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6 organizations working to get people to vote — and how to help them

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Time is running out to make sure everyone is registered to vote in the United States presidential election on Nov. 3. The stakes have heightened even further given the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which leaves five conservative-leaning judges and three liberal ones. Her passing has inspired a surge in voter registration across the country.

Besides voting and encouraging others to vote, what you can do to ensure as many people as possible head to the polls this year, whether in person or by mail? 

Well, you can donate to organizations that register voters, help educate people about their voting options, and rally them to cast their ballot. These efforts are nonpartisan, meaning groups don’t tell people who to vote for, but rather, remind them that they should vote and how they can go about it.

Mashable reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union for recommendations of organizations that are doing meaningful work in this area. One of these organizations is the ACLU themselves: The group has dedicated resources to educating and empowering Americans to vote since the founding of its Voting Rights Project in 1965

You can help each organization advance voter engagement and feel assured that your dollars are going toward strengthening our democracy. 

The American Civil Liberties Union has been at the forefront, defending Americans’ constitutional rights since 1920 with its team of attorneys. The nonpartisan nonprofit has filed more than 20 lawsuits in states across the country so people living there can safely vote. In addition to its litigation efforts, it’s launched the Let People Vote campaign to inform people on their voting rights and how to vote by mail in their state, and to notify them of election deadlines along with voting tips. 

The ACLU has also released its inaugural episode of its mini-series podcast “At the Polls,” an offshoot of its “At Liberty” podcast, to answer top questions about the 2020 election — like, how long will it take for election results to be revealed? (Hint: The final count will likely come after election night.) The podcast will offer new episodes every Tuesday through election day.

Donate here to support the ACLU’s legal and advocacy efforts. Some of your money will also go toward its get-out-the-vote work.

When We All Vote was started in 2018 by former First Lady Michelle Obama, actor Tom Hanks, playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, singer and actor Janelle Monáe, and others in an effort to get more people to vote. 

Some of the nonpartisan group’s initiatives to get out the vote include:

  • Texting teams: Every Tuesday and Thursday  thousands of volunteers join When We All Vote to text eligible voters to help them get registered and make a plan to vote. 

  • Fuel the Vote: On Sept. 19, the nonprofit started hosting in-person, socially-distanced voter registration and food drive events in nine cities across the U.S. 

  • My School Votes: With this program, schools become hubs to sign up students to vote and educate them about the process. 

Donate to When We All Vote’s Registered and Ready fund here to support its work to get people to vote and recruiting and managing volunteers and poll workers. 

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition works to ensure the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people, or “returning citizens,” in Florida. In 2018, Floridians overwhelmingly voted “yes” on Amendment 4 to restore voting rights to residents who had felony convictions. This returned voting rights to about 1.2 million people. Later, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law which requires the enfranchised voters to pay off all their court debts or they can’t vote

The coalition pays for the fines, fees, and court costs for returning citizens so they can vote. The average amount is $1,500 for each person. You can donate to its fines and fees fund here; 100 percent of it goes to this cause. 

Formerly incarcerated Floridians can also check their voting rights status on the coalition’s website. The grassroots group works to inform this population about their right to vote, with dedicated staff members who go out in the community to speak face-to-face with them. During the pandemic, the organization relies less on in-person contact and more on tools like phone banking to reach people.

You can donate money directly to the coalition here; some of the donations help register formerly incarcerated Floridians to vote. However, the coalition is heavily encouraging people to donate to its fines and fees fund as this directly removes  barriers to voting.

“The first time I had the experience of having someone break down crying because we told them some information like that [that they could vote under Amendment 4], it was phenomenal, and it kept happening,” said Brandon Walthour, a communications fellow with the coalition.

Leaders of the suffrage movement started the League of Women Voters six months before the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920. Its education fund was created in 1957 to work on issues like voter registration for all people. Today its online voter education tool, vote 411, informs people of their voting options as well as voting requirements, election registration deadlines, polling locations, and other important information. This is especially important for this upcoming election, in which many states have adapted the rules so people may vote by mail during the pandemic. 

Donate here and click “Support LWVEF (C3)” to give money to help the League of Women Voters register voters and inform them about voting (including candidate forums and debates).

Rock the Vote taps into the power of young people to build their political power through voter registration efforts, providing information about elections, and reducing barriers to vote. The nonpartisan group was started in 1990 by music executives in response to the censorship of hip-hop music. 

Here are some of its get-out-the-vote efforts:

  • Mobilizing volunteers to inspire young people to vote

  • Offering a nonpartisan high school curriculum about the importance of voting and the history of voting rights in America that also pre-registers and registers students to vote

  • Providing an online hub with voting information for every state

  • Sharing ideas for how people can get their family, friends, and community to vote

  • Offering a voter registration event toolkit, so anyone can sign up people to vote virtually or in-person (socially distanced)

Donate here to help support Rock the Voter’s get out the vote efforts.

HeadCount registers people to vote at concerts and online. Since 2004, the nonpartisan nonprofit says it’s signed up over 600,000 voters at concerts featuring artists like Ariana Grande and Beyoncé and through large-scale music events like Lollapalooza.

Now with the pandemic and fewer opportunities for people to gather in person to hear their favorite musicians, HeadCount and the advocacy organization Global Citizen have launched the Just Vote campaign. When people check their voter registration status, they have the chance to win prizes, like a virtual dance lesson with the performer Usher and his choreographer, or a virtual hangout session with singer Meghan Trainor. 

People can get involved with HeadCount’s Text Out the Vote program, where volunteers text new voters and those unlikely to vote.

HeadCount also released a toolkit so anyone can register voters wherever they are through QR codes and texts. They also have a voting guide that provides details on voting in every state. 

Donate here, and your money will go to support HeadCount’s Text Out the Vote program.

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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.

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The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.

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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.

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The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.

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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.

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As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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