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US elections 2020: Americans vote in huge numbers in Trump-Biden showdown

In a year marred by the coronavirus and civil strife, Biden and Trump face-off in battle to take charge of America
Voters fill out their ballots at privacy booths inside the Brooklyn Museum in New York on 3 November (MEE/Azad Essa)
By in
Washington, New York, Dearborn, Michigan and Tampa, Florida

Americans went to the polls on Tuesday in huge numbers in one of the most divisive presidential races in recent memory, pitting incumbent Donald Trump against former vice-president Joe Biden. 

Nearly 100 million people cast their ballots in early voting before Tuesday, shattering previous records and putting the country on course for its highest turnout in a century.

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Amid a coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than nine million Americans and resulted in the deaths of more than 230,000 people, the two rivals presented radically different visions of how to lead the country in the final hours leading up to the vote.

Trump was defiant in the battleground state of Michigan, and repeated his dark and unsubstantiated claim that the polls risk being rigged against him.

"We're going to have another beautiful victory tomorrow," he told a crowd of Republican supporters in the early hours of Tuesday in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Biden, appearing in the battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, accused Trump of "fanning the flames of hate all across this country".

"We have an opportunity to put an end to a presidency that's divided this nation," said the Democratic challenger.

"We can put an end to a presidency that has failed to protect this nation. We can put an end to a presidency that's fanned the flames of hate all across this country."

Fears and anxiety

Amid fears that pockets of post-election violence could break out, stores, restaurants and other businesses have been boarded up in New York, Washington and other major capitals.

In Dearborn, Michigan, a city that is home to large numbers of Arab and Muslim Americans, voters told Middle East Eye they were dreading another four years of a Trump presidency.

"It's sad to live with fear from our own president," said Nivine Eldayeh, a first-time, 20-year-old voter.

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Mohammad Qazzaz, a 36-year-old who is suffering from health complications after contracting Covid-19, said Arab Americans were worried about issues that affect all Americans - most pressingly, the coronavirus.

"I'm nervous; I'm worried," Qazzaz told MEE. "I'm hoping that Biden wins, just so we can have some order in the country."

Opinion polls had favoured Biden to win, but a tightening race in several key states offers Trump hopes of a pathway back to the White House.

The poll aggregator fivethirtyeight.com showed Biden with an 8.4-point advantage overall, while Real Clear Politics predicted a lead of 6.7.

In Florida, the largest of the handful of crucial swing states, Biden led by just 1.7 points.

US election map

In Pinellas county, a swing county within the swing state of Florida, Trump supporters were out in force in the hours before polls closed.

Since 1996, the presidential candidate who has won the sunshine state has gone on to win the presidency, so Florida is a must-win for Trump if he's to be re-elected to a second term in office.

In downtown St Petersburg, the county's largest and most liberal city, Jeanne Coffin, a small business owner, told MEE that she admired the Trump administration so much that she felt obliged to turn up on the streets to show her support. 

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Coffin praised Trump's moves on Israel, particularly how quickly he was able to get the US embassy transferred from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

"Israel having Jerusalem, I mean - that's huge," she said, also praising the US-led normalisation deal between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain that took place in August. 

Concerned about refugee intake and border control, Melodie Stang, a local real estate broker, warned against allowing too many Muslims into the country, something Trump has advocated against with his so-called Muslim ban.

"We just can't have bad boys coming into our country to try and put a thumb on us and say 'oh well, you have to be Muslim'," Stang said.

"Like in England, oh my God, they just had open borders, and now there's tons of Muslims running the government right now, and they're having a lot of problems." 

Is he racist? I don't care!

In New York's Bronx, an area which is home to some of the poorest districts in the US, some voters told MEE that they viewed Trump as an embodiment of his campaign slogan - the man to make America great again - and were willing to overlook his racist and xenophobic rhetoric.

"Look, man, I voted for Trump," Jackson Toint Dujour, a 77-year-old originally from Haiti told MEE.

"He carries the aspirations of the majority. I rather be with the majority. Is he racist? Man, I don't care! When you with the majority, you eat better."

Still, others blamed the president for the country's flagging economy and New York's poor handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

In New York state, at least one out of every 500 residents has died from disease.

Larry, a Vietnam war veteran, blamed President Trump for the country's woes (MEE/Azad Essa)
Larry, a Vietnam war veteran, blamed President Trump for the country's social and economic woes (MEE/Azad Essa)

"If we have four more years of Trump, I don't know what's going to happen to this country," said Larry S, a 66-year-old Vietnam war veteran. "This pandemic, this economic crisis is all on him."

Still, many New Yorkers reported being less than enthusiastic about either of the candidates.

Erica, who chose not to share her surname, said the vote felt "arbitrary" and she circled Biden "begrudgingly."

"I don't see Biden and Trump as distinguishable from each other. Biden feels like continuation of Trump which was really a continuation of Obama and Biden ad infinitum," she said.

"Much of Trumps ghastly policies were pretty much a continuation of Obama's immigration and foreign policies that he had put in place. Obama obviously has a more pleasing veneer than Trump.

"If you look at the Middle East, particularly Palestine, whatever has happened under Trump is really part and parcel of America's approach to the issue over the past few decades, not separate to it," she added.

"There has long been support of Israel's draconian behaviour and so the systems were long in place - it actually made it easier for Trump to do what he wanted."

Lawsuits, voter fraud allegations

Before voting even commenced on Tuesday, there was a pile of lawsuits across the country concerning the acceptance of mail-in ballots. 

Each state decides how long after the election they will still accept ballots coming in the mail, which have experienced delays in the US Postal Service's system. Some states have extended deadlines, such as in California where ballots are accepted until 20 November.

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But some states, like Michigan, do not accept any ballots after Tuesday. 

Judges in Nevada and Pennsylvania have allowed their voting deadlines to be extended, but Trump has hit back warning that he plans to take legal action against the move.

On Monday, a Texas judge dismissed a request by three Republican candidates to toss out 127,000 ballots that were cast at a drive-thru polling station.

The decision follows two similar cases decided by the Texas Supreme Court that also rejected claims challenging the validity of drive-thru voting in the Democratic stronghold of Harris County.