Joseph R. Biden’s increasing approval ratings have been noted across a range of national and state polls.
Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

President Trump’s blunt-force 2020 strategy is less about improving his own image outside of his relatively small mosh pit of diehard supporters than about degrading confidence in the American political system — and stoking negative sentiment about Joseph R. Biden Jr.

It worked in 2016, when he was able to damage the standing of Hillary Clinton, who had come into the race with high disapproval ratings.

Yet one of the most important shifts in the dynamics of the 2020 campaign — and one of the most overlooked — is the fact that Mr. Biden’s standing among voters has steadily risen over the summer and fall, despite Mr. Trump’s relentlessly caustic attacks.

While Mr. Trump’s shrinking share of the electoral pie has dominated coverage, Mr. Biden’s slice — as measured by his percentages of the vote in polls and voter approval surveys — has been quietly and consistently expanding. It is an unmistakable sign that the race is not following Mr. Trump’s seek-and-destroy script.

The president’s approval rating is underwater by about 10 percentage points, roughly 53 to 43 percent, according to various averages of polls. The former vice president, by contrast, has held steady in the high 40s and low 50s in both voter favorability and his share of the vote in head-to-head matchups with Mr. Trump.

Even though the race is still highly competitive in many battleground states, Mr. Biden now holds a near-double-digit national lead, and is peeking above the critical 50 percent threshold, a number experts see as an indicator of a race playing out in the challenger’s favor.

“It’s hard to stress how rare it is for a presidential candidate in the modern era to have such a high share of the vote at this stage,” Nate Cohn wrote in his daily analysis of the polling on Friday. “Just go back through the last decade of Real Clear Politics averages, and you’ll find there’s only one instance when a candidate eclipsed Mr. Biden’s 52 percent over the final few months of a race: Barack Obama on the day of the 2008 election.”

Mr. Biden’s increasing approval ratings have been noted across a range of national and state polls, and were the centerpiece of a polling update provided by the largest Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA, on Friday.

Since September, Mr. Biden’s net approval rating among registered voters has grown from 42 percent to 51 percent, according a survey of 2,019 likely voters in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin from Oct. 2 to Oct. 7 by two Democratic polling firms working with the PAC.

Those changes were particularly stark when it came to specific issues, where Mr. Biden has shown strong gains on his approach to the pandemic, Social Security, health care and the economy, the poll showed.

Guy Cecil, the PAC’s executive director, told reporters that Mr. Biden’s approval surge was, simply, a matter of his modeling “responsible behavior” in contrast to Mr. Trump, and that that advantage has been fortified by a barrage of pro-Biden ads emphasizing the contrast between the two men.

President Trump at the White House after returning from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Trump’s hopes to hold campaign rallies this weekend faded on Friday after they were met with skepticism and alarm from outside medical experts, who questioned whether ending the president’s isolation met guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mr. Trump had called into Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News on Thursday night and said that he wanted to hold a rally in Florida on Saturday and another in Pennsylvania on Sunday. That came after the White House physician, Dr. Sean P. Conley, had announced that Mr. Trump could safely “return to public engagements” on Saturday, a timeline that was questioned by outside experts. Within the White House, aides argued against Mr. Trump doing outside events this weekend, and as of Friday morning he was not expected to resume campaign-style events until Monday at the earliest.

Outside medical experts said that an inappropriately expedited return to the public for Mr. Trump could risk infecting others. And resuming public duties might worsen his condition, which could still deteriorate in the next several days. Covid-19 patients can take turns for the worse during the second week of illness.

Based on the information provided, “No, I would not clear him to start public engagements on Saturday,” said Dr. Phyllis Tien, an infectious-disease physician at the University of California, San Francisco, where she conducts and advises on Covid-19 clinical trials.

If the president recently came off dexamethasone, a steroid normally administered only to severely sick Covid-19 patients, his well-being could take a dip in the next couple of days, said Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious-disease physician based in South Carolina.

Then there are the potential risks Mr. Trump could pose to others. According to C.D.C. guidelines, people with mild to moderate cases of Covid-19 most likely “remain infectious no longer than 10 days after symptom onset.” Dr. Conley’s statement cited Saturday as “Day 10 since Thursday’s diagnosis.”

Dr. Tien said she was skeptical of such an assessment. The slew of treatments Mr. Trump received, she said, suggest that his disease was severe, which could extend the duration of his recommended isolation to 20 days after the onset of symptoms.

Mr. Trump might be able to end his isolation early if he tested negative using a very accurate laboratory test, Dr. Tien said. But no such results were reported in Thursday’s memo, which mentioned only a “trajectory of advanced diagnostics.”

Credit…Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA, via Shutterstock

President Trump said Friday that it was a “disgrace” that there would not be public findings before Election Day from a Justice Department review of the origins of the investigation into possible conspiracy between his campaign in 2016 and Russian officials.

Mr. Trump, speaking during a two-hour radio interview with conservative host Rush Limbaugh, also revealed that his doctors had said at one point that he was entering a “very bad phase” in his battle with the coronavirus.

The interview was billed as a virtual “rally,” in lieu of the ones that Mr. Trump cannot hold right now as he fights the virus. It was intended to show him as able to sustain a long interview.

When Mr. Trump was told by Mr. Limbaugh about the lack of findings from an investigation into the origins of the Russia inquiry before Election Day, Mr. Trump said, “If that’s the case, I’m very disappointed.”

“I’ll say it to his face,” he said of Attorney General William P. Barr, whom he has been pressing to indict several adversaries, including former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the president’s election opponent. “That’s a disgrace. I think it’s a disgrace. It’s an embarrassment.”

Risking the ire of its best-known user, President Trump, Twitter said on Friday that it would turn off several of its routine features in an attempt to control the spread of misinformation in the final weeks before the presidential election.

Twitter will make several notable changes.

  • It will essentially give users a timeout before they can hit the button to retweet a post from another account. A prompt will nudge them to add their own comment or context before sharing the original post.

  • It will disable the system that suggests posts on the basis of someone’s interests and the activity of accounts they follow. In their timelines, users will see only content from accounts they follow and ads.

  • If users try to share content that Twitter has flagged as false, a notice will warn them that they are about to share inaccurate information.

Most of the changes will happen on Oct. 20 and will be temporary, Twitter said. Labels warning users against sharing false information will begin to appear next week. The company plans to wait until the result of the presidential election is clear before turning the features back on.

The changes could have a direct impact on Mr. Trump’s online activity. Since returning to the White House Monday after being hospitalized with the coronavirus, he has been on a Twitter tear. On Tuesday evening, for example, he tweeted, or retweeted posts from other accounts, about 40 times.

Social media companies have moved in recent months to fight the spread of misinformation around the election. Facebook and Google have committed to banning political ads for an undetermined period after polls close on Nov. 3. Facebook also said a banner at the top of its news feed would caution users that no winner had been declared until news outlets called the presidential race.

The companies are trying to avoid a repeat of the 2016 election, when Russian operatives used them to spread falsehoods and hyperpartisan content in an attempt to destabilize the American electorate.

Over the last year, Twitter has slowly been stripping away parts of its service that have been used to spread false and misleading information. Jack Dorsey, the chief executive, announced last year that the company would no longer allow political advertising. Twitter has more aggressively fact-checked misinformation, including from the president. Earlier this week, after Mr. Trump went on Twitter and misleadingly compared the coronavirus to the flu, Twitter appended a note saying that the post had violated its rules about spreading false and misleading information about the virus.

Those fact-checks have led to a backlash from the Trump administration. Mr. Trump, who has 87 million followers on Twitter, has called for a repeal of legal protections Twitter and other social media companies rely on.

President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. seen on a television Lititz, Pa. during their debate.
Credit…Mark Makela for The New York Times

The second Biden-Trump debate, originally scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami, will be held virtually or not at all, the Commission on Presidential Debates said on Friday, citing safety concerns about the coronavirus.

President Trump, who has contracted the virus, has demanded that the debate be restored to its original, in-person format. Because Mr. Trump rejected a virtual debate, Joseph R. Biden Jr. committed to attending an ABC News town hall that evening in Philadelphia.

So the Miami debate is, for now at least, effectively canceled.

The third debate is still scheduled for Oct. 22 in Nashville. The Trump campaign is on board. Mr. Biden’s campaign has agreed to participate, either as a one-on-one matchup with Mr. Trump, or in a town-hall-style format where both candidates take questions from voters.

Aides to Mr. Trump claim that the debate commission changed the Miami event to a virtual format to aid Mr. Biden. The co-chairman of the commission, Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., said on Friday that was not the case. He said that officials at the Cleveland Clinic, which is advising on health protocol, believed a remote format was safest given Mr. Trump’s illness and the uncertainty about his health.

“Our crew, our cameramen, our lighting people, were very, very upset,” Mr. Fahrenkopf said in an interview with the Fox News Radio host Brian Kilmeade. “They were onstage with the president in Cleveland. He wasn’t wearing a mask. They’re upset, they’re concerned about their families.”

Mr. Kilmeade asked Mr. Fahrenkopf if the debate commission would consider an in-person debate in Miami next week if Mr. Trump was recovered by then. Mr. Fahrenkopf said the president’s doctors were in contact with the Cleveland Clinic and that Mr. Trump’s condition remained in doubt.

“We’re talking about something that would happen in less than a week,” Mr. Fahrenkopf said of the Miami debate. “At this point and time, there is no evidence whatsoever whether or not the president tested negative.” He also said the commission could have difficulty finding voters “who aren’t afraid” to share a stage with Mr. Trump at a Miami town-hall event.

“We decided we’re going to do what’s safe,” he said.

On Friday, Mr. Trump tweeted an attack on the scheduled moderator of the Miami debate, Steve Scully of C-SPAN, calling him “a Never Trumper” and adding, “Fix!!!” There is no evidence that Mr. Scully is biased against the president.

Some supporters of Mr. Trump seized on a post that appeared overnight on Mr. Scully’s Twitter account, in which the moderator appeared to be communicating with Anthony Scaramucci, Mr. Trump’s former communications director and now a sharp critic of the president.

C-SPAN said in a statement that Mr. Scully “believes his account has been hacked” and that the debate commission “is investigating with the help of authorities.”

The moderator for the Oct. 22 debate in Nashville is Kristen Welker of NBC News.


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Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, proposed legislation that would create a bipartisan group of outside experts to advise Congress as to whether President Trump’s powers should be forcibly removed under the 25th Amendment.CreditCredit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, elevating questions about President Trump’s fitness to govern, introduced legislation Friday morning that would create a bipartisan group of outside experts to evaluate his mental and physical health and advise Congress whether his powers should be forcibly removed under the 25th Amendment.

The measure has no chance of enactment under Mr. Trump, whose signature would be needed to make it law. A version was introduced before the president was hospitalized with the coronavirus, but in publicly presenting it now, Ms. Pelosi, who has suggested that drugs the president has received to treat the virus may have affected his mental state, is moving to call attention to the issue.

“A president’s fitness for office must be determined by science and facts,” Ms. Pelosi said. “This legislation applies to future presidents, but we are reminded of the necessity of action by the health of the current president.”

The president has raged against the idea, calling Ms. Pelosi “Crazy Nancy” and accusing her of staging a coup. Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, called the measure “an absurd proposition” on Friday and countered that Ms. Pelosi was “projecting.”

“The only one who needs to be looking at the 25th Amendment is Nancy Pelosi herself,” Ms. McEnany said on “Fox & Friends.” (The 25th Amendment only applies to presidents, not members of Congress.)

The measure, introduced by Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, would create an 11-member commission of health experts, doctors and former senior executive branch officials, such as a former president, to report to Congress on the president’s competence. Top Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate would each select members.

Republicans have blasted the legislation as an attempt to overturn the results of the November election.

“Right here in this last three weeks before the election, I think those kinds of wild comments should be largely discounted,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said on Friday.

Voters registered in person in Doral, Fla., on Tuesday after a website crash prevented them from registering online on Monday, prompting the state to extend the deadline.
Credit…Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

MIAMI — Even though the crash of Florida’s voter registration website in the hours before Monday night’s deadline may have prevented thousands of new voters from signing up, a federal judge declined on Friday to order the state to reopen registration to make up for lost time.

The judge, Mark E. Walker of Federal District Court in Tallahassee, harshly criticized Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee, Florida’s top elections official and an appointee of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican.

But he concluded that extending the deadline would overwhelm county elections supervisors with the vote already underway, pointing to the state’s notorious elections history.

“Notwithstanding the fact that cinemas across the country remain closed, somehow, I feel like I’ve seen this movie before,” Judge Walker’s 29-page ruling began. “Just shy of a month from Election Day, with the earliest mail-in ballots beginning to be counted, Florida has done it again.”

Judge Walker, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, harshly criticized the state for “hastily” implementing what he called a “half measure”: announcing, at noon on Tuesday, that the deadline would be extended only until 7 p.m. that day.

“This left less than seven hours for potential voters to somehow become aware of the news and ensure that they properly submitted their voter-registration applications, all while also participating in their normal workday, school, family and caregiving responsibilities,” the judge wrote.

The website crashed Monday evening after 49,000 unique users tried to register, creating a bottleneck that gave them error messages. The users then hit refresh over and over, leading to more than a million requests, which overwhelmed the system.

Judge Walker compared new registrations with figures from 2018 and found that the combined totals from Monday and Tuesday were about 21,000 submissions short of what would have been expected if the website had not experienced technical problems.

Several voter-rights groups had argued that the extension was too short for people to be properly notified. “Confidence in the election requires that people who are eligible and follow the rules be able to vote,” Stuart C. Naifeh, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said during the hearing.

But in the end, Judge Walker wrote that he worried about causing chaos. Two county elections supervisors submitted declarations on behalf of the state saying that another extension could be problematic.

“Another extension under the circumstances will serve to reinforce the confusion and mistrust voters have surrounding this election, further strengthening the rampant misinformation and disinformation campaigns that are already undermining the November general election,” wrote Mark Earley, the supervisor in Leon County.

The voting-rights groups said in a statement Friday morning, “Sadly, this is another episode in Florida’s long history of voter suppression.”

Ad Watch

Lindsey Graham waved as he arrived for his first debate with Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison in Columbia, S.C.
Credit…Meg Kinnard/Associated Press

The Democratic group MoveOn is going up with a pair of ads in the battleground state of… South Carolina? Yes, that’s right. Buoyed by an influx of cash after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, MoveOn will air two ads supporting Jaime Harrison, the former chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, as he challenges Senator Lindsey Graham.

That MoveOn is targeting South Carolina with less than a month until Election Day underscores how optimistic Democrats are about Senate races across the country. As part of its $2 million buy, MoveOn is also targeting races in Maine and Arizona.

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MoveOn’s two South Carolina ads have a nearly identical message: That Mr. Graham is “phony,” that he has changed and that he is no longer the best choice for South Carolinians. “We deserve a senator with integrity, a senator who knows the community he serves,” the voice-over says. “Lindsey Graham isn’t that senator.”

The ad plays on a consistent theme among Democrats regarding Mr. Graham, once known for his ability to broker bipartisan deals but more recently one of President Trump’s most loyal backers and a reliable Democrat-basher. Mr. Graham leads the Senate Judiciary Committee and asserted in 2016 that he would refuse to confirm a Republican’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year. Now he is working to ram through a Trump-backed nominee before the election.

The ad includes headlines about Mr. Graham’s vow to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and about how survivors of Covid-19 could lose their insurance or pay more if the act is overturned.

Both of these headlines are true.

“If we can get the House back and keep our majority in the Senate, and President Trump wins re-election, I can promise you not only are we going to repeal Obamacare, we’re going to do it in a smart way where South Carolina would be the biggest winner,” Mr. Graham told a South Carolina radio station in 2019. And if the Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions could be disqualified from buying health insurance or pay much higher premiums. Pre-existing conditions could include the coronavirus, which can have long-term health consequences.

A spokesman said the television commercials were expected to “be up shortly” in South Carolina markets.

Mr. Graham was once regarded as a safe incumbent, but recent polls show a tightening race that the nonpartisan Cook Political Report called a toss-up on Wednesday. Mr. Harrison drew attention last week for bringing his own plexiglass shield to his first debate with Mr. Graham; the two are set to debate again tonight.

The Biden campaign has announced the release of five new ads — targeting Hispanic voters, rural communities, working families, the elderly and veterans — in 16 states, including all the major battlegrounds.

The campaign would not say how much it is spending on the spots.

But the new ads are part of the leading edge of an enormous fall advertising blitz that is already outpacing the Trump campaign in most of the key battleground states.

In addition to hammering away at the economy and health care — the core issues that Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s team sees as the path to victory — the ads also include pointed references to President Trump’s disparaging remarks about the military, reported by The Atlantic and vociferously denied by the president.

The ads, an array of 30- and 60-second spots, are a mix of positive and negative messaging, emphasizing Mr. Biden’s record and slamming Mr. Trump.

They are also aimed at hybrid voter audiences. One of the spots that will air nationwide, titled “More Important,” targets Latinos and veterans.

[embedded content]

It features a direct-to-camera testimonial from a retired Army veteran, Paul Cruz, who calls out Mr. Trump for calling fallen soldiers “suckers and losers,” according to the report in The Atlantic.

Another of the ads returns to familiar themes of Democratic political advertising — protecting Social Security and Medicare and accusing Mr. Trump of endangering those programs — as the Biden campaign seeks to press its surprise advantage among older voters.

Joe Biden boarded his campaign plane to Las Vegas.
Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

There are 25 days until Election Day. Here are the schedules of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates for Friday, Oct. 9. All times are Eastern time.

President Trump

Noon: Holds a “virtual rally” on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

1:20 p.m.: Greets voters and community leaders at the East Las Vegas Community Center.

4:15 p.m.: Speaks at a “Las Vegas Drive-In Event” at Southeast Career Technical Academy, Las Vegas.

Vice President Mike Pence


Senator Kamala Harris


Virtually every poll of Wisconsin this year has shown Joseph R. Biden Jr. with at least a slight edge over President Trump.
Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

You know the story well: Not a single public poll in 2016 showed Donald J. Trump beating Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin, and forecasters suggested he had almost no shot. FiveThirtyEight gave him less than a one-in-six chance of winning the state.

But after the votes were counted, with turnout down in key Democratic areas, Mr. Trump eked out a victory by fewer than 30,000 votes.

This year, again, virtually every poll has shown the Democrat, Joseph R. Biden Jr., with at least a slight edge over Mr. Trump. A New York Times/Siena College survey last month gave Mr. Biden a five-percentage-point advantage among likely voters. Polls taken since then by CNN and NBC News/Marist College have each given Mr. Biden an outright, 10-point lead.

And with the coronavirus now raging in Wisconsin, particularly in the politically competitive northeastern region, Mr. Trump faces an uphill battle toward repeating his victory from four years ago.

“Certainly, with the sharp rise in cases here, it’s on the agenda for voters,” said Charles Franklin, a political scientist who runs the Marquette Law School poll, which is seen as the definitive political survey in the state. “His handling of Covid does appear to be having a bigger effect on people’s vote than either the economy or his handling of the protests.”

And concern about the pandemic has ticked upward recently. More than six in 10 Wisconsin voters in a recent Marquette poll described themselves as at least fairly worried — including 27 percent who said they were very worried, up from 21 percent last month. Fully 50 percent of Wisconsin voters said they did not expect the virus to be under control for at least another year, running counter to Mr. Trump’s insistence that it is already being handled effectively.

In 2016, President Trump fared worse in Texas than the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, did four years earlier.
Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

New polls show that President Trump’s support is collapsing nationally, as he alienates women, seniors and suburbanites.

He is trailing not just in must-win battlegrounds but according to private G.O.P. surveys, he is repelling independents to the point where Mr. Biden has drawn closer in solidly red states, including Montana, Kansas and Missouri, people briefed on the data said.

Nowhere has Mr. Trump harmed himself and his party more than across the Sun Belt, where the electoral coalition that secured a generation of Republican dominance is in danger of coming apart.

“There are limits to what people can take with the irresponsibility, the untruthfulness, just the whole persona,” said Jeff Flake, the former Republican senator from Arizona. Mr. Flake is crossing party lines to support Mr. Biden, who made his first visit of the general election to Arizona on Thursday.

Many of the Sun Belt states seemingly within Mr. Biden’s reach resisted the most stringent public-health policies to battle the coronavirus. As a result, states like Arizona, Georgia and Texas faced a powerful wave of infections for much of the summer, setting back efforts to revive commercial activity.

Mr. Biden is mounting an assertive campaign and facing rising pressure to do more in the historically Republican region. He is buttressed by a fund-raising gusher for Democratic candidates, overwhelming support from people of color and defections from the Republican Party among college-educated whites in and around cities like Atlanta, Houston and Phoenix.

“Cities in states like Arizona and Texas are attracting young people, highly educated people, and people of color — all groups that the national Republican Party has walked away from the last four years,” said Mayor David F. Holt of Oklahoma City, a Republican. “This losing demographic bet against big cities and their residents is putting Sun Belt states in play.”

Republican Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue waited to greet President Trump in Atlanta last month.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. remain locked in a tight race in Georgia, and the state’s two Senate seats, which are both up for grabs, are competitive, according to a poll of state voters released Friday.

The survey, conducted by the University of Georgia, shows Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden in a statistical tie: Mr. Trump has 47.5 percent support and Mr. Biden has 46.4 percent, a difference well within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Only 3.4 percent of registered voters said they were undecided.

The poll also shows Senator David Perdue, the Republican incumbent, leading Jon Ossoff, his Democratic challenger, by seven percentage points in one of the state’s two critical Senate races.

In the other Senate race, Senator Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to her seat late last year by Gov. Brian Kemp, is in a special election that includes candidates from both parties. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent support in November, the race will proceed to a January runoff between the top two candidates, which could prove important in a narrowly divided Senate.

The Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, leads the entire field, according to the poll, with 28 percent of voters saying they would back him. Ms. Loeffler is in second-place, with roughly 22 percent support. She is shown to be only narrowly ahead of another Republican, Representative Doug Collins, who garnered about 21 percent support.

Ms. Loeffler’s and Mr. Collins’s combined 43 percent support indicates that a plurality of Georgia’s voters support a Republican for the seat.

Matt Lieberman, the son of former Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, trails the field with only 3 percent support and is facing calls to withdraw rather than split the Democratic vote.

The University of Georgia poll of 1,106 likely voters was conducted by telephone from Sept. 27 to Oct. 6, a period that included the first presidential debate and the news that Mr. Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus.

A New York Times/Siena College poll of Georgia voters conducted last month similarly found Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden to be tied; Mr. Perdue was up in his race against Mr. Ossoff by 3 points; and Ms. Loeffler was leading the field in the special election with 23 percent support.

States like Georgia and Texas have long been seen by Democrats as places where demographic change could lead to future electoral success and help carve new paths to the presidency. With Georgia’s 16 electoral votes on offer, an upset win for Mr. Biden there would open up several ways to amass the 270 electoral votes the victor will need.

Early voters waited at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in Cleveland on Tuesday.
Credit…Tony Dejak/Associated Press

A federal judge has approved a plan pushed by voting rights groups to expand the number of ballot drop boxes in Ohio, ruling that state officials failed to prove claims that extra drop boxes would lead to voter fraud.

The ruling Thursday night, by Judge Dan Aaron Polster of the U.S. District Court in Cleveland, cleared the way for officials in Cuyahoga County — the state’s second-largest jurisdiction, home to Cleveland and a Democratic stronghold — to place ballot drop boxes at six library branches.

While the ruling focused on one county, it could lead to additional drop boxes being placed in other locations around the state.

Kristen Clarke, chief executive of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, one of the voting rights groups that filed the lawsuit, called the added drop boxes “crucial” in allowing safe voting during the pandemic.

“The court’s order protects the right to vote for tens of thousands of Ohioans, especially Black voters and people of color who disproportionately reside in some of the state’s major population centers,” Ms. Clarke said in a statement, noting long lines at early voting locations in Cleveland. “No voter should have to sacrifice their health and well-being to cast their ballot.”

Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Ohio’s top elections official, said he would appeal the decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. “The place to make changes in how we run our elections is the statehouse, not the courthouse,” Mr. LaRose, a Republican, said in a statement Friday morning.

Mr. LaRose had limited ballot drop boxes to one per county and required that they be situated outside county elections offices. Mr. LaRose had approved one extra drop box in Cuyahoga County at the request of local elections officials.

Among reasons for the limits, Mr. LaRose argued, was that drop boxes added to the risk of fraud and abuse. But Judge Polster found that Mr. LaRose had failed to support that claim, adding that “any drop box location can be monitored 24/7.”

Lawyers for both the Trump campaign and the Ohio Republican Party had joined the case on Mr. LaRose’s side.

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