Polls open as US Election Day arrives

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After last-minute rallies, nearly 100 million early votes cast, anxious Americans bring the national election to a close.

After weeks of early voting that broke records and saw nearly 100 million Americans cast ballots by mail and in-person amid a deadly pandemic, Election Day has arrived in the United States.

Roughly 60 million voters are expected to go to the polls to choose between Democratic challenger Joe Biden and President Donald Trump – two candidates who are offering starkly different visions for a nation in crisis.

“Turnout is going to be high all around,” Michael Traugott, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan, told Al Jazeera.

Michigan is one of three Midwest states, along with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, that Trump won in 2016 giving him a victory in the Electoral College.

Trump campaigned with large rallies in all three the day before Election Day, hoping to spark another come-from-behind win.

“People see that we fight and I’m fighting for you. I’m fighting to survive. You have to survive,” Trump told a large crowd in Traverse City, Michigan.

Joe Biden headlined a pair of rallies with entertainers John Legend in Philadelphia and Lady Gaga in Pittsburgh, the state’s two largest cities. Biden also visited Cleveland, Ohio and made a third stop in the Pittsburgh suburbs.

“I have a feeling we are coming together for a big win tomorrow,” Biden said in Pittsburgh, his voice grown hoarse but his energy still high after four campaign stops, The Associated Press news agency reported.

Polls open as US Election Day arrives 5Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden wave to supporters at a drive-in rally at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania [Andrew Harnik/AP Photo]

Both campaigns focused heavily on Pennsylvania. Republican Vice President Mike Pence, Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris and Biden’s wife, Jill, all campaigned in Pennsylvania in the closing hours of what has been a divisive contest.

At the same time, indicative of how wide the battleground is, former President Barack Obama urged late voters to get out in Florida and Georgia yesterday while first lady Melania Trump appeared in North Carolina.

“We may be hitting 6 million votes in Georgia. We’ve never come anywhere close to that,” said Charles Bullock, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia. 

“We’ve not gotten this kind of attention from presidential candidates in a generation or more,” Bullock told Al Jazeera.

Trump held a huge rally in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Monday night. It is a county he won by 238 votes in a state he commanded by a razor-thin margin in 2016. Kenosha may well be close again.

Polls open as US Election Day arrives 6President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence holds a campaign rally at Gerald R Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan the night before Election Day [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

He closed out the day with a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he had wrapped up his campaign in 2016, hoping to reignite the same supporters who gave him the White House four years ago.

“It’s always important to get your voters fired up at the last minute,” said Timothy Hagle, a professor of political science at the University of Iowa.

“You like to see some energy from your candidates,” Hagle said. 

Biden will head to Philadelphia and his native Scranton on Election Day as part of a get-out-the-vote effort. Harris will visit Detroit, a mostly Black city in Michigan, and both of their spouses will hit the road too.

Trump told reporters he would be visiting his campaign headquarters in Virginia, and he plans to host family and friends in the White House on the night after the elections.

But the outcome of the election may not be known for days depending on how close the vote is in key states and how long it takes to count the large numbers of mail-in ballots that have been cast.

In Michigan, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has warned the count of 2.8 million mail ballots in Michigan could take up to three days. Michigan plans to release interim results that may signal who is winning.

In Pennsylvania, state rules allow counties to continue collecting mailed ballots that were postmarked by Election Day for three additional days. Trump has threatened to challenge those ballots in court, which could put in question tens of thousands of votes.

Biden leads Trump in national surveys of Americans by 51.8 percent to 43.4 percent according to a rolling average calculated by FiveThirtyEight.com. Final polls in key battleground states suggest Trump has narrowed the gap with Biden.

Trump’s path to an Electoral College win is challenging. Closely contested states to watch for early results will be Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. Losses for Trump in any of those would signal Biden is having a good night.

Arizona, Iowa, and Ohio are also states where the race for president is very close and Trump cannot afford to lose.

Authorities nationwide braced for unrest following the results of the election either way.

Stores and buildings in downtown Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and midtown New York were boarded up. Extra police have been deployed in New York. A no-scale fence was installed around the White House.

The National Guard deployed in Philadelphia following rioting over the weekend after the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr, a Black man. Ten states had activated the National Guard as of last week, and 14 more are expected to activate troops this week, The New York Times reported.

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