Tens of millions of Americans are lining up at the polls amid a raging pandemic on Tuesday to determine whether President Trump will get a second term in office or Democratic nominee Joe Biden will be the nation’s 46th president.
There is tension in the air, as the nation braces for unrest in the streets at a time of deep social and political divisions.
Businesses and storefronts in downtown Washington, D.C., have been boarded up and new steel barriers have been erected outside the White House to defend against potential protests and riots.
Masked voters formed long, socially distanced lines outside of polling places before they even opened this morning in battlegrounds such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
There are fears about whether the U.S. Postal Service will be able to handle the late crush of mail ballots, many of which must be received by the end of the day.
A record 100 million people voted before Election Day, as many states pivoted to allow expanded access to early in-person and absentee balloting to make voting safer during the coronavirus pandemic. Campaign operatives estimate another 50 million to 60 million more will cast ballots in person Tuesday.
That’s a big increase from 2016, when 138 million people voted in total, with the strong majority — more than 90 million — voting in-person on Election Day.
“We believe turnout will be significant,” said Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon.
The campaigns are on edge in anticipation of reports about disruption and confusion, including manual errors by election officials, partisan court challenges, ballots getting lost in the mail or delivered late, or ballots that are disqualified over technicalities.
There are also fears of election interference from foreign countries after the Director of National Intelligence announced last month that Iran and Russia sent threatening emails to voters after accessing their data.
“Let me be clear, our election infrastructure is resilient, we have no indication that a foreign actor has succeeded in compromising or affecting the actual votes cast in this election,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said at a Tuesday press conference.
A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the Postal Service to sweep its mail centers and rush to “ensure that no ballots have been held up” at its facilities. Some states, such as Florida, only count ballots received by Election Day, while others, such as North Carolina and Pennsylvania, have a grace period that extends several days after for ballots postmarked by Nov. 3.
As happens every Election Day, there are reports of voters waiting in long lines and some polling place glitches.
In Spalding County, Ga., thousands of provisional ballots were rushed to polling places after election officials caused a malfunction in the machines by loading bad data into them. That resulted in a countywide delay that left many voters stranded in long lines.
But there were also reports of short lines and polling operations running smoothly.