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Pam Fessler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The day after eight states and the District of Columbia held primaries — amid both a pandemic and civil unrest — proponents of mail-in voting said there were lessons to be learned for November, when millions more voters are expected to use absentee ballots.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

With the widespread expansion of vote-by-mail this year in response to the pandemic, both major political parties and their allies are waging an intense legal battle to shape the rules around absentee and mail-in voting.

The details matter a lot and could affect the outcome in November.

No door-to-door canvassing. Public gatherings are canceled. Motor vehicle offices are closed. Naturalization ceremonies are on hiatus.

Almost every place where Americans usually register to vote has been out of reach since March and it's led to a big drop in new registrations right before a presidential election that was expected to see record turnout.

Republican state officials who want to expand absentee and mail-in voting during the pandemic have found themselves in an uncomfortable position due to their party's rhetoric.

President Trump has claimed repeatedly, without providing evidence, that mail-in voting is ripe for fraud and bad for the GOP. He and other Republicans have charged that Democrats might use it to "steal" the election.

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More Americans than ever before are expected to vote by mail this year because of concerns about the coronavirus. One challenge facing election officials now: how to print and mail the millions of ballots voters are expected to request in the coming months.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There's plenty in the coronavirus relief package passed by Congress to help low-income Americans, including billions of dollars in housing assistance, foreclosure and eviction relief, expanded unemployment benefits, and one-time cash payments.

But advocates for the poor say it's only a first step and that those at the lower end of the economic scale will need much more help in the months ahead.

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

The election-year coronavirus pandemic has pushed back elections in more than a dozen states, leading to growing interest in expanding voting by mail this year in order to keep poll workers and voters safe.

Updated at 5:05 p.m. ET

Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden have canceled their respective rallies tonight in Cleveland, Ohio, with the campaigns citing public health concerns amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Elections can be very tactile. Touchscreen voting machines, paper ballots, large crowds.

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

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

A nonprofit group wants to see more unmarried women, young people and people of color on the nation's voter rolls, so it recently sent 9 million letters urging those groups to register.

But the mailers have upset some election officials, who say they've left voters confused.

The mailers clearly state that they're from the Voter Participation Center or its sister organization, the Center for Voter Information. But the letter inside looks like it could come from the government.

Nevada Democrats are trying to figure out how to avoid the confusion and embarrassment that their fellow Democrats experienced in this week's Iowa caucuses.

Right after a new smartphone app failed miserably to transmit the Iowa results on Monday night, Nevada state Democratic Party Chair William McCurdy II issued a statement saying "confidently" that what happened in Iowa would not happen in Nevada on Feb. 22, the date of its party caucuses.

Hundreds of people returning to the U.S. from Wuhan, China face mandatory two-week quarantines. And in China, the government is rounding up those who show signs of the deadly coronavirus, to be confined in massive quarantine centers.

Protecting public health is a delicate balance between the rights and freedom of individuals and the safety of society. But past efforts to isolate disease show that such moves — as well-intentioned as they might be — don't always go as planned. And perhaps offer a cautionary lesson.

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

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

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

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Paul Collins-Hackett sits in Albany's Youth Opportunity Office trying to guide a teenage boy through the ins and outs of getting a job.

"This is the part that I don't shut up about," he instructs the young man. "If you're early, you're on time. If you're on time, you're late. If you're late, you might as well not show up."

The young man nods his head in agreement. Collins-Hackett is a little like a big brother — encouraging but direct.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Updated at 12:59 p.m. ET

The Trump administration is tightening work requirements for some food stamp recipients, a change that is expected to eliminate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for 688,000 adults.

Between possible foreign interference, potentially record-high turnout, new voting equipment in many parts of the country and what could be a razor-close outcome, the 2020 election was already shaping up to be one of the most challenging elections to administer in U.S. history.

Tensions are growing between homeless advocates and the Trump administration, which is in the process of crafting a new strategy to deal with rising homelessness in California and other states.

Advocacy groups are concerned that the plan will rely on more vigorous law enforcement and private market incentives rather than on efforts to house homeless individuals and provide supportive services — a policy known as Housing First that has been embraced across the country over the last decade.

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