Americans lined up for a long election season’s final day of voting Tuesday, breezing through cavernous facilities in some cities and waiting by the hundreds in others, and contending with only few scattered glitches in the first hours of Election Day.

Nearly 100 million people had already cast ballots as voting got underway, a stunning figure that underscored how the coronavirus pandemic has transformed this year’s election, as a record number of Americans voted early or by mail to avoid the risk of infection.

Early turnout was light in Miami, Dayton, Atlanta and Louisville, prompting a tentative sigh of relief for election officials who have spent months preparing for complications arising from the pandemic. But long lines formed in other places, including New York City, Las Vegas, Green Bay, Wis., and St. Petersburg, Fla. – a reminder of the historic surge of interest in this year’s race for the White House between President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden.

“We don’t normally see lines this long, this early,” said Jonathan Kipp, an election administrator in Londonderry, N.H., where 563 people voted over the first hour. “Isn’t it great, though? People are looking to vote.”

Voters encountered a handful of obstacles Tuesday, including a snow quall in Manchester, N.H., and a few problems with machines and voter check-in systems in cities such as Columbus, Oh. and Philadelphia.

In many cities, the physical and economic toll of the coronavirus itself was on vivid display. In Kenosha, Wis., Angela Van Dyke waited along with about 100 other others in chilly temperatures as the sun rose Tuesday morning, despite her worries about exposure to the virus.

“It’s a civic duty to show up, even in the midst of a massive surge” of infections, said Van Dyke, who moved back to her home state from California after losing her job in architecture because of the pandemic. She accused Republican leaders in Wisconsin of being “lazy” in their management of the crisis, and she was apprehensive about safety protocols in her polling station as she stood in line.

In Omaha, nurse McKenna Hoffman, 33, stood in line to vote in part, she said, because of Trump’s poor management of the pandemic. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, R, a Trump ally, opposed a mask mandate in the state, and on Monday, the state set a record for hospitalizations, according to Washington Post data. During her shift in an intensive care unit Monday, McKenna said just three beds remained open.

“It’s worse now than it was in March,” she said. “It will come down to who to intubate.”

In a sign of what is expected to be an expanded electorate this year, first-time voters were among those at the front of the lines Tuesday.

Brian Dalley, 60, arrived at the Ada Bible Church in Cascade, Mich., before the sun rose and even before many of the election workers arrived. He was the first in a line of about 70 voters that stretched along the edge of the parking lot, under a waning moon, their faces illuminated by phones and their hands cradling hot coffee.

Dalley, who has never voted before, said he has been upset by the unrest this year, including protests against Trump, which he said were unpatriotic.

“You’re supposed to get behind your president,” he said, adding that it inspired him to vote for Trump – and straight Republican down the ticket.

In some states, Tuesday also marked the start of processing and counting the mountain of absentee ballots that election offices must contend with. Election officials in Pittsburgh announced the removal of ballots from a locked storage facility to begin what is expected to be a days-long process determining the final vote in Pennsylvania.

A few glitches also marked the first hours of voting. In Columbus, the Franklin County Board of Elections was checking voters in using paper poll books after technical difficulties sidelined an electronic check-in system, but officials said the move was not slowing down actual voting.

In Kansas City, police said they were investigating messages spray painted on the city’s iconic National WWI Museum overnight, including “Don’t Vote.” The building is serving as a polling station Tuesday.

One precinct in Philadelphia struggled with glitchy machines and briefly resorted to provisional ballots, but the machines were running by midmorning.

The Ohio secretary of state’s communications team announced Tuesday morning in a tweet that the Franklin County Board of Elections is checking voters in using paper poll books after not being able to upload all early in-person voting data into its electronic check-in system.

At least three states – Texas, Hawaii and Montana – exceeded their total 2016 turnout with early and mail voting this year, but other states have seen lower turnout that could foretell heavier Election Day traffic. Among battlegrounds, Pennsylvania had reached only about 40% of its 2016 levels by Monday, Ohio had hit 60%, and Michigan was also at 60%.

In other states, election officials who had encountered huge numbers of voters in the past several weeks said they were not sure what to expect Tuesday.

In Georgia, 3.9 million people had already voted as of Monday evening – edging close to the 4.2 million who turned out in 2016. The majority of the state’s 10 most populous counties had returned more than two-thirds of their mail ballots as of Saturday, according to the U.S. Elections Project.

On Monday, Fulton County Elections Director Richard Barron said that in some precincts in his county, home to downtown Atlanta, more than 80% of registered voters had cast their ballots either by mail or in person.

“This turnout has been amazing,” Barron said. Like other election administrators, Barron cautioned that Tuesday could still bring a crush of voting – and long wait times – but said that the upside was likely to be record-setting overall turnout, brought on by heavy interest in the race for the White House between President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden.

“June taught us how difficult it is to run an election in the middle of a pandemic, but I think it also helped us to be prepared for what lies ahead,” Barron said. “It has made us better.”

Advocates remained nervous about the volume of mail ballots requested but not yet returned – and about fresh reports Monday of mail service delays in several battleground states. In Homestead, Fla., south of Miami, Postal Service executives announced that 62 ballots were found in a backlog of 180,000 pieces of mail over the weekend. All the ballots except one have now been delivered.

An estimated 27.2 million requested ballots had not been returned by Tuesday morning, according to the U.S. Elections Project, and the campaigns were urging their supporters to return ballots immediately to make sure those votes count.

In many cases, voters requested absentee ballots but then changed their minds about voting by mail, election officials said.

In Harris County, Tex., for instance, home of Houston, about half of the 90,000 ballots that haven’t been returned were surrendered by voters who chose to cast their ballots in person instead.

And in Florida, where 1.35 million mail ballots had not yet been returned, Republican consultant Rick Wilson estimated that voters planning to cast ballots in person accounted for about half of those.

In some states, however, it is more difficult for voters to change how they cast their ballots. In South Carolina, where about 35,000 mail-in ballots had not been returned by Monday afternoon, anyone who requested and received one will not be allowed to vote in person Tuesday. Those South Carolinians must instead return their mail-in ballots by 7 p.m. or cast a provisional ballot if they attest to never receiving their ballot in the mail.

Strategists from both parties said it was likely that more Republicans than Democrats got cold feet about voting by mail after months of attacks from Trump, who claimed without evidence that it would invite fraud. Polls have also indicated that a majority of Republicans planned to vote on Election Day, whereas most Democrats said they planned to vote early, either by mail or in person.

In the states that track voters by party registration, early-voting data reflected an advantage for Democrats, although in some states, notably Florida, that advantage had narrowed dramatically by the time early voting ended Sunday.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: