Pam Fessler

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.

In her reporting at NPR, Fessler does stories on homelessness, hunger, affordable housing, and income inequality. She reports on what non-profit groups, the government, and others are doing to reduce poverty and how those efforts are working. Her poverty reporting was recognized with a 2011 First Place National Headliner Award.

Fessler also covers elections and voting, including efforts to make voting more accessible, accurate, and secure. She has done countless stories on everything from the debate over state voter identification laws to Russian hacking attempts and long lines at the polls.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Fessler became NPR's first Homeland Security correspondent. For seven years, she reported on efforts to tighten security at ports, airports, and borders, and the debate over the impact on privacy and civil rights. She also reported on the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, The 9/11 Commission Report, Social Security, and the Census. Fessler was one of NPR's White House reporters during the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Before becoming a correspondent, Fessler was the acting senior editor on the Washington Desk and NPR's chief election editor. She coordinated all network coverage of the presidential, congressional, and state elections in 1996 and 1998. In her more than 25 years at NPR, Fessler has also been deputy Washington Desk editor and Midwest National Desk editor.

Earlier in her career, she was a senior writer at Congressional Quarterly magazine. Fessler worked there for 13 years as both a reporter and editor, covering tax, budget, and other news. She also worked as a budget specialist at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and was a reporter at The Record newspaper in Hackensack, New Jersey.

Fessler has a master's of public administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and a bachelor's degree from Douglass College in New Jersey.

It's a simple fact. Black and brown families are more likely to be evicted than white ones. There are many reasons for this, but the pandemic has made matters worse and could widen the gap for years to come.

Aniya is a case in point. She's a mother of two, unemployed, struggling to get by. By the end of this month, she has to leave her two-bedroom apartment in Richmond, VA., and find a new place to live. This comes on top of an already tough 2020. We agreed not to use Aniya's full name because of possible repercussions on her ability to find another place to live.

Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge has a huge job ahead of her, if she's confirmed as the nation's 18th secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Judging from a largely positive hearing Thursday before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, she appears headed for approval.

Every January, in the middle of the night, thousands of volunteers and outreach workers spread out across the country to count the nation's homeless population. They search highway underpasses, wooded areas, abandoned buildings and sidewalks to locate those who are living outside.

But this year, because of the pandemic, the annual street count has been canceled or modified in hundreds of communities, even as the nation's unsheltered population appears to be growing.

Florida resident Kirk Nielsen was very careful when he went to vote this fall. He did it early and deposited his mail-in ballot in one of many drop boxes provided by his local election office in Miami-Dade County.

"So early voting, drop box. Checked the supervisor of elections website a couple of days later and it was tabulated," he said. "It worked swell."

Signs of a tattered, but resilient, voting system were on full display this week as one of the most contentious elections in U.S. history rolled toward completion.

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Updated 10:52 p.m. ET

The Supreme Court, in a 5-3 vote, has reaffirmed a lower court's block on Wisconsin's plan that would have allowed ballots in the state to arrive up to six days after Election Day. Democrats and progressive groups asked the justices to intervene after a federal appeals court blocked the ballot-receipt plan.

Republicans argue that the deadline extension threatens the integrity of the election by changing the rules too close to the election, an argument they have made in similar cases.

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The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday that election officials in Pennsylvania can count absentee ballots received as late as the Friday after Election Day so long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3.

The court declined without comment to take up one of the highest-profile election law cases in the final stretch before Election Day. Pennsylvania Republicans had sought to block the counting of late-arriving ballots, which the state's Supreme Court had approved last month.

Many of the approximately 300 lawsuits filed this year over voting rules have been settled. But some key ones remain unresolved and court decisions could still reshape how voting is conducted in some crucial states.

The flurry of last-minute legal action comes as more than 5 million people have already cast ballots early or by mail, causing some confusion over what voters have to do to ensure that their votes count.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

The legal fight over how Americans will vote this year is rapidly turning into a war.

That's according to conservative "election integrity" advocates who accuse Democrats of using the current pandemic to push through changes that these groups say will undermine U.S. elections.

Election-year legal battles over voting procedures are nothing new. But their scope and intensity are growing this year amid deep partisan polarization and the logistical challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic. The legal fights are expected to heat up in the coming weeks.

Who does and doesn't get to vote in November could rest on how states, political parties and the federal government respond to the coronavirus threat to U.S. elections.

Election offices around the country already were having trouble retaining staff before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. They're now dealing with more serious personnel strains even as the workload becomes increasingly intense.

Social service providers that rely on volunteers are having to scale back operations, just as more Americans are coming to them for help.

Julio Alonso, executive director and CEO of the Hoosier Hills Food Bank in Bloomington, Ind., says students from nearby Indiana University usually help pack and distribute food, but they've been sent home because of the pandemic.

"In addition to those student groups, a lot of businesses come on a regular basis and volunteer for us as groups, and that has pretty much gone out the window," Alonso said.

The Senate coronavirus relief bill now under consideration would give states $400 million to protect upcoming elections against the pandemic threat. The money, far less than the $4 billion some Democrats had wanted, would allow states to expand mail-in and early voting, as well as online voter registration. The money could also be used to help secure in-person voting sites.

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Voters waited up to seven hours in line to cast ballots yesterday. As NPR's Pam Fessler reports, problems were especially bad in Texas and California, even though voters had more options than ever before, such as early voting and vote-by-mail.

When primary voters go to the polls in South Carolina on Saturday, they'll be the first in the nation to use all-new voting equipment. It's one of about a dozen states replacing all or most of their voting machines this year, in part because of security concerns after Russian interference in the 2016 election.

South Carolina officials are eager to emphasize the reliability of their state's equipment following the Iowa caucuses debacle, where a flawed app delayed the reporting of accurate results for weeks.

If the Iowa caucuses were a pop quiz on how well the nation is prepared for the 2020 elections, it looks like almost everyone failed. Or at least that they need to do a lot more remedial work.

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Top election officials from all 50 states are meeting in Washington this week to prepare for 2020 — a gathering amid widespread concern over whether the upcoming elections will be fair and accurate, as well as free of the kind of foreign interference that marred the 2016 campaign.

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The Trump administration's new public charge rule, which makes it more difficult for immigrants to get green cards if it looks like they might need public assistance, is set to go into effect on Oct. 15. Multiple groups, including several states and immigrants' rights advocates, are in court trying to delay the rule and ultimately block it.

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