And Mr. Trump is having to divert resources to hold onto Republican-leaning states like Arizona and Georgia.
Mr. Trump spent less on ads in 2016, too, but he went on to narrowly capture critical states anyway and prevail over Hillary Clinton. Back then he relied heavily on huge rallies and live cable news coverage to get his message out, and he got extensive airtime for his attacks on Mrs. Clinton. This time around, his rallies have been fewer and smaller because of the pandemic and his own virus infection; the events have gotten less cable coverage; and he has had a hard time making attacks stick on Mr. Biden.
In many ways, the advertising picture reveals how the pandemic has upended the 2020 race. With in-person campaigning sharply limited, the traditional advantages built by a ground game in battleground states have largely been replaced by the air cover provided by advertising. More than $1.5 billion has been spent on the presidential race alone; by contrast, $496 million was spent on ads in just the presidential race by this point in the 2016 race.
In public, President Trump and his campaign team project a sense of optimism and bravado. When they meet with Republican donors and state party leaders, presidential aides insist they are fully capable of achieving a close victory over Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Nov. 3.
Away from their candidate and the television cameras, some of Mr. Trump’s aides are quietly conceding just how dire his political predicament appears to be, and his inner circle has returned to a state of recriminations and backbiting. Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, is drawing furious blame from the president and some political advisers for his handling of Mr. Trump’s recent hospitalization.
Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, has maintained to senior Republicans that the president has a path forward in the race but at times has conceded it is narrow.
Some midlevel aides on the Trump campaign have even begun inquiring about employment on Capitol Hill after the election, apparently under the assumption that there will not be a second Trump administration for them to serve in.
Less than three weeks before Election Day, there is now an extraordinary gulf separating Mr. Trump’s experience of the campaign from the more sobering political assessments of a number of party officials and operatives, according to interviews with nearly a dozen Republican strategists, White House allies and elected officials. Among some of Mr. Trump’s lieutenants, there is an attitude of grit mixed with resignation: a sense that the best they can do for the final stretch is to keep the president occupied, happy and off Twitter as much as possible, rather than producing a major shift in strategy.
Instead of a delivering a focused closing message aimed at changing people’s perceptions about his handling of the coronavirus, or making a case for why he can revive the economy better than Mr. Biden can, Mr. Trump is spending the remaining days on a familiar mix of personal grievances, attacks on his opponents and obfuscations.
“The president appears to have doubled down on a base election strategy,” said Ken Spain, a Republican strategist, “while Republicans down ballot must figure out a way to appeal to independent voters in states like North Carolina and Maine and Michigan.”
Samantha Kacmarik, a Latina college student in Las Vegas, said that four years ago, she had viewed Hillary Clinton as part of a corrupt political establishment.
Flowers Forever, a Black transgender music producer in Milwaukee, said she had thought Mrs. Clinton wouldn’t change anything for the better.
None of them voted for Mrs. Clinton. All of them plan to vote for Joseph R. Biden Jr.
The point seems almost too obvious to note: Mr. Biden is not Mrs. Clinton. Yet for many Democrats and independents who sat out 2016, voted for third-party candidates or backed Mr. Trump, it is a rationale for their vote that comes up repeatedly: Mr. Biden is more acceptable to them than Mrs. Clinton was, in ways large and small, personal and political, sexist and not, and those differences help them feel more comfortable voting for the Democratic nominee this time around.
Mr. Biden also benefits, of course, from the intense desire among Democrats to get President Trump out of office. And a majority of voters give the president low marks for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the dominant issue of the race. But a key distinction between 2020 and 2016 is that, four years ago, the race came down to two of the most disliked and polarizing candidates in American history, and one of them also faced obstacles that came with being a barrier-breaking woman.
Mr. Biden now leads Mr. Trump in many public polls by bigger margins than Mrs. Clinton had in 2016. In private polling and focus groups, voters express more positive views of Mr. Biden than of Mrs. Clinton, according to strategists affiliated with both Democrats’ campaigns.
Since 2019, Mr. Biden has held an advantage of four to eight points over Mrs. Clinton in key swing districts, according to an analysis by John Hagner, a partner at Clarity Campaign Labs, a Democratic data analytics firm.
Polling shows Mr. Biden scoring higher than Mrs. Clinton among a wide range of demographic groups — most notably older voters, white voters and suburbanites. But his advantage is stark among those who sat out the 2016 election or backed third-party candidates.
Mr. Biden leads Mr. Trump, 49 percent to 19 percent, among likely voters who backed third-party candidates in 2016, according to recent polling of battleground states by The New York Times and Siena College. Among registered voters who sat out the 2016 election, Mr. Biden leads by nine percentage points, the polls found.
In the final weeks of the campaign, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has made Scranton, his hometown, a major part of his closing pitch. “I really do view this campaign as a campaign between Scranton and Park Avenue,” he said at a CNN event in town last month. Embedded in Mr. Biden’s shorthand is that he can win back the paradigmatic Scranton voter: white, working class, disaffected by Democrats.
But Scranton is no longer the dying coal town of Mr. Biden’s youth. It is both more racially diverse and prosperous. In more than two dozen interviews the week of Mr. Biden’s visit, few voters were particularly enthusiastic about his candidacy, despite his personal roots, but about half said they probably would vote for him anyway. Voters who abandoned the Democratic Party in 2016 said they planned to vote for Mr. Trump again this year. Some people said they were so fed up with politics that they were not going to vote at all. Others expressed annoyance at what they said was Mr. Biden’s habit of making Scranton into a kind of blue-collar cartoon.
At the town-hall-style event, held six miles from downtown in a stadium parking lot, Mr. Biden, in describing the hometown he knew, said that not many people in Scranton owned stock.
“Frankly, it was insulting,” said Frances Keating, 74, a retired accountant who has lived in Scranton most of her life. “He’s using Scranton as a prop.”
Scranton has become a symbol for Democrats’ lost dreams in 2016, when working-class voters abandoned the party in droves. The city itself is blue. But the surrounding county, Lackawanna, and a neighboring one, Luzerne, had the second- and third-largest swings toward Mr. Trump of any county with more than 100,000 voters in the United States. The surge was enough to cover his 44,000-vote victory in Pennsylvania.
Mr. Trump is trailing in the state by seven percentage points, but the enthusiasm he enjoys among many ancestral Democrats in Scranton highlights the challenges Mr. Biden still faces in a state regarded by both parties as a must-win next month.
With the G.O.P. majority in the Senate in peril and Democrats closing the gap in his home state, Senator John Cornyn of Texas acknowledged that Republican lawmakers like himself who are on the ballot this year are wedded to President Trump: for better or worse.
In an interview on Friday with the editorial board of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Mr. Cornyn compared his relationship with Mr. Trump to marriage and said that getting the president to mend his ways was futile.
He described the dynamic as “maybe like a lot of women who get married and think they’re going to change their spouse, and that doesn’t usually work out very well.”
Mr. Cornyn said that he has avoided public spats with Mr. Trump, in contrast with some of his Republican colleagues who have crossed the president.
“I think what we found is that we’re not going to change President Trump,” he said. “He is who he is. You either love him or hate him, and there’s not much in between. What I tried to do is not get into public confrontations and fights with him because, as I’ve observed, those usually don’t end too well.”
Mr. Cornyn’s comments came as a number of Republicans in the Senate, bracing for a wipeout, have distanced themselves from Mr. Trump.
He is seeking a fourth term in the Senate, which Democrats can flip by picking up three seats if Joseph R. Biden Jr. is elected president or four seats if Mr. Trump is re-elected.
Only California has more electoral votes than Texas, a state that Mr. Trump carried by nine percentage points in 2016, but where polling shows a tight race for president.
It is a phrase that has been constantly invoked by Democratic and Republican leaders. It has become the clearest symbol of the mood of the country, and what people feel is at stake in November. Everyone, it seems, is fighting for it.
“This campaign isn’t just about winning votes. It’s about winning the heart and, yes, the soul of America,” Joseph R. Biden Jr. said in August at the Democratic National Convention, not long after the phrase “battle for the soul of America” appeared at the top of his campaign website, right next to his name.
Picking up on this, a recent Trump campaign ad spliced videos of Democrats invoking “the soul” of America, followed by images of clashes between protesters and the police and the words “Save America’s Soul,” with a request to text “SOUL” to make a campaign contribution.
That the election has become a referendum on the soul of the nation suggests that, in an increasingly secular country, voting has become a reflection of one’s individual morality — and that the outcome hinges in part on spiritual and philosophical questions that transcend politics: What, exactly, is the soul of the nation? What is the state of it? And what would it mean to save it?
The answers go beyond a campaign slogan, beyond politics and November, to the identity and future of the American experiment itself, especially now, with a pandemic that has wearied the country’s spirit.
Framing an entire campaign explicitly around a moral imperative — with language so rooted in Christianity — has been a standard part of the Republican playbook for decades. But it is a more unusual move for Democrats, who typically attract a more religious diverse coalition.
The soul, and the soul of the body politic, is an ancient philosophical and theological concept, one of the deepest ways humans have understood their individual identity, and their life together.
This month, a federal judge struck down a decree from Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas limiting each county in the state to a single drop box to handle the surge in absentee ballots this election season, rejecting Mr. Abbott’s argument that the limit was necessary to combat fraud.
Days later, an appellate panel of three judges appointed by President Trump froze the lower court order, keeping Mr. Abbott’s new policy in place — meaning Harris County, with more than two million voters, and Wheeler County, with well under 4,000, would both be allowed only one drop box for voters who want to hand-deliver their absentee ballots and avoid reliance on the Postal Service.
The Texas case is one of at least eight major election disputes around the country in which Federal District Court judges sided with civil rights groups and Democrats in voting cases only to be stayed by the federal appeals courts, whose ranks Mr. Trump has done more to populate than any president in more than 40 years.
The rulings highlight how Mr. Trump’s drive to fill empty judgeships is yielding benefits to his re-election campaign even before any major dispute about the outcome may make it to the Supreme Court. He made clear the political advantages he derives from his power to appoint judges when he explained last month that he was moving fast to name a successor to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg so the Supreme Court would have a full contingent to handle any election challenges, which he has indicated he might bring in the event of a loss.
In appointing dozens of reliable conservatives to the appellate bench, Mr. Trump has made it more likely that appeals come before judges with legal philosophies sympathetic to Republicans on issues including voting rights. The trend has left Democrats and civil rights lawyers increasingly concerned that they face another major impediment to their efforts to assure that as many people as possible can vote in the middle of a pandemic — and in the face of a campaign by Republicans to limit voting.
Voting machines. Our democracy depends on them to accurately record each and every ballot. You go to the polls, you cast your vote, your voice is heard. Right? Not so fast. “Russian attacks.” “Russian hackers.” “Russian hackers tried to break into U.S. election systems.” Because in 2016 — “The Russians managed to get us paranoid about the security of our own election systems.” But this year, experts are more confident that — “I think it is safe to say this is the most secure election we’ve ever held in the United States.” In 2016, Russians infiltrated our voting systems in every single state. “This was one of the most successful intelligence operations in modern history.” Now, there’s no evidence Russians altered votes, but — “It’s as if a cat burglar got into your house, cased the joint, but didn’t take anything.” And it raised the question — “Could the Russians actually affect the vote?” But because of some of the machines we were using, we didn’t know for sure. So in 2020, if there’s another cyberattack, Americans want to know that their vote was counted as they cast it. Like, say, with a — “Voter-verified paper trail.” Yes, like that. A paper trail. Turns out a few people tried to make this happen years ago, but — “It’s a rough world out there in the elections voting system business.” To see why it took Russia’s hacking to improve our voting technology, we go to Texas. The Constitution gives states power to run their own elections, and most states give counties the power to choose their own voting machines. And nowhere is this more apparent than in — “Texas.” “Texas.” “Texas —” [mooing] “— is a microcosm of all the different voting technologies used everywhere in the U.S. Every different Texas county, different voting system, different procedures.” Dan Wallach is a computer scientist at Rice University in Houston, and he had actually been warning about the vulnerabilities of our voting system long before 2016. “I’m worried about evil software in the machines flipping your vote in a way that you, the voter, can’t tell that the machine was evil.” He was most concerned about direct recording electronic voting machines, or DREs. “The only record of your vote is inside the memory of that machine. And that means that if something tampers with that electronic memory, you have no way to go back.” And yet in the last presidential election, 28 percent of registered voters used these machines. So how did some Americans get stuck with these vulnerable voting machines? Well, to find out, we need to go all the way back to 2000. The aught. Florida. It was Al Gore versus George Bush for president. “Oh my goodness. 2000. That was the election that we all thought would never end. “The presidential race is crackling like a hickory fire here. Couldn’t be much closer.” A contested vote, a recount and all of it came down to the chads. Those pesky fragments of paper leftover when a hole is punched in a card. Not all those chads were entirely punched through, though. “There was a hanging chad.” “It’s slightly detached.” “Pregnant chad.” “Dimpled chad.” “Opening and closing chad.” During the recount, poll workers were left to determine voter intent, and all eyes were on the chads. “By that time, we all knew what a bad system punch-card voting was.” “In the wake of the hanging chad issues, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002. The Help America Vote Act allocated billions of dollars to help states replace antiquated voting machines.” And the states went shopping. Some bought hand-marked paper ballots and optical scanners. And others bought the machines that had worried Dan the most. The very modern, paperless DREs. “If it were up to me today, and if I were selling voting technology, I would not sell a paperless DRE system in good conscience. I don’t think that it’s a responsible thing to do.” This is Eddie Perez. He used to sell these machines, but left the industry to advocate for more secure voting systems with a paper trail. “I would characterize the level of federal regulation for voting technology as relatively thin. There are a lot of products that are actually more highly regulated than voting technology. Even things as mundane as ballpoint pens. Parts fail, systems get old, screens stop performing the way they are supposed to. So a voter might touch one portion of the screen to mark one candidate and the system interprets it as a choice for someone else.” “It is not letting me vote for who I want to vote for.” “There is plenty of voting equipment that is still out there whose design dates, probably, all the way back to 20 years ago.” But with most of their federal money spent, many Texas counties were stuck. “We kept our electronic voting system for 18 years.” As Travis County Clerk, Dana DeBeauvoir is responsible for picking the machines for voters in Austin. “The thing that was most important to our voters was to have a paper trail. But none of the voting system manufacturers would build a system with a paper trail. And it was frustrating.” And so she decided to build one herself. “I was watching a video of a professor out of Rice University rake me over the coals.” “Such blatant security flaws. I mean, just really bad engineering.” “Instead of just getting mad, I went to that person.” “My phone rings and it’s Dana, and she says, ‘I want your help.’” “And I said to him, ‘Let’s you and I design a voting system together.’” “I’m like, seriously? All right. Can I invite my friends? We hacked up an inkjet printer and a bunch of other cheap hardware mashed into a custom steel box that we built, and we came up with a really great design.” They called it S.T.A.R. Vote. “Computer scientists love to make acronyms out of words. First we come up with the acronym, then we try to find the words that fit.” “Secure.” “Transparent.” “Auditable.” “Reliable.” “A combination of both electronic and paper voting paper voting methods.” “S.T.A.R. Vote.” A new electronic voting machine with paper backup ballots that help with verification and audit. An open-source system which makes it more secure and cheaper for taxpayers. The end product, a newer, safer voting machine. “What we were actually doing was a start-up business. And I don’t think we really realized that at the outset.” Designing a machine is one thing. Finding someone to manufacture it is another. “The voting system industry is a couple hundred million dollars a year. That’s a teeny tiny market.” “It’s difficult to get in the marketplace, and they don’t welcome anybody else coming in.” In a small market, there’s not much room for competition. Just three companies dominate the voting machine industry. “Those three major vendors are the ones that have carved out their space and made their commitment to it. And so they actually wield a lot of power in that industry.” “That market doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for companies to do innovative design and development.” “Voting technology is simply very, very slow to change.” “Current electronic voting machines have little or no security built in. Please help me and other elections administrators who want to do a better job. What we are designing is an electronic voting system. We’re ready to start building S.T.A.R. Vote.” In 2016, Dana DeBeauvoir had reached the final stages of the S.T.A.R. Vote design when reports that … “The intelligence services of a foreign power intervened on a scale never seen before.” … shook America’s confidence in its voting system. It seemed like the perfect moment for new players like S.T.A.R. Vote, who’d spent years thinking about how to get voters to trust their election results. “Since we had done all the design work for them, we thought one of the regular manufacturers would pick this up. Travis County put it out to bid. Most of the big manufacturers submitted bids. However, they submitted bids that were more along the lines of, buy what we already have.” She says the vendors rejected a key security component of S.T.A.R. Vote. “Open-source software.” Good for transparency, but having free source code means companies can’t charge as much. “Open-source systems — at least the way this one was designed, and in most cases — are low-revenue software projects.” They all passed. With the 2020 election around the corner, Dana still had all those aging DREs, so she was — “Running out of time. At that point, we realized that we had reached the end of our possibilities with S.T.A.R. Vote. It was probably the lowest time in my entire career. We had the secret recipe for pulling everybody together, and we still hadn’t made it happen.” But bigger changes were happening nationally. After 2016, voting systems were declared part of the country’s critical infrastructure — like dams and power plants. This meant new federal scrutiny of how Americans cast their vote for the first time since 2000. “And the voting machine manufacturers began to get the message.” “Yes.” “They began to move towards systems that had paper backup because they recognized that the political pressure was tremendous.” In 2018, Congress gave the states more money to fortify their systems and required a paper trail for all newly purchased voting machines. “Six months after we got the bad news that no one was going to build S.T.A.R. Vote for us, we got a dramatic turnaround in the industry for voting systems. They had in fact built a new voting system with electronic support and a paper trail. My thrill was a little bit tempered by the frustration of knowing that they could have done it years before.” And so Travis County joins battleground states like Pennsylvania and Georgia, and went shopping. Again. “A lot of money.” And paper is the reason experts are saying 2020 may be the most secure election we’ve ever held. It’s not just about the voting machines. A greater number of e-poll books — which are used to check-in voters on Election Day — will also have a paper backup system. “And that’s why the Department of Homeland Security has spent a year trying to get cities and towns across America to print out those e-poll books to make sure that they had multiple backups of their registration systems.” A process moved further along by the pandemic. “You know in an odd way, the coronavirus crisis has helped us some in our election crises.” It’s pushed many states to shift to mail-in voting, which offers an automatic paper backup. In 2020, because of states buying new voting systems and the increase in vote-by-mail, an estimated 95 percent of voters will use auditable paper ballots. That’s not to say the shift to paper has been problem-free. Some states bought machines that produce a barcode for a paper ballot, which makes it harder for voters to verify. “The paper that comes out of the machine — machine-marked paper — has a barcode on it that is the official vote. No human can read a barcode.” And in various states, there have been printing errors on mail-in ballots. “There’s a different name on the ballot that you’re supposed to send in.” Still, when it comes to hacking and widespread fraud, experts agree that paper — through mail-in voting or with a voter verified paper trail — is as safe as it gets. “Having a paper ballot mailed to more and more Americans means there is a traceable way for people to vote. And a way for election monitors to audit later on that those votes were counted the way they were cast. And that they were cast by people eligible to vote.” The nation’s voting system is safer than it was four years ago, but some counties didn’t make the transition and could be more vulnerable. “The only states with significant amounts of non-paper digital ballots are states like, honestly, Texas.” Texas, a potential swing state for 2020, lags behind the rest of the country in election security. Harris County, the third largest county in the nation, wasn’t able to purchase new machines and still has their DREs from 2006. And with the Texas Supreme Court refusing to expand absentee voting and by allowing only one drop box per county, it puts extra pressure on the machines to function smoothly on Election Day. “A perception hack is a hack that is just big enough to create the illusion of a broad cyberattack. Because if they can manipulate some votes, registration systems, e-poll books, in just a few places, people will assume that they did so everywhere. That’s the beauty of a perception hack. And four years later, The psychological import of what the Russians did may be greater than anything that they actually hacked into, because they have managed to shake the confidence of American voters that their votes will be counted as they cast them.” This is Alex. And I’m Kassie. We produced this episode of “Stressed Election.” There’s a lot going on this election, and we want to make sure we take a deep dive into the major issues. Stick around for the next episodes. We’re going to cover voting rights, voting technology, disinformation and vote-by-mail.
News – 2020 Elections Live Updates: Trump Holds Rally in Nevada After Biden Campaigns in North Carolina