MATAMOROS, Mexico — Enda Marisol Rivera and Vilma Consuelo Vasquez sat at a rickety wooden table under tattered tarps, peeling the bananas they were eating for breakfast and talking about the nerves they had woken up with this morning.
The two women have been living for months in a squalid tent camp full of people hoping to gain asylum status in the United States.
“In the name of God, we hope Biden wins,” said Ms. Rivera, who has been at the camp for seven months. “It’s not safe here.”
The camp is a testament to the fact that President Trump has shut the door to America to large swaths of prospective migrants. The residents of the camp are among many foreign nationals who are watching the election results with much at stake.
With no television available, people in the camp walked around clutching cellphones for news. Some had radios.
A couple of tents away, Luis Ramos, 26, from Honduras, sat on a water jug outside his tent, wearing shorts and a black T-shirt that said, “Do All Things With Love.” His black socks were becoming caked with dirt as he bounced his legs nervously.
“We’re all watching to see what happens,” he said, his eyes red with tears. “Today is the day that will define who gets to stay and who gets to go. Trump’s policies put us here. They have been bad for us in every way.”
Mr. Ramos said he had struggled to sleep the night before on the stiff cot inside his tent, thinking about the American election. He said he planned to spend the day in one of his neighbors’ tents, where they could crowd around the cellphones of people who had enough money to pay for a day’s worth of internet service, in order to monitor the election results.
“Today is our only hope,” he said.
People in the camp were planning to gather around 7 p.m. to watch the late night results come in. Some people were calling the event a party, others a vigil. Many were in touch with relatives in the United States.
“We’re a village here,” said Sandra Andrade, 43, from El Salvador.
Maria Guardado, 43, from Progreso, Honduras, said she was cautiously optimistic that Joseph R. Biden Jr. would be able to help her leave the camp — if he were to win the race for president. She stuck her hand into a makeshift stove she was using to make rice for breakfast, jumbling scraps of wood to stoke the flame. Her 15-year-old son was still asleep inside their tent. She said the two of them would keep their eyes glued to their phones all day, hoping for news of a Biden win.
She felt good about the fact that Mr. Biden’s wife had visited the camp last year, with many Latinos as part of her delegation. But she added that she was also realistic. “Politicians are politicians,” she said.
DETROIT — At the Northwest Activities Center, where dozens of voters were already lined up when the polls opened at 7 a.m., Ronald Lockett said he had not felt as much excitement since 2008. “It’s like Christmas,” he said. “This is like my Super Bowl.”
During the last presidential election in 2016, Detroit voters seemed “deflated,” said Mr. Lockett, who runs the center and has helped oversee voting there for two decades. Some voters that year said Hillary Clinton was taking the city’s votes for granted.
But this time around, he said, Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the state Democratic Party took a particular interest in the city, focusing on gaining support from Black men and driving up turnout in a city where tens of thousands didn’t vote in 2016.
Mr. Lockett said he voted for Mr. Biden largely because he believes the candidate’s approach to pandemic response would help Americans recover from the past eight months. The virus has been especially devastating, he said, for the 79 percent of Detroit residents who, like him, are Black; he caught the virus himself earlier in the year.
“It hit us like an atomic bomb,” he said. “It has essentially torn the social fabric of our community.”
His most fervent hope for the next four years, Mr. Lockett said, was unity. “The real patriots are people who wear masks,” he said. “We’ve got to get away from the red versus blue, and realize that to defeat this virus, we’re going to have to come together as one.”
LAS VEGAS — At first light, an army of union workers drove into their headquarters in the shadow of casinos where, in normal years, they go to work. On Election Day, hundreds of them planned to knock on doors to get tens of thousands of members of Nevada’s powerful Culinary Workers Union to the polls.
The 60,000-member union is made up overwhelmingly of immigrants and minorities who work in hotels and restaurants here. More than half are now unemployed.
“People have no work. People have no food. They maybe soon are losing their house. They want change,” said Tedros Naga, 51, who came to the United States 30 years ago from Ethiopia for political asylum and is now a cook. He and his wife lost their jobs when the virus hit. He spent October knocking on doors, encouraging fellow members to vote early.
It hasn’t been a hard sell.
Union volunteers are making the pitch in Mandarin, Spanish and Tagalog. Mr. Naga works the Ethiopian enclave on the city’s west side, starting each visit with a traditional greeting of “Salam.”
One woman answered the door Monday in a traditional prayer shawl. As she pulled it down onto her shoulders she explained in Amharic, an Ethiopian language, that she had been praying. One of her good friends had died from the virus and she had several friends out of work. She said she prayed every day that Mr. Trump would lose the election.
“This guy,” she said, breaking into English, “He’s so disrespectful.”
Support for Mr. Biden among those of Ethiopian heritage Mr. Naga has encountered is high. That is in part because of issues like the virus and immigration policy, and in part because they see in Mr. Trump echoes of the divisive rhetoric of their old country, he said. “Trump scares them. A lot of us, we already ran away from a dictator. We don’t want to see that again.”
Door after door, he found union members had already voted. All of them for Mr. Biden.
Early and mail-in voting numbers in the state, where polls suggest Mr. Biden has an edge, have smashed all previous records.
After hours, Mr. Naga finally found a woman who hadn’t cast her ballot. She was waiting for her son. It was the first time he was old enough to vote and they wanted to go together.
“Don’t worry,” she said told him in Amharic, “I hope to be the first in line.”
This season of voting angst, we have become used to hearing ballots discussed like weapons in a war — dangerous, imperiled, subject to suppression and to spurious claims of abuse.
But what if I told you I could show you a place where ballots were blessedly, soothingly dull?
Welcome to the world of ballot-counting livestreams, the placid, online aquariums of democracy.
Set up by local governments to offer transparency about the much-demagogued voting process, these video streams offer an overhead view of the mundane process of opening, verifying and adding up the choices of millions of voters.
In a Philadelphia scanning room, workers at rows of tables silently unfold ballots, look them over front and back and add them to trays. (There is no audio on the feed.) Their masks and face shields emphasize how they, like so many essential workers, are now pulling hazard duty.
The panorama of yellow-vested civil servants doing the grunt work of democracy looks like something from a W.P.A. mural. I start to develop favorites as I watch, like the black-masked woman who taps her stack of ballots every so often to neaten it, a little gesture of respect.
The work goes on, coast to coast. In Union County, N.J., ballots fly through the curves of a tabulation machine. In Maricopa County, Ariz., a woman rubs hand sanitizer up to her elbows as she sits down to work. In a vast office in Ada County, Idaho, a lone man hunches over a laptop.
In these little browser windows, balloting doesn’t seem scary or vicious, however fraught the stakes. It’s methodical, organized, rote, like watching the workings of a human computer, each circuit a pair of gloved hands. Each envelope opened, each ballot stacked into a tray and transferred to a cart, each paper spat through a scanner, is one person’s decision.
Later tonight, all those decisions will be aggregated, analyzed on TV-network magic walls and operatically argued over. It’s not bad, beforehand, to have this visual reminder that every datapoint in those graphics began with somebody making a choice, and someone else doing a heroically boring job.
Daija Solomon, a postgraduate student working as a nanny in Chapel Hill, N.C., is worried about what will happen if the outcome of the election is unclear or contested. Her plans to vote early were stymied when she had to spend the last two weeks in quarantine because of contact with a Covid-positive friend, so she cast her ballot in person on Tuesday.
“I am kind of nervous,” Ms. Solomon said. “I am a Black woman with two white kids under my care, and I just want to stay as safe as possible, keep them as safe as possible. Maybe we’ll just plan a movie day.”
Anxiety is running high at some polling sites in the state, with record-breaking early voting meaning that the state’s tallies will probably not be complete Tuesday night.
Steve Rawson, third vice chair of the Durham Democratic Party, said he was optimistic that the state would have a handle on the outcome before the night was over. “The state board of elections sent around a memo outlining what their processes are,” Mr. Rawson said. “Their projection is that upwards of 97 percent of ballots will be counted by Tuesday evening.”
No one seemed to like the idea of a drawn-out count. “It sucks for everybody,” said Bajon Aatnite, 25, a personal trainer. “The individuals who can make that process be done by the end of tomorrow need to make that happen.”
Mr. Aatnite said he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but after digging deeper into the policy and platforms of each candidate, he began to shift his support this time to President Trump.
“I’m confident Trump is going to win in a landslide,” he said.
Even in a normal election year, the contest for president is not exactly straightforward. But this year is different.
A large volume of mail-in ballots means counting and canvassing may take longer than usual. The result may be close enough in some states to draw recounts. And experts say the likelihood of legal challenges in one or more battleground states is high.
We diagrammed the legal challenges and recounts that could delay the results, leading to further disputes in the Electoral College. Here’s what happens if things don’t go smoothly.
As millions of voters headed to the polls, social media posts with false or misleading claims began to emerge early Tuesday morning from battleground states, including Pennsylvania and Michigan.
Many of these claims followed the familiar misinformation narratives we have come to expect on Election Day: viral videos of broken voting machines, allegations of fishy polling place behavior and fake or exaggerated claims of attempted voter suppression.
In Philadelphia, election officials debunked a misleading claim from a Twitter user who posted a photo of a sign promoting Democrats at a polling station. The original, misleading tweet, which came from a reporter at the right-wing website Newsmax, was shared more than 7,000 times.
Several viral tweets have also spread unconfirmed rumors of excessively long lines at polling places in Republican districts, broken voting machines in Republican-leaning precincts or other attempts to suppress votes for President Trump. Many of these posts were hashtagged #StopTheSteal.
Not all misinformation was sent online. In Michigan, the state’s attorney general, Dana Nessel, wrote on Twitter that she had received reports of robocalls made to Flint residents with inaccurate information about when they should vote.
ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia got to vote on Tuesday after all.
Mr. Kemp, a Republican who entered quarantine on Friday after his office said he had been exposed to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, slipped his ballot into a drop box east of Atlanta on Tuesday, ending speculation, much of it online, over whether he would receive his last-minute ballot in time to cast a vote.
Mr. Kemp, who only applied for his absentee ballot on Friday, told WSB Radio that the envelope from elections officials had arrived on Monday. In a video on Twitter on Tuesday, a masked Mr. Kemp approached the drop box, turned in his ballot and flashed a thumbs-up sign.
The question over whether Mr. Kemp’s ballot would reach him before the polls closed on Tuesday was the only suspense related to his vote: He has been a vocal backer of President Trump for years, and Mr. Trump’s reciprocal support helped Mr. Kemp win the Republican primary for governor in 2018.
On the day of the general election that year, Mr. Kemp, who then oversaw Georgia elections as secretary of state, voted in person in Winterville, Ga., where the poll-issued card he inserted into the machine was rejected as invalid. He successfully voted a few minutes later.
BISMARCK, N.D. — For more than a month, North Dakota has had the highest rate of coronavirus infection in the country relative to its population, and some voters came to the polls Tuesday with that in the forefront of their minds.
The Bismarck Event Center in the state’s capital, which Tuesday served as a polling place, has also been one of the city’s main coronavirus testing sites. In previous days, lines of cars snaked through the building for hours while health workers tested drivers through their car windows.
“I would say the pandemic has had a pretty big sway in my direction of voting,” said Kaleb Kirby, a 24-year-old Intensive Care Unit nurse who identifies as an independent. He wore an American flag-themed mask, though the polling location did not require them. Masks were “appreciated,” a nearby sign read, and most voters put them on to go inside.
“I’m on the front lines, and when you’re seeing it day in and day out, it’s rough,” he said. His hope going forward? That the world go back to normal. Mr. Kirby did not want to say who he voted for.
There was such a slow trickle of voters at the event center Tuesday morning that one poll worker volunteered to go home to go for a bike ride instead. But early voting turnout has been impressive, said Duane Friedig, the precinct inspector who oversees that particular polling location.
“You should have seen it yesterday; there was a line from beginning to end,” he said, wearing a red, white and blue mask with “vote” printed all over it. North Dakota reliably votes Republican, and Burleigh County voters elected Trump in 2016 with 67 percent of the vote.
After casting her vote, Jolene Roth exited the building and removed her mask, fanning herself for air. Two months after getting the coronavirus, she is still waiting for her taste and smell to return, and it is difficult to breathe under her mask, she said. Still, she feels people should be given a choice on whether or not to wear them.
This year, Ms. Roth, who works in the laundry department of a hotel, voted for President Trump as she did four years ago. He has kept his promise on jobs, keeping the unemployment rate low, she said. “I may not agree with everything in his life, but I still think he’s doing what is best for this country,” she said.
BOSTON — In Roxbury, one of Boston’s oldest predominately Black neighborhoods, a biting wind whipped up dry leaves outside the Orchard Gardens Boys & Girls Club, which is surrounded by wooden multifamily homes and low-slung brick housing.
Voters hurried in and out, pulling their coats tight against the cold, past signage in Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese and English.
Albert Owens, 78, a Black man with cataract-clouded eyes and a walking stick, said he was adamant about voting because he had grown up in Alabama, where Black men and women had not been allowed to vote up until the 1960s.
And it was race that had swayed his vote this year — toward Mr. Trump. He said Mr. Biden’s support of tougher sentencing in the 1990s had contributed to mass incarceration of Black men, and Ms. Harris, a former prosecutor, was no better.
“Joe Biden put a lot of guys in jail,” he said. “He’s realized a lot of things he did wrong, and he’s trying to correct himself, but it’s too late.”
Mr. Trump, he said, makes outrageous statements, but his policies are a different matter. “He’s just the man who comes out with the truth,” he said.
Several voters said they had left the decision between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump to the last minute.
Alex Shapiro, 55, a maintenance worker, said he paused at the ballot box in hopes of being guided by God, and was swayed toward Mr. Biden. “God puts things in people’s face to make us learn,” he said.
Pierre Cameron, 23, who is studying to be a gaming designer, had left the final decision until late Tuesday morning, when a conversation with his sister and cousin moved him in the direction of Mr. Biden.
“It was mostly my cousin — she was saying that she wanted to see things change,” Mr. Cameron said. “I’m just hoping it will make people’s lives easier.”
“Hello, this is just a test call,” a female robocall voice intones. “Time to stay home. Stay safe and stay home.”
The calls began back in June, according to YouMail, a service that offers robocall blocking for smartphones. But they have increased greatly as the election has approached, grabbing the attention of some election officials in recent days.
YouMail found evidence that the robocalls have reached 280 of the country’s 317 area codes since this summer, peaking at more than 600,000 calls in one day. Over all, the company has tracked 10 million similar calls in October.
Though the calls do not mention the election explicitly, their timing and lack of information were suspicious, said Alex Quilci, YouMail’s chief executive. Robocalls in favor of a political candidate typically include some “get out the vote” information or a call for donations, he said. These did not.
“It’s worthy of investigation to try to figure out what’s going on here,” Mr. Quilci said. “To do something at this scale is a bit of work.”
Mr. Quilci added: “What scares me is that this shows that someone” — a foreign or domestic bad actor — “could cause havoc with robocalls.”
The Washington Post earlier reported news of the robocall campaign.
Election experts focused on disinformation tend to focus on the spread of false information on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. But misinformation can reach voters through a variety of mediums, including text messages and robocalling. Such methods can help misinformation stay under the radar, allowing it to spread widely before it is noticed.
On Tuesday morning, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel warned constituents that “multiple robocalls” had gone out to Flint, Mich., residents directing them to vote on Wednesday.
“Obviously this is FALSE and an effort to suppress the vote,” Ms. Nessel said in a tweet. “No long lines and today is the last day to vote.”
CLEVELAND—At the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in downtown Cleveland, Kayla Wells, 24, emerged from the voting booth in a daze.
“I’m still anxiety ridden,” said Ms. Wells, a mortgage banker who woke up with knots in her stomach on Tuesday morning.
Ms. Wells said she cast a ballot for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Kamala Harris, motivated by hopes of change and dreams of a world where America can achieve “equality.”
But as she exited the polls, set up in the lofty atrium of the sports arena for the first time because of the pandemic, she said she hardly felt much better.
“The world is on edge,” she said, adding that whoever wins the election, she will still be a Black woman living in a divided America. “I feel like I’ve got to get home, drink some tea and watch TLC,” she said.
Down the street, the wind whipped on a chilly fall morning on the Cleveland lakefront and workers were nailing boards to storefronts in anticipation of potential protests. Across Cuyahoga County, hundreds of people were hospitalized with Covid-19, as cases and hospitalizations in Ohio spiked to the highest point yet since the pandemic began.
Ohio, once considered a bellwether state for the nation before voting for President Trump by eight percentage points four years ago, was considered lost to Democrats until recently, when the national race intensified and polling showed Ohio in a virtual tossup.
By Kassie Bracken and Emily Rhyne
By Katie G. Nelson and Erik Ljung
By Alexandra Eaton and Noah Throop
By Isabelle Niu and Yousur Al-Hlou
We spoke with lifelong voters and first time voters who showed up to the polls early on Election Day to beat the long lines.
What I’m watching: The race in Indiana’s 5th District, a conservative Indianapolis suburb, is competitive. If Democrats win there, it’s good early indicator for them.
DALLAS, Ga. — At the Paulding County senior citizens’ center, in a reliably conservative community almost an hour northwest of Atlanta, only one in every 20 or so voters donned masks to cast their votes on Tuesday, according to James Richardson, a poll worker.
Mr. Richardson, 77, who said he has kept watch over local precincts for “at least five years,” said he knew this precinct and the county at large were almost sure to tilt toward President Trump, as they did in the 2016 presidential election.
“I didn’t see no excitement at all until the last week,” Mr. Richardson said. “Then, all the sudden, I started seeing a lot of Trump signs.”
The signs voicing support for Mr. Trump’s opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., were few. “If there’s anybody in this county who’s a Democrat, they keep it to themselves,” Mr. Richardson said.
Dustin Cowart, a realtor who voted for Mr. Trump, said he had considered not voting this year, as he was turned off by the tense atmosphere and “really nasty” rhetoric surrounding the election.
But he said he was later inspired to cast a ballot following the unrest the nation faced earlier this year in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody. During his campaign, Mr. Trump has presented the unrest as a maneuver by “left-wing mobs” and conflated peaceful protesters with violent rioters.
“It’s not the protests; it’s the rioters,” Mr. Cowart, 44, said. “I’m like, dude, you gotta do something about that.”
Baylie Dempsey, 29, wouldn’t say who she voted for on Tuesday afternoon. But she acknowledged that she was living in Trump country; like Mr. Richardson, she said she knew Mr. Biden’s local supporters tended to keep their mouths shut about their views.
Ms. Dempsey, a stay-at-home mom, said that tension had become noticeable in her community.
“It almost feels like, no matter who you vote for, something bad is going to happen,” she said, adding that some of her older family members were stocking up on supplies in anticipation of potential chaos.
OAKLAND, Calif. — In a year when Americans have been eager to vote but have been exhorted to keep their gatherings outdoors, some Californians are finding a way to do both. On the stone terrace outside the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland, voters are filling out ballots on three dozen portable voting tables under bright blue skies and radiant sunshine, with a pleasing view of rowers slicing through the waters of Lake Merritt.
“This is my first time voting like this,” said Gary Burch, a forklift driver and lifelong Oakland resident who took the day off to vote for Joe Biden. “It’ll blow the Covid away, I guess.”
Northern California has had a rough year, with weeks of choking smoke from wildfires, a surge in homicides and other challenges on top of the pandemic. But as a morning fog burned off Tuesday to reveal a cloudless sky, voters said it was therapeutic to be outdoors deciding the future of the country.
“Voting outside is kind of cool, it’s refreshing,” said Ken Riley, a graphic designer. “I wouldn’t mind if they did this again, even when Covid is gone.”
Across the street at a drive-through voting drop box, workers in face masks used salad tongs to take ballots handed to them by motorists.
“People just love the tongs,” said Tommy Nickerson, an election worker who tallied ballots on a clipboard. “We get a lot of jokes, like, ‘Can I have a side of ribs with that?’”
Tim Dupuis, the county registrar of voters, said the outdoor voting, the tongs, and the masks and face shields worn by workers were all meant to reassure voters. “We want to make sure they feel safe,” he said.
People in nearly two dozen states — including closely contested battlegrounds like Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin — and the District of Columbia can still register to vote for a presidential candidate on Election Day.
Elections experts say those rules routinely lead to increased voter turnout and that they do not clearly give either major party an advantage when the ballots are counted.
Even if they have not previously registered, people may become eligible to cast ballots on Tuesday in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Utah, Vermont, Washington State, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the District of Columbia. Alaska and Rhode Island will allow same-day registrants to vote only for president and vice president.
And North Dakota does not register voters, meaning any eligible person may cast a ballot on Tuesday if they present identification.
Although parts of the Midwest and New England have allowed same-day registration since the 1970s, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, roughly a dozen states have begun to permit it in the last decade.
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