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Election 2020 Highlights: First Polls Close as Several States Surpass Number of Votes Cast in 2016


Credit…Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

The first polls have closed in Indiana and Kentucky — though polls in the western parts of those states will be open for another hour — and results should start trickling in soon. They will be incomplete and potentially very unrepresentative of the final numbers, though, so caution and patience are both warranted.

But one thing is already clear: The turnout in this election will be historic.

We won’t know the final turnout numbers for some time, but they are on track to be enormous, as evidenced by the fact that at least six states have already surpassed their 2016 vote totals with several hours left to go in many places.

According to the United States Election Project, 2020 votes have already exceeded 2016 votes in Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Texas and Washington State.

By the end of the night, the same could easily be true in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina and Utah, all of which had reported more than 90 percent of their 2016 totals by earlier today.

In Pennsylvania, a crucial swing state, Democratic officials said they felt particularly bullish about turnout in Philadelphia. With just under 400,000 mail ballots cast and lines at hundreds of polling places around the city starting at 6:30 a.m., one Democratic official said he thought the turnout could surge past levels seen in 2008 for former President Barack Obama.

On the other side, Bill Bretz, chairman of the Republican Party in Westmoreland County, Pa., which includes eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh, said turnout had been “exceptionally high” there.

We don’t have enough information yet to say whether more Democrats or more Republicans voted in most states. We do know that Democrats had a strong advantage in early voting, and that Republicans were expected to have an advantage in Election Day voting — but there is much less Election Day voting this year than in past years.

“There’s only so much left in the Election Day vote,” said Michael P. McDonald, an elections expert at the University of Florida. “That means that Trump’s got to make up ground with a smaller potential pool.”

Credit…Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York Times

With more than 101.1 million early votes cast in person and by mail before the polls even opened on Election Day, the 2020 presidential campaign was shaping up to be one for the record books, on pace to attract the highest turnout in more than a century.

The huge turnout appeared to be spurred by the momentous issues that have upended the lives of nearly every American, including the surging coronavirus outbreak and the struggling economy, the political passions of the Trump era, and the steps that many states took this year to make voting easier and safer during the pandemic.

Michael P. McDonald, a University of Florida professor who compiles data from across the nation, said that the country appeared to be on track for roughly 160 million total votes cast. That would mean a turnout rate of about 67 percent of the eligible voting population — higher than the United States has seen in more than a century.

The last time turnout was more than 65 percent was 1908, according to the United States Elections Project, which is run by Dr. McDonald, who noted that it had been even higher in the 19th century, when powerful party machines helped turn out large numbers of voters.

“We’ve been in this really narrow trading range ever since then,” he said. “We’ve never reached back to those 1800s levels. Maybe this is the election we do that in. That would be astounding.”

At least six states — including Texas, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Montana — recorded more votes in early voting than they did during the whole 2016 election. Several battleground states, including Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, were nearing their 2016 totals.

Political analysts and opinion polls have suggested that Republican voters were more likely to vote on Election Day, while Democrats were more likely to vote early, especially by mail. So some analysts were looking at the early data to try to divine whether Democrats had built up enough of an early vote lead in key battleground states to withstand a big Republican turnout on Election Day. The answer, of course, will not be known until all the votes are in.

In Florida, Republicans appeared to be turning out in big numbers early in the day, as expected, closing in on Democrats’ narrow advantage in ballots cast before Election Day.

But Democrats have historically voted in higher numbers in the evening, after work. They would need that to happen again today to keep the margins close. In Miami-Dade County, turnout appeared notably light across town on Election Day. Precincts in predominantly white, Hispanic and Black neighborhoods showed only a trickle of voters, suggesting most people had voted early, either by mail or in person.

Around the nation, Black voters were on pace to greatly surpass turnout during the presidential election in 2016, according to voter data analyzed and released Tuesday by the Collective PAC, which is dedicated to electing Black lawmakers.

Quentin James, the founder of the PAC, said more than 616,000 Black people had already cast ballots in Texas — more than the 582,000 who had voted in 2016 — and that the turnout of Black voters in Nevada, Georgia, North Carolina and Arizona was on pace to easily overtake 2016 levels. But Mr. James said he couldn’t be sure whether 2012 turnout levels could be reached.

In North Carolina, after weeks of record early voting, turnout was modest, as expected, on Election Day itself. Nearly 4.6 million people had already voted early, and state officials expected another roughly one million to cast ballots on Election Day — which would be a record overall turnout.

“I would be surprised if we don’t hit over 5 million,” said Michael Bitzer, a political analyst and political science professor at Catawba College in North Carolina.

The state’s Board of Elections said that the reporting of results will be delayed by 45 minutes, till 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday, because of delayed openings at four polling sites.

Credit…Saul Martinez for The New York Times

There are two big questions tonight as this long campaign comes to an end. The first, obviously, is whether President Trump survives a challenge from Joseph R. Biden Jr. and wins a second term in the White House.

The second question is, when are we going to know the answer to the first question?

Here are a few things to think about over the next few hours.

First, who wins Florida and North Carolina? Those two states are expected to count votes quickly (polls in Florida begin closing at 7 p.m.) If Mr. Biden wins Florida in particular, it is difficult to see how Mr. Trump can keep the White House. Not impossible for the president, but much harder.

If Mr. Trump wins Florida, that signals a long week. That means the race is likely to turn on the three Northern industrial states that Mr. Trump won from Democrats in 2016. Polls show Mr. Biden with a decent lead in two of them — Wisconsin and Michigan — but Pennsylvania seems closer. The count of the early vote in Pennsylvania doesn’t even begin until the morning after Election Day, and the Trump campaign has already begun what could well be a month of court battles trying to disqualify votes cast.

This Florida calculus changes a bit if Mr. Biden somehow loses Florida but wins North Carolina and Georgia. Those two states account for 31 Electoral College votes, or two more than Florida. We will probably see North Carolina results early; Georgia might take longer.

Texas is a bit of a wild card here. No Democrat has won the state since Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald R. Ford there in 1976 — Mr. Carter, a Southerner, running after Watergate.

But Democrats and Republicans have long seen signs that Texas is drifting toward the Democratic column. And there are indications this year that this process has accelerated, because of the growth of the Latino vote and a flood of new residents, including many Democrats.

Polls (there were not many but some) showed the race being very competitive. Many Democrats still see Texas as a bit of a long shot for Mr. Biden, but a Democratic victory in a state with 38 Electoral College votes could be a game changer, not only for this presidential race but for the nation’s future politics.

In a normal election and this is of course is not a normal election — an outcome often becomes clear when one of the two candidates calls the other to concede. It’s difficult to predict what the president might do, but it seems unlikely that he would make a call like that even if he lost Florida and North Carolina, and even when many people are saying he has lost, preferring to wait for the Midwest contests to be resolved. Again, that is just a guess; predicting what Mr. Trump might do is never a safe road to drive down.

The other side of that is that if Mr. Trump sweeps those Southern states and appears on the road to hold on to all of the states he won against Hillary Clinton in 2016, he would need to pick off just one of the three Northern battleground states to win re-election.

At that point, Mr. Biden could well find himself under pressure to call Mr. Trump and concede. Given the troubled electoral history in the country, starting when Al Gore prematurely conceded to George W. Bush in 2000, it seems likely that Mr. Biden will face huge pressure from Democrats to wait.

Credit…Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

With the ability of the next president to pursue his agenda resting on control of the Senate, Republicans are on the defense in an increasingly tight battle, trying to hold off a wave of well-funded Democratic challengers across the map, including in reliably conservative states.

Republicans currently hold the Senate majority by a margin of 53 to 47. A net gain of three seats would put Democrats in control should former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. win the presidency. If President Trump wins re-election, positioning Vice President Mike Pence to cast tiebreaking votes in the Senate, Democrats would need to win four seats in order to win a majority.

Democrats believe they are already on track to win Arizona and Colorado and are on the hunt for a half-dozen others starting with North Carolina, Maine, and Iowa. And with both of the state’s Republican senators at risk, Georgia is looming as a pick up opportunity. Democratic strategists concede that Senator Doug Jones, Democrat of Alabama, will probably lose his seat, and are keeping a close eye on Senator Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan, who is facing a serious challenge.

Vulnerable Republican incumbents fighting for their political lives have argued that maintaining control of the Senate would create a firewall between a potential Democratic-controlled House and White House. Such a configuration would almost certainly doom any expansive overhauls envisioned by Mr. Biden, including a sprawling economic stimulus package.

If Democrats take back the Senate under Mr. Biden, they will face an immediate decision of whether to eliminate the legislative filibuster, which allows the minority party to block legislation by setting a 60-vote threshold for action. Democratic activists — and some senators — have expressed openness to the idea, arguing that they cannot allow Republicans to block Mr. Biden’s agenda as they did President Barack Obama’s.

Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Bolstered by eroding support for President Trump in critical battlegrounds, House Democrats are poised to expand their majority, using a stunning cash-on-hand advantage and wave of liberal enthusiasm to push into districts Republicans have not lost in decades.

Citing a dismal national environment and a revolt of affluent, suburban voters in traditional conservative strongholds thronging the country from the Midwest to Texas, Republican strategists privately predict losing anywhere from a handful of seats to 20, and have focused their efforts on offsetting their losses in largely rural, white working-class districts.

Antipathy toward Mr. Trump’s handling of the pandemic and his inflammatory brand of politics has dragged down congressional Republicans across the nation, opening up once unfathomable inroads for Democrats in the suburbs of Indianapolis, Omaha, St. Louis and Phoenix. In a sign of their prospects, Democrats are storming once ruby-red parts of Texas, positioning themselves in striking distance of picking up as many as five seats on the outskirts of Houston and Dallas.

Republicans, looking to limit the reach of a potential Democratic sweep, are targeting several incumbents locked in tight races in rural areas of central New York, New Mexico, and Minnesota, and traditionally conservative seats in Utah, Oklahoma and South Carolina that Democrats captured in 2018.

But the terrain all but ensures there will be at least one foothold of Democratic power in Washington, and solidifies Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s grip on her gavel, positioning her to either remain a check on a Trump presidency or as a key ally to a Biden administration.

Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

After an extraordinary campaign in which the only constant, it seemed, was chaos, Election Day was … almost normal.

It wasn’t really normal, of course, as evidenced by the masks and the six-foot divides and the fact that more than 100 million people had cast ballots before the day even started. But the voting machines worked, for the most part. The lines were at times long, but they moved quickly, for the most part. And in 2020, “OK for the most part” is about the best one can hope for.

As of 4:30 p.m. Eastern time, “we have not seen major, systemic problems or attempts to obstruct voting for voters, and the problems that we have seen have been for the most part isolated and sporadic,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told reporters.

There were scattered problems: Some machines in Philadelphia malfunctioned early in the day, forcing affected voters to cast provisional ballots. Voting hours were extended for up to 45 minutes in four precincts in North Carolina that experienced delays. According to Ms. Clarke, some voters in York County, Pa., who could not read their ballots were denied assistance that they were legally entitled to.

Some voters also reported intimidation or disinformation, including robocalls in Michigan that falsely told voters to avoid long lines by waiting to vote until Wednesday and the appearance of an armed man in a Trump hat outside a polling site in North Carolina. (He was ultimately arrested.) And Republicans are, as expected, trying to challenge ballots in some states — particularly Pennsylvania, where they are trying to stop election officials from contacting voters whose mail ballots were rejected on technicalities to offer them provisional ballots.

But after months of anxiety about sweeping disenfranchisement, the nightmare scenarios appeared not to come to pass. And between mail-in ballots, early votes and Election Day votes, turnout was on track to be historically high.

Credit…Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press

A Federal District Court judge on Tuesday ordered an immediate sweep of 12 postal districts searching for undelivered ballots after the Postal Service said in court that some 300,000 ballots it had received had not been scanned for delivery.

The dramatic Election Day order came as record numbers of Americans have voted by mail this year, as many voters were anxious to avoid crowds at the polls during the pandemic — and at the end of a campaign season in which fears that recent Postal Service changes had caused extensive mail delays that could imperil ballots.

The judge, Emmet G. Sullivan of the District of Columbia, ordered the sweep to begin before 3 p.m. to “ensure that no ballots have been held up and that any identified ballots are immediately sent out for delivery.” He said he was particularly concerned about ballot delivery in districts where there has been slow processing of ballots for days, including Central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Detroit.

He ordered the Postal Service to provide him with an update on the sweep by 4:30 p.m. certifying that “sweeps were conducted and that no ballots were left behind.”

Derrick Johnson, the president of the N.A.A.C.P. and a plaintiff in the suit, said he believed the Postal Service would complete the sweeps before Election Day ended rather than risk being held in contempt of court.

“It was a victory for individual voters,” Mr. Johnson said of the order. “There will have to be remediation if they’re unable to address the order. I’m sure the Postal Service does not want to be held in contempt of the judge’s order.”

Roughly 300,000 ballots that the U.S. Postal Service says it processed show no scan confirming their delivery to ballot-counting sites, according to data filed today in federal court in Washington, D.C., leaving voter-rights advocates concerned as low on-time delivery scores for mail ballots continue to plague some key swing districts.

Postal officials say just because a ballot never received a final scan before going out for delivery doesn’t mean, necessarily, that it wasn’t delivered. A machine scanning ballots for final processing can sometimes miss ballots that are stuck together or whose bar codes are smudged. And hand-sorted ballots typically do not receive a final scan before delivery.

The Postal Service has also authorized expedited delivery of ballots that forego the normal process, but voting-rights advocates are concerned that, without a scan verifying the ballots went out for delivery, some could be sitting uncounted at various postal facilities around the country.

Data the Postal Service filed on Election Day showed continued low on-time processing scores for ballots delivered Monday in several battleground postal districts, including 69 percent in Central Pennsylvania, 79 percent in Philadelphia, 78 percent in Detroit, 61 percent in Atlanta and 74 percent in South Florida.

All states require that mail ballots be postmarked by Election Day in order to count, but some allow a grace period for the ballots to arrive in the hands of elections officials. Pennsylvania, for instance, has a three-day window to receive ballots as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3, but that is the subject of litigation.

The ballots in question should have been postmarked upon entering a postal facility, but the sweep will help determine whether any fell through the cracks, according to Shankar Duraiswamy, the lead attorney for the nonprofit coalition Vote Forward, which is suing the Postal Service to try to ensure all ballots are delivered.

He asked for an order from Judge Sullivan requiring the Postal Service to verify by 3 p.m. that an inspector has visited facilities at all “hot spot” jurisdictions to “ensure that no ballots remain in the facility and that all ballots that were there earlier today are out for delivery this afternoon.”

Mr. Duraiswamy said the order focuses on states that don’t have a statutory grace period for receiving ballots after Election Day. “No voter should be disenfranchised for something that is outside of his or her control,” he said. “These are districts we’ve identified as chronically underperforming.”

Judge Sullivan ordered the Postal Service on Friday to undertake “extraordinary measures” to deliver the ballots in 22 districts where on-time delivery of ballots dipped below a rate of 90 percent for two days last week.

The Postal Service reported it had discovered 180,000 pieces of delayed mail in Miami-Dade County in Florida, including more than 40 ballots, after a video taken inside a post office in disarray in the city of Homestead went viral of Friday. However, it said all but one of those ballots had now been delivered to elections officials.

American intelligence officials are watching for stepped-up foreign election interference if the results of the presidential race take days to emerge, including whether adversarial countries try to foment violence inside the United States, the head of the National Security Agency said on Tuesday.

Foreign powers considering whether to try to influence the outcome of the race will change their calculations if “there is a clearly defined winner” by Wednesday, the official, Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, told reporters. But vote-counting that takes days or weeks to determine a winner could likely prompt more foreign interference efforts, he said.

“There is a period of time where we are watching this carefully to see if our adversaries are going to try to take advantage if there is a close vote,” he said.

In the past several days and weeks, foreign countries interfered less than they had leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, General Nakasone also said. But, he added, more nations overall were trying to interfere than in past elections.

Foreign powers including Russia, Iran or China could try to sow doubt about the integrity of the vote count or security of the election through influence operations or hacking attempts, current and former officials have said.

American officials retaliated in recent days against an operation last month by Iranian hackers who sent spoofed emails to voters in Florida and other states, according to two officials briefed on the response. The Washington Post earlier reported the operation.

American officials had learned of the playbook Iran had mapped out to conduct further interference efforts, but the retaliatory operation appeared to succeed, hampering the Iranian group’s ability to conduct further such operations ahead of Election Day, the officials said. General Nakasone declined to discuss specific operations.

He did raise the prospect that foreign powers could try to stoke violence with extreme domestic groups if the results are close and tensions are high. Russia and other foreign governments have repeatedly tried to amplify unrest in the United States, including after far-right rallies and counterprotests in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, that killed a woman and injured dozens, intelligence officials have said.

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