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As Election Day Nears, Battleground States Are In Play


Five days before the end of voting, we have a status report on Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Those three states flipped to Donald Trump in 2016 and decided the election. Now three correspondents are following the voting in 2020. Now, let's check in first with Katie Meyer of WHYY in Philadelphia. Good morning.

KATIE MEYER, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: And we should note, first off, there is a decision on mail-in ballots in this very, very key state. The Supreme Court last night has declined, for the second time, to intervene with a Pennsylvania ruling about when these ballots get counted. What's that all mean?

MEYER: Yeah. So this was a ruling on an extension, as you said, to Pennsylvania's mail voting deadline. Basically, it allowed counties to receive mail ballots up to three days after the election as long as they were postmarked by Election Day. Now, that was from the state Supreme Court, handed it down last month because there were concerns about mail delays. And now, you know, the second time, the Supreme Court has upheld it. They said it was just too close to the election to make any big changes.

But I think what's really significant here, other than the fact that, for now, this thing is going to stay in place, three conservative justices - it was Alito, Thomas and Gorsuch - wrote a statement saying that they think the case does have merit, despite that it's too close to the election. And they think that ballots could be tossed out after the election if there is another appeal. So that's obviously a red flag for some Democrats. Now, it's unclear if enough justices would rule that way. For instance, Kavanaugh didn't join that decision, Coney Barrett didn't take part in it. But it's - you know, obviously, it was a hat tip by the conservative justices to the direction they would like to see this extension go in.

INSKEEP: Wow. That's something to keep track of. I guess if it's a blowout in Pennsylvania, it won't matter. But it could be that in the days after, as they're counting these mail-in ballots, that we have some kind of a court fight. And we don't know if Amy Coney Barrett, the newest justice, is in or out. So far she has been out. How's this campaign feel compared with 2016 where you are?

MEYER: Yeah. That's a good question. I think, you know, in 2016, there was a little bit more volatility. We saw a lot of tightening in the polls closer to the race. And I think you could see that, you know, in the number of undecided voters there were who were suddenly breaking for Trump. You know, this year, all the polling has indicated it's a more stable race. There are fewer undecided voters. And what you've seen is a little bit of a contraction in the last, you know, couple of weeks, months.

But, you know, we still have a five-point spread in this race in Pennsylvania. And then we're expecting more polls this week. So I think, you know, that gives you a kind of a good sense of where people are at. On the ground, you know, it's funny. I mean, it doesn't feel very different. This is going to be - this is always sort of ground zero for candidates to come to the state. Obviously, with, you know, the pandemic, rallies have felt different. The way people gather and show support...


MEYER: ...For candidates has felt different. But, you know, there's just a lot of polarization.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And of course, the candidates have been coming because it's a close trip for them in this...

MEYER: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: ...Pandemic-constricted time. Let's go now to Abigail Censky of WKAR. She is in Michigan. Good morning to you.


INSKEEP: What feels different where you are?

CENSKY: So we're in national headlines as a state this year, which is very different - a state that's primed for militia activity. It was not even a month ago that the FBI revealed the alleged plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer. And there's also been a slew of election-related lawsuits. Now the big one is on whether open-carry firearms will be allowed in polling places. Our Democratic secretary of state issued a ban the week after the alleged plot against the governor. But it was struck down by a court on Tuesday. And now it's being appealed.

INSKEEP: Well, you've been talking to voters. What do you hear?

CENSKY: There's a lot of fatigue and anxiety out there. I talked to Shawn Williams (ph) in downtown Lansing last week. He was wearing his I voted sticker and had just voted for Joe Biden. A lot of people like Shawn are hoping this election will be a reset.

SHAWN WILLIAMS: The fanatics are a little out of control. So I'm hoping after the election and we get Trump out of the office that things maybe will calm down. And - yeah. But right now, there's really no - there's no talking. People are just set in stone on what they think.

CENSKY: And just like Shawn, people here are eager to vote. We've already seen 2.4 million people return absentee ballots as of yesterday. And we're on our way to record turnout overall, as many as, you know, 5 million votes, maybe, our secretary of state is predicting.

INSKEEP: Is that even more than in 2016, when interest was, obviously, rather high?

CENSKY: It's higher than even 2012, actually.

INSKEEP: Oh, which was also a very closely contested race. And does that number of absentee ballots mean that it could be days before we have a result in Michigan if it turns out to be close?

CENSKY: Absolutely. Our officials have been warning that it could be Friday for some races. Now, you know, we may have race calls earlier for some of the bigger races depending on how turnout is. But it could be days for Michigan.

INSKEEP: OK. And now, let's bring in another voice from another of these three key states. Laurel White of Wisconsin Public Radio, good morning to you.


INSKEEP: When you think back to 2016 and now look across the landscape in 2020, what's different?

WHITE: I think what's really interesting is what's the same (laughter). This year has been really unique in a lot of ways, obviously. But we just got our final poll of this election cycle yesterday. And the numbers are incredibly similar to the final poll that we got in 2016. In terms of the margin for Joe Biden, he is leading by five points among likely voters. Hillary Clinton at this time was leading by six points. We have about 8% saying they're still undecided. That's really similar to what we saw in '16. So we are set up for kind of a, you know, the potential of the kind of swing that we saw in 2016, where, you know, Clinton was leading in the polls and Trump ended up winning Wisconsin by a really narrow margin.

INSKEEP: Although, I'm just...

WHITE: I think the...

INSKEEP: Although, I'm just thinking about the numbers we heard from Michigan, where they might have 5 million votes - can't be absolutely sure, but might have 5 million votes. And if that's the case, about half of them are already in, have already been sent in as absentee ballots. Is something similar happening in Wisconsin?

WHITE: Absolutely. We're seeing absentee numbers like we've never seen before this year. We passed 1.5 million early votes as of yesterday, which is more than half of the total 2016 turnout in Wisconsin. And, obviously, we still have days to go to add to those numbers. So we're seeing people move early, cast those ballots early. And, obviously, that kind of changes the tone.

INSKEEP: I want to come back now to Katie Meyer, who is in Pennsylvania, because that is a particularly interesting state and one that people keep looking at as a tipping point, that Pennsylvania might be the one that tells you who's going to win the election. And, Katie, I know that in 2016, Democrats were surprised by the enormous strength of Donald Trump in rural areas. I mean, the Republicans win rural areas. But they won rural Pennsylvania even more than expected. Is that likely to change in 2020?

MEYER: That's a good question. I mean, I think we absolutely are still seeing, you know, this trend in Pennsylvania where these former union strongholds in the northeast and in the western parts of the state have flipped very hard for Donald Trump. And certainly, we are expecting high turnout. And we're expecting, you know, enthusiastic voting to come from those places.

At the same time, you know, we've seen, in increasing numbers, you know, the southeastern part of the state and the area outside of Pittsburgh going bluer and bluer. So for instance, you know, in 2018, we had enormous Democratic sweeps in our state House and Senate and in Congress in those areas. So you know, those give you some sense of where people are. And I do think, you know, Republican turnout has been, in some cases, matched by Democratic.

INSKEEP: Got you. OK, so suburbs going a little more democratic. That's Katie Meyer of WHYY, Laurel White of WPR and Abigail Censky WKAR. Thanks to all of you.

CENSKY: Of course.

WHITE: Thank you.

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

Katie Meyer is WITF’s Capitol bureau chief, and she covers all things state politics for public radio stations throughout Pennsylvania. Katie came to Harrisburg by way of New York City, where she worked at Fordham University’s public radio station, WFUV, as an anchor, general assignment reporter, and co-host of an original podcast. A 2016 graduate of Fordham, she won several awards for her work at WFUV, including four 2016 Gracies. Katie is a native New Yorker, though she originally hails from Troy, a little farther up the Hudson River. She can attest that the bagels are still pretty good there.
Abigail Censky is the Politics & Government reporter at WKAR. She started in December 2018.
Laurel White
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