Americans are heading to polls across the country as Election Day dawns following the wind-down of bitter campaigns, with control of the White House, Senate, House, and a handful of governorships up for grabs.
The outbreak of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus has infused this year’s election with an unprecedented dynamic, with a record number of mail ballots cast and vote submission and count deadline extensions in some states prompting warnings from elections officials that the outcome may not be clear for days to come.
Polling is in the spotlight once again, with questions about whether the so-called “shy voter” phenomenon is undercounting support for President Donald Trump, who has narrowed the gap in the top battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to 2.3 percentage points in favor of the challenger, Democratic nominee Joe Biden. The memory of the polling inaccuracies in 2016 looms large, when Trump trailed in the vast majority of pre-election polls but went on to sweep key battleground states and won the Electoral College.
In 2016, polls showed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with a lead of around four percentage points, relatively close to her 2.1-point margin in the popular vote. Biden is up by an average of 6.7 percent nationally but just 2.3 percent in the battleground states, suggesting that while polls in 2020 would need to be off by a wider margin than in 2016 for Trump to win, a victory for the incumbent is not out of reach.
At least 99.6 million people, or 72.3 percent of the total 2016 turnout, have already cast ballots in person or through the mail, according to the Elections Project.
Michael McDonald, professor of political science at the University of Florida, said in a statement that he estimates around 100 million early votes will be cast by the time reports are processed on Tuesday.
“It is also likely reports by Tuesday morning will fail to capture all of the pre-election voting activity since there are sporadic reports of election officials experiencing delays in processing the unprecedented number of mail ballots,” he noted, adding, “Furthermore, many states continue to accept mail ballots if they are postmarked on or before Election Day.”
Hovering over the election is also the prospect of drawn-out legal disputes over vote validity, with deadline extensions for receiving mail ballots challenged in court in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.
Trump said he won’t declare victory if it appears he’s ahead late on Nov. 3, although he signaled that he and his lawyers will be prepared to file legal challenges if there are signs of fraud. The president has repeatedly called into question the legitimacy of mail-in ballots relative to absentee ballots and in-person voting.
“I think it’s a terrible thing when ballots can be collected after an election. I think it’s a terrible thing when people or states are allowed to tabulate ballots for a long period of time after the election is over because it can only lead to one thing, and that’s very bad,” Trump told reporters on Nov. 1 in Charlotte, North Carolina, in response to a question about if he would declare victory on election night regardless of whether all the results are in.
“I think there’s great danger to it, and I think a lot of fraud and misuse could take place,” the president said, adding that, “as soon as that election is over, we’re going in with our lawyers.”
Misinformation about election procedures, concerns about confrontations at the polls, and reports of mail slowdowns also clouded the run-up to Election Day.
“The eyes of the American public and the world are on election officials as we administer free and fair elections during this unprecedented time,” said New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who also is president of the National Association of Secretaries of State. “Rest assured, we are ready. We have coordinated with all levels of government and are in constant communication to ensure a smooth election.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told NPR on Monday that Congress is ready to decide on the presidential election if the results are disputed and the Electoral College vote does not produce a victor.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.