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The US Eliminated Nearly 21,000 Election Day Polling Locations for 2020

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Nationwide, nearly 21,000 polling stations have closed since 2016, a VICE News investigation has found.

Almost 21,000 Election Day polling places have been eliminated heading into the 2020 U.S. election, a drastic dip in voting locations driven by a heavy shift to mail voting, coronavirus-related consolidations, cost-cutting measures, and voter suppression.

VICE News obtained data from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., on the number of physical polling locations they will have in place on November 3, and compared their numbers to how many sites they had in 2016 and 2012.

What emerged was a patchwork of cuts large and small across the country. Many states made these cuts as they were expanding mail voting — 23 states made it easier to vote by mail this year because of COVID. But the overall trend is clear: Most states are eliminating polling locations, a trend that could disproportionately impact poor, young and non-white voters.

Of the 45 states that weren’t using mail voting exclusively before the 2020 election, 40 of them have decreased the number of Election Day voting locations from 2016. Of those 40 states who made cuts, 35 are not sending mail ballots to everyone, and 19 require many voters to take it upon themselves to apply for a mail ballot application. The five states that refused to allow mail voting for most people all cut voting sites, including the emerging swing state of Texas.

The net result of all of these changes: A 20% dip in polling places across the country from 2016, and a 22% drop since 2012. And while the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated this trend, it didn’t create it: There were more than 3,000 fewer polling locations in 2016 than  in 2012.

“Closing this many polling places at such a vast scale really does affect voters. Fewer polling places can lead to longer lines, longer wait times, and hurt people, particularly people who are disabled or don’t drive and rely on public transportation,” said Leigh Chapman, the voting rights program director at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Every state has its own election rules and approaches — and even within states there can be huge disparities between counties. And the impact in a year where people are flocking to vote early by mail and in person in unprecedented numbers won’t be clear until Election Day.

Recent polling shows that a majority of Americans plan to vote before Election Day, up from 41% who did in 2016 and 25% in 2012. Almost 40 million people had already voted early by mail or in person in the U.S. as of Oct. 21, with almost two weeks to go before Election Day — more than two-thirds of the 57.2 million votes cast before Election Day in 2016. If the pace keeps up, 2020 will smash early-voting records, taking the pressure off Election Day in many states because so many people will have already voted. Long early-voting lines in some locations in states like Texas and Georgia could end up taking the pressure off on Election Day, or they could be a sign of coming problems.

President Trump’s frontal assault on mail voting and attacks on the U.S. Post Office also have had a big impact. It’s led Republicans and some Democrats not to trust mail voting and pushing them toward in-person voting, both early and on Election Day. Republicans are voting by mail in much lower numbers than Democrats are, which could, ironically, create the kind of massive logjams in more GOP-leaning communities this year that traditionally have been more common in urban and suburban Democratic-leaning communities.

A handful of states, including California and New Jersey, have drastically revamped how they conduct elections, pivoting heavily to mail voting and slashing polling places to reallocate resources to handle mail ballots. These states represent most of those who made the deepest cuts. Many, but not all, of these shifts have been in response to the coronavirus. In those states, it will be easier for many people to vote — but not everyone.

But other states reduced Election Day polling sites without doing much else to make voting easier in spite of the coronavirus pandemic, like Texas and Georgia. Some of these cuts came for safety — removing polling stations from nursing homes, for instance — while others were made for budget reasons, or seemingly aimed at suppressing turnout.

The pattern of polling-place closures is widespread: More than half of the 50 states have eliminated at least 10% of their voting sites from 2016 to 2020.

Five states’ cuts make up three-quarters of the total number of polling places eliminated in the U.S. from 2016 to 2020. California alone accounts for almost half of national polling location cuts. Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, and Ohio combine to account for about a quarter of the cuts in terms of raw numbers of polling locations.

Six states have eliminated at least half of their polling places for the 2020 election: California, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, and North Dakota.

While the number and location of Election Day voting sites is just one of many measures of voter accessibility, it’s an often-overlooked factor compared to high-profile partisan fights like mail voting rules, whether and how long states will allow early in-person voting, and voter identification laws.

But closing poll locations can have major real-world impacts on voters.

Shuttering polling sites can lead to voter confusion, as people head to the wrong place to vote out of habit or because they haven’t heard their old polling place has been closed or moved. It can also create undue logistical challenges, especially for people who don’t have their own cars, hourly workers who can’t afford to take time off to vote, and parents and others who can’t afford to wait in long lines at polling locations.

In the time of COVID, it’s not as safe to ride a bus across town to a new voting site as it would be to walk to the local school where voting used to occur. The people most likely to be impacted by this are disproportionately Black and Hispanic people, who statistically are less likely to have access to a car.

“Having polling locations farther away or that are more crowded creates a hardship for many workers, particularly blue-collar and hourly workers,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson told VICE News.

Johnson said even states that have expanded mail voting access while cutting Election Day polling sites are taking a gamble that could hurt some voters.

“This level of doubt this late in the process is concerning. There are so many new variables on top of old problems. We’re talking about how voting will be carried out in the midst of a pandemic. We just don’t know [how it will work out].”

This data set was gathered by reaching out — often multiple times — to every state’s board of elections or secretary of state’s office in the country. In cases where they wouldn’t or couldn’t provide the data, VICE News collected it county-by-county. These numbers were collected in late September through mid-October and may shift a bit by Election Day — some states hadn’t finalized their polling locations when contacted by VICE News, and Pennsylvania’s numbers are an initial estimate; the state didn’t plan on getting a final count until a week before the election.

Most of the states that have made the deepest cuts in physical sites have also moved to dramatically expand mail voting, with many of them also shifting to vote centers, where anyone from a county can go and vote at any of the sites open in the area. But it’s unclear whether these improvements will make up for the cuts they’ve made to in-person voting.

Some states that made these pivots in past years saw huge Election Day lines as a result, as local officials underestimated in-person Election Day turnout. Nevada, for instance, had hours-long lines after switching to vote centers in 2018. And this year’s chaotic, COVID-impacted primary season showed that just pivoting to mail and shuttering most poll locations doesn’t work, with massive lines in states like Georgia that expanded mail voting access during their primaries while cutting polling places. Simply put, even the best-intentioned states that are cutting voting locations are trying something new and different, and it’s unclear how well it will work on Election Day.

“Putting all your eggs in one basket seems like a very bad idea—and it’s avoidable. We’ve seen what happened in the primaries,” said Sylvia Albert, the national director of voting and elections at the good-government organization Common Cause.

Why Election Day polling places matter

Black and Hispanic voters have long faced steeper obstacles to vote than white voters — and not just in states with an obvious history of voter suppression. A recent study from the Brennan Center for Justice found that in the 2018 midterms, Latinos voting in person on Election Day waited in line almost 46% longer on average than white voters, and Black voters waited 45 percent longer. Fully 7% of all Black voters and 6.6% of Hispanics waited at least a half hour to vote, compared to just 4.1% of white voters. Year after year, some communities see voter lines stretch for multiple hours. This happened with regularity in the 2020 primaries and has already begun to happen during early voting this fall.

There are plenty of reasons it’s often harder for Black and Hispanic people to vote in person. Intentional voter suppression by white leaders is one driver. Another big factor: Black and Hispanic people are more likely to live in poor communities that underinvest in election resources, staff, and technology. Regardless of race, more densely populated communities tend to have longer voting lines — and Black and Hispanic people are more likely to live in urban areas.

Mail voting can help alleviate some of this. But another big factor is simply how difficult it is to vote in person if you don’t own a car — a major reason why shuttering voting sites is a big problem, even in states that are rapidly expanding mail voting.

A recent in-depth study from professors at Harvard University and Boston College of Michigan voters found that while 66% of voters with access to a car voted in the 2018 general election, just 36% of voters without access to a car voted. The study also found that the further away the poll location was from a citizen’s home, the less likely they were to vote.

That had a disproportionate impact on Black voters. While only 8% percent of white registered voters didn’t have access to transportation, more than a quarter of Black registered voters didn’t have a car in their household.

Harvard professor Justin de Benedictis-Kessner, one of that paper’s coauthors, told VICE News that the voting site cuts found in our study would make it even harder for this group to vote. And he warned that those cuts in the middle of a global pandemic are even more problematic. People who normally might be willing to spend an hour on the bus to get to their voting site may not feel safe doing so this election.

“If there are fewer polling place locations, the average distance for the average voter is going to be longer,” he said. “And [COVID] could exacerbate some of the effects we’re seeing—not only could it take a long time but they might feel unsafe getting there.”

And while expanding mail voting is a very positive development, polls show that Black and Hispanic voters have a lot less trust in mail voting than others—especially when Black and Hispanic Democrats are compared to white Democrats.

A recent Pew Research survey found that 33% of people planned to vote on Election Day — the group that these poll closures could impact — while 39% of Americans planned to vote by mail in November, and 21% planned to vote early in person. Fully 56% of white voters who planned to back Joe Biden said they planned to vote by mail, or already had. But only 35% of all Black voters and 40% of all Hispanic voters planned to vote by mail.

That’s not surprising given the long history of voter suppression against voters of color in the U.S. And to this day, Black voters’ mail ballots are rejected at higher rates than white voters’ because of errors on the ballots.

While Trump voters have been dissuaded from mail voting by his false attacks on the integrity of mail voting, some Democrats have been dissuaded because of worries that their mail ballots won’t be counted—especially in light of U.S. Post Office slowdowns caused by the Trump-appointed postmaster general.

“There has been a concerted effort to discredit vote by mail, a concerted effort to undermine and politicize the Post Office, and when you take historic usage rates, where people of color were less likely in most states to use vote by mail, and combine that with extra worry that the mail service was going to be unreliable, of course you’re going to have fewer people voting by mail,” said Myrna Pérez, the director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s voting rights and elections program.

Even in states that have dramatically expanded mail voting, cuts to in-person Election Day voting sites could lead to disenfranchised voters — and could disproportionately impact poor and nonwhite voters as well as younger voters who are less likely to live at the same address they did in the last election.

“You cannot fault voters for being hesitant about vote-by-mail. Obviously I think it’s a great option, but that’s what it is — an option. Voters should be able to choose whichever way they want to vote,” said Albert, Common Cause’s national director of voting and elections.

States making it harder to voting harder in a pandemic

Some states have made deep cuts to Election Day voting sites but did little to nothing to making mail voting easier to access.

The most glaring example — and the one that alarms voting rights experts the most — is Maryland.

The state has moved to eliminate 80% of its polling places, the highest proportion in the country. That includes a 90% cut in heavily Black Baltimore — the city has gone from 296 polling places in 2016 to just 24 this election. There will be almost 19,000 potential voters for every polling place in the state  — almost five times more people per polling place than the national average of 4,200.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan blocked a proposal to send every registered voter a ballot, reversing himself after allowing ballots to be sent out to everyone during the primary. He did approve a plan to send an absentee ballot application to every voter, which could take off a bit of pressure from Election Day. The state has added some mail voting drop boxes as well, retained eight days of early voting, and many areas have switched to vote centers. The state is opening some big voting centers at Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles play, and FedEx Field in Prince George’s County, where the Washington Football Team plays.

But experts fear this won’t be nearly enough to avoid catastrophe. Parts of Maryland have historically had hours-long voting lines on Election Day. Some voters were forced to wait in line until after midnight during this summer’s primary. This plan could well make things significantly worse.

“We’re preparing for chaos, unfortunately,” said Joanne Antoine, executive director of Common Cause Maryland.

North Dakota is another state that’s made deep cuts without making it much easier to vote: It has eliminated almost 60% of its Election Day in-person voting locations. The state has long allowed mail voting. But voters still have to request a mail vote application, fill it out and send it back, then complete and return their actual ballot — a multi-step process that is onerous especially for new voters. Only about one-third of North Dakotans voted by mail in 2018. The state’s substantial Native American population has often faced obstacles to voting, and those who live on reservations often face slower mail and can sometimes lack traditional addresses, complicating how they can receive ballots.

“Considering the access problems that Native groups have already, closing polling locations in North Dakota is another way to limit access,” said Albert.

Kentucky is another state that’s made deep cuts: The state eliminated two-thirds of its Election Day polling locations.

That move came as part of a bipartisan deal in response to the coronavirus. Kentucky never allowed early voting for most people before this year. But for this election, Kentuckians have 18 days to vote early in person — every day except Sunday from Oct. 13 through Election Day. The state is also allowing people to vote by mail without an excuse this year.

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams (R) made clear when the new plan was announced that early in-person and mail voting would need to take the pressure off Election Day polling locations.

“If you put too much pressure on any one leg of that stool, then the stool snaps,” Adams said in August.

Some states have made some major voting expansion moves while cutting polling places, and the net impact on voters won’t be clear until after the election. But others have simply cut polling places while doing little to expand voters’ access to the ballot box.

Those include a number of states with a history of voter suppression. When the Supreme Court blew a hole in the Voting Rights Act in 2013, many of the states who previously had to abide by its more restrictive rules quickly moved to cut polling places. And the cuts had a disproportionate impact on Black and Hispanic voters.

That includes Georgia, which already had early in-person voting and voting by mail. The state made voting easier by sending ballot applications to every registered voter in the primary, but Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger reversed himself and refused to send out those applications for the general election .

The state hasn’t cut as many polling places as some others, but it’s down 7% since 2016 and 12% since 2012. There have already been some huge lines in some places for in-person early voting.

Texas cut 11% of its polling places on balance since 2012. The state is also one of just five  not allowing all voters the option of voting by mail in the middle of the pandemic.

Texas added an extra week of early voting, but the cuts to Election Day polling places in some key counties have voting rights experts worried. And the cuts are much deeper in some counties than others, though part of that dip is because many counties have switched to vote centers. Counties that have switched to the vote-center model and cut polling places include Tarrant County, home to diverse Fort Worth, which is down 19%, and heavily Hispanic El Paso County, which is down by about 30%.

The other states that aren’t allowing everyone to vote by mail this election are Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Indiana, which has largely switched to the vote center model, has cut 18% of Election Day voting sites from 2016 to 2020; Louisiana is down 4% from 2016 and 9% from 2012; Mississippi is down 10% from 2016 and 13% since 2012; and Tennessee is down 17% since 2016.

Other states are making less dramatic but still substantial changes to their Election Day plans, and only time will tell whether they work out for voters.

Ohio has eliminated 860 polling places, the fifth highest number in the country, though that represents 20% of all its voting sites — a cut that’s similar to the national average.

Ohio still has enough locations that there are only 3,365 voting-age citizens per polling place, below the national average of 4,390 potential voters per polling place. The state has almost a month of early in-person voting, and for the first time it sent out mail ballot request forms to all registered voters.

Iowa, another swing state, has cut a quarter of its polling places. And while many counties have sent voters absentee ballot request forms, they still need to fill them out and return them to vote by mail. The state offers a month of early in-person voting.

It’s unclear what will happen on Election Day in states like these that have made mail voting a bit easier but have also cut polling places. Polls indicate that many more people plan to vote by mail this election than in the past, and preliminary early-voting numbers show that’s definitely occurring in many states. But while that could benefit overall turnout, the Election Day polling site cuts could make it harder for people who prefer to vote in person.

States betting hard on mail voting

Many of the states with the deepest cuts to Election Day voting places have made major efforts to expand other types of voting.

Five states opted to send mail ballots to all registered voters this election for the first time: California, Nevada, Montana (in most counties), New Jersey, and Vermont, as well as Washington, D.C. Altogether, they’ve cut more than 12,000 polling sites.

California’s cuts are absolutely massive: The state has eliminated more than 10,000 voting sites from its 2016 elections. But the state has also taken every effort to make it easier for people to vote. The Golden State has long had a robust mail voting program, and the coronavirus pandemic convinced state officials that they needed to do everything they could to encourage more people to vote by mail. They decided to send every registered voter a ballot in the mail — essentially making it a vote-by-mail state with additional options.

While California has cut almost three-quarters of its voting sites, leaving around 10,000 voting-age citizens per polling location on average, that’s because most of its large counties have opted to switch to vote centers, where anyone who lives in the county can vote at any of their polling locations, rather than have to go to their specific precinct. People can also register to vote as late as Election Day when they go to vote.

The state also has more than 1,200 drop boxes for voters who don’t trust the mail to return their ballots, offers a full month of early in-person voting for those who want to vote in person, and will count all ballots postmarked by Election Day even if they come in days later in the mail. The result has been a surge in early ballot returns much higher than in previous years — 1.5 million were returned within two weeks of being sent out, ten times the number at the same date in 2016 — which will likely take pressure off Election Day voting.

The new model was crafted with heavy input from voting rights and civil rights groups, local community leaders, and local officials, and could well boost voter access and turnout overall. But it does have some risks.

Common Cause California Executive Director Jonathan Mehta Stein, who helped negotiate the plan, told VICE News that he hoped the combination of expanded voting options would help tamp down voting lines on Election Day and before, “But we can’t be certain of that” until the election happens.

The state also has one of the highest rates in the country of people moving, given its sky-high real estate prices and a large proportion of renters to homeowners, a large homeless population, and wildfires that have displaced more than 200,000. Many people will have an easier time voting this election. But for those who’ve moved and haven’t updated their address, or those who don’t have a home address, the new plan could make it harder to vote — especially if they don’t have transportation to the polls.

“We’re concerned about voters who are displaced by the COVID pandemic and voters who are displaced because of the wildfires. There are a lots of people who’ve been pushed out of their homes in 2020,” said Stein.

Nevada and New Jersey, two other states that made deep cuts to Election Day polling sites, also sent ballots to all registered voters for the first time this year, as did most Montana counties. Nevada will also have vote centers and three weeks of extended early voting, as it has in the past, while Montana and New Jersey have essentially become mail-only states this election.

Arizona, a crucial swing state, has made a similar shift, and will have barely half the number of Election Day voting sites it had in 2012.

But the state has long allowed mail voting. Roughly 80% of Arizonans voted by mail the last two general elections, and 88% of Arizonans cast their ballots by mail during the state’s August primary.

Many Arizona counties have also switched to vote centers rather than precincts, so anyone in the county can vote at the most convenient sites. While the state doesn’t send every registered voter a ballot, it does send everyone an application, and many people have opted to become permanent early voters, where they get a ballot automatically sent to them. That could make it less consequential that they’re cutting almost 40% of their Election Day voting sites. But the state has a rapidly growing population, so new voters might not find it so convenient to use the system. And the state’s large Native American population faces unique challenges in voting by mail.

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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.

Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.


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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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