U.S. Election Day unfolds smoothly, despite fears of disruption

DETROIT/ATLANTA (Reuters) – Americans turned out by the millions to vote on Tuesday in a mostly calm show of political determination and civic duty amid the coronavirus pandemic and deep tensions around one of the most polarizing presidential races in U.S. history.

The masks worn by many voters and the sight of boarded-up storefronts in major city centers were reminders of two defining issues of the 2020 election, with COVID-19 still ravaging parts of the country and concern about unrest over the election outcome after a summer of protests against racial injustice.

A handful of incidents stood out on an otherwise mostly tranquil Election Day as Republican President Donald Trump battled for a second term against Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

The FBI and the New York attorney general’s office opened investigations into torrents of anonymous robocalls urging people in several states to stay home.

A Republican congressional candidate in Pennsylvania on Tuesday sued election officials in a suburban Philadelphia county, accusing them of illegally counting mail-in ballots early and giving voters who submitted defective ballots a chance to re-vote.

And a federal judge ordered the U.S. Postal Service to conduct a sweep of some facilities across the country for undelivered mail-in ballots and to ship them immediately to election offices to be counted.

But few if any major disturbances were reported at polling sites. Civil liberties groups and law enforcement were on high alert for any interference.

States’ restrictions on early counting of the flood of absentee ballots received in advance in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania meant that a clear outcome in those three pivotal states would likely be undetermined before Wednesday or beyond. Those states could decide who wins the White House.

Polling mishaps in Georgia delayed the results there.

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FINAL RUSH

As polls were about to close for the night in Florida’s closely fought Pinellas County, a last-minute rush of voters in cars pulled up to an election office in Largo minutes to deliver their vote-by-mail ballots to a drop box outside.

In New York City, some voting lines snaked around blocks, but in many places, lines were short or non-existent. Poll workers surmised this was due to an unprecedented wave of early voting. More than 100 million ballots were cast before Election Day, a new record.

“I lost my absentee ballot, and I’m not going to miss this vote,” said Ginnie House, 22, an actor and creative writing student who flew back to Atlanta from New York just to cast her vote for Biden.

Linda King, 73, an education coordinator for a nonprofit, arrived early to cast her ballot for Trump at a church in Champion, Ohio, but found the parking lot jammed and decided to return in the afternoon.

King said she was determined to vote in person on Election Day out of sheer habit. “I don’t celebrate Christmas in November,” she said.

GLITCHES BUT NO VIOLENCE

The U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said it deployed personnel to 18 states to watch for voter intimidation and suppression. A senior U.S. Department of Homeland Security official told reporters there was no evidence of violence at polling stations during the day.

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Business owners in cities across the country boarded up street-level windows for fear that civil unrest could erupt later, especially if the election’s outcome were delayed.

There were scattered glitches.

One of the most potentially consequential occurred in Fulton County, Georgia, at the State Farm Arena polling center in downtown Atlanta, where a burst water pipe delayed the vote count by at least two hours.

The snafu in the most populous county of Georgia hampered efforts to call a winner Tuesday night.

Poll watchers also pointed to malfunctioning voting machines in three Georgia counties, causing slowdowns as some voters were forced to fill in provisional ballots and raising concerns the paper back-ups would run out.

Some Americans worried about a protracted ballot count in pivotal states.

Disputing Trump’s assertions in the run-up to Tuesday that continuing to count votes after Election Day was open to abuse, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, told reporters on Tuesday it was normal for ballots to be tabulated days after polls closed.

“That’s not a sign of something nefarious,” he said. “Will we have a final number on Election Night? Well, the answer is, of course not. Because we never have a final number on Election Night.”

Irregularities at the polls were isolated. A man legally carrying an unconcealed firearm was arrested and charged with trespassing at a polling site in Charlotte, North Carolina, after he was found to be “possibly intimidating” other voters, police said.

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