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Everything you need to know about voting in 2020 (but were afraid to ask)

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Lettie Fickling, of Colorado, has always voted by mail, a process she says she enjoys. But with this year’s election, she’s not so sure. She’s concerned that recent issues with the postal service could prevent her ballot from getting in on time. She also has fears about voting in person and potentially being exposed to Covid-19. She’s still not sure how she’ll vote.

“I’m having all these worries despite living in a state with some of the best voter protections, best mail-in voting infrastructure, and highest voter turnout,” Fickling told Recode. “I can’t even imagine how worried people must be in places like Texas.”

Because of the pandemic, more Americans than ever are facing the same decision as Fickling this year. With expanded access to mail-in voting, it’s expected that tens of millions more people will vote by mail than have in previous elections.

At the same time, the United States Postal Service, upon which much of the mail-in voting process depends, has instituted cost-cutting measures that have delayed and disrupted mail deliveries. In-person voting may be more difficult this year, too; the pandemic has limited the locations that can be used as polling centers as well as the number of people willing to work in them — not to mention the number of people willing to use them. All this, heaped on a system that already had its problems.

“Coronavirus has laid bare all the cracks in our election system and really put strain and stress on a system that’s not resourced well enough to handle a lot of strain or stress,” said Myrna Pérez, the director of Brennan Center for Justice’s Voting Rights and Elections Program.

The best thing that you, the voter, can do now is make a plan for how you’re going to vote and be as prepared as possible to do it. Do this as early as you can, and take all of your options into account before deciding which is best for you. To help you know what those options are, we’re answering some frequently asked questions about registering to vote, mail-in voting, and voting in person.

One thing to note: Voting rules differ state by state, and there can even be variances within individual states. So make sure you know what’s allowed and available where you live. Your options for voting may be different this year, and they may even change between now and Election Day, so look for the most up-to-date and reliable resources. We’ve provided links to some of those here:

So … what should I do first?

Before you can vote, you have to register (unless you live in North Dakota). New voter registrations are down significantly due to the coronavirus, which has closed DMV offices that usually account for the vast majority of voter registrations and canceled in-person voter registration events.

Most states let you register online, so you can do it quickly and easily without having to leave your house. Register as soon as possible because some states have deadlines in early October. And it’s a good idea to make a plan to vote early, if you have already made up your mind.

I’m already registered, so this doesn’t apply to me, right?

Even if you think you’re registered, there’s a chance you’ve been purged from voter rolls. So you’ll want to double-check to make sure — especially if your state has an early registration deadline. Nearly every state has a way to check your registration status online, or you can call your local election official.

“I check my registration status about a month before Election Day, a week before Election Day, and I check it the day before Election Day,” Pérez said. “If something happened, you want to know about it before you go into the polling place.”

Make sure your local board of elections has your current address. If you’ve recently moved to another state, you will need to register in that state. And if you’ve moved so recently that you don’t yet have identifying documents with your new address (or if you don’t have an address at all), you’ll probably need to check with your local election official to find out how you can still register. Every state has to let you vote if you don’t have an address, but some make it much harder to do this than others.

I’m hearing a lot about mail-in voting this year. Can I do that?

Probably, but it depends where you live. While all states have some form of mail-in voting, only a few of them primarily conduct their elections this way. In most states, you’ll have to request a mail-in, or absentee, ballot. Make sure you request this ballot with plenty of time for your board of elections to mail it to you and for you to return it. With the post office delays, this might be more time than you’d usually expect, so make sure you’re keeping up with your locality’s deadlines and building in enough time.

This year, many states have expanded access to mail-in voting due to the pandemic. For instance, some are not making voters state a reason for voting absentee, while others are allowing them to use the coronavirus as cause to request an absentee ballot. But some states have not done this, and if you live in one of those, you can only vote by mail if you meet certain eligibility requirements.

It’s important to know what your locality’s rules are before you even request a mail-in ballot because doing so may mean you can’t vote in person at all, even if you don’t send your mail-in ballot back. Or you may have to bring the mail-in ballot to the polling location with you to be voided before you can vote in-person.

Be aware that some states are still in the process of expanding access or have pending litigation to limit access to mail-in voting, so things could change. Make sure you’re consulting the most current sources of information.

Okay, I got my mail-in ballot. What next?

If you’ve never voted by mail before, it’s especially important that you familiarize yourself with a process you’re encountering for the first time; there may be rules you have to follow that you didn’t anticipate, like which writing utensil to use, or that you may have to sign the ballot envelope. Follow instructions to the letter — not only for the ballot itself but also for the envelope you have to return it in.

“People get hung up because they didn’t realize that the envelope that the ballot came in is the one that you have to return to them,” Pérez said. “A lot of people forget to sign it.”

Kentucky, for example, requires signatures on multiple envelopes:

Kentucky State Board of Elections

If you’re in a household with multiple voters with their own ballots, be careful to keep them (and the envelopes) separate from each other to avoid mix-ups that will invalidate everyone’s vote.

“People might think that to save money they can return multiple ballots in the same envelope, but in fact you need to return them individually,” Senecal said.

Hundreds of thousands of ballots are rejected due to simple mistakes every year. You don’t want yours to be one of them.

Do I have to return my mail-in ballot by mail?

Most states require that you receive your ballot in the mail, but you don’t have to return it that way. Every state allows you to hand-deliver it to your local board of elections, and some states have drop boxes specifically for ballots. Some states will let you drop your vote off at polling locations during early or normal voting hours, and some states will allow you to designate someone else to return your ballot if you can’t. Again, look up your state’s rules to see what you’re allowed to do.

How do I know if my mail-in ballot has been received?

Most states have a way to track your ballot, which should give mail-in voters added peace of mind. Unfortunately, not all of them offer this. (You should check your state’s election website to learn more details — here’s a handy list of links.) And some states will even give you a chance to verify your vote if there’s an issue, such as a non-matching signature. Some, however, will just throw out your vote without giving you a chance to verify it. You may never even know it was rejected.

If you live in one of those states and you’re not comfortable with that uncertainty, mail-in voting might not be your thing. Jared Christensen, of Utah, told Recode that his mail-in ballot was rejected in 2016 because, like thousands of others, his signature didn’t match what the local election officials had on file for him. He was given an opportunity to verify it, but he’s voted in person ever since. This year, however, he might go back to mail-in voting.

“I would prefer to vote with mail-in, especially if [coronavirus] cases spike again with school starting up,” Christensen said.

I keep hearing that mail-in voting is more susceptible to fraud. Is that true?

It’s certainly understandable that some people have concerns about mail-in voting, a process that many people haven’t used before, know little about, and that some states have rushed into doing on a large scale for the first time. However, there is no evidence that mail-in ballots are any more prone to fraud than in-person votes, and the states that already do largely by-mail elections have not reported more incidents of fraud than the states that don’t. As we’ve detailed above, states have very strict rules about how to receive, fill out, and return mail-in ballots that are designed to prevent fraud, among other checks and balances.

Even the loudest voice trumpeting unproven claims that mail-in ballots are major sources of fraud, President Trump, mails in his own ballot. He has even started encouraging his followers to do so as well.

Mail-in voting isn’t for me. What about just voting in person?

For those who can’t or don’t want to vote by mail, there’s always the option to vote in person. Many states will even let you vote in person early, which could reduce potential waiting time if you’re nervous about being in line with a lot of people. Check with your state or local board of elections to make sure you know where, when, and how to vote early.

Even if you’ve voted in person before, things will probably be a little different this time around. For instance, your usual voting location might have changed. So check as close as possible to the election to make sure you’re going to the right place, that you have transportation to get there, and know what you might need to bring with you to be able to vote — some states, for instance, require you to have a form of ID.

But I’m afraid that voting in person will expose me to the coronavirus.

That’s a valid concern, and checking with your local officials to find out what safety precautions your polling place is taking for Covid-19 will hopefully give you some guidance. Some things you might want to ask about: Are the poll workers masked? Are the voters required to wear masks and social distance? Will hand sanitizer be available? Will surfaces be frequently disinfected? Depending on the answers to those questions, you may feel better about in-person voting, or you may decide that mail-in is a better option for you. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Brennan Center for Justice have come out with guides on best practices for safe in-person voting, and they’re a good place to start to find out more.

Some experts believe voting in person this year should be considered fairly safe. Senecal says she’s heard good things about how polling locations are preparing for safe in-person votes, but she encourages people to bring their own supplies if they’re concerned the polling place won’t have enough, like a personal bottle of hand sanitizer. If possible, vote during the less-busy times (mid-morning and mid-afternoon) to reduce how much time you’ll have to spend in line and how crowded your polling location will be.

Can I just vote twice, like President Trump told me to do?

Voting twice is illegal, but some states do let you cast a mail-in ballot and vote in person; your in-person vote will count and the vote by mail will be discarded. But some states won’t let you do this. Check with your local official to find out what the rules are in your state.

What you shouldn’t do is use an in-person vote to “make sure” your mail-in ballot was counted, as Trump suggested. That will lead to longer lines and wait times as well as increase the risk of spreading the coronavirus. It’s also unnecessary when many states let you track your mail-in ballot from the comfort of your own home. If you’re truly concerned that your mail-in vote wasn’t received and want to vote in-person, fill out a provisional ballot at the polling location. That will be counted if your mail-in ballot, for whatever reason, isn’t received.

I heard there’s a shortage of poll workers and I want to help. What can I do?

Fear of in-person voting has not only caused the rise of mail-in voting but has also led to an anticipated shortage of poll workers and the number of polling locations, either because the usual locations don’t want to host crowds this year or they can’t get the staff to run them.

“There’s going to be a shortage of resources, there’s going to be a problem with poll workers,” Pérez said. “I can tell you that lots and lots of people are working super hard to try and fill the poll worker gap.”

If it’s an option for you, consider becoming a poll worker on Election Day. There are several recruiting initiatives out there, or you can contact your local election officials to sign up.

This is getting too complicated for me. Should I just skip voting this year?

No! In fact, it’s more important than ever that you vote.

There are bound to be some glitches or snafus on Election Day, as there are every year. All the new rules and changes will likely add to the confusion. Your ballot might take longer to arrive in the mail, you might have to wait longer than usual at the polling location, poll workers might not be as speedy or well-versed in voting rules as you’d hope. If you think that your right to vote is being infringed on, you can call your local elections official, or your state might have an election protection hotline, or you can call the American Civil Liberties Union’s 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

“The reality is, this is going to be an election unlike one that we have lived through,” Pérez said. “I think it’s going to be critically important that voters be very strong advocates for their right to vote, but also understand that we’re in this together and be patient and constructive.”

When will we know who won?

Experts stress that Americans should be prepared not to have the night-of results we’ve become accustomed to and that this is a normal part of the process. Some states accept ballots as long as they are postmarked by Election Day, which means they may not receive some votes until after that day has passed. It will take time to process and count all the votes, and some states can’t even start doing that until the in-person polls close.

“This is the process working,” Senecal said. “The officials are taking the time to ensure that every vote in their communities is counted. This is not an unusual process. This is actually the process that happens every single cycle. The official vote count and the official results have never been available on Election Day.”

So whoever is leading when you go to bed on November 3 may well not be the winner, simply because relatively few ballots have been counted at that point. That’s especially important to keep in mind now that the president is suggesting that such a scenario means that the election was somehow “rigged.”

“I can imagine a lot of extraordinarily good and very compelling reasons why we might not know on Election Day,” Pérez said. “I don’t think voters understand that there’s that side of it.”

At some point, of course, we will have the final election results. We’ll also know if the current election system is built to handle national crises that make it harder to vote in person. If nothing else, we’ll know what we need to do to ensure easier, free, and fair elections next time — pandemic or not. Hopefully, our elected officials will act on that.

“The thing that I’m most worried about is that, as a country, we’re not going to learn from this experience,” Pérez said. “In the best of circumstances, on the best day, we under-fund and under-resource our elections. We do not build in enough resiliency into our systems. And our right to vote is not only fundamental, it is the way we resolve political differences peacefully in this country.

“Our elections are so important, but they need to be built to withstand whatever crisis of the moment gets thrown at us.”

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World

All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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