Election polls began closing in the U.S. Tuesday night, with Republican President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, waiting for officials to release the first vote counts in their highly contested race for a four-year term in the White House.
As polls closed in the Midwestern state of Indiana and neighboring Kentucky in early evening, people were continuing to vote along the eastern seaboard and throughout more western time zones in the U.S.
*Biden began the day by attending Mass at a Delaware church, and later spoke to supporters in nearby Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
*Trump started the morning by calling the “Fox & Friends” program and then visited his reelection headquarters outside Washington, before returning to the White House
*The U.S. Postal Service said there were delays in delivering 300,000 ballots to election officials in Michigan and parts of North Carolina and Pennsylvania. They must be delivered by Election Day in Michigan and must be postmarked by Election Day in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to count
*Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told reporters Tuesday there is “no indication” that a “foreign actor” has successfully interfered in the election.
Tens of millions of people stood in lines across the country throughout the day to cast their ballots on Election Day. More than 101 million other people voted early in recent weeks, partly to avoid coming face to face with others amid the unchecked coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.
The early vote count focus was on two Atlantic coastal states — Florida, Trump’s adopted home state, and North Carolina. Trump won both states in his 2016 upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton, but late polls this year showed Trump and Biden locked in tight contests.
Analysts say Trump needs to win both states if he is to claim a second term and avoid becoming the third U.S. president in the last four decades to lose a bid for re-election.
A victory for Biden, a political fixture in Washington for nearly a half century, in either or both of the states would significantly increase his chances of winning the presidency on his third try. He lost bids for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and 2008.
Florida, with 29 electoral votes, and North Carolina with 15, play an important role in the U.S. indirect form of democracy that decides its presidential elections, rather than the national popular vote. The outcome is effectively decided in state-by-state elections throughout the 50-state country and the national capital city, Washington, D.C.
The winner needs a 270 majority in the 538-member Electoral College.
Record early voting
The early vote in the waning weeks of the 2020 election amounted to more than two-thirds of the entire vote count of nearly 139 million in the 2016 election when Trump upset Democrat Hillary Clinton to win the White House.
With the heavy early voting, the total 2020 vote count, by some estimates, could reach a U.S. record of 150 million or more. But with state-by-state laws controlling how soon the absentee votes can be counted — not until Tuesday night or later in some states — the outcome of the election may not be known for days, depending on how close the contest turns out.
The presidential election is coming after a rancorous and combative campaign, with both Trump and Biden lobbing taunts, claiming the other is unfit to lead the country and would take it to ruination.
Over last weekend, tensions mounted as thousands of Trump campaign supporters rallied and demonstrated throughout the country; in one case a caravan of vehicles with Trump flags in Texas forced a Biden campaign bus off a highway.
Authorities and merchants in some cities, including New York, Detroit and Washington near the White House, have boarded up storefronts to prevent potential damage and looting in the event election-related violence erupts.
Many of the early voters — two-thirds of whom mailed in ballots while the rest cast votes in person — said they wanted to avoid coming face to face Tuesday with other people in long lines at polling stations, as the U.S. on some recent days has recorded more than 90,000 new coronavirus cases.
Some Democrats said they wanted to be among the first to vote against Trump, while many Republicans said they planned to vote in person on the official presidential Election Day — the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November — as has been the norm in U.S. elections every four years since the mid-1800s.
Voters are choosing between two septuagenarians, both of them older than the vast majority of the country’s 328 million citizens. Biden will be 78 by Inauguration Day on January 20, while Trump is 74. Whoever wins will be the oldest U.S. leader ever.
In addition, voters are choosing all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate.
The president, in the waning days of the campaign, called the election “a choice between the American Dream and a socialist nightmare. … A choice between a Trump super-recovery and a Biden depression.”
Trump has claimed that Biden, if elected, would be beholden to the policy proposals of more progressive Democrats who are pushing for a government takeover of U.S. health care and a Green New Deal to control climate change, both of which the moderate Biden says he opposes.
Trump has repeatedly contended that the U.S., with a world-leading coronavirus death toll of more than 231,000 people and 9.2 million infections, according to Johns Hopkins University, is “rounding the corner” in dealing with the pandemic, and promises that within weeks, the U.S. will have a vaccine against the coronavirus.
“I watched Joe Biden speak yesterday,” Trump said Saturday. “All he talks about is COVID, COVID. He’s got nothing else to say. COVID, COVID.”
Biden has often assailed Trump’s handling of the virus, mocking him for suggesting months ago it could be treated by ingesting bleach.
Biden told one rally, “Millions of people out there are out of work, on the edge” because of the pandemic. “Can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, and Donald Trump has given up. Donald Trump has waved the white flag, abandoned our families and surrendered to the virus.”
Biden said he would “choose hope over fear. We choose unity over division. Science over fiction. And yes, we choose truth over lies.”
“I don’t care how hard Donald Trump tries. There’s nothing — let me say that again — there’s nothing that he can do to stop the people of this nation from voting in overwhelming numbers and taking back this democracy,” Biden said at a rally in Flint, Michigan.
National polls have for weeks shown Biden leading Trump nationally by about 7 or 8 percentage points, but only by about half that margin or less in key battleground states that are likely to determine the outcome.
Even two lightly populated states — Maine in the Northeast with four electoral votes and Nebraska in the Midwest with five — could play a role in the national outcome if the election is close. The two states award their electors by the vote count in individual congressional districts and the overall statewide vote, which could be a factor in an extremely close election.