America’s ugly and unpredictable presidential election has entered its final hours, with voters flocking to polls to choose between Democrat Hillary Clinton, hoping to become the first woman to serve, and Republican Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman who tapped into a searing strain of economic populism.
Clinton appears to have multiple paths to triumph, while Trump needs to prevail in most of the battleground states to secure an upset.
Control of the Senate is also at stake, with Democrats needing to net four seats if Clinton wins the White House.
The 45th president will inherit an anxious nation, deeply divided by economic and educational opportunities, race and culture. The economy has rebounded from the depths of recession, though many Americans have yet to benefit. New terror threats from home and abroad have raised security fears.
Polls in the Eastern time zones of Indiana and Kentucky were the first to close, and a flood of vital battleground states such as Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio — where polls are due to close in the next 90 minutes — will provide initial clues of the possible winner. The candidates need to secure 270 Electoral College votes to capture the White House.
Candidates cast ballots
Clinton asked voters to keep the White House in Democratic hands for a third straight term. She cast herself as heir to President Barack Obama’s legacy and pledged to make good on his unfinished agenda, including passing immigration legislation, tightening restrictions on guns and tweaking his signature health-care law.
“I know how much responsibility goes with this,” Clinton said after voting Tuesday at her local polling station in Chappaqua, N.Y., with her husband, former president Bill Clinton, at her side. “So many people are counting on the outcome of this election, what it means for our country, and I will do the very best I can if I’m fortunate enough to win today.”
Trump, the New York real estate developer who lives in a gold-plated Manhattan penthouse, forged a striking connection with white, working-class Americans who feel left behind in the changing economy and diversifying country. He cast immigration — both from Latin America and the Middle East — as the root of many problems plaguing the nation and called for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I see so many hopes and so many dreams out there that didn’t happen, that could have happened, with leadership, with proper leadership,” he said by telephone on Fox News before casting his own ballot in Manhattan. “And people are hurt so badly.”
Trump set both parties on edge when he refused to say in the third and final debate whether he would accept the election’s results, citing with no evidence the possibility of a rigged outcome. His statement threatened to undermine a fundamental pillar of American democracy and raised the prospect that his fervent supporters would not view Clinton as a legitimate president if she won.
Asked in an interview with Fox News if he would accept the election results, Trump continued to demur, saying “We’re going to see how things play out.” Later in the interview, he said, “It’s largely a rigged system.”
Defiant into the final hours of Election Day, the Republican candidate’s campaign announced Tuesday it was seeking an investigation in the battleground state of Nevada over reports that some early voting locations had allowed people to join lines to vote after polls were scheduled to close.
The lawsuit was thrown out a few hours later.
‘A lot of upset people’
According to the preliminary exit polls, most Americans who voted had at least a moderate amount of confidence that election ballots would be counted accurately.
Most problems that did pop up at polling places appeared to be routine — the kinds of snags that come every four years, including long lines, machines not working properly and issues with ballots or voter rolls.
Two to three people were wounded by gunfire near a polling station in Azusa, Calif., but there was no indication the incident was election-related. The polling station, located in a park, was placed in lockdown as a precaution.
In Texas, a computer used by election clerks malfunctioned at a polling place inside a suburban Houston high school, forcing officials to briefly divert voters to another polling place more than three kilometres away. Fort Bend County elections administrator John Oldham said the malfunctioning console was later replaced with a backup and voting resumed.
Andrea Patience, a 50-year-old pharmacy technician, was among those standing in line when the computer malfunctioned. She said she waited an hour for it to be fixed. Patience said as many as 100 people were standing in line at the time, and about half of them left.
“There were a lot of upset people,” Patience said. “I don’t know if they will come back later or decide not to vote.”
In Utah, election officials said voting machine problems in the southern part of the state were forcing poll workers to use paper ballots, potentially affecting tens of thousands of people who had yet to vote.
The question this year was whether problems would be widespread and indicate a pattern of fraud or voter intimidation.
Officials with Election Protection, a national voter helpline, said they had received about 63 reports of possible intimidation from callers in Pennsylvania as of 11 a.m. Police in Philadelphia said they had received no reports of any problems.
In the last week alone, Democrats went to court in seven states seeking to halt what they claim were efforts by Republicans and the Trump campaign to deploy a network of poll watchers hunting for voter fraud. Republicans have disputed claims they are planning to intimidate voters, and judges largely found no evidence of efforts to suppress voters.
This is the first presidential election in which a key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act was not in place. A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down a portion of the law that had required certain states and jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to receive pre-approval from the U.S. Department of Justice for any election law change.
This allowed a number of states, most led by Republican legislatures and governors, to enact strict voter ID laws and reduce early voting.
‘Can’t wait for this night to be over’
Even before Tuesday, almost 45 million people had cast ballots for president. Many expressed relief the end was in sight after an election season in which personal attacks often drowned out the issues.
“I’m tired of the mudslinging,” said Laura Schmitt, a 54-year-old Republican from Woodbury, Minn., who was voting for Trump. Emetric Whittington, a 51-year-old Democratic mother of three on Chicago’s violence-plagued south side, agreed: “I can’t wait for this night to be over.”
Clinton has denounced Trump for calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and promoting a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., and for his long line of remarks about women that culminated in an audio in which he bragged about grabbing their genitals. Trump called his opponent “Crooked Hillary” for her use of a private email server as secretary of state and her complicated ties to the family’s Clinton Foundation.
“I can’t vote for somebody who’s so morally reprehensible,” said Lisa Moore, a 48-year-old Republican from Glen Rock, N.J., who picked Clinton. Democrat Charles Ikner of Cross Lanes, W. Va., opted for Trump, saying it was time for “fresh blood” in the White House.
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