U.S. sees 95mn early votes; one more day to go

President Donald Trump again questions integrity of election process; both campaigns have readied armies of lawyers

More than 95 million Americans had cast their votes in the 2020 presidential election by Monday, according to a tally by the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida, a harbinger of what is expected to be the highest turnout in modern times.

Just a day before Election Day, the record-breaking number is equal to 69% of the entire voter turnout for the 2016 election.

A sharp increase in mail-in and early in-person voting was largely prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 2,30,000 people in the United States and continues unabated in many States.

President Donald Trump, his administration criticised for its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, trails Democratic challenger Joe Biden in national opinion polls.

But the race is still a toss-up in battleground States that decide the election through the Electoral College, including Arizona, Florida and North Carolina.

In-person voting

A large number of Mr. Trump’s Republican supporters are expected to turn up in person to vote on Election Day after he sowed distrust, without evidence, of mail-in voting by asserting it was riddled with fraud.

Democrats have largely embraced early voting, not only because of the pandemic, but also because of steps the Trump administration has taken to slow down the processing of U.S. mail.

Experts predict turnout will easily surpass the 138 million who voted in 2016. Only 47 million votes were submitted before Election Day four years ago.

With one day left for polling, President Trump and Mr. Biden stepped up campaigning in the battleground States on Monday.

Former President Barack Obama, whom Mr. Biden served as Vice-President for eight years, will hold a get-out-the-vote rally in Atlanta on Monday before closing out the campaign in the evening with a rally in Miami.

Mr. Biden has wrapped up the campaign on the offensive, travelling almost exclusively to States that Mr. Trump won in 2016 and criticising the President’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has dominated the race.

Mr. Biden accuses Mr. Trump of giving up on fighting the pandemic, which has killed more than 2,30,000 Americans and cost millions of jobs. Polls show Americans trust Mr. Biden more than Mr. Trump to fight the virus.

During a frantic five-State swing on Sunday, Mr. Trump, who was impeached by the Democratic-led House of Representatives last December and acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate in February, claimed he had momentum.

He promised an economic revival and imminent delivery of a vaccine to fight the pandemic.

Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious diseases expert, has said the first doses of an effective coronavirus vaccine will likely become available to some high-risk Americans in late December or early January.

Mr. Trump, who has often disagreed with Dr. Fauci publicly, suggested early on Monday he might fire him as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases after the election.

‘Terrible thing’

Mr. Trump again questioned the integrity of the U.S. election, saying a vote count that stretched past Election Day would be a “terrible thing” and suggesting his lawyers might get involved.

“I don’t think it’s fair that we have to wait for a long period of time after the election,” Mr. Trump told reporters. Some States, including battlegrounds Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, do not start processing mail-in votes until Election Day, slowing the process.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly said that mail-in votes are prone to fraud, although election experts say that is rare in U.S. elections. Mail voting is a long-standing feature of American elections, and about one in four ballots was cast that way in 2016.

Democrats have pushed mail-in voting as a safe way to cast a ballot in the coronavirus pandemic, while Mr. Trump and Republicans are counting on a big Election Day in-person turnout.

Both campaigns have created armies of lawyers in preparation for post-election litigation battles.

“We’re going in the night of — as soon as the election is over — we’re going in with our lawyers,” Mr. Trump told reporters without offering further explanation.

The Attorneys General of Michigan and Pennsylvania, both Democrats, challenged Mr. Trump’s rhetoric on Twitter. “The election ends when all the votes are counted. Not when the polls close,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel wrote.

In a sign of how volatile the election could be, buildings for blocks around the White House were boarded up over the weekend. Federal authorities planned to extend the perimeter fencing around the White House by several blocks, encompassing the same area fenced out during this summer’s protests against racism.

To help ensure mail-in ballots are delivered in a timely fashion, a judge on Sunday ordered the U.S. Postal Service to remind senior managers they must follow its “extraordinary measures” policy and use its Express Mail Network to expedite ballots. A federal judge in Texas on Monday will consider a Republican request to throw out about 1,27,000 votes already cast at drive-through voting sites in the Democratic-leaning Houston area.

U.S. sees 95mn early votes; one more day to go