Pam Fessler

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Election workers around the country are preparing for what could be one of the most chaotic elections in history. There's not only a pandemic, but dozens of ongoing legal fights over voting rules. That's left a lot of things up in the air only weeks before Election Day.

In election offices such as the one in Lehigh County, Pa., workers are trying to deal with the uncertainty.

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The 2020 general election has begun with North Carolina becoming the first state to start mailing out absentee ballots on Friday, two months before Election Day.

Other states will begin doing the same over the next few weeks in an election that's expected to break all records in the number of ballots cast early and by mail. Minnesota will be the first state to offer early in-person voting starting Sept. 18, with many states following not long afterward.

An extraordinarily high number of ballots — more than 550,000 — have been rejected in this year's presidential primaries, according to a new analysis by NPR.

That's far more than the 318,728 ballots rejected in the 2016 general election and has raised alarms about what might happen in November when tens of millions of more voters are expected to cast their ballots by mail, many for the first time.

Cuts to the U.S. Postal Service have led to widespread concerns about mail-in ballots arriving on time in November. Tens of thousands of ballots have already been rejected this year because they were received after the deadline.

Now, a number of states are extending those deadlines, so ballots only need to be postmarked by Election Day, instead of received by Election Day, which is currently the law in most places.

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Election officials are seeking clarification from the Postal Service about how recent cutbacks will affect what's expected to be an avalanche of mail-in voting in the upcoming election. Changes in postal operations have already led to mail delays across the country, raising alarms about what will happen in November.

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Many voters are worried about casting their ballots in person this November because of the pandemic. They're also concerned that their mail-in ballots could be misplaced or delayed.

One voting option that's gaining popularity — and also attracting controversy — is the use of drop boxes, where voters can deposit their absentee ballots to be collected later by election officials.

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Updated at 11:56 a.m. ET

With about 100 days left before the general election, officials are simultaneously trying to prepare for two very different types of voting, while facing two unprecedented threats to safety and security. It's a juggling act that has voters, political parties and officials anxious about how smoothly November's voting will go.

"Doubt is our enemy," U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, said at a Senate hearing Wednesday on what Congress can do to ensure public confidence in this year's election results.

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Mail-in voting, which tens of millions of Americans are expected to use this November, is fraught with potential problems. Hundreds of thousands of ballots go uncounted each year because people make mistakes, such as forgetting to sign the form or sending it in too late.

A prominent Republican has tough words for President Trump's campaign against the expansion of mail-in voting and says the president's criticism could undermine his own party's efforts to retain control of the Senate.

"It's got to be pretty discouraging, I would think, to incumbent members of the Senate, who probably have very aggressive absentee ballot programs ... to have the president telling your supporters: 'Go to polls. Don't use absentee,' " former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge told NPR.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says it will make $30 million in grants available to nonprofit groups in five Southern states to help register and mobilize voters of color.

The campaign will go through this year's election, as well as the 2022 midterm elections.

"The United States has a long history of denying voting rights to its citizens, especially black and brown people, returning citizens and young people," said SPLC president Margaret Huang.

Wisconsin voters had to wait in long lines to cast their ballots. Absentee ballots went missing in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. And last week, voters in Georgia and Nevada were frustrated by long lines and widespread confusion.

The day after eight states and the District of Columbia held primaries — amid both a pandemic and civil unrest — proponents of mail-in voting said there were lessons to be learned for November, when millions more voters are expected to use absentee ballots.

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With the widespread expansion of vote-by-mail this year in response to the pandemic, both major political parties and their allies are waging an intense legal battle to shape the rules around absentee and mail-in voting.

The details matter a lot and could affect the outcome in November.

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No door-to-door canvassing. Public gatherings are canceled. Motor vehicle offices are closed. Naturalization ceremonies are on hiatus.

Almost every place where Americans usually register to vote has been out of reach since March and it's led to a big drop in new registrations right before a presidential election that was expected to see record turnout.

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Republican state officials who want to expand absentee and mail-in voting during the pandemic have found themselves in an uncomfortable position due to their party's rhetoric.

President Trump has claimed repeatedly, without providing evidence, that mail-in voting is ripe for fraud and bad for the GOP. He and other Republicans have charged that Democrats might use it to "steal" the election.

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