More than 100 million Americans opted for voting early, a record-breaking number equivalent to about 73 percent of the total votes counted in the 2016 election, setting the stage for record participation this year, according to data compiled by the US Elections Project.
This year, former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, has taken on incumbent President Donald Trump in the White House race.
A majority of the early voters chose to mail in their ballots during the raging COVID-19 pandemic, which some experts said has gone from bad to worse in the United States. As of Tuesday afternoon, the virus has infected 9.3 million Americans and killed more than 232,000.
Still, many prefer to vote in person on Election Day, while taking such precautions as wearing face masks and keeping social distancing.
“I just wanted to vote on Election Day. There was something special about voting on the day,” said John Peterson, who arrived at a polling station in the state of Virginia at 5:50 am local time (1050 GMT).
The 29-year-old tech company employee voted for Biden, citing the Trump administration’s pandemic response as one of the primary reasons that influenced his decision.
“I think his (Trump’s) handling of the pandemic is similar to his handling of other issues, not well thought out, not planned or implemented effectively,” Peterson said.
“The most crucial issue right now is the pandemic,” said Alex Le, a Vietnamese American and doctor from New York State. The 22-year-old nonpartisan voter voiced his hope that the next administration could listen to doctors and scientists, and tackle the pandemic.
Figures have painted a bleak picture in recent weeks as most of the United States has recorded a spike in infections, deaths and hospitalizations since colder weather set in.
Nearly 100,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Friday, setting a global daily record. The country has not yet seen the worst of it, experts warned.
For many voters, pandemic response cannot be evaluated independently of how the economic fallout is addressed, and the current government’s performance in this regard is up for debate.
Tom Waters from the state of Missouri believes Trump is “getting blamed far more than he should be for how he handled things.”
“I try to put myself in their shoes and I don’t know what more he could do … And I’m thankful that, the economy was opened back up and started to get back on track,” said the soybean and corn farmer who voted for Trump.
The COVID-19-induced recession has to date rendered tens of millions of Americans without a paycheck. The number of Americans living in poverty has grown by 8 million since May, according to a recent Columbia University study.
“Like many Americans, I’m very concerned that the current administration failed to anticipate, manage, or in any meaningful way address the issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic — be it the health emergency itself or the economic calamity caused by the pandemic,” said Jon Taylor, who identified himself as an independent. The political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio voted for Biden.
This year’s election is taking place at a time that many voters said is marked by “division,” as racial tensions have been running high and partisanship is running deep in the country.
“People are very divided. 2016 was less divided,” said Tom Donald, a Republican from the swing state of Wisconsin.
“There is hate of America in our country on both sides,” added the 54-year-old store manager, who voted for Trump.
“The election has shown how divisive we are and the whole campaign has been that way. The ardent supporters of each candidate see no good in the other candidate,” Randy Hudderson, an engineering consultant, told Xinhua.
The 71-year-old from the city of Kenosha in Wisconsin, who identifies as Republican, voted for Biden.
Back in late August, Kenosha became a focal point of both Republican and Democratic campaigns after 29-year-old African American man Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a police officer, sparking protests nationwide demanding racial equity.
The unrest added salt to the country’s racial wound already laid bare by the killing of African American man George Floyd in May by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
“My biggest concern is the emerging of white supremacy … and the blatant hate for non-whites is dangerous,” said Katie Hoel, a Democrat from Madison, Wisconsin. Biden had her vote.
Many Americans hope their votes, some of which crossed party lines, could help pave the way to healing and unity.
In the state of New Hampshire, Les Otten, while calling himself “a lifelong Republican,” voted for Biden.
“I don’t agree with him on a lot of issues,” Otten said of Biden in a video posted on Twitter before his vote. “But I believe it’s time to find what unites us as opposed to what divides us.”
While it could be hours or possibly days before voters find out the winner of the presidential election, many agree that the election result itself is not the solution to many problems they hope to address.
“I think no matter who wins the election, racial inequality and the resulting social issues will not be resolved immediately. The turmoil will go on,” said Kevin Chan, a Chinese American from San Francisco, California.
The 51-year-old businessman said he did not vote for either presidential candidate. “The current partisan politics in the United States will continue to cause social division, polarization, and fracture, which is very disgusting.”
Waters, the farmer from Missouri, used “scary” and “historic” to describe the election.
“It’s historic. I think the outcome either way is going to have long-term impacts … it’s scary just because we don’t know right now, which direction our country’s gonna take. And, there’s a lot of unknowns and everybody likes to know what’s going on.”
A more immediate concern, meanwhile, is election-related chaos that federal and local authorities, as well as businesses, have been bracing for, leading to enhanced security measures introduced across the country.
“The protests this summer were bad and I don’t want that again,” said Kevin Wrighterman from Kenosha of Wisconsin, describing the atmosphere of this year’s election as “disconcerting.” Identifying as Republican, the 64-year-old educator voted for Trump.
Many of the voters believe, or hope, the next administration will bring about some good changes, and make greater efforts to patch up the country’s wounds.