Robust turnout as Trump and Biden hand their fate to voters
US President Donald Trump and Joe Biden handed their fate on Tuesday to voters, who will decide which man will steer the country through the surging pandemic that has killed more than 231,000 people, destroyed jobs and reshaped nearly every aspect of American life.
With almost 102 million Americans voting early and millions more waiting in lines on election day, the rancorous campaign across a polarised nation clearly stuck a nerve with the electorate.
“The most important issue is for us to set aside our personal differences that we have with each other,” said Eboni Price, 29, who rode her horse Moon to her polling station in Houston.
With the worst public health crisis in a century bearing down, the pandemic, and Mr Trump’s handling of it, became the inescapable focus for 2020.
Mr Trump began the day on an upbeat note, predicting that he would do even better than in 2016, but during a midday visit to his campaign headquarters, spoke in a gravelly, subdued tone.
“Winning is easy,” Mr Trump told reporters. “Losing is never easy, not for me it’s not.”
Democratic nominee Joe Biden kept his eyes on the critical state of Pennsylvania, taking his final pitch to voters in his hometown of Scranton and the Democratic stronghold of Philadelphia.
In battlegrounds, including Florida, Iowa, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, some voters showed up to their polling station before dawn to beat the crowds, but still found themselves having to wait in long lines to cast their ballots.
The election day surge to the polls came even after 102 million Americans voted early, an eye-popping total that that represents 73% of the total turnout of the 2016 presidential election.
Mr Biden entered election day with multiple paths to victory while Mr Trump, playing catch-up in a number of battleground states, had a narrower but still feasible road to clinch 270 electoral college votes.
Control of the Senate was at stake, too: Democrats needed to net three seats if Mr Biden captured the White House to gain control of all of Washington for the first time in a decade. The House was expected to remain under Democratic control.
The record-setting early vote — and legal skirmishing over how it will be counted — drew unsupported allegations of fraud from Mr Trump, who had refused to guarantee he would honour the election’s result.
Mr Biden visited his childhood home and church in his native Scranton on Tuesday as part of a get-out-the-vote effort before awaiting election results in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.
His running mate, Kamala Harris, was visiting Detroit, a heavily black city in battleground Michigan. Both of their spouses were headed out, too, as the Democrats reached for a clear victory.
Mr Biden and his wife, Jill, started the day with a stop at St Joseph’s in Wilmington, Delaware, with two of his grandchildren in tow.
The four then walked to his late son Beau Biden’s grave, in the church cemetery. Beau, a former Delaware attorney general, died of brain cancer in 2015 and had encouraged the former vice president to make another White House run.
Mr Trump called into Fox & Friends, where he predicted he will win by a larger electoral margin than he did in 2016, when he tallied 306 electoral college votes compared with Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 232.
Mr Trump invited hundreds of supporters to an election night party in the East Room of the White House.
The first polls close at 6pm eastern time in swathes of Indiana and Kentucky, followed by a steady stream of poll closings every 30 minutes to an hour throughout the evening. The last polls in Alaska shut down at 1am eastern time on Wednesday.
The hard-fought campaign left voters on both sides eager to move on, although the result might not be known for days.
A new anti-scale fence was erected around the White House and in city centres from New York to Denver to Minneapolis, workers boarded up businesses lest the vote lead to unrest of the sort that broke out earlier this year amid protests over racial inequality.
Just a short walk from the White House, for street after street, stores had their windows and doors covered. Some kept just a front door open, hoping to attract a little business.
Both candidates voted early and first lady Melania Trump cast her ballot Tuesday near Mar-a-Lago, the couple’s estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
Mrs Trump, who recently recovered from Covid-19, was the only one not wearing a mask as she entered the polling station.
Her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said the first lady was the only person at the polling station besides poll workers and her staff – all of whom were tested.
Whoever wins will have to deal with an anxious nation, reeling from a once-in-a-century heath crisis that has closed schools and businesses and that is worsening as the weather turns cold.
The campaign has largely been a referendum on Mr Trump’s handling of the virus.
Mr Trump insists the nation was “rounding the turn” on the virus. But Dr Deborah Birx, the co-ordinator of the White House coronavirus taskforce, broke with the president and joined a chorus of Trump administration scientists sounding the alarm about the current spike in infections.