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Empty chairs are seen at a polling place Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, in Alexandria. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

There is evidence that social media bots helped stir online activity around a controversial ad against Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie in the buildup to election day today, The Washington Post reports. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam's campaign cited a third-party analysis that found automated Twitter accounts tweeted using terms linked to groups behind the ad, allegedly inflaming online tensions.

Why it matters: Similar automated social media accounts helped to stir online chatter over divisive issues on a national scale during the presidential election last year. Facebook, Google and Twitter came under fire on Capitol Hill last week over how Russian actors used their sites to spread controversial content and ads.

What the analysis found: 13 of the top 15 Twitter accounts that posted words linked to the ad, which a group ran targeting Gillespie, were fully or partially automated and generated by software. The study by Discourse Intelligence was paid for by the Virginia Education Association as an in-kind service to Northam's campaign, the Post reports.

Big picture: The Virginia race, which is often seen as a bellwether for the country, comes to a close today. Republicans will be watching the results to see whether an establishment Republican can adopt Trump-style tactics to win over voters, and Democrats will be trying to ride on Trump's low polling numbers.

Go deeper

8 Senate Democrats vote against adding $15 minimum wage to COVID relief

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Eight Democratic senators on Friday voted against Sen. Bernie Sanders' amendment to ignore a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian and add a $15 minimum wage provision to the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

The state of play: The vote was held open for hours on Friday afternoon — even after every senator had voted — due to a standoff in negotiations over the next amendments that the Senate will take up.

CDC: Easing mask mandates led to higher COVID cases and deaths

Customer at a supermarket chain in Austin, Texas. Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

Easing mask restrictions and on-site dining have increased COVID-19 cases and deaths, according to a study out Friday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why it matters: The report's findings converge with actions from governors this week easing mask mandates and announcing plans to reopen nonessential businesses like restaurants.