Politics Live with The Fix: Answering your questions about voting, mail-in ballots, and Election Day

Oct 22, 2020

Got a burning politics question, or just something you’re curious about? Each week, starting Thursday at noon, The Fix team chats with readers about the big stories in politics.

This week, the team was joined by Amy Gardner and Michelle Lee, two Post reporters covering voting, ballots, and officials overseeing this election. They have covered the ins and out of the process, whether it be in-person or through the mail, the politics of voting in this pandemic and what we know so far about early voting.

Earlier this week, Amy had a story on Black Americans who say this presidential election is the most important of their lifetime. Two weeks before Election Day, we’re seeing historic levels of early voting among Black Americans. And she’s one of the reporters who broke the story this summer about allegations that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, when he was a businessman, reimbursed employees for political contributions.

Michelle recently reported on Pennsylvania where first-time and absentee voters are complaining about difficulty registering to vote or request a mail ballot. Michelle also reports on campaign finance.

Sign up for our newsletter, The 5-Minute Fix, a must-read politics cheat sheet sent every weekday afternoon.

Will county clerks count early voting ballots on Election Day?

Great question and it totally depends on the state. Two important battlegrounds, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, do not allow county clerks to start processing mail ballots until Election Day. That makes it unlikely that either will have a big tally by the end of the evening. Many many other states, however, allow ballots to be processed way ahead of Election Day -- Florida, Arizona, North Carolina among them. 

I'll repeat what the secretaries of state and election officials in these states like to say: There is no such thing as a national election. It's state by state, and it's up to the states to determine how to run things, including in a pandemic. That means we're going to get lots of varying strategies about the best way to balance keeping ballots safe and secure and count them quickly. Election officials also like to stress that a delay in counting ballots means they are taking time to do things right, not that something is wrong.

I have my mail ballot but want to turn it in, in person. Can I do this at my polling location?

Like most things related to election administration, the rules for returning your mail ballot vary by state. To help you sort it out, we came up with this handy "How to vote in your state" guide that breaks down deadlines and requirements in your state. Hope that helps! 

I had to look this up for a reader question about her state in Kansas. Here's my answer:

In Kansas, you can change your mind and vote in person if you already requested an absentee ballot. But you will have to cast a special ballot called a provisional ballot, which means it will be set aside and counted after election officials confirm you didn’t fill out and mail in your original ballot. 
Many other states provide this option, too. It’s likely that if your state doesn’t require you to give an excuse for requesting a mail ballot, or if concern about coronavirus is the only excuse you have to provide, then you can change your mind and vote in person. But be prepared to fill out a provisional ballot when you get to the polling place. 
While doing so means it may take longer for your ballot to get counted (and potentially lengthen the time it takes states to report full results), provisional ballots aren’t a cause for concern. States deal with them every year; it just might be at a higher volume than normal if many of you decide to vote in person and leave your blank absentee ballot at home. Federal law requires that states give the voter some way to follow up, either by phone or a website, to check the status of their provisional ballot. To check your state’s rules on voting in person after requesting an absentee ballot, it’s best to call your local election office. They’re expecting calls like this. Find yours here. 

How does an election poll determine what the margin of error is?

I had no idea so I consulted my friend and colleague from our Polling Department, Emily Guskin, who says it's based on the sample size and "design effect." Don't know what design effect is? Me either! Survey Monkey has a great explainer here

Guskin and Scott Clement on The Post's polling team also keep track of high-quality polls that, in part, don't have wild swings of margin of error. And they average those out for the rest of us so we can get a snapshot of where the presidential race stands today, nationally and in swing states. Here's more of their explanation on that.

Comparing 2020 to 2018, do you see another 'blue wave' coming , at any level of government?

It's not really our job to predict the outcome, and we're all a little gunshy given what happened in 2016. What we try to do is lay out what's happening, now, with experts weighing in on what it means. Certainly the polling suggests the Democrats will pick up more seats in the House, and are very much in position to take over the Senate. And Joe Biden is polling ahead or even in a number of states that President Trump MUST win to stay in the White House: Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida, even Georgia. If Trump loses *any* of those states (assuming the polling is correct that Biden will win Wisconsin and Michigan), he can't win the overall race. That doesn't mean that's an easy path for Biden. Every single one of those states leans red and will be difficult for Biden to win.

Can I wear my Biden Harris tee shirt and cap to voting location ?

As a rule, "electioneering" -- advocating for a particular candidate or ballot measure -- is forbidden within a certain number of feet of polling locations. The distance varies a little by state. A Biden-Harris t-shirt would be seen as electioneering, so no, I'm afraid you should leave that one at home. Interstingly, a poll worker in Shelby County, TN, home of Memphis, tried to turn away voters wearing Black Lives Matter and "I Can't Breathe" clothing the other day. But that poll worker was wrong -- those were examples of free speech, not electioneering. The poll worker no longer works there.

Seriously, how are you guys doing? I'm feeling like you're the ER Doctor, and I want you to tell me it will all be okay, but you can't, because who knows? Hang in there!

How are we doing, team? I''ll speak for myself: I'm tired, a bit frazzled. Just when you think the news can't get bigger -- a pandemic, an economic crisis, race protests, a Supreme Court vacancy, a presidential election, questions about peaceful transfer of power-- it does. But I'm excited and honored to be covering and writing about all this. I cannot believe Election Day is 1.5 weeks away. 

My neck is constantly sore from craning at screens. That's how I'm doing. :)

I've never run a marathon (and probably never will, tbh) but I feel what I imagine those runners feel like at the final few miles -- tired, elated, ready for some carbs. 

Given a) how many people have already definitely decided who to vote for and b) how many have already voted (30+M), how many minds are left to be swayed by the candidates' performances tonight? Just among my friends and family, I only know a handful of people who haven't already cast their ballots.

It's a really good question and we always wonder every year who the heck might not have made up their mind at this late date! This year that question is even more relevant given how divided the nation is over this election. A couple of thoughts, however. What the debate tonight *could* do is raise or lower a voter's enthusiasm for the candidate they prefer. And that in turn could determine whether they bother to turn out at all. It's also worth noting that the early vote so far dramatically favors Biden, according to turnout numbers that show a huge Democratic advantage in states where voters register by party affiliation. Trump could certainly make up that ground on Election Day, when most Republicans are expected to cast their ballots. But it also means that Trump has a larger universe of voters that he has to keep excited and persuade to turn out. For Biden, a huge chunk of his vote count is already logged and done. That's where tonight becomes a lot more important for Trump than for Biden.

Why did Hillary clear the field in 2016? While I appreciate that hindsight is 20/20, do you think that Biden would have won while running on a "finish the mission" type of campaign?

1. History shows it's difficult for the party of a two-term president to keep the office once they're term-limited, and polls suggested there was some of the same kind of appetite for change that we usually see, which opened the door to Trump. (Trump won people who didn't like either candidate, for instance, and also won late-deciders.)

2. Biden might have done better than Clinton in that, as this campaign has worn on, he has avoided becoming nearly as unpopular as Clinton was back then. If he could've replicated that four years ago, given Clinton's narrow loss, it's logical to think he could have won.

So it's very difficult to say with any certainty, but those would be the two relevant points, in my mind.

Is she being treated by the same team of doctors as the President was? Did she not receive the same miracle drugs that he did?

Melania Trump said she did not take the same medication that the president did although she was treated by at least one of the same doctors. 

Here's an excerpt from her on her diagnosis:

"I was very fortunate as my diagnosis came with minimal symptoms, though they hit me all at once and it seemed to be a roller coaster of symptoms in the days after. I experienced body aches, a cough and headaches, and felt extremely tired most of the time. I chose to go a more natural route in terms of medicine, opting more for vitamins and healthy food. We had wonderful caretakers around us and we will be forever grateful for the medical care and professional discretion we received from Dr. Conley and his team."

On election night/week, which Senate races will you be checking most often for results--NC, MI, ME, IA? And why?

North Carolina, Maine and Iowa. Democrats will probably lose Alabama, which means they need to win most or all three of the above to get the majority -- in addition to winning either/or Arizona and Colorado, which look more winnable for Democrats. As for Michigan, Democrats will certainly need to hold onto it, but if Biden wins the state (polls show him leading by about 8 points now), they probably will.

And if the races above don't go as expected, I'm watching how the two in Georgia turn out and if anyone in either Senate race can get above 50%. If not, that means they go to a runoff in January, and that means the Senate majority could hinge on one or two runoffs in January. 

lay out here how Senate Democrats can win the majority, step by step. And here are the top races most likely to flip.

Is there any actual political benefit to Trump going on Fox News and Limbaugh for hours at a time?

Base turnout matters! It's just not clear that Trump's base really needed the extra prodding, given the already high degree of enthusiasm to vote for him (versus enthusiasm, in Biden's case, to vote AGAINST Trump). It's also evident that Trump needs to win over swing voters, and it's unlikely there are very many of them watching those interviews. It certainly a curious strategy, but one that fits with Trump's almost constant base strategy from 2015 till today.

I'm sure the people of Kentucky are thrilled that Moscow Mitch is putting politics ahead of them getting stimulus checks so that they can put food on the table. He's playing games to save his job, not help his constituents!

Perhaps not, but most polls still show McConnell leading over Democrat Amy McGrath in the polls. Kentucky has a lot of working class residents who could benefit from another stimulus bill as soon as possible. But the state also has a lot of conservatives, and in a time as polarized as ours, that appears to be working to the lawmaker's advantage.

What is Trump thinking with this bizarre behavior towards his 60 minutes interview? Is this just more red meat ("media is out to get me") for his base or is there something else to it? I can't see how this helps him win over the voters he is losing due to his conduct and his response to the coronavirus pandemic

I've watched about half the interview thus far, and it's pretty clear that Trump went into it spoiling for a fight. It's not even as tough as Wallace, Swan or Guthrie last week.

Whatever you think of Stahl's questions, how much does going after the media (as he's been doing relentlessly for 4 years) really help him? People don't love us, but it seems to limited in its appeal to people's actual votes.

Let's skip the small stuff. Assuming Biden wins and decides he's leaving after one term, who's on the list for KH's VP?

2024?!? Are you trying to kill us?  (closes laptop, deep, cleansing breaths) 

More than 30 million mailed or drop boxed ballots have been received by election offices. Do we know how many have been processed? How many of those have been rejected? Which candidate is most affected by the rejects?

At least 42.1 million have voted already (and we're still 12 days out from Election Day!) but when a state can start processing or rejecting ballots varies by state and what the state's laws require, so we don't have an exact count. Some states allow ballots to be processed upon receipt, but others can't start until Election Day. In the states that can start processing upon receipt, election officials may allow voters to "cure" their mail ballots if there's any problem -- like a signature mismatch or some other problem that may lead to their ballot being rejected. So in those states, officials will reach out to voters before rejecting a ballot. 

Some of the states that don't allow ballots to start being counted until Election Day are big ones for determining the presidential race, too: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Though there are some lawsuits pending to try to change that. (Michigan lawmakers recently agreed to allow election officials to process ballots, but not count them, a day earlier. But there are still questions in the state about whether that's enough time.)

His last election was a surprise squeaker win over Gillespie. Any thoughts on if it will be the same this time around with Gade? Is he taking the race more seriously this time than he did last time?

1. 2014 was indeed a huge surprise when it comes to how close it was.

2. Gillespie was at least more of a known quantity than Gade, as a former RNC chairman.

3. This one's in a presidential year in which today's WaPo poll has Biden leading by 11. It's the kind of state in which surprises can happen, but probably mostly in midterm years. Senate races just so closely mirror the presidential race these days.

So with the President releasing his 60 Minute meltdown - any chance either of the candidates blows up/walks out of the debate tonight? Biden would have every right to if the Trump Klan comes in without masks and refuses to wear them (I am assuming they will be present). And Trump might actually be asked an unfair question - you know about the coronavirus, or America, or healthcare or climate change...

It, of course, is possible that either of the candidates or even both would leave the debate out of anger, but I'm not sure how likely it is. Given how close the polls are in some swing states, I imagine that both Trump and Biden want the opportunity to connect with as many voters as possible in these final days with the hope that more Americans will back their campaign. Leaving prematurely would prevent them from spending as much time as possible making their case to the American public, but that's not to say it's unfathomable that at least one of them could become fed up with the experience and decide to tap out early.

What is the status of the Texas election suit challenging only allowing one drop off ballot box per county? Would conservative justices really try to justify this blatant attempt at voter suppression or is the Texas governor just trying to delay it long enough to get to November 3?

A federal court of Trump-appointed judges recently upheld Gov. Abbott's order limiting drop off locations to one per county -- but that's now under appeal too. In the meantime, Texas counties are operating under Abbott's order just to be safe. 

If Republican legislatures in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and/or Michigan file suit to stop the counting of absentee ballots after Nov. 3 because they claim, without any evidence whatsoever, that the ballots or counting process is fraudulent or riddled with errors, how likely is it that federal courts, on up to the Supreme Court, would reject those suits? And, if those legislatures appointed rogue slates of electors to vote for Trump on the basis of the halted vote count, could the Democratic governors in those states legally refuse to certify the decision of those electors?

I wrote about this very issue a few weeks back. Here's the link: Both parties prepare for contested election as White House race hurtles to a close (LINK). The upshot is we never know what the courts will do. But, as one example, a federal judge in Pennsylvania recently ruled against Republicans on the very point that they had failed to produce evidence of fraud to justify the stricter rules they were seeking to impose on the election. Also in Pennsylvania, Republicans in the legislature say they have had zero conversations about appointing their own electors.

It seems odd – if not downright stupid - that NBC would air Trump’s town hall at the same time as Biden’s town hall. The only reason I can think they would do that was if Trump told NBC he would take his town hall to another network if they didn’t. I’m guessing he mistakenly expected he would beat Biden head-to-head so he could crow about it afterward. Is that what happened?

I have seen no reporting suggesting that Trump threatened to go to another network if they didn't air a Trump town hall at the same time as Biden's. But it's likely that those involved in making the decision believed that this was a good opportunity to attract eyes that might not normally be focused on NBC channels during this time. 

Hi, I've read to expect delays after Nov. 3rd due to mail-in ballots but what kind of delays are we talking about, and is there a great variability by state? Thanks

Good question - each state varies in its timeline of when it can start processing and counting mail ballots. Some states can start processing them upon receipt, and others have to wait until Election Day. How quickly election officials can count depends on the state law and what kind of equipment those states have. We saw this play out in the primaries -- for example in Pennsylvania, it took more than a week after the primary to count all the ballots. Because of the anticipated increase in mail ballots, states have been using federal assistance funding to hire more staff and update equipment to speed up their mail-ballot counting process for the general election. 

Have the snowstorms in Minnesota and other mid-west states affected early voting? Do you think if they had a huge weather event on election day, that could affect the outcome?

It's almost like you asked this question just to make me proud.

Minnesotans turn out at among the highest levels (often the highest) come hell, high water or the odd historic snowstorm. In 1992, for instance, there was 8 inches of snow in the days before Election Day, and Minnesota still ranked toward the top.

Could it impact things on the margins if the snowfall is especially huge? Of course. But we're a hearty people. I can count the number of "snow days" I had when I was in school there on one hand (regrettably). And if you can go to school, you can vote.

How does Trump's constant taunting and belittling of women help him? Is this something his base needs to see to be inspired to go to the polls? Or do we assume too often that he does things with a plan in mind rather than him being impetuous?

I definitely believe that we analysts attempt to argue that Trump is more strategy-driven than he actually is. The president's words and policies towards women may hurt him with left-leaning women, but they have consistently been well-received by his base -- including many of the women. But what Trump may learn following Election Day is that there are many women voters outside of his base that he needs to be mindful of when considering his words and actions. 

Do you think muting Trump's mic will stop him from trying to interrupt Biden? Certainly Trump is capable of yelling loud enough without a mic that he could still disrupt the debate like last time.

I've seen lots of speculation about this. It's clear he could still try and do it. But if it's happening so far off-mic, it risks looking possibly even worse and would reinforce that he's not following the rules. It's already pretty clear that his interruptions at the last debate didn't exactly appeal to people.

Every election has a surprise race or two, which has everyone asking "where did that come from"? Any ideas what that race or two might be? Alaska or Kansas Senate?

I think we're already seeing it in South Carolina, with Sen. Lindsey O. Graham's (R) tough reelection. To have the race tied, or the Democrat close, in a state that doesn't quite have the demographic changes (yet) of Georgia or Texas is remarkable. 

But I'm not ruling out Democrats doing well in Kansas or Alaska's Senate races, either. "We’re still a red state, but we’re pinker than people think we are," a Kansas political science professor told The Post's Annie Gowen recently.

Another thing that is wrong with American politics is the quote from the Tuesday WP article about stimulus negotiations about the power of one man in the Senate. It says "But no deal can become law without McConnell’s blessing." No where in the Constitution does one person in the Senate hold this power. It just takes a majority to pass a bill in the Senate. Everything else is just made up rules by people who think they are king.

If enough lawmakers insist on voting on something, they can make it happen. But the lure of the power that partisanship and partisan unity provides has led lawmakers of both parties to invest more power in their leaders.

So it's not so much that McConnell has given himself this power as it is that his party has let him consolidate it.

Hi Everyone – thanks for taking questions with just two weeks to go until the election. When word came yesterday that there was “breaking news” about threats to election security with a hastily called announcement to follow, my immediate thought was “Obama just gave a blistering takedown of Trump at a campaign event and Trump is trying to win back the news cycle.” Sadly, such is the way we think nowadays, even when it seemed on the surface that the news that was shared was important and non-partisan. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that there was something “off” about the whole thing, though I can put my finger on it. Why an early Wednesday evening? Why not this morning? What was the urgency? Who is the beneficiary here? There was an awkwardness with Ratliffe, a long-time Trump partisan who was turned down for the DNI job the first time, appearing with Wray, who by all appearances has tried to remain objective but is apparently in danger of being fired for that very reason. Am I overthinking this and am I just seeing everything through the lens of hyperpartisanship which has become inescapable, at least for me? What did all of you think?

Hi there -- as one of the authors of that story, I can tell you that we broke the news before the DNI/FBI press conference. I don't know if they "hastily" called the presser after we inquired about our finding, or if they were planning to announce it anyway. But the news broke when it did because we broke it. 

Seems that some GOP senators in tight races might benefit from passing a stimulus bill now to entice voters. Any chance that a few of them might say they would rather vote a stimulus bill before the election and hold the SCOTUS vote after? They would still hold a majority until Jan. 1...seems like it would be a win-win for them (not that I am rooting for that)

So far, no. And the reason I'm skeptical there will be any Republican defections -- beyond the two who have already broadcast they will likely vote no, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska -- is because a number of vulnerable GOP senators actually sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee. And today, they all happily cast their votes confirming Barrett out of committee. Which means next and final stop: A Senate floor vote.

What surprises me about the accepted inevitability of Barrett being voted onto the court is that the Democrats didn't do anything to at least make it a little harder to jam through. I'm no parliamentary expert, but I'm pretty darn sure that there are some arcane procedural rules in there that could have made this whole process really inconvenient and cumbersome. Yet they haven't done anything that would slow it down even a bit. And it doesn't seem to me that doing so would have made them any enemies that they didn't already have. Why did they just accept that this was going to happen? Couldn't they have even tried?

There was actually little else procedurally that Senate Democrats could have done in the Judiciary Committee to slow the Barrett nomination.

During the committee vote earlier today they could have tried some procedural maneuvers, but each likely would have been defeated on party-line votes, only delaying the final committee vote by minutes, or at worst, by hours. Instead, Democrats refused to show up for the committee vote, seemingly an indication that they believe that that is a stronger symbolic move than casting procedural votes in committee.

When the full Senate takes up the Barrett nomination next week, there is little Democrats can do to delay her expected confirmation, assuming a simple majority of senators present vote to cut off debate and then confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court.

At tonight's final debate, who controls the 2-minute mute button? The show's producer or the moderator? Can you imagine any other circumstances where it might be used other than to signal the 2-minute statement interval?

I don't know who controls it -- that's a good question -- but the way the debate commission described it is that the mics are just straight up off for the first two minutes of a question, if you're not the candidate answering that question. After that, they turn on. The commission didn't leave open much room or possibility for the moderator to use it again -- in fact, it doesn't sound like that is a possibility, given in their statement they gave a plea to the candidates to be civil once the back-and-forth get going.

Are this Democrat's odds for reelection improving as the pandemic spreads in her state? I know her Congressional district is historically Republican, but after 2018 it seems she might have a chance of winning again. Agree?

She's definitely one of the most vulnerable members of Congress this election. But I think she does have a chance to win again. Republicans think they can cast her in the mold of a generic Democrat. She's raised enough money to try to drown out their message with ads touting some of her independence. 

Someone needs to explain to Trump that the FBI and DOJ are not there to act as his personal goon squad. They are there to serve the American public and uphold the Constitution.

It's abundantly clear that he believes Wray and the DOJ should do extraordinary things at the tail end of an election -- and he's upping the ante. Extraordinary things were also done at the tail end of the 2016 election, but as I wrote today, Comey faced a legitimately difficult decision about an investigation that had already been undertaken because it was deemed legitimate (and the prospect of a cover-up if he didn't say anything). In this case, Trump is basically asking for the announcement of an investigation that has no way of reaching any real conclusions by Election Day -- which makes his aim (merely getting the announcement) abundantly clear. 

I assume that even in the event of a clear loss on Election night Trump will refuse to concede. He’ll rail about mail-in ballots, Democratic thievery, etc. even — or maybe particularly — if there is a Biden landslide. So at what point do prominent Republicans like McConnell, Brady, Cotton, etc., go to him and tell him its over and they won’t support recounts, lawsuits, or other activities that will cause uncertainty and drag out the transition process unnecessarily? Will anyone on his own staff be willing to step in and state the obvious in the above scenario? (Is anyone taking bets on whether Trump shows up at a Biden inauguration?)

Oy, not gonna touch some of these questions -- like whether Trump would show up at a Biden inauguration! -- but I can say that many, many Republicans have said they will respect the outcome. McConnell has stated it publicly. If it is a landslide, it will be very hard for Trump to ignore. Also worth noting: There is nothing official about a "concession." It's not required and it doesn't change the outcome. Stacey Abrams never conceded the governor's race in Georgia two years ago, for instance. didn't change a thing. The states control the popular vote count. When they certify their results, there's nothing Trump can do about it. That doesn't mean his campaign can't sue over ballot irregularities etc. But those kinds of suits won't mean much in a landslide. 

How can Texas or any other state limit the # of drop-off boxes, and in this way suppress the vote?

Generally speaking, Texas is one of only five states that doesn't allow voters to cast their ballots by mail out of fear of exposure to the coronavirus, so it's harder in that state to use mail voting. The rationale for limiting the number of drop boxes in Texas was that there were a lot of other options for voters to cast their ballots beyond dropping them off. For example, early voting began six days earlier in Texas, and now people can use "drive-thru" early voting if they want to avoid the polling place. Voting advocates definitely see this as a form of suppression. Despite these changes, what we've seen already is huge early-voting turnout in Texas, with a far greater turnout already than the major counties had seen at this point in 2016. 

Can I track my mail in ballot and assure it is counted?

Depends on the state! But lucky for you, we've got a really cool feature called How to Vote in Your State that a team of amazing Posties, including Elise Viebeck, spent weeks compiling. Check it out here.

The FBI posits that the cyber attacks on Democrat supporters were an attempt to damage President Trump. Seeems like a stretch to me, but what do you think? I see this as more of an attack on democracy in the U.S. than an attack on any one party.

Both The Post and the Wall Street Journal have reported over the past 24 hours that some officials were skeptical that the cyber attacks were aimed to undermine a particular candidate, as much as they were aimed at sowing discord.

House leaders are being briefed on the intelligence today. Their reactions to the briefing will likely be the next area to watch on this story as it is reported out, but there is still a lot we don't know, to your original point.

I just saw a few snippets of the 60 Minutes interview and Aaron is absolutely right. Trump's goal was to diminish the interviewer (a woman) and look strong by running against the media, when the reality is he has no believable answers to tough but fair questions (i.e., where's the health care plan you've been talking about for four years?). He doesn't look strong, he looks like a whiny brat. Beyond the base, how does this help him?

It remains to be seen how effective this is with voters who are not part of Trump's base. But there have been surveys in the past six months showing that many Americans trust the press more than the do Trump when it comes to getting accurate information, particularly on issues related to coronavirus. Whatever issues Americans outside of Trump's base have with the press -- and they are many, they are far fewer than the beefs the president has with the press and therefore aren't likely to be as consumed with being combative and hostile towards journalists as Trump is.

How secure and accurate are the voting machines that you run your completed ballot through? Are they hackable?

Scanners used to read your completed paper ballot are typically VERY secure and hack-proof. They are not connected to the internet. They are programmed in an encrypted way so that even if you could hack into them (which you'd have to do physically, since they're not connected to the Internet), you wouldn't even know which totals are for which candidate. When polls closed, the poll workers push a button on the machine and print out a "tape" showing the results from that machine. Those results are then reported to a central counting facility for the county. Some states allow those results to be communicated electronically, via a secure modem. There is controversy over the use of the Internet to transmit the results. But election officials say it is a secure process, and they note that the results themselves are inviolable -- and auditable, because of the physical printout record.

What happens if Biden is declared winner but something happens to him before inauguration?

The Post's Monkey Cage blog has a very good walk-through of various scenarios and how they might play out.

Is it unusual for there to be an election year with no real competitive races for governor? Or are they actually somewhat competitive this year, just getting drowned out by the Pres/Senate?

There aren't that many competitive governor's races, and yes it's unusual. Democrats managed to make North Carolina a not-competitive race. Same with Republicans in New Hampshire. In 2018 there were quite a bit of competitive races, and Democrats managed to win big ones in Michigan and Wisconsin that gave them a seat at the table for 2021 redistricting. (Democrats are trying to win state legislative races right now in other states to have more of a say.)

But Republicans still control a majority of governor's mansions, as they do state houses.

Why do you think Barr decided not to listen to Trump and announce an investigation into Biden and his son? He has so far shown no reluctance to act as Trump's justice department errand boy. Has Barr suddenly developed a conscience? Or was there a line Trump finally crossed that Barr wouldn't abide by and this is it?

1. However objectionable you think Barr's actions have been, I do think he has a real philosophy about how the Justice Department should be run. It just so happens to include lots of deference to a president and a belief in a hugely powerful chief executive. But everyone has their limits. And Barr has repeatedly said that talking about putting your political opponents in jail isn't how things should be done. Maybe that's self-serving and trying to take the heat off himself, but he's said it enough and in a way that could be read as rebuking his boss that I think it's notable.

2. To the extent there are political calculations here, he has a legacy to mind. Trump has done just about everything in his power to make Barr look like his errand boy and his stooge. At some point, you have to wonder how much Barr's pride might lead him to draw a line in the sand.

Aaron, there are many of us out here who do love and trust the media. I wish you all heard that more, but know that you are valued!

We really appreciate that! And we do feel the love (though sometimes we could use it more than others). But I also think it's important to recognize that large swaths of the population have written us off. That doesn't necessarily mean we've done something wrong, but self-reflection is always valuable in this job. If you're not constantly reevaluating your approach, you're not really doing your job.

With the probable outcome on November 3rd, how soon will Ryan return? And in what capacity?

Since Republicans in the House -- and maybe the Senate -- will still be in the minority, I don't think he's coming back to Congress anytime soon. He left rather than be minority leader. In what capacity would he be a figure in Washington? I'm not sure. He hasn't seemed interested in a TV analyst contract. Is he lobbying right now? Maybe.

I don't know if any of you can help with this, but I don't know who else to ask. My SO and I put our ballots in a dropbox on 9 October. His has been accepted, but when I track mine, it has been "Pending Under Review" since October 11. I can't find any information on how to fix this on the DC Board of Elections website, and I can't get through by phone. I thought DC allowed voters to "cure" ballots, but I don't see how. Can you help?

I'm sorry, that must be frustrating. DC officials should be contacting you if there's a problem with your signature, but it may be worth calling them or visiting them in person to check what's going on with your ballot. 

I read that the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee may boycott the Amy Comey Barrett vote. Doesn’t that deny the committee a quorum because at least 2 members of the opposition must be present to make a quorum?How do you think that this will play out if it happens?

The committee can tweak its own rules as long as they follow the broader Senate Rules, hence why Republicans could vote Barrett out of committee today without any Democrats present.

Plus, the committee adopted a motion last week with Democrats present to hold a vote on the nomination today.

I know that all voting rules are issued by states but is there anything the federal government can do, in the next elections, to keep all these disruptions from happening again?

Give more money to underfunded, understaffed election officials.

I was talking to staff for the election commission in Wisconsin yesterday. They were saying that their cities and towns do most of the heavy lifting for setting up and executing the election and counting election results, and it's done largely by people who have other jobs, and there's a high degree of turnover. I am sure small outfits like that could use more resources to buy faster vote-counting machines, for example, or money to help them get the word out to voters about any changes that year.

I'll echo Amber here. The decentralized nature of elections means states can learn from each other about what works/what doesn't, and improve their systems accordingly. We saw that happening this year as each state scrambled to adjust to administering an election during a pandemic. But where they need help is in getting resources -- a.k.a., money. I talked to an election official in Pennsylvania last week whose county has 44,000 registered voters. She's completely bombarded by voter calls and heartbroken she can't answer all of their calls -- and she's an office of one. There are lots of officials like her out there who are trying their best and in need of support. 

How important is it for voters in solidly blue or solidly red states to turn out to vote?

Important! Showing up to vote is a civic duty -- you already know all this, so I'll end it there.

But it also signals to politicians a show of strength (or weakness) for their platform. Trump, for example, won Montana in 2016 by 20 points. But a New York Times/Siena College poll found him ahead by just seven recently. If turnout matches that poll, that will be a clear message to Republicans that something they're doing is wrong and costing them voters.

Who would be the leading candidates for cabinet posts? Any across-the-aisle possibilities?

Politico reported this week that Biden was looking at possibly naming a few Republicans to his cabinet, which would be consistent with the tradition of recent presidents appointing some people from across-the-aisle to their cabinets. That tradition ended during the Trump administration.

Does Obama still have the mojo to bring out some votes in key cities like Philly and Miami? (His speech yesterday was a textbook example of what a gifted politician he still is.)

I would argue yes. He is still one of the most popular politicians in the country -- especially within the Democratic Party. And nearly every time he speaks, there are liberal voters who remark about how much they miss him or at least his political era. Biden is campaigning in part on returning things to a time that is closer to the Obama era than the current political climate. And it would be reasonable to guess that a desire for that -- which Obama spoke about yesterday -- could be enough to move some voters to cast ballots against Trump.

Do you think there will ever be an "insider" account of the Trump White House like the George Stephanopoulus book of the Clinton White House that revealed a lot about how the President and staff acted? Personally, I'd love to know things like how many hours of TV Trump watches, whether he ever reads any briefings, etc from someone who worked there and is on the record but given the books that former staff have written so far, I don't know if we'll ever get that.

In fact, I'd count on it. People feel much more latitude to say things once a president is out of office. But anyone who does so would still have to contend with Trump going after them.

Do you think Biden will bring this up tonight if Trump starts railing about Hunter's alleged Chinese ties?

I'd be a little surprised? Biden has done just fine by keeping things focused on the issues. About the only scenario in which I think this comes up is if Trump goes after Hunter again and Biden feels the need to fight back. But Trump didn't do so very artfully in the first debate (bringing him up when Biden was talking about his dead son Beau).

They appear to be turning purple (or light blue). Is this a Trump effect or is the demographic trend in line with the data?

I would say a bit of both, coalescing. It can be hard to separate sometimes, same with Texas. Arizona has voted for the Republican for president in the past five elections, but 2016 with Trump was much closer: Trump won the state 3.5% versus Romney winning it by about 9 four years earlier.

But there are an influx of students and retirees moving to the state, as well as continued growth with its Latino community that are helping change the state's political makeup. Arizona seems more willing to vote Democratic than ever before lately. It could send another Democrat to the Senate in 2020, after doing so in 2018 for the first time in more than 20 years.

I'm concerned that if Trump loses he'll pardon all sorts of heinous people, possibly including any Proud Boys who commit violent acts after a loss. Is there any way Biden could undo those if he becomes president?

First, I think it's quite possible Trump would go on a pardoning spree, but pardoning the Proud Boys or anyone else like that would clearly be fraught and would define his legacy in a way that I'm not even sure Trump wants. I'd guess by that point even fellow Republicans would fight back, given Trump would be on his way out.

As for what Biden can do? A president can rescind a previous president's pardons. The only other thing would be to charge people with crimes for which they weren't pardoned.

I'm surprised that after two elections in 16 years that resulted in the candidate winning the popular voting losing the election that there hasn't been more demand to reform the electoral college. I don't expect getting rid of it is possible, but how about a weighted system for all states, rather than winner take all? Is that possible or at all likely?

Here's what I've written on the momentum to change the electoral college (and there is indeed some): 

Getting rid of it entirely would be a very heavy lift. It would take a constitutional amendment, and it would change the very system the Founders set up to elect presidents.
There’s a movement afoot to go around the Constitution by having states agree to give their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote — regardless of who won the vote in that state. State legislatures need to change their laws for how they allot their electors to that, and a number have. This movement is 74 electoral votes short of being able to being able to command how the 270 electoral votes needed to win get allotted, so that they go to the winner of the popular vote.
It’s easy to see momentum for that idea slowing if Democrats win the White House this November, and the electoral college imbalance is suddenly out of sight and out of mind.

I’ve tracked my NJ ballot and it has been received. Does that mean it has been accepted? Confirmation that I signed in the right place and that my signature matches?

Typically "received" is not confirmation that it has been accepted. You should check with your county's election administrators to be sure.

If VP Biden wins the election in a close race, what remedies do the American people have if Pres. Trump refuses to relinquish or transfer power come January 20? How is the installation of a new president and the removal of a defeated president ensured?

It's a scenario we've never had the chance to test before, thank goodness. I think a close election would certainly draw litigation, and the courts would weigh in quickly as the two campaigns try to win on the margins of contested ballots. But if the states certify the results and the Electoral College votes Biden in as the next president on Dec. 14, there is nothing President Trump can do to stop that train. The next step would be for the House to accept the EC's vote, on Jan. 6. And then the inauguration will be planned for Biden. Anything that Trump tried at THAT point would be patently unconstitutional and would be stopped by the courts. That is one thing I'm comfortable predicting.

During one of the 2016 debates, Trump prowled the stage menacingly behind Hillary. Is there any way to prevent him from doing the same while his microphone is muted tonight?

The weird optics. This one isn't a town hall.

Is it true that If you vote at the poll on November 3rd in California It will be provisional?

Only under certain circumstances, as outlined here.

Thank you to all of you for your great questions, and to Amy and Michelle for answering them with us. I'm off to get a tattoo that says "The news broke when it did because we broke it." 
See you next week for our last chat before election day!

In This Chat
Amber Phillips
Amber Phillips writes about politics for The Fix. She was previously the one-woman D.C. bureau for the Las Vegas Sun and has reported from Boston and Taiwan.
Aaron Blake
Aaron Blake is senior political reporter for The Fix. A Minnesota native, he has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Hill newspaper.
Eugene Scott
Eugene Scott writes about identity politics for The Fix. He was recently a fellow at the Georgetown University Institute of Politics. And prior to joining the Post, he was a breaking news reporter at CNN Politics.
JM Rieger
JM Rieger is the video editor for The Fix, covering national politics. He joined The Washington Post in 2018. Previously, Rieger worked as a video producer covering national politics for HuffPost. He began his career as a video editor covering Congress for Roll Call.
Natalie Jennings
Natalie Jennings is editor of The Fix. She has been at The Washington Post since 2010 and was previously a senior producer for Post Video.
Amy Gardner
Amy Gardner is a national political reporter for the Washington Post.
Michelle Lee
National political enterprise and accountability reporter
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