Voters went to polls on Tuesday to write the final chapter of a Presidential campaign that has been like no other, amid a coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 230,000 lives in the United States, cost millions of Americans their jobs and upended daily life and Election Day itself.
Nearly 100 million people had already cast their ballots before the day even dawned — taking advantage of states’ efforts to make voting safer during the pandemic. Among the early voters were President Trump and his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joseph R Biden Jr, who both decided to forgo the traditional Election Day photo opportunity at the polls.
Battleground states, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, were making news on the eve of the election not just for 11th-hour campaign stops, but for setting one-day records for new coronavirus cases. Contrary to Trump’s repeated insistence that the nation is “rounding the turn” when it comes to the virus, the US is seeing more new infections than ever.
Dr Deborah L Birx, who helps lead the Trump administration’s coronavirus response, delivered a stark private warning to White House officials on Monday, telling them that the pandemic was entering a new and “deadly phase” that demands a more aggressive approach.
Dr Birx predicted that the United States would soon see days when the number of new cases exceeded 100,000, and she warned against the type of rallies that Trump has been holding, in which many attendees pack in close together without wearing masks.
The failure to contain the virus has decimated whole industries — costing thousands of jobs in travel, leisure, dining and entertainment. There are now five million more people unemployed than when Trump took office in January 2017.
And the recent recovery is showing signs of stalling, as hopes begin to fade that many jobs lost to pandemic would return swiftly. Hundreds of thousands of new jobless claims pour in every week; 2.4 million people have been unemployed for more than six months. Eight million people have slipped into poverty since May, according to researchers at Columbia University.
Millions of students are not taking classes in person, as many of the nation’s largest school districts are still offering remote instruction or a hybrid that combines some in-person schooling with classes from home. And with the United States still suffering one of the worst outbreaks in the world, travellers have found a US passport is not always welcomed anymore.
The nation remains divided — and buffeted by fears of unrest and violence. As Election Day dawned, the sight of plywood being put up over windows from Washington to New York to Los Angeles sent an ominous sign.
Amid that backdrop, both campaigns have sought to set expectations — but not in the way campaigns typically do. The Biden campaign is seeking to remind people that it is highly likely that the winner of the election will not be known tonight, with many key states indicating that releasing official results could take several days. And Trump has repeatedly made baseless claims seeking to undermine the integrity of the election, with most polls showing him trailing Biden.
But even in the face of the added strains, there were long lines of eager voters ready to render their final verdict on the race in person, collect their “I voted” stickers and to walk out with the pride of taking part in a democratic process.
©2020 The New York Times