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    Voting Takes Center Stage During US Midterm Elections

    “I want to do everything I can to use my voice to create the kind of democracy that deserves to exist,” one voter said.They had been assured that they were wasting their time. That the fix was in. That a fair outcome was impossible, what with all that Democratic ballot-rigging — or was it Republican voter suppression?But millions of Americans gave voting a go anyway on Tuesday, dutifully turning up across the country to cast ballots at schoolhouses, libraries and V.F.W. posts.After a campaign marked by the direst of claims, it was, in its way, a small act of faith.“It’s going a little bit too far left,” said one voter, Lucas Boyd, 43, explaining what had brought him to a polling place in Haymarket, Va. “We are trying to bring it back to a middle ground, and that is really why I came today.”Cheryl Arnold, who was also casting a ballot in Haymarket, had a different outcome in mind. A sales worker in her 50s, she said her aim was “not furthering the Republican agenda.”But she and Mr. Boyd, a software salesman, shared at least one fundamental belief: that voting might make a difference.“I want to do everything I can to use my voice to create the kind of democracy that deserves to exist,” Ms. Arnold said.A voter dropping off a ballot in American Fork, Utah, on Tuesday.Kim Raff for The New York TimesStill, it was an Election Day of unusual tensions, in keeping with a campaign in which accusations of voting fraud were sometimes cast even before the ballots themselves were, and in which some private citizens took it upon themselves to take up arms and “guard” absentee ballot boxes.“I definitely know where the exits are,” said one poll worker in Flagstaff, Ariz., Brittany Montague. “Now more than ever, we’re so polarized, and there isn’t a lot of trust in the system.”In Arizona on Tuesday morning, reports of dozens of malfunctioning ballot-counting machines in Maricopa County prompted a surge of voter fraud claims across right-wing media.“None of this indicates any fraud,” said Bill Gates, chairman of the Maricopa County board of supervisors, a Republican. “This is a technical issue.”A video captured election workers trying to reassure voters.“No one’s trying to deceive anybody,” one poll worker says.“No, not on Election Day. No, that would never happen,” the person recording the video replies sarcastically.Even before the day began, more than 40 million Americans had cast early ballots, and millions more were joining them on Tuesday.In Michigan, the abortion issue was a big draw at the polls. After the Supreme Court decision reversing Roe v. Wade, Michigan was one of five states that had abortion-related measures on the ballot. In Birmingham, an affluent community outside Detroit, a slow stream of people turned out to vote on Proposal 3, a ballot measure to protect abortion rights.Outside the Baldwin Public Library, where Birmingham city workers had turned metered parking into “voter-only parking” for the day, Alexandra Ayaub said supporting the measure was her main reason for voting.“Michigan should be a safe place for women,” said Ms. Ayaub, 31, who described herself as leaning Democratic.In nearby Warren, Rosemary Sobol also said the initiative was her main motivation for voting — even if she was still undecided.“I’m not completely anti-abortion, but I’m also a Catholic,” said Ms. Sobol, an 81-year-old retired principal. “It’s a very hard decision.”For some voters, it was a day to reconsider past positions.Andrew O’Connell said that he had been born into a Democratic family and that he had long taken pride in switching up his votes between the parties, but at 6:30 Tuesday morning, he could be seen standing outside a busy polling location on Staten Island holding a sign displaying all of the Republicans on the ballot. Everything changed with the social unrest in 2020, he said.“I believe safety took a back seat back when the protests were going on,” Mr. O’Connell said. “We sat back and watched that happen and some folks didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.”A family voting in Miami Beach, Fla., on Tuesday.Scott McIntyre for The New York TimesFor other voters, it was a day to reconsider life choices — like where to live.When Albert Latta, 67, left a polling place in Kenosha, Wis., he had a weary look. The most important issue for him in this election? “Honesty,” he said.Mr. Latta said that he had voted Democratic in the races for governor and the Senate and that he was so tired of deception from Republicans — on election integrity, among other issues, he said — that he was considering picking up and moving across the state line into the blue of Illinois.“How Wisconsin goes in this election may have a lot to do with that decision,” he said. “I call today’s vote the biggest I.Q. test this country has ever taken.”For some voters, a hop across state lines, it appeared, might not do the trick.In the city of Folsom, in one of liberal California’s more conservative regions, John Butruce, 66, offered a fairly succinct synopsis of his take on things before casting his ballot.“I don’t like the taxes, I don’t like the inflation, I don’t like the crime,” Mr. Butruce said. “I don’t like the state of the country or the state of the state.”In Kenosha, where voters were deciding whether to re-elect Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, the shadow of the demonstrations and riots that tore through the city in August 2020 after a police shooting loomed large.“I just want to get him out,” said Abraham Gloria, 40. “He could have stopped what happened with the riots, and he didn’t.”But as she headed into a church in Kenosha to vote, Phyllis Sheets, 60, said she was supporting the Democrats. Democracy, she said, depended on it.“I’m tired of people co-signing foolishness,” Ms. Sheets said. “It’s like people are drinking the silly juice around here: conspiracy theories, not conceding elections, QAnon, Jan. 6. It’s not American.”Christine Grant looking over information while filling out her ballot in Detroit on Tuesday.Brittany Greeson for The New York TimesNot everyone was thinking about this election, even as it was still unfolding. They were too busy talking about the next one, and news of a “very big announcement” from a Republican politician in Florida.In Warren, Mich., Mike Smith, 58, had just one quibble.“I hope he comes back sooner than 2024,” Mr. Smith said. “I still don’t accept 2020.”Word that Donald J. Trump might soon make formal what has long been expected played out at polling sites across a polarized country to a mix of elation and fear.“I am terrified,” said Liz Lambert, 57, a marketing manager in Scottsdale, Ariz., clutching a coffee cup as she headed to work after casting her ballot. “This country has been through enough. We need stability and maturity and leadership.”In Haymarket, Va., Gloria Ugbaja declined to get engaged by a possible Trump announcement about another run for president.“I thought it was a distraction,” said Ms. Ugbaja, 47, who works in health care management.“Whether he announces or not is his business,” she said. “Every American has to keep moving forward. Whether he tries to run or not, it indirectly does not affect what the average American has to do on a daily basis.”Reporting was contributed by More

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    GOP Begins Ballot Watching Push Ahead of Election Day

    Tedium and suspicion mix as skeptical observers monitor the largely monotonous work at a sprawling elections office near Las Vegas.NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The questions began soon after the doors opened to the public at a sprawling elections office inside a warehouse, and they kept coming until the sky was dark and a cold wind was blowing outside. Hundreds of thousands of ballots for Clark County, which encompasses Las Vegas, are processed, sorted and counted here, against a backdrop of mountains and desert.Because elections in America are more fraught than ever, the scrutiny of ballot counting now starts well before Election Day, and the legal challenges have already begun.The Republican Party and allied groups, many seized by Donald J. Trump’s falsehoods about fraud in elections, are training monitors around the country to spot what they see as irregularities at absentee ballot counting centers. The monitors are told to take copious notes, which could be useful for potential court challenges, raising the prospect of a replay in state and local elections of Mr. Trump’s attempt to use the courts to overturn his loss two years ago.The activity has not produced reports of major disruptions or problems. But on Thursday, local officials were taking no chances at the vote counting center in Clark County: For almost every observer, the elections office had an “ambassador” to escort and observe the observers. Suspicions ran high.“What are those boxes for?” an older woman in a red coat inquired, pointing to a couple of empty bins. She was sitting behind a glass barrier encircling a cavernous vote tabulation area that had been transformed into a large fishbowl. A county official assured her that he would check; he later said they were used to store damaged ballots. Then she asked why county workers were allowed to bring in bags, fretting that they could be used to smuggle ballots, and was told they were most likely used by the staff to carry in their lunches.Another observer wanted to know what was written on some blue sticky notes that were too far away to read. (They are used to alphabetize unopened ballots.) And a third, a 61-year-old dental hygienist named Caryl Tunison, asked, “Why do you not have cameras in every area here?” while she paused from writing in a notebook on her lap. She was sitting face to face with a young woman about three yards away, a county worker who sat on the other side of a glass partition and was placing envelopes in a bin.In a statement, the county elections department said that it “goes above and beyond what the law requires for observation.”“We recognize the value of helping observers understand the process and responding to their questions, and work to provide answers to their wide variety of questions every day,” the statement read.Sealed ballot boxes stored in cages at the Clark County Election Department on Friday.Bridget Bennett for The New York TimesMonitoring elections has long been part of the voting process. But this year, the Republican National Committee has worked alongside outside groups like the Election Integrity Network to seek out activists who believe conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and elections in general being corrupted. The Election Integrity Network is a group led by Mark Meadows, who served as White House chief of staff during the Trump administration, and organized by Cleta Mitchell, one of Mr. Trump’s former lawyers.A number of Republican candidates around the country have stated that they may not accept election results if they lose, heightening concerns among many elections experts. But election officials say that they, too, are far better organized this time around. That high level of organization — and the scrutiny from election denial activists — was evident on a recent visit here.The State of the 2022 Midterm ElectionsElection Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.House Democrats: Several moderates elected in 2018 in conservative-leaning districts are at risk of being swept out. That could cost the Democrats their House majority.A Key Constituency: A caricature of the suburban female voter looms large in American politics. But in battleground regions, many voters don’t fit the stereotype.Crime: In the final stretch of the campaigns, politicians are vowing to crack down on crime. But the offices they are running for generally have little power to make a difference.Abortion: The fall of Roe v. Wade seemed to offer Democrats a way of energizing voters and holding ground. Now, many worry that focusing on abortion won’t be enough to carry them to victory.Many of the observers are people like Ms. Tunison, who believes the 2020 election was stolen and who said she was encouraged in her newfound activism by her pastor. She repeated a conspiracy theory, which circulated on social media after the 2020 election, that several swing states simultaneously halted counting to thwart Donald Trump. “Who was able to call all the counties and get them to stop counting all at once?” she asked.“I just think the whole system is kind of messed up,” she added in an interview as she was leaving. “We could do much better. I think the whole system should be scrapped and started over with something that’s actually secure.”And what would it be replaced with? “I’m not exactly sure, but I know that it should be mechanical,” she said, with “no internet access to any machine.” But she also said maybe tabulation could be done with “something like the blockchain,” referring to the same technology that is at the heart of Bitcoin.Baseless theories about foreign plots to hack voting machines have ricocheted around the right-wing media for two years and have been pushed by well-funded Trump allies, including Mike Lindell, the MyPillow chief executive.In fact, there is no evidence of widespread fraud or malfeasance in elections. And while there is a criminal investigation underway of election tampering in Georgia, it is examining the conduct of Mr. Trump and his circle of advisers.Still, a number of Republican lawyers have primed poll monitors to search for irregularities that could be used to bring legal challenges to the results later on.That would repeat a strategy used in some states in 2020, but many involved say they are better organized this election cycle. Even as the monitoring was taking place on Thursday in Clark County, a local judge rejected a bid by the R.N.C. to have more representation on panels that verify ballot signatures.At the Clark County office, ballots come in from polling places and drop boxes and are brought to a loading dock in the back of the warehouse. Then they are moved through a series of stations where observers from the public can view how they are handled.The number of observers fluctuated throughout the day and into the night. There was a woman in a leather hat complaining that she had been treated rudely by a county worker, a man watching while he twiddled a Rubik’s Cube.A young man from the R.N.C., who declined to comment, monitored late into the evening, while toting around a book by Ray Dalio, the hedge fund manager, called “The Changing World Order,” which ponders the rise of China and the twilight of America.Placards throughout the office inform the observers of state law and guidelines. They are prohibited, the placards say, from “talking to workers within the central counting” area or from “advocating for or against a candidate.”Much of the work is monotonous. In one area, stacks of ballots that had been through a sorting machine were hand counted for verification purposes. Watching the workers count the ballots was a tedious business. One observer, whose hair was pulled back in a pink scrunchie, paused from her own note taking to lean over and whisper to a reporter who was taking his own notes. She offered the friendly admonition of an armchair editor: “It’s going to be a boring article.”Unopened mail-in ballots being sorted at the Clark County Election Department on Friday.Bridget Bennett for The New York TimesIn another room, a group of seven observers watched as ballots were fed through the ballot sorting machine. Those that looked good were put into green bins set out on a long table in the middle of the room. Ballots with signatures that could not be verified using county records were sorted into red bins for further review. The sound of the thrumming machine was not unlike a train going over tracks.“I was being lulled to sleep,” said Matt Robison, a 60-year-old service technician for a propane company who came with his wife of 39 years, Sandra. They had not come on behalf of any particular group, but because of their own concerns about the last election.“These people have a job to do, and it looks like they’re doing their job,” said Mr. Robison. “If there’s ballots being shredded or anything like that, there’s no way that we’ll ever be able to see that. But I personally feel like there had been — I don’t know about necessarily in Nevada — but there had been election tampering in 2020. But the thing is I think that what we’re able to witness here shows people doing their jobs.”Election officials have long hoped that letting skeptics into the process would convince them to reject the conspiracy theories. That seemed a tall order in Clark County.Mr. Robison described himself as uncomfortable with “woke ideologies” and as a fan of “2000 Mules,” the film promoting conspiracy theories that have been discredited by experts, media outlets and government agencies.“You know, Dinesh D’Souza’s film?” he said, referring to the film’s director, who was pardoned by Mr. Trump after pleading guilty to campaign finance fraud. The film’s two star experts, Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips, were recently jailed for contempt of court.Still, he was cautious about what he thought about the 2020 election. “Unless I can see it, unless I actually witness something, then I can’t confirm,” he said, adding that if he “put my right hand in the air and swear solemnly to tell the truth and the whole truth,” the “truth would be I don’t know.”His wife, a gun training instructor, is more strident in her views and has come more often to observe. Her husband said, jokingly, that “she’s addicted.”Ms. Robison expressed dissatisfaction with the county and the observation process and wanted to see the ballots being unloaded in the back of the building — “the entire chain of custody,” as she put it.The county elections department said in its statement that its “observation plan was reviewed by the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office and upheld by the court before the primary election” and that “this included identifying the areas where observation would be provided.”For Trump supporters like Ms. Robison, the 2020 election was a catalyst.“There’s no question in my mind and a lot of other people’s minds that 46 should not be in the White House,” she said, referring to President Biden. “It was a stolen election.” More