By NIKHIL MEHTA
(CNS)- Voters flocked to the polls today to choose their next president, though experts say it is unlikely that an official winner will be decided by midnight.
President Donald J. Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden have both been campaigning for more than a year in a contentious election season that has been significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Biden holds an eight-point advantage in national polls, though his lead is much slimmer in key swing states.
More than 97 million Americans have already voted, which is more than two-thirds of 2016’s total turnout. Battleground states such as Texas, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida have surpassed or nearly surpassed their vote total from 2016.
Voters will also decide who will control the House of Representatives and the Senate. While the Democrats are widely expected to keep the House, the outlook of the Senate is much less clear. Republicans now hold the chamber with 53 seats with 12incumbent senators in closely contested races, compared with two Democratic senators in such races.
This campaign season has seen a record amount of fundraising, with an estimated total of $14 billion in spending on the presidential, House,and Senate races.
The first polls will close at 7:00 p.m. EST, at which point results for some reasons will come in. Experts caution, however, that the record-high early and absentee voting turnout will likely delay results in a number of key states.
Legal wrangling over vote-counting has already begun.
The Texas Supreme Court and a federal judge in Houston yesterday rejected Republican-supported lawsuits seeking to throw out more than 127,000 votes cast via drive-through in Harris County, Texas, which contains the city of Houston.
Democrats have thrown resources at longtime Republican strongholds Texas and Georgia. Biden and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, have made multiple trips to the states in the past few weeks. With three competitive Senate races in the two states, Democrats believe they can finally turn them blue, as evidenced by a visit by former President Barack Obama to Georgia on Monday.
Biden held his last campaign events in Pittsburgh in an effort to capture the crucial state of Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral college votes, promising a return to normalcy following the often tumultuous and controversial four years of the Trump administration.
Trump visited Pennsylvania and Wisconsin yesterday, two states he won by less than one percentage point in 2016. In Florida over the weekend, he threatened to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading epidemiologist on the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, while also calling for vote-counting to end on Election Night.
Voters at the polls today will be constantly reminded of the coronavirus pandemic that has dominated much of 2020, both in terms of American life and presidential politics.
Biden has consistently criticized Trump’s response to COVID-19, as cases in the United States have once again surged, with 533 deaths and 93,223 new cases reported on Monday. With more than 230,000 Americans dead and almost 10 million total confirmed cases, many voters will see this election as a referendum on presidential leadership in a time of crisis.
Election observers have also raised concerns about Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power and demands that the election be decided on Election Day. In the past week, Trump has announced his campaign’s plans to attempt to stop the count of mail-in ballots received after polls close in Pennsylvania.
The presidential race overlaps with competitive Senate races in several swing states, including Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, and Republican bastions such as South Carolina, Georgia and Texas.
Democratic Senate candidates saw their donations spike following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sept. 18, drawing the future of the Supreme Court onto the ballot.
Trump and the GOP-led Senate confirmed Ginsburg’s replacement, Amy Coney Barrett last week, 38 days after Ginsburg’s death and 8 days before the election.
Most pundits predict that the Democrats will expand their majority in the House of Representatives, likely giving Rep. Nancy Pelosi another term as Speaker of the House.
While many races will be decided on Election Night, close elections in several states will likely prevent full results from being reported tonight. Social media sites have already begun combating disinformation on the outcome of the election, with preparations for a contested election already in place.