Election Highlights: Large Election-Day Turnout Follows Early Voting Records

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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.

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