Election, buildup and aftermath beset with tension

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, Americans all across the country headed to voting booths while an unprecedented number of people chose mail-in ballots due to the current health and safety risks. Pre-election voting this year surpassed two-thirds of all ballots cast during the 2016 presidential election. This amounts to more than 91.6 million Americans, a number symbolic of increased political engagement, especially among young people and left-leaning voters, and the United States’ highest voter turnout since 1908. However, problems have amassed around the issue of mail-in ballots.

Millions of mail-in ballots are at risk in battleground states due to recent slowdowns in mail deliveries. This could potentially mean these votes will not arrive in time to be tallied for the final election vote count. At the same time, Republicans in states across the country have been challenging individual ballots. For example, in Nevada, the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit seeking images of the signature of every voter in order to ensure it matched the one on file. One case even reached the Supreme Court, with the Republican Party of Pennsylvania attempting to block a three-day extension for receiving absentee ballots. A similar case came to the Supreme Court from North Carolina, but the Court refused to intervene, with both conservative and liberal justices affirming the right for the state to interpret its own constitution in terms of the voting count. Judges in both state and federal courts have been skeptical of GOP lawsuits that claim the need to limit mail-in balloting in order to decrease the possibility of voter fraud. President Trump’s rhetoric concerning the unreliability of absentee ballots and encouragement of states to stop counting ballots at a certain point have clearly enabled his base to prescribe to this mindset. 

Concerns of voter intimidation, specifically by far-right extremists, manifested in visibly armed observers at polling booths, tenants threatening to increase rents based on the election outcome and general chanting and intrusive behavior toward voters at polling stations. Do these cases have a place in court? The Justice Department responds that voter intimidation is “amorphous and largely subjective in nature,” making it very difficult to prosecute. As of yet, it is simply another dimension to the already volatile political scene in America. 

These tensions in the voting arena are a sign of the times. The presidential election of 2020 comes at a breaking point of American politics, in which the citizenry is divided across party lines despite having endured so much collectively. Just this year, the United States has been ravaged with a pandemic that has cost 233,000 lives, seen protests against police brutality by the Black Lives Matter movement and experienced record-setting wildfires spanning millions of acres on the West Coast. Many people are looking for change in times where the country does not seem to be at the forefront but rather held back by obsolete rhetoric, an oil-based economy rather than one veering to clean-energy and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a beacon of evangelical far-right values. Whether voters make their decisions based on a candidate’s character, record or political views, Trump and Biden, for the most part, lean on opposite poles. Whether citizens call it a vote for change or a return to normalcy, the two candidates resonate with a wide variety of individuals across the country. 

As of Nov. 1 pre-election polling, Biden led Trump in four key battleground states: Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Biden was seen to have a stronger position on the electoral map than any presidential candidate since at least 2008. However, the significance of Trump’s base can be seen in these battleground states. He holds a 60 to 34 percent lead over Biden among white people without a college degree, while Biden leads among college-educated white voters and people of color. In recent decades, working class white voters have shifted from the political left to more right-leaning views, resulting in increased  support for Donald J. Trump. 

Despite polling anticipating Biden having a 3-point lead in Florida, he lost the state to Trump by over 3.4 percentage points. Only 86 percent of votes are in for Arizona, but Fox News has called the state for Biden. Several news outlets have called Wisconsin for Biden, though the Trump campaign is demanding a recount. Pennsylvania, with 81 percent of its votes counted, is seeing an eight-point lead for Trump, though the remaining ballots are expected to favor Biden. Biden currently has 237 electoral votes to Trump’s 214. As of now, the final results are anticipated at earliest Friday. Other swing states that went to Trump include North Carolina and Ohio, while Michigan is leaning toward Biden and Georgia still a tossup.

The election is—perhaps unexpectedly, based on polling—still divided, but representative of an increasingly polarized country. And our president is––perhaps also unexpectedly, but still depressingly––demonstrating his contempt for democracy and belief in his own autocratic rule. 

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