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A Look At The Early Voting Turnout And Voter Concerns So Far

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The numbers are huge. Almost 88 million Americans have already voted. Millions more are expected to show up at the polls on Tuesday. This has, of course, been an election unlike any other - with the pandemic, social unrest, hundreds of voting-related lawsuits. We're joined by NPR's Pam Fessler, who covers elections and voting. Pam, thanks so much for being with us.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And first, let's note this huge turnout. Tell us about some of these very impressive statistics.

FESSLER: Yeah. I mean, we've never seen anything like this. I mean, several states have already had more voters cast ballots early than they had during the entire 2016 election. Most of them have voted by mail. But they're also - more than 30 million people have used in-person voting. And we've seen these long lines, that voters sometimes have to wait for hours wearing masks sitting in their lawn chairs. But election officials have been trying to accommodate them as much as possible. And in Harris County, Texas, they even opened some polling sites around the clock from Thursday night into Friday for those who couldn't come during the day.

Jen Rice of Houston Public Media talked to some of those voters at one polling site where there was even a couple wearing their bathrobes. And voter Kimberly Mayberry (ph) said it was like a party.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KIMBERLY MAYBERRY: It is 12:58, almost 1 o'clock in the morning, and I just voted. It's awesome. Everybody's excited. Everybody's taking pictures. I love it. I love it, yeah.

FESSLER: So, Scott, despite all the tension, the confusion around this election, we're seeing a lot of enthusiasm from voters and - you know, who want to make sure that their votes count.

SIMON: But a lot of voters have also faced hurdles, too, haven't they?

FESSLER: Definitely, Scott. There have been more than 300 lawsuits this election, a lot of them over how mail-in voting will be conducted. Democrats say that because of the pandemic, the rules should be loosened, with fewer requirements like witness signatures. But Republicans argue that those restrictions are needed to protect the integrity of the election. And just this week, there were several cases involving when absentee ballots have to be received in order to count. Some states allow them to come in a few days after Election Day as long as they're postmarked by Election Day. The U.S. Supreme Court let those rules stand in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, as did an appeals court in Minnesota. But the courts left open the possibility that the issue could be revisited after Election Day. And one Republican official yesterday said on background, quote, "that if the vote is really close, to be frank, these ballots are going to become a point of contention." So we might very well see these results end up in court.

SIMON: Pam, having covered this beat for a number of months now, should voters be concerned about going to the polls in person on Election Day?

FESSLER: Scott, I think for the most part, voters are going to be just fine. Many election officials say they have enough poll workers to run the polling sites this year. And that's usually not the case. So that should help. There are also more polling sites than we saw in the primaries. Still, we have a pandemic, so voters and election workers have to take extra precautions, such as social distancing. And that'll slow things down. There have also been some threats of intimidation at the polls, either by outside agitators or possibly supporters of President Trump, who has been encouraging them repeatedly to go watch the polls for fraud. We didn't see any major disruptions so far during early voting. And that's a good sign. But election officials, law enforcement authorities and voting rights groups are certainly preparing for the possibility. And they'll be on the lookout for any signs that voters are being intimidated, which is a federal crime.

SIMON: NPR's Pam Fessler covers elections and voting. Pam, thanks so much.

FESSLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.