With Short Lines and Face Masks, US Election Day Gets Off to an Orderly Start
Americans by the millions waited patiently to cast their ballots at libraries, schools and arenas across the United States on Tuesday, in an orderly show of civic duty that belied the deep tensions of one of the most polarizing presidential campaigns in the country’s history.
Face masks worn by many and boarded-up stores in some city centers were reminders of two of the issues shaping 2020’s elections, with COVID-19 still ravaging parts of the country after a summer of sometimes violence-marred protests against police brutality and racism.
In New York City, some voting lines snaked around blocks. But in many places lines were short or non-existent, which poll workers guessed was due to an unprecedented wave of early voting. More than 100 million ballots were cast before Election Day, a new record.
In Atlanta, Georgia, about a dozen voters were lined up before sunrise at the Piedmont Park Conservancy. First in line was Ginnie House, shivering in the cold, waiting to cast a vote for the Democratic candidate Joe Biden, a former vice president seeking to replace President Donald Trump, a Republican, in the White House.
“I lost my absentee ballot and I’m not going to miss this vote,” said House, a 22-year-old actor and creative writing student, who had flown back to Atlanta from New York just for this purpose. Of Trump, she said: “He’s dividing our country.”
In Detroit, Craig Mastracci, a 56-year-old nurse and an Army reservist, said he had faith that election officials in Michigan would face no interference in certifying a valid vote tally.
“It may not be fast, but they will get it right in the end,” he said. As in the 2016 elections, he said he voted for the Republican candidates in the congressional and state races, as well as the presidential one, though he was not impressed by his options in the latter.
“I don’t know that either one are strong candidates,” he said of Biden and Trump.
At a polling station in Houston, Texas, Andy Valadez was blowing a shofar, a trumpet used in Jewish and some Christian ceremonies and, in this instance, as a way to pray for a Trump victory, according to Valadez.
“We want to pray for a fair election,” the 55-year-old marketing executive said, his shofar wrapped in a US flag. “We believe in America and want everyone to have a safe voting experience.”
Tensions from Times Square to Texas
The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups said they were watching closely for signs of voter intimidation, and the US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said it would deploy staff to 18 states.
Election officials and political party representatives raised worries about a spate of automated phone calls and text messages warning voters away from the polls for bogus reasons in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nebraska and Florida.
Staff at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a Washington-based advocacy group, told reporters they were concerned about voting machines not working in three counties in Georgia, forcing voters to fill in paper ballots and raising concerns that the paper back-ups would run out.
In some big cities, buildings were boarded up over fears there could be violent protests later. In New York City, the Empire State Building, Macy’s department store, and the skyscraper that houses the Trump-favored Fox News channel were among those that were boarded up. On Rodeo Drive, one of the most expensive shopping streets in California’s Beverly Hills, staff had stripped the display windows at Tiffany & Co. and Van Cleef & Arpels of their jewels and luxury stores disappeared behind plywood.
Tensions have flared up around the country in the run-up to Election Day.
Trump supporters driving pick-up trucks down a Texas highway surrounded a bus filled with Biden campaign staff last week. In North Carolina over the weekend, police pepper-sprayed a group of mostly Democrats marching to polling stations. And members of an anti-government militia group have been charged in an alleged plot to kidnap the Democratic governor of Michigan.
The fondness among some Trump supporters for forming honking, traffic-jamming caravans of vehicles has spread to New York and beyond, and more such events are planned for later on Tuesday. Some election security experts worry the caravans could break laws, intimidate voters or spiral into violent confrontations.
At a polling station at a library in Tampa, Florida, Biden supporters had set up a marquee with signs for both their candidate and for Black Lives Matter, the slogan-turned-movement around which protesters massed in cities across the United States this year.
After emerging, Eric Weaver, 44, said he had voted for Biden because he believed that Trump had made racists in America more brazen.
“He’s enticing these hate groups to think they’ve got a place in society,” said Weaver, a Black collections manager. “Now they feel like they can be out in public and upfront with their racism.”
Even once votes are cast, some worry about a protracted ballot count, making the country wait for days or more before a clear winner emerges if the race is close.
Trump, whose office holds no powers over state-controlled vote-tallying, has said he thinks states should simply stop counting legal ballots once Tuesday has passed.
This frustrated Nick Edwards, a 26-year-old Republican and lifelong conservative in Detroit, who decided to split his ticket: Biden for president, and then Republicans in Tuesday’s congressional and state races.
“Any disbelief in our system has been put into the public’s view by Trump,” he said after voting. “He’s been illegitimizing the election since last year, saying that mail-in ballots are fraudulent.”