[Check this analysis from the British. A big turnout favours Trump! Could he have a great victory!?!? Maybe!!!! Jan]
Line charts showing historical voter turnout rates in US elections as well as a 2020 prediction from the US Elections Project. The 2020 turnout rate is expected to be the highest in more than 100 years
More than 100m Americans cast their ballots before election day, shattering previous records for early voting and putting the country on path to its highest participation rate in more than a century.
The mail-in and early ballot total, tallied on Tuesday by the US Election Project based on data provided by state election authorities, is equivalent to almost 73 per cent of the entire 2016 vote and means far fewer votes were up for grabs as Americans streamed to the polls on election day.
The campaigns of President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden claimed the heavy turnout would help their candidate, with Mr Trump telling aides at his campaign headquarters in Northern Virginia that early tallies in Texas and Arizona were “looking really very strong”.
“Winning is easy,” Mr Trump added. “Losing is never easy. Not for me, it’s not.”
Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, Mr Biden’s campaign manager, said the data, which showed more Democrats than Republicans voting early, “really underscores how many pathways we believe we have to victory and how few Trump has”.
As Americans voted, law enforcement authorities and retailers prepared for possible unrest in several big cities. Buildings in Washington DC and other urban centres were boarded up on election day, making the campaign’s end as unusual as the seven months that came before, unfolding in the shadow of a pandemic that has claimed more than 231,000 American lives and resulted in Mr Trump’s own hospitalisation with Covid-19.
In the case of a close contest, the victor is unlikely to be announced on election night given that the crucial industrial states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are not expected to complete their ballot counts in time.
Democrats hope that wins in Florida and possibly Texas, which has become a new battleground, will give Mr Biden an early and decisive victory.
But the final result could be delayed by days, or even weeks, if the race is close and Democrats fight expected legal efforts by Mr Trump and Republicans to prevent some mail-in votes from being counted.
The first polls will close at 6pm eastern time in the conservative states of Kentucky and Indiana. But the first signs from the key swing states will start to emerge after 7pm when Georgia and parts of Florida end voting.
In a sign of heightened tensions ahead of an election cast by both sides as one of the most consequential in history, retailers from Target to Tiffany boarded up their stores to prepare for possible violence.
Many other businesses and some government buildings in Washington were also secured, while fencing was erected around the White House.
The surge in early voting produced apparent bottlenecks in several states. A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the US Postal Service to do a sweep of its facilities in 12 regions after the agency admitted as many as 300,000 mail-in ballots showed no sign of being delivered yet.
The postal districts, which included locations in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and Michigan, must “ensure that no ballots have been held up,” ordered Judge Emmet Sullivan, a federal judge in Washington DC, where the postal service is based.
Both Mr Trump and Mr Biden repeated their closing arguments in appearances on Tuesday, with Mr Trump defending his handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the appearance at his campaign headquarters, and Mr Biden telling supporters in Philadelphia he would “rebuild the middle class”.
“Although I’m running as a proud Democrat, if you elect me, I’m going to be an American president,” he said though a megaphone.
Donald Trump arrives at his campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. He told reporters there that early balloting tallies were “looking really very strong” for him. © AFP via Getty Images
Mr Biden leads Mr Trump by 8.1 points, according to a Financial Times analysis of polling data compiled by RealClearPolitics. He also has the edge in every swing state, except Ohio, Iowa and North Carolina. And he is neck and neck with Mr Trump in Texas, a traditionally Republican state that awards 38 of the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the presidency.
But Mr Biden’s lead in some swing states, including Florida, is within the margin of error, raising concern among some Democrats that Mr Trump could repeat his surprise win of 2016, when some opinion polls underestimated the level of his support among white working-class voters in the rustbelt.
“We win Pennsylvania, we win it all,” Mr Trump said of the state, which had been a Democratic stronghold since 1992 until he won it narrowly four years ago.
Mr Trump hopes that these “Trump Democrats”, who propelled him to victory four years ago, will support him again. Mr Biden is banking on winning back some of these white men, in addition to securing a higher turnout of black voters than Hillary Clinton managed four years ago while attracting the votes of enough suburban women.
In recent days, Mr Trump has repeated his allegation that the Democrats were trying to steal the election and warned that his lawyers would try to block the counting of absentee votes after election day.
But the president on Monday suffered a twin blow in his attempts to use the courts to influence the outcome, after judges in Nevada and Texas ruled against Republicans in high-profile legal cases concerning the validity of early ballots.
On Monday night in Pittsburgh, Mr Biden slammed Mr Trump for trying to undermine the legitimacy of mail-in ballots. “I don’t care how hard Donald Trump tries, there is nothing . . . that is going to stop the people of this nation from voting.”