Barrett Set to Be Confirmed to Supreme Court: Live Updates and Tracker – The New York Times

Credit…Samuel Corum for The New York Times

The sun rose over the Capitol on Monday with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, exhorting an empty Senate chamber to reject Judge Amy Coney Barrett — the culmination of a largely symbolic all-night debate and beginning of a day that will reverberate through the 2020 campaign and far beyond.

Ms. Barrett’s confirmation is a certainty at this point. The only questions are procedural particulars. A vote is expected at around 7:30 p.m., according to the Senate’s administrative staff, followed by her swearing-in.

Early Monday, Senate Democrats asked Vice President Mike Pence not to preside over the final confirmation vote in the chamber after several of his close aides tested positive for the coronavirus.

“Not only would your presence in the Senate Chamber tomorrow be a clear violation of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, it would also be a violation of common decency and courtesy,” they wrote in a letter to the vice president, who said Saturday he would not “miss that vote for the world.”

The stakes of the presidential race, entering its final week, have been magnified by the imminent confirmation of a Supreme Court justice who might be called upon to rule in election cases.

The vote comes a day after Democrats unsuccessfully tried to filibuster the nomination to protest a decision they say should be left to the winner of the presidential election. Their anger rose, and with it grew suggestions from Democrats that they would take dramatic measures, such as adding additional justices to the court, if they reclaimed the Senate and the presidency.

“They expect that they’re going to be able to break the rules with impunity and when the shoe maybe is on the other foot, nothing’s going to happen,” Senator Angus King, a Maine independent who votes with Democrats, said of the Republicans.

The addition of Judge Barrett would give conservatives six of the court’s nine seats. Democrats argue it would threaten legal abortion and protections for millions of Americans under the Affordable Care Act.

“A vote for Barrett is a vote to strip health care from millions of people. It’s a vote to turn back the clock on reproductive freedom,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts. “To endanger Dreamers and immigrants. To let climate change rampage unchecked. To imperil efforts to address systemic racism. To place workers’ rights, voting rights, L.G.B.T.Q. rights, and gun violence prevention at risk.”

Judge Barrett’s impending confirmation also immediately calls into question whether she would recuse herself from ruling on lawsuits over the election, which seem to grow more likely each time Mr. Trump tries to cast aspersions on the integrity of voting.

“A lot of what we’ve done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said on Sunday. “They won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Trump is likely to hold a swearing-in ceremony at the White House on Monday night for Judge Amy Coney Barrett following the vote to confirm her to the Supreme Court, officials said.

The prospect of a ceremony — which officials hope to hold outdoors — may serve to remind people of the last outdoor ceremony honoring Judge Barrett, when Mr. Trump selected her to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

That Sept. 26 event in the Rose Garden, and a smaller indoor White House ceremony the same day, have been connected to a coronavirus outbreak that sickened President Trump, the first lady and a half-dozen Trump aides and advisers.

Plans for Monday’s event come as Vice President Mike Pence’s office is dealing with another outbreak that has infected four aides, including his chief of staff, Marc Short, and a top outside adviser, Marty Obst.

Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, told reporters Monday, “Tonight we’ll be doing the best we can to encourage as much social distancing as possible.”

Credit…Tracy Glantz/The State, via Associated Press

Mike Espy and Jaime Harrison, two of the five Black Senate candidates in the South this year, may belong to different political generations, but they both came up in a Democratic Party where African-American politicians didn’t talk directly about race in campaigns against white opponents.

But there was Mr. Harrison this month, speaking before more than 250 cars at a drive-in rally in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, explicitly urging a mix of white and Black supporters to right the wrongs of the state’s past.

“The very first state to secede from the union,” Mr. Harrison said to a cacophony of blaring horns, “because we will be the very first state in this great country of ours that has two African-American senators serving at the very same time — and you will make that happen.”

A day later, speaking to an equally diverse audience in northern Mississippi, Mr. Espy called his Republican opponent, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, “an anachronism.”

“She is someone who believes in going back to the old days,” he said, lashing his Republican rival for hailing the Civil War-era South and refusing to take a stand in the debate over Mississippi’s state flag, which until this summer included the Confederate battle emblem. “We need a Mississippi that’s more inclusive, that’s more diverse, more welcoming.”

While it has been overshadowed by the presidential race, a political shift is underway in the South that could have a lasting impact well past this election. Democrats have nominated several Black Senate candidates in a region where they’ve often preferred to elevate moderate whites, these contenders are running competitively in conservative states, and they’re doing so by talking explicitly about race.

Mr. Harrison, a onetime lobbyist and state party chair; Mr. Espy, the former agriculture secretary; and the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, the pastor of the storied Ebenezer Baptist Church and a Democratic Senate candidate in Georgia, are each making Republicans nervous about seats that have not been competitive in decades. Black Democratic Senate candidates have also emerged in Tennessee, where Marquita Bradshaw is competing for an open seat, and Louisiana, where Mayor Adrian Perkins of Shreveport entered late in the race.

With two Black Republicans vying for seats in Michigan and Rhode Island, there are a record seven major Black candidates running for the Senate this year.

It’s a remarkable roster in a part of the country that has both the highest concentration of African-American voters and a history of hostility to Black candidates running statewide — a resistance so strong that national Democrats for decades treated Black recruits as an afterthought at best.

Credit…Desiree Rios for The New York Times

As the presidential campaign begins its final week, early voting is shattering records, and some experts are predicting the highest turnout in decades. But if history is any indication, a significant portion of Americans will not participate, a signal of distrust and disillusionment with the political system that spans the partisan divide.

Voting is fundamentally an act of hope. But since the 1960s, between a third and a half of eligible voters have stayed home during presidential elections, giving America one of the lowest rates of national-election participation in the developed world.

Since the early 1900s, the high point for presidential turnout was in 1960, when 64 percent of eligible adults voted, according to the United States Elections Project, which tracks voting data back to 1789. Most recently, the highest peak was in 2008, when 62 percent turned out.

An analysis of Census Bureau survey data from the 2016 election shows a deep class divide: Americans who did not vote were more likely to be poor or unemployed, less likely to have college degrees, and more likely to be single parents compared to people who voted.

Not voting has been a feature of the American political landscape for decades. But with razor-slim margins in a number of swing states in 2016, nonvoters have taken on an outsize importance. For instance, in Pennsylvania, more than 3.5 million eligible voters in the state did not cast ballots for president in the 2016 election, a number that dwarfed Mr. Trump’s 44,000-vote margin of victory.

Keyana Fedrick of East Stroudsburg, Pa., in the northeast part of the state, sat out the 2016 elections and plans to again this year. She said not voting is something that she and a friend have started to hide from people they know.

“We said we’re just going to lie, like, ‘Oh yeah, I voted,’” said Ms. Fedrick, 31, who works two jobs, at a hotel and a department store, and said she did not trust Democrats or Republicans. “I don’t feel like getting crucified for what I think.”

Credit…Taylor Glascock for The New York Times

The news over the weekend that another coronavirus outbreak had struck the White House, infecting Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff and four other top aides, further underscored the Trump administration’s cavalier approach to the worst health crisis in a century.

“We’re not going to control the pandemic,” Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning, essentially offering a verbal shrug in response to any effort to prevent an outbreak in the top echelon of the nation’s leaders. “We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations, because it is a contagious virus — just like the flu.”

The in-house outbreak, playing against the national backdrop of the biggest three-day total of new infections in the entire course of the pandemic, is also making it harder for the president to change the subject as he dashes through swing states in a bid to mount a come-from-behind victory.

“Covid, Covid. Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid,” Mr. Trump had groused at a rally in North Carolina on Saturday, hours before the revelation of the infections on his running mate’s staff. He made up a scenario: “A plane goes down, 500 people dead, they don’t talk about it. ‘Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid.’”

Mr. Trump made no reference to the new cases during campaign rallies in New Hampshire and Maine on Sunday.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, said Sunday that the statement by Mr. Meadows was “an acknowledgment of what President Trump’s strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would simply go away. It hasn’t, and it won’t.

“It’s sadly no surprise then that this virus continues to rage unchecked across the country and even in the White House itself,” said Mr. Biden, who has sought to make the administration’s handling of the coronavirus the centerpiece of his campaign.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times; Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Nine days before Election Day, President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. offered sharply divergent visions for the country — including the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and foreign policy — in wide-ranging interviews on “60 Minutes.”

In both substance and demeanor, the two presidential candidates cut strikingly different figures on Sunday during one of their last big opportunities to reach a national television audience during the campaign.

Mr. Trump was combative and testy during his prerecorded interview with the “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl, insisting, as he has done repeatedly in recent days despite surging coronavirus cases, that the country was “rounding the corner” on the pandemic.

“We’ve done a very, very good job,” he said at one point, falsely arguing that the increase in cases was because “we’re doing so much testing.”

Speaking at a time when family, business and government finances have been battered by the pandemic, the president also painted a rosy picture of the nation’s economy, which he said was “already roaring back.” Pressed to specify his biggest domestic priority, Mr. Trump responded that it was to “get back to normal” and “have the economy rage and be great with jobs and everybody be happy.”

But perhaps the biggest headline to emerge from his interview was his behavior. As he became increasingly irritated with the questioning, he cut off his interview with Ms. Stahl, which was taped at the White House on Tuesday, then taunted her on Twitter and posted a 38-minute clip of the interview on Facebook.

“Look at the bias, hatred and rudeness on behalf of 60 Minutes and CBS,” Mr. Trump tweeted on Thursday with a link to the clip.

Mr. Biden, for his part, was more measured in his interview with Norah O’Donnell of CBS News.

But Mr. Biden was direct in his criticism of Mr. Trump. Asked what the biggest domestic issue facing the country was, he responded “Covid.”

“The way he’s handling Covid is just absolutely, totally irresponsible,” he said about Mr. Trump.

As he has done before, he also rejected the suggestion from Mr. Trump and Republicans that he was a “Trojan horse” for the Democratic Party’s left wing.

“Mr. President, you’re running against Joe Biden. Joe Biden has a deep, steep and successful record over a long, long time,” he said.

Mr. Biden’s newsiest answer was about the Supreme Court. Asked whether he would expand the number of justices on the nation’s highest court if he were elected — a question that he has repeatedly faced since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month — Mr. Biden gave his clearest answer in weeks, saying he would establish a bipartisan commission of scholars to study a possible overhaul of the court system.

“I will ask them to, over 180 days, come back to me with recommendations as to how to reform the court system because it’s getting out of whack,” Mr. Biden said.

Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

The president of Fox News and several of the network’s top anchors have been advised to quarantine after being exposed to someone on a flight who later tested positive for the coronavirus, two people with direct knowledge of the situation said on Sunday.

The infected person was on a charter flight to New York from Nashville with a group of network executives, on-air employees and other staff members who attended the presidential debate on Thursday, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal network matters.

Everyone on the flight has been told to get tested and quarantine.

Those who were exposed include Jay Wallace, the president of Fox News Media; Bret Baier, the chief political anchor; Martha MacCallum, the anchor of Fox’s 7 p.m. show, “The Story”; and Dana Perino and Juan Williams, two hosts of “The Five.”

A network representative would not confirm any details of the exposure, citing the confidentiality of health information.

Fox has been faster than other cable news and broadcast networks to resume in-studio programming. And it has had one of the largest in-person footprints of the news organizations that covered the presidential and vice-presidential debates. Several Fox shows are now regularly broadcast from its Midtown Manhattan headquarters.

The anchors who were potentially exposed are expected to host their shows from home for the time being.

Network personnel have been serious about taking precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, both in the studios and on the road for major events like the debates, network employees said. And Fox staff members on the ground in Nashville were regularly tested by the network and the Commission on Presidential Debates.

But on the air, Fox has not always treated the coronavirus like the serious and potentially fatal illness that it is.

In February and March, as the virus took hold in the United States, anchors and commentators like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham repeatedly echoed President Trump’s claims that the mainstream news media and Democrats were exaggerating the issue to harm him politically.


From some 250 miles above Earth, circling the planet at 17,500 miles an hour aboard the International Space Station, the American astronaut Kathleen Rubins cast her ballot in the election, joining millions of others across the country who have voted early.

“If we can do it from space, then I believe folks can do it from the ground, too,” she said in a video posted to NASA’s website.

An astronaut and marine biologist, Ms. Rubins, who goes by Kate, was the first person to sequence DNA in space during a 2016 mission. On her current mission, she is conducting experiments related to the cardiovascular system.

As it turns out, Ms. Rubins may have had an easier time voting from space than if she were back on Earth.

In New York, where early voting began on Saturday, tens of thousands of voters waited hours to cast ballots, with lines stretched for blocks outside polling sites. Similar scenes have been reported in other states.

With Election Day still eight days away, more than 59 million Americans have already voted, surpassing 2016’s early turnout record.

Astronauts have been voting from space since 1997, when Texas legislators set up a technical procedure that enabled them to cast ballots. Many astronauts opt to register in Texas, since they train at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Ms. Rubins skipped the queues, but had to take a few extra steps to vote from space. First, before her rocket launch, she signaled her intent to participate in the election by filling out a Federal Postcard Application, the same form completed by military members who are serving outside of the U.S., NASA said in a post on its website.

The next step, like most things at NASA, involved a trial run. The county clerk sent a test ballot to a team at the space center in Houston, where officials checked whether they could fill out the ballot and send it back.

After the test, the space center’s mission control center uplinked Ms. Rubins’s ballot. From space, she cast her ballot, which officials downlinked and delivered back to the county clerk’s office by email.

Ms. Rubins’s vote, cast last week, arrived well before the 7 p.m. Election Day deadline for astronauts.


Credit…Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

There are eight days until Election Day. Here are the schedules of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates for Monday, Oct. 26. All times are Eastern time.

President Trump

11 a.m.: Speaks to workers in Allentown, Pa.

1:30 p.m.: Holds a rally in Lititz, Pa.

4:30 p.m.: Holds a rally in Martinsburg, Pa.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

No events announced.

Vice President Mike Pence

2 p.m.: Holds a rally in Hibbing, Minn.

Senator Kamala Harris

No events announced.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

If President Trump pulls off a come-from-behind victory on Nov. 3, it’s likely to run through Pennsylvania — one of the three states he won by less than one percentage point in 2016, and arguably the one that’s still within range for him.

Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee, has built a polling lead in Pennsylvania that is now considerably stronger than Hillary Clinton’s was on the eve of the election four years ago. But the president’s weakness is driving the race more than Mr. Biden’s strength. Mr. Biden has only recently achieved a positive overall favorability rating among voters in Pennsylvania, according to various surveys.

High-quality polls of Pennsylvania conducted this month have put Mr. Biden up by anywhere from five to 13 points among likely voters. But they have also shown 5 percent to 10 percent of those voters declining to express support for either major nominee.

A Trump comeback will probably depend on his winning over a good share of those undecideds while driving down Mr. Biden’s support among demographics that have long since turned against the president — such as older voters and suburbanites — but that have not swung as heavily to the Democrat. It’s a possibility that Democrats and pollsters alike are unwilling to rule out, especially given the lingering shock from Mrs. Clinton’s loss in 2016.

That year, a late swing tilted the race in Mr. Trump’s favor — and laid bare the problems with battleground state polls, most of which had not taken into account the difference in vote preference between white voters with or without college degrees.

This year, views of the president are much firmer, meaning there is less volatility in the race, and pollsters have tried to adjust for their mistakes from four years ago. It is now the industry standard for state polls to take into account education level, ensuring a fair representation of voters without college degrees. But survey researchers have other uncertainties to worry about this year — particularly the potential for widespread voter suppression, which polling has no established method of accounting for.

Just over a week before Election Day, The Upshot’s polling average shows Mr. Biden with a six-point lead in Pennsylvania. That’s slightly narrower than his polling leads in Michigan and Wisconsin, the other two states that put Mr. Trump over the top in 2016, but wider than his leads in the Sun Belt battlegrounds of Florida, Arizona and North Carolina. As a result, if the election comes down to one state, there’s a good chance it will be Pennsylvania.







Trump Supporters and Protesters Collide in Times Square

Fights broke out in New York’s Times Square on Sunday between demonstrators for and against President Trump. Officials said seven people were arrested.

[shouting] “This one. This one.” “Back up. Back up.” [shouting] “N.Y.P.D.! N.Y.P.D.!” [shouting] [shouting] “Let go of her. Let go of her.” “Let go of her. Let go of her!” [shouting] “I’m not resisting. I’m not resisting!” “What’s your name?”

Fights broke out in New York’s Times Square on Sunday between demonstrators for and against President Trump. Officials said seven people were arrested.CreditCredit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Political tensions over the election escalated on New York City’s streets on Sunday as supporters of President Trump clashed with counterprotesters during a day of demonstrations.

Eleven people were arrested, the police said, during skirmishes between opposing sides in Manhattan, where Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer and the city’s former mayor, encountered protesters targeting a caravan of cars organized by a group that identifies itself as Jews for Trump. All have been released except for a 36-year-old man who threw eggs in the faces of two police officers, the police said.

In one video, Mr. Giuliani could be seen in the passenger side of a vehicle with the window rolled down as anti-Trump protesters screamed at him.

In an interview, Mr. Giuliani said that he had encountered the caravan and the protesters while driving down Fifth Avenue after taping his radio show.

“I would love to have had a campaign commercial of it,” he said, “and put it on in the middle of America and say, ‘Who would you prefer for the next four years? This group of foul-mouthed people who don’t seem to have a vocabulary beyond three words, or these very nice Jewish people who are driving in the car and not saying anything back and not doing anything other than exercising their right to say they’re for Donald Trump.’”

According to the police, the pro-Trump caravan passed through Times Square, where it converged with a group of anti-Trump protesters who had marched from Brooklyn. The cars in the convoy were then blocked by counterprotesters, and some drivers got out of their cars to confront the anti-Trump demonstrators.

The two sides hurled political slurs — calling each other “fascists” and “anarchists”— traded blows, and fought over the Trump supporters’ flags before the police broke them apart, according to videos posted online.

Separately, a police officer was suspended without pay on Sunday after he used a police loudspeaker to voice support for the president.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s $2 trillion plan to fight global warming is the most ambitious climate policy proposed by a leading presidential candidate, a political lightning rod spotlighted on Thursday night when the Democratic nominee acknowledged during a debate that it would “transition” the country “from the oil industry.”

But no one knows better than Mr. Biden, the former vice president, that it almost surely will not be enacted, even if his party secures the White House and the Senate. Thirty-six years in the Senate and the searing experience of watching the Obama administration’s less ambitious climate plan die a decade ago have taught him the art of the possible.

Still, a President Biden could have real impact: solar panels and wind turbines spread across the country’s mountains and prairies, electric charging stations nearly as ubiquitous as gas stations and a gradual decrease in the nation’s planet-warming greenhouse pollution.

“The oil industry pollutes significantly,” Mr. Biden said at the final presidential debate, adding, “it has to be replaced by renewable energy over time.”

Mr. Biden’s advisers insist that climate change is not just a political slogan. And on Capitol Hill, his team is already strategizing with Democratic leaders on how they can realistically turn at least some of those proposals into law.

If Mr. Biden wins the White House but Republicans hold Senate control, Mr. Biden’s loftiest climate pledges will certainly die.

In that scenario, “All Biden can try to do is cobble back together the Obama environmental agenda,” said Douglas Brinkley, a historian who focuses on presidents’ environmental legacies. That would include, he said, rejoining the international Paris accords — the agreement between nations to fight climate change, which President Trump is withdrawing from — and reinstating Obama-era climate regulations. And with a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, even that could be thwarted.

But even a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate would leave a President Biden with options. And this time around, Mr. Biden wants to do it differently, not with a stand-alone climate bill but by tucking climate measures into broader, popular legislation to insulate them from partisan attack.

Early voting in this election has surpassed records in states across the country, including California, where more than 6.5 million ballots have already been returned.

The New York Times spoke with Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state, about what voters should know in the homestretch, especially if they plan to vote in person. Here’s part of the conversation, which was lightly edited for clarity:

How are things going? What’s the biggest challenge on your mind right now?

Californians are voting in big numbers. We’re about 2.5 times where we were at this point in 2016, if that’s any indicator.

We’ve been planning and preparing for months. And if voter registration and early returns are any indication, it’s going to be a big turnout.

What’s the latest on the unauthorized “official” ballot boxes that Republicans placed in three counties, which you demanded they remove?

The unofficial boxes have been removed, but other elements of our requests for information have not been complied with. So the attorney general has issued subpoenas and we’re taking the matter to court.

Any thoughts for voters who are planning to vote in person?

Expect to see the signage for physical distancing, equipment being wiped down between voters, hand sanitizer everywhere. We want to keep in-person voting as safe, healthy and accessible as possible — for voters and election workers alike.

Watch the final episode in the Stressed Election series, which examines how Americans are borrowing from Russia’s 2016 playbook, using disinformation on social media against each other.







How Homegrown Disinformation Could Disrupt This U.S. Election

In 2016, Russia developed a simple, effective playbook to undermine U.S. elections with disinformation on social media. Four years later, Americans are using the same playbook on each other.

Quick, think about disinformation. What comes to mind? “Vladimir Putin, president of Russia.” But in 2020, many experts are more concerned with disinformation coming from our very own backyard. Like this guy, who, with a single tweet, disrupted a governor’s race in Kentucky. “Oh I’m just a broke college student, basically.” “He had 19 followers. It’s slightly absurd. But it’s also slightly terrifying.” What makes misinformation truly dangerous is that it doesn’t need to hack into the actual infrastructure of an election. It only needs to hack the brains of voters. “A seed of doubt is sowed into the democratic process of elections. People just don’t trust the process anymore.” “The purpose is to confuse people, to cause chaos and to cause division. The hope with disinformation is that a country will kind of fall in on itself.” And the coronavirus pandemic has made things even worse. To understand how we got here, we have to go to a key battleground in this election, one that has no state boundary. The internet. Remember the internet in 2016? The year that gave us these? “Damn, Daniel.” “What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs?” Well, it also gave us a flood of election disinformation created by a Russian troll factory, a.k.a. a Kremlin-linked company called the Internet Research Agency. “It was essentially a gray office building in St. Petersburg in Russia.” This is Claire Wardle. She’s a disinformation expert and educator. “People were paid to sit all day, pretending to be Americans, creating social posts and memes and videos, and pushing that out. They could just throw spaghetti at the wall. Many of the posts didn’t succeed, but other things really did.” Russians developed a simple, but effective playbook. “They basically inflamed existing American divisions. A lot of these accounts actually got in the hundreds of thousands of followers.” By the end of the 2016 election, Russian trolls could reach millions of Americans through their social media accounts. Crucially, what they managed to do was use online disinformation to organize dozens of real-life political rallies. Attendees had no idea they’d been set up by Russians. This was one of them, filmed by a Houston TV station. “I’m in downtown Houston right by the Islamic Da’hwa Center. There’s protests going on, on both sides of the street.” Russian trolls did all of this, not with particularly sophisticated spycraft, but with tools available to everyone. Pretty soon, their disinformation, spread with the intent to deceive, became misinformation, as real people unwittingly started engaging with the material. All the while, social media companies denied there was a problem. Speaking days after the 2016 election, Facebook C.E.O. Mark Zuckerburg struggled to articulate a defense. “I think the idea that fake news on Facebook — of which, you know, it’s a very small amount of the content — influenced the election in any way, I think is a pretty crazy idea.” In the years since, there has been a slow recognition. “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. And it was my mistake. And I’m sorry.” “We found ourselves unprepared and ill-equipped for the immensity of the problems that we’ve acknowledged. And we take the full responsibility to fix it.” Some lessons were learned. “The companies have been a lot tougher on election misinformation, especially when they can tie it to foreign interference.” But those policies aren’t applied in the same way when the source of the misinformation is within U.S. borders. In certain cases, like with an unsubstantiated New York Post report, some platforms have taken drastic measures to restrict access, and face charges of censorship. But generally, the platforms try to avoid being seen as arbiters of truth. “When it comes to domestic and homegrown misinformation, social media companies still do err on the side of free speech.” So in the last four years, America’s election disinformation problem didn’t go away. It evolved. “Unfortunately, the landscape looks and feels very different now, because you’ve got all sorts of actors using the platforms in the ways that we learned the Russians did in 2016. And we see that playbook being used by political operatives in the U.S. And we see that same playbook being used by individuals in their basements who are angry and frustrated with life.” Sometimes it’s just one guy, sending one tweet from hundreds of miles away. That actually happened in 2019 in Kentucky. To tell this story, let’s first meet three people. The New York Times reporter who covered the Kentucky election. “My name is Nick Corasaniti.” The election administrator. “My name is Jared Dearing.” And the internet troll. “I am @Overlordkraken1.” We’re not showing his face, and only using his first name, because he says he’s afraid for his safety. On Nov. 5, 2019, Kentucky voters went to the polls to pick their next governor. “The race for governor in Kentucky in 2019 featured a very unpopular governor, Matt Bevin, who is a Republican.” “We’re just getting started.” “Facing off against Andy Beshear, the Democratic attorney general.” “We can’t take four more years.” “Every Democrat in the country was viewing the opportunity to deliver a blow to Mitch McConnell, and give him a Democratic governor as a real win. National money flooded this election.” “The day started well. I drove in around 4 a.m. Election Day is more like game day for me.” “I woke up, got ready for school, went to school.” “When the polls close at 6, the day’s not even halfway through at that point.” “I got on Twitter, and I saw the Kentucky election, what’s going on. And then I saw that the race was very close.” “It was neck and neck. They were maybe 1,000 votes here, 100 votes there, separating them.” “When an election is close, there’s a lot of pressure and stress that’s put onto the system.” “As soon as Republicans in the state started to see the possibility that they might lose the Statehouse, social media kind of erupted a little bit. People were looking for reasons as to how this could possibly be happening. How could a Democrat be winning in deeply red Kentucky? Emotions were high. It was kind of the perfect environment for any kind of disinformation or misinformation about the results to take hold.” “I decided that it would be a funny idea that if I made a fake tweet, spread it out to bigger accounts. I thought it was the perfect situation for it to go viral. I don’t remember how many followers I had, but I know it was less than 20.” “He had 19 followers.” “I set my geolocation to Louisville, Ky.” “He claimed he was from Louisville, but it was misspelled.” “It was just a typo. I’ve never been to Kentucky.” “And he sent out a simple tweet that said, ‘Just shredded a box of — ” “‘Republican mail-in ballots. Bye bye Bevin.’” “There’s so many checks and balances that we’ve built into the system over the past decades that we kind of know where all the ballots are at all times. So this is obviously a false claim.” “I’ve never seen a mail-in ballot.” “I probably never will know what their intentions were.” “All I really wanted to do was just get a few reactions out of some Boomers.” “Irresponsible. Frustrating. Damaging. Not helpful.” “I just thought it was funny.” “So Kentucky election officials found this tweet about an hour after polls closed, and they immediately notified Twitter.” And like that, the tweet was gone. But the story didn’t end there. It had actually just begun. “A few conservative accounts began screenshotting the tweet. And and when they screenshot that tweet and sent it around to their tens of thousands of followers, hundreds of thousands of followers, it was like a spark in a brushfire. And the tweet was everywhere.” “When we called Twitter to then take those screengrabs down, Twitter then said that it was commentary on the original tweet itself, and were unwilling to take the screengrabs down. So it’s a pretty big loophole, as far as I’m concerned.” “Election security officials kind of refer to these networks of accounts as a Trump core. And what they do is they wait until there is a debate, or a discussion, or a controversy, and they will immediately go to the conservative side and amplify it.” Throughout the evening, a single atom of disinformation opened the door for more stories that muddied the waters in an already close election. “While this was happening, it was now reaching a pretty broad narrative. It wasn’t only restricted to the conservative internet. There were normal voters who were seeing this, there was news outlets who were seeing this.” At the end of the night, Matt Bevin, who was trailing behind his opponent by just 5,000 votes, contested the results. “There have been more than a few irregularities.” “He didn’t offer any evidence. He didn’t say what those irregularities were. But it was because of those irregularities that he requested a re-canvass of all of the vote.” Bevin never specifically mentioned the tweet, but it was one of the most viral pieces of disinformation raising doubts about the election. “Bevin basically refused to concede, and left the election in question.” “My intention was never for it to get as big as it did. But I guess it was a lot easier than I thought.” For the next few days, talks of election fraud hurting Bevin kept going. “There was a time in the middle there, where there was a lot of squoosh. Both sides had the opportunity to create their own narrative. And unfortunately, part of that narrative was being driven by misinformation.” Bevin’s supporters staged a press conference, alleging fraud. But again, offered no evidence. “Are you really under the belief that hackers couldn’t hack our votes that are uploaded to a cloud?” “There is no cloud involved in the election tabulations in Kentucky.” Eventually, after re-canvassing of the results concluded nine days later, Bevin conceded the race. “We’re going to have a change in the governorship, based on the vote of the people.” Andy Beshear is now the governor of Kentucky. But it’s hard to remove the various claims casting doubt on the election, once they’re out there. Videos alleging fraud in Kentucky’s governor’s race are still gaining more views and comments. Fast forward to 2020. “I don’t think the question of misinformation is whether it’s going to happen. It will happen.” Election officials across the country are gearing up for a difficult fight against disinformation ahead of the election. Like in Michigan. “We anticipate challenges coming from multiple different angles. Whether they come from the White House, whether they come from foreign entities, whether they come from social media voices.” And Colorado. “We really need federal leadership. There’s bills just sitting in the House and in the Senate that are never going to get heard, never going to get their chance. And meanwhile, our democracy is under attack.” After countless investigations, hearings and public grillings of social media executives over the past four years, the U.S. is still ill-equipped to deal with the problem. “I feel like the analogy here is someone taking a bucket of water and throwing it in the ocean.” Election officials are competing on social media against people with larger followings, like President Donald Trump himself. “President Trump has used his Twitter account and his Facebook account to spread falsehoods about voting.” In 2020, President Trump has tweeted election misinformation or claims about rigged elections about 120 times. Twitter has put warnings on some of President Trump’s tweets and Facebook has added labels that direct people to accurate election information. “There really isn’t a uniform policy that they apply evenly across the different social media companies.” “It’s pretty depressing to sit where we sit right now, heading into this election. We have failed to do enough to secure the election in a way that we needed to.” On top of that, the Covid-19 pandemic is making the misinformation problem even worse. For example, the pandemic has forced many states to expand vote-by-mail on a large scale for the first time. And that’s resulted in a surge in false or misleading claims about mail-in voting, according to media insights company Zignal Labs. Of the 13.4 million mentions of vote-by-mail between January and September, nearly one-quarter were likely misinformation. The pandemic has led to another important shift, as different conspiracy communities are emerging and working together. Here’s a look at how domestic misinformation gained more reach on Facebook during a single month this summer. These are groups that are prone to share misinformation about the election. These are anti-mask groups that tend to share content like this. Then there are the QAnon groups, a pro-Trump conspiracy group that promotes, among other things, the false idea that America is controlled by a cabal of globalist pedophiles. Facebook says all QAnon on accounts would be banned on its platforms. But what we found is these seemingly disparate conspiracy groups are increasingly connected by crossposting the same content, forming — “A huge tent conspiracy.” For example, this piece of disinformation, claiming that Barack Obama created antifa, was shared in all three types of communities. “A lot of people who will believe that the coronavirus is a hoax will also believe that the elections process is not to be trusted.” “The theme here is that more and more Americans feel like they cannot trust institutions.” And that could have serious consequences around Election Day. “What that does is that will create a big uncertainty, and allow any bad actors to spread more disinformation in an already charged electorate. It will also give people the opportunity to say they’ve rigged an election, when it’s so much harder to actually rig an election.” Social media companies are preparing for the scenario that President Trump, or other candidates, will falsely declare victory. Or worse, where the losing candidate refuses to concede, and claims election fraud. The 2019 Kentucky election avoided that, but the 2020 presidential election may not. “If we were to insert President Trump and months of undermining the electoral process into the Kentucky election, there probably would have been even more users who believed @Overlordkraken1’s tweet that he shredded ballots. It could have gone from thousands to millions.” “Will you pledge tonight that you will not declare victory until the election has been independently certified?” “I hope it’s going to be a fair election. If it’s a fair election, I am 100 percent on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.” “It’s something we’ve never seen before, and it sets a runway for the kind of disinformation that has disrupted other elections to really take off at a level we’ve never seen.” “I’m Isabelle Niu, one of the producers of this episode. There’s a lot going on in this election, and we want to make sure we take a deep dive into the major issues. Check out the other episodes of Stressed Election. We cover voting rights, voting technology and vote-by-mail.”

In 2016, Russia developed a simple, effective playbook to undermine U.S. elections with disinformation on social media. Four years later, Americans are using the same playbook on each other.CreditCredit…Nicole Fineman