This year’s election unprecedented some ways, in others not

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(WJW) – Election Day is just three days away and early voting continues across the country.

According to U.S. Elections Project, 87,798,086 people have already voted.

If you’re one of the millions who has already cast a ballot, you can track it here.

Early voting in Ohio runs through Nov. 2.

10:30 p.m. headlines:

(AP) — The election of 2020 has been called many things: extraordinary, bizarre, unprecedented.

It’s all true, in some ways, though the election is still being held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, and a Democrat or a Republican will win it.

The differences start with a couple of future trivia answers. This is the first time a Black woman has been nominated by a major party. It’s the first time both presidential nominees have been in their 70s.

It is the first time a presidential election has been held in the throes of a deadly pandemic that has affected every corner of the country. A 1918 midterm election, in the midst of the Spanish flu pandemic, saw voter participation drop 20% — although the fact that 2 million men were fighting in World War I also had an effect. By the time Republican Warren G. Harding won in 1920, the flu had passed.

This year, the pandemic has sparked an unmatched shift to early voting, by mail or otherwise, and rising expectations that days or weeks might pass before the outcome is known.

While Americans have become accustomed to learning who would be their next president on election night, that would be far from unprecedented. Until 1937, presidents were inaugurated in March, partly because it took so long to report and count the vote.

And of course, the 2000 election was not resolved until Dec. 12, when the U.S. Supreme Court made George W. Bush the winner by ruling that Florida must stop counting votes.

President Donald Trump has seized on concern about mail voting to repeatedly suggest that the election is beset by fraud — the first time a major candidate, let alone a sitting president, has sought to undermine faith in the electoral process.

One more pandemic-inspired departure from the norm: While Trump has campaigned furiously, jetting from town to town, until recently Biden stayed in or near his home in Delaware, sparing himself and his followers the risk of contracting COVID-19.

That’s unheard of in recent years, but it also was a throwback to the front-porch campaigns of James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley in the 19th century — and Harding in the 20th. Like Biden, they did not go out to campaign. The campaign came to them.

9:15 p.m. headlines:

(AP) — President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden each has a path to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the 2020 election.

This combination of pictures created on October 15, 2020 shows Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden participates in an ABC News town hall event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on October 15, 2020, and US President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during an NBC News town hall event at the Perez Art Museum in Miami on October 15, 2020. (Photos by JIM WATSON and Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)

Biden’s is appreciably wider. The former vice president is competitive in all the battleground states Trump carried in 2016 and has put a handful of traditional Republican states, including Georgia and Arizona, in play.

That has Trump scrambling to defend a wide swath of territory and putting his hopes for reelection on two of the most populous swing states, Florida and Pennsylvania.

Election Day is Tuesday.

8 p.m. headlines:

(AP) — After a year of deep disruption, America is poised for a presidential election that renders a verdict on the nation’s role in the world and the direction of its economy, on its willingness to contain an escalating pandemic and its ability to confront systemic racial inequity.

But the two men on the ballot, President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, offer more than just differing solutions for the country’s most pressing problems. The choice before voters is a referendum on the role of the presidency itself and a test of the sturdiness of democracy, with the president challenging the legitimacy of the outcome even before Election Day and law enforcement agencies braced for the possibility of civil unrest.

“There’s more than just your standard ideological difference between the two candidates. There’s a fundamentally different view of what the presidency is and what leadership means for the nation,” said Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University.

Voters appear to recognize the moment: More than 91 million people have already cast ballots, shattering records for early voting.

A Trump victory would deepen the anti-establishment, inward-facing approach to the nation’s challenges that he has ushered in over the past four years — an approach enthusiastically embraced by the president’s supporters and loathed by his critics. The courts, which have been stacked with a generation of conservative jurists during Trump’s tenure, would veer further to the right.

Victory for Biden would be as much a repudiation of the incumbent as it would be a win for the longtime Democratic politician, a former vice president and senator. Though Biden has outlined an agenda that envisions a more robust role for the federal government in American life and a more aggressive effort to combat the pandemic, the core of his campaign centered on him being a temperamental contrast to Trump.

Control of the Senate is also at stake. Competitive races from Maine to Arizona give Democrats a chance to retake the majority from Republicans. Democrats are expected to easily maintain their grip on the House.

The election is being held at a moment of bitter partisanship in America, and whichever candidate wins the White House will confront the challenge of governing through deep divisions. If anything, the campaign has clarified how stratified the U.S. has become, with Trump’s base of support coming from overwhelmingly white voters at lower income and education levels. More highly educated Americans, particularly women, and voters of color, most notably African Americans, have all but abandoned the Republican Party during Trump’s four years in office.

6 p.m. headlines:

GRAHAM, N.C. (AP) — A rally to promote voting in swing state North Carolina on Saturday ended with police using pepper spray on some participants and making several arrests.

News outlets report that multiple people were arrested Saturday outside Alamance County’s courthouse and police used pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

The Raleigh News & Observer reported that Alamance County sheriff’s deputies began dismantling a sound system and telling the crowd to disperse as people were giving speeches.

North Carolina is a key battleground President Donald Trump needs to win to boost his prospects of defeating Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

4 p.m. headlines:

(AP) — Barack Obama blasted President Donald Trump as egotistical and incompetent during a campaign event in Flint, Michigan.

The former president spoke Saturday at a drive-in rally at his first joint campaign event with Joe Biden. Obama told the crowd that Trump “cares about feeding his ego” while Biden “cares about keeping you and your families safe.”

Wearing a black windbreaker but no mask, the former president spoke for Biden’s character in personal terms. He called the former vice president “my brother” and declared: “I love Joe Biden, and he will be a great president.”

Obama said the president is “jealous of COVID’s media coverage” and joked about Trump being obsessed with crowd size.

Obama also dinged Trump on his masculinity, declaring that being a man once meant “taking care of other people,” not “strutting and showing off, acting important, bullying people.”

Obama won the state of Michigan twice before Trump won it in 2016 by just over 10,000 votes, and he encouraged the crowd to vote, warning them not to be “complacent.”

2:30 p.m. headlines:

Melania Trump is defending the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and criticizing Democrat Joe Biden for his dire warnings about the crisis.

The first lady says in prepared remarks to a crowd in Wisconsin that the Trump administration has “worked tirelessly” on behalf of Americans during the crisis. She’s accusing congressional Democrats of being obstacles to further virus aid.

Like the president, Melania Trump is going after Biden for saying the United States is headed for a “dark winter” due to the pandemic.

The first lady says “that is not the statement of a leader.” She says Biden wants to make people hide in fear in their basements rather than “work bravely” to find solutions.

She says the president is is focused on destroying the virus and creating ways for people to safely gather with friends again.

1:30 p.m. headlines:

CLEVELAND (WJW) — With the last weekend of early voting underway, many people are heading to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to case their ballot. Long lines could be seen wrapped around the building and heading down Chester towards the highway. Political groups have set up on street corners nearby to show support for their candidates. Police are directing traffic.

1:00 p.m. headlines:

HOUSTON (AP) — An intense battle is playing out in the November elections for control of state legislative chambers. The stakes are especially high this year because the winners in most states will control the process for drawing new U.S. House and state legislative districts based on the 2020 census. Republicans currently control a majority of state legislatures. But Democrats are targeting several Republican-led states in hopes of gaining a say in the redistricting process. Some of the top targets include Texas, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Both parties are spending tens of millions of dollars on legislative races.

11:00 a.m. headlines:

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Democrats seeking to pick up senate seats in Montana and Colorado are falling back on a familiar political playbook in the U.S. West: Paint their opponents as a threat to the undeveloped public lands for which the two Rocky Mountain states are known. The first-term Republican incumbents in the contests appeared to have inoculated themselves against such allegations earlier this year. Montana’s Steve Daines and Colorado’s Cory Gardner worked with President Donald Trump to finalize sweeping conservation legislation that was years in the making. But Democrats Steve Bullock in Montana and John Hickenlooper in Colorado haven’t backed down, alleging in debates and a flood of advertisements that the Republicans converted to conservation when the election loomed.

9:30 a.m. headlines:

(AP) — Trump and Biden each has a path to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the 2020 election. Biden’s is appreciably wider. The former vice president is competitive in all the battleground states Trump carried in 2016 and has put a handful of traditional Republican states, including Georgia and Arizona, in play. That has Trump scrambling to defend a wide swath of territory and putting his hopes for reelection on two of the most populous swing states, Florida and Pennsylvania. Election Day is Tuesday.

8:30 a.m. headlines:

WATERFORD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Joe Biden, with help from his old boss Barack Obama, is focusing on Black voters in Michigan as the Democrat looks to head off a repeat of 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton’s epic collapse in the state. Biden and Obama will hold a pair of drive-in rallies Saturday in Flint and Detroit, predominantly Black cities whose turnout will play a large factor in whether Biden turns the state back to the Democrats’ column. Winning Michigan and its 16 electoral votes is crucial to Biden’s strategy to win the White House. Polls have consistently shown the former vice president ahead of President Donald Trump in the state.

7:30 a.m. headlines:

(AP) — As early voting breaks records across the U.S., political analysts and campaigns are reviewing reams of data on the voters, looking for clues to key questions: Who is voting? And who is winning?

On one level, the answers can be simple. Registered Democrats are outpacing registered Republicans significantly — by 14 percentage points — in states that are reporting voters’ party affiliation, according to an Associated Press analysis of the early vote.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Many Americans’ choices don’t align with their party registration. Meanwhile, polls show Republicans have heeded President Donald Trump’s baseless warnings about mail voting, and large numbers intend to vote on Election Day. That means the early Democratic surge could give way to a Republican surge on Tuesday.

The picture is further clouded by the unprecedented nature of how Americans are voting. While Democrats are hungry for signs that key parts of their coalition — young voters, Black voters, new voters — are engaged, comparisons to 2016 are difficult.

Here’s a closer look at what we know — and don’t know — about early voters:

EARLY VOTING SPIKES

As of Friday afternoon, 86.8 million people had voted in the presidential election. That’s 63% of the total who cast ballots in the 2016 race. Most election experts think the United States will see 150 million to 160 million ballots cast in 2020, which would mean that we are likely more than halfway through voting. In one state, Texas, more votes have already been cast than in all of 2016.

Democrats have a big lead in the early vote over the GOP — 47% to 33% — according to the AP analysis of data from the political data firm L2.

That doesn’t mean Democrats are going to win. But it does increase the pressure on Republicans to have a similar advantage — or higher — on Election Day.

NEW VOTERS ARE SHOWING UP

The big turnout question in all elections is: Which side is bringing in new voters? The data shows Democrats are accomplishing that — but not necessarily as dramatically as some of the big overall numbers might suggest.

More than 1 out of 4 of all ballots — 27% — were cast either by new or infrequent voters, according to AP’s analysis. Those are voters who have never voted before or voted in fewer than half of the elections in which they were eligible. It sounds like a big number, but it’s not too much greater than past years. The Democratic data firm Catalist found that, in 2016, roughly one quarter of the electorate didn’t vote in the previous presidential election.

Still, the number may well grow, as new and infrequent voters tend to vote close to, or on, Election Day. And even small increases in the tight battlegrounds can make a difference.

A rise in that number appears to be good news for Democrats. Forty-three percent of the infrequent and new voters are registered Democrats, compared to a quarter who are Republicans. The remaining third are registered as independents or with a minor party — a group that tends to favor Democratic candidates.

The voters are clustered in the Sunbelt, particularly in states such as Florida, North Carolina and especially Texas that Democrats hope to win by mobilizing large chunks of the electorate that sit out most contests.

“Democrats are already expanding their electorate,” said Tom Bonier of the Democratic data firm TargetSmart. “That would certainly appear to be favorable for Biden — to be taken with the caveat we’ve heard a million times before, that we don’t know how many other voters will come out on Election Day.”

BLACK VOTERS HOLDING STEADY

Biden’s fate may be tied to strong turnout among Black voters in the battleground states. So far, about 9% of the early vote has been cast by African-Americans, about on par with the 10% of the electorate Black voters made up in 2016, according to a Pew Research estimate of voters in that election.

Black voters are tracking closely with their share of the electorate in several battlegrounds. In North Carolina, they are 21% of both all early voters and all registered voters. In Georgia, they make up 30% of the early vote and 32% of registered voters.

A slight drop in Black voter turnout from the elevated numbers of 2008 and 2012 played a role in Democrats’ 2016 loss, and the party and its supporters are watching carefully to see what happens this time.

The data so far is ambiguous. There’s been a surge in the older African-American vote. Black voters 65 and older are already one of the most reliable voting demographics, but according to TargetSmart data they have already surpassed their numbers in six key battlegrounds — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina and Texas.

At the same time, according to data from the Service Employees International Union, younger, less reliable Black voters comprise a larger share of the Black vote right now than in 2016. That’s a sign of greater engagement in the segment of the electorate that dropped off in 2016.

Organizers say Black voters are reeling from the pandemic and economic collapse, which have hit African-Americans hardest, and the country’s racial reckoning. That’s motivating them to overcome persistent obstacles to voting, said Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union.

“Black and brown communities have faced these multiple crises,” Henry said. That’s stiffened their resolve to vote, she added.

The SEIU union says 3 out of every 4 black voters have not voted yet in Pennsylvania. The union is shifting resources to its Pennsylvania turnout operations because it is concerned Black voters have been slower to return mail ballots.

DEMOCRATS HOPE FOR BRIGHT SPOT IN YOUNG VOTERS

As of Friday, AP’s analysis showed 11.3% of early votes have been cast by voters between the ages of 18 and 29. That’s up slightly from this point in 2016, when 9.6% of the early vote was cast by people under age 30, according to TargetSmart.

And in the Sunbelt battlegrounds of Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, young voters are turning out at a hefty rate of 30% or above, according to AP data.

That’s again a good sign for Democrats, but a very preliminary one. Young voters lean Democratic, and when Democrats rush to the polls, it’s not unexpected that their numbers would be higher.

Young voters showed up in never-before-seen levels in 2018, with 36% of those who were eligible participating, according to the U.S. Census. That helped Democrats win control of the House of Representatives.

Young voter advocates were concerned about the pandemic causing a sharp drop in voter registrations among 18- and 19-year-olds who just became eligible to vote.

However, young voters are still a larger share of the registered voter population in almost all states than they were in 2016, according to the Center for Information Research and Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. That’s a reflection of both population growth and the increased registration that led to 2018.

Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor who runs the site ElectProject.org and carefully tracks the early vote, cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from changes in the youth vote from 2016. “Youth turnout is up,” he said. “Everything’s up. That’s what happens when you have a high turnout election.”

WILL HIGH TURNOUT SWAY THE OUTCOME?

Republicans argue that predicted record turnout won’t matter much in battleground states.

When all the votes are counted, the Trump campaign predicts that the turnout rate in battleground states in 2020 will be similar to in 2016.

“It is pretty predictable what they’ve brought into the electorate,” Nick Trainer, the Trump campaign’s director of battleground strategy said of Democrats. “We will bring our own new voters into the electorate ourselves, and it will all come out in the washing machine.”

That’s a sharp break from several election experts, who see signs in both the early vote numbers and polls of voter enthusiasm in battlegrounds.

John Couvillon, a Republican pollster who tracks the early vote, said the Trump campaign is being too dismissive. “I heard the same kind of attitude in 2008, when Republicans were in denial about the impressive early vote turnout Obama was generating,” Couvillon said.

McDonald notes there’s no way to know until Election Day.

However, he noted that, if turnout is low, that’s not necessarily good news for Trump given the big early vote lead that Democrats have banked. It would mean the president’s campaign would need to win Election Day by an even larger margin.

“They better hope they’re wrong,” McDonald said.

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