A Smooth Election – The New York Times

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It really is possible to conduct a smooth election during a pandemic.

The states that created a universal vote-by-mail system years ago, like Colorado and Oregon, have the easiest time doing so. But states without such a system can still avoid long voting lines, count ballots quickly and announce almost all results on election night, even when turnout is high and a virus is raging.

That’s perhaps the most important lesson of this week’s primary in Massachusetts.

Even though more than 1.5 million people voted, a record for a Democratic primary in the state, wait times at polling places were mostly short. And even though many people voted by mail, the results were available on election night. It was a contrast to the recent messes in Georgia (where lines lasted hours) and New York (where some results weren’t available for weeks).

How did Massachusetts do so? Mostly by making an effort.

In July, the state legislature passed an emergency bill that, among other things, mailed forms to all registered voters allowing them to request a mail-in ballot. Local officials set up dozens of ballot drop-off boxes, to reduce mail volume. The state loosened restrictions on who could serve as a poll worker — a particular problem since many existing workers are older and thus vulnerable to Covid-19.

And the state allowed local officials to begin counting ballots as they arrived, rather than forcing them to wait until Election Day, as some states do.

All of which indicates that states have the ability to let people vote safely and conveniently during a pandemic. Not every problem will be avoided. In very close races, for example, the outcome may not be known on election night, especially in states (unlike Massachusetts) that count all ballots postmarked by Election Day even if they arrive later. Of course, the closest races have always been uncertain for at least a few days, because of absentee ballots.

In recent months, some states — like Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania have made meaningful changes to their election rules to prepare for November. But many states have still not done enough, voting-rights experts say. And some politicians, including President Trump, have signaled that they are happy for voting to be difficult, so long as it helps them win.

Those politicians are making a choice. Massachusetts — along with states that have universal vote-by-mail, like heavily Republican Utah, heavily Democratic Oregon and a few others — has shown what’s possible when public officials decide they want to protect Americans’ voting rights.

In other campaign news:

  • Joe Biden will travel to Kenosha, Wis., today to meet with the family of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot by a white police officer last month. Biden said yesterday that the officer should be charged with a crime.

  • President Trump suggested that people in North Carolina stress-test the security of their elections systems by voting twice. Voting twice is illegal.

  • Senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security officials intervened to block the publication of a report warning of Russian attempts to denigrate Biden before the election. The department’s acting secretary called it a “very poorly written report.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has notified public health officials to prepare to distribute a coronavirus vaccine as early as October or November. The first doses would be offered to doctors and nurses and other high-risk populations.

Some health experts are worried about the timing: It could be a sign that the Trump administration is pressuring the Food and Drug Administration to approve one or more vaccines before the November election, and before clinical trials are completed.

South Korea continues to have one of the most effective responses to the virus of any country, with only 326 deaths in a population of 52 million people. But it also highlights that countries cannot declare victory against the virus until there is a vaccine.

Recent outbreaks — at churches, anti-government protests and elsewhere — have led to a tenfold increase in new cases over the past month. Now Korean officials are trying to prevent the recent outbreaks, which are still small relative to those in many other countries, from spreading. “We are at crossroads,” Jung Eun-kyeong, the director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said yesterday.

In other virus developments:

  • Several international studies have confirmed that cheap, widely available steroid drugs can help seriously ill patients survive Covid-19.

  • The University of South Carolina says that more than 1,000 students — out of about 35,000 — have active coronavirus cases.

  • Meet the White House’s new coronavirus adviser: Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist and frequent Fox News guest who questions the value of masks and promotes a strategy of herd immunity, in which the virus runs through the population before petering out.

Nearly one in eight American households doesn’t have enough to eat today. Over three months, the photographer Brenda Ann Kenneally captured the lives of people struggling to feed their families, in a photo essay for The Times Magazine.

  • The German government said it had “unequivocal evidence” that Aleksei Navalny, a vocal opponent of Vladimir Putin, was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok.

  • The family of Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old Black man from Rochester, N.Y., released graphic footage from a March incident in which officers placed a hood on him and pressed his face into the ground for two minutes. Prude later died.

  • The amount of U.S. government debt next year is set to reach its highest level relative to the size of the economy since World War II.

  • In a symbolic victory for women’s rights in Afghanistan, the government will begin printing mothers’ names on national identification cards along with fathers’.

  • Lives Lived: Over his first three seasons, Tom Seaver led the New York Mets from last place to a miraculous World Series title. The Hall of Fame right-hander went on to win more than 300 games and become probably the most beloved Met in the franchise’s six decades. He died at age 75.

The sociologist Eric Klinenberg published a book in 2018 called “Palaces for the People,” about the importance of shared public spaces in American life. Libraries, child care centers, churches and parks had all been crucial to the country’s historical success, he wrote, and he argued that they remained crucial to helping the country function better and overcome its deep divisions today.

In a Times Op-Ed, Klinenberg builds on that idea with a suggestion for the 2020 election: Public libraries, which have long served as polling places, should play an even larger role than they had in past elections. In the midst of a pandemic, they should provide secure ballot boxes where voters can drop off early and absentee ballots, reducing the burden on the Postal Service while allowing people to vote safely. (In Massachusetts — the subject of our item above — at least two libraries did so in this week’s primary.)

“Even in today’s fractured digital age, libraries rank among the most popular and well-visited places in our cultural landscape,” Klinenberg, a New York University professor, writes. “They are open to everyone. They are nonpartisan. They are free.”

For more: Klinenberg explained his larger idea of “social infrastructure” on the “99% Invisible” podcast.

Here’s a recipe for a creamy pasta without any of the cream. The secret? Puréed corn and sautéed scallions, mixed with a lot of Parmesan and red chile flakes. Lemon juice adds brightness to the summery dish.

Jane Fonda has remained at the forefront of culture, fitness, politics and Hollywood for more than half a century. A new profile of the two-time Oscar winner and activist by Maureen Dowd shows just how she manages it.

Since October, Fonda, 82, was arrested five times while spearheading climate change protests in front of the Capitol — and checked to see whether the black plastic handcuffs were recyclable. She has joined TikTok. She has done ads for CBD. And as part of her environmental crusade, she has sworn off shopping.

The state of college sports is complicated. The Times sports reporter John Branch embedded with one school — the University of California, Berkeley, which has 30 teams and 850 athletes — to describe what’s happening.

With all of the school’s fall sports seasons are canceled, only about 150 athletes were in town last week, including a few dozen football players. In the first entry of John’s series, you will get to experience orientation: 200 incoming first-year student-athletes, mostly at home and meeting by computer.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Like pink and purple hair (four letters).

You can find all of our puzzles here.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. The word “shmegular” — added after “regular” — appeared for the first time in The Times yesterday, as noted by the Twitter bot @NYT_first_said.

You can see today’s print front page here.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy activist recently arrested in Hong Kong. On “The Argument,” Opinion writers debate the political fallout of violence in American cities.

Lalena Fisher, Ian Prasad Philbrick and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at themorning@nytimes.com.

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