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Election Day: Early turnout surpasses 73% of 2016 total

By
Don Jacobson & Danielle Haynes
Balloons and signs fill the fence between Black Lives Matter Plaza and Lafayette Park near the White House on Monday. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 3 (UPI) -- Americans headed to the polls Tuesday for the final day of voting, with more than 101.2 million people having cast their ballots before Election Day -- more than double the previous record for early voting in 2016.

The U.S. Elections Project, a non-partisan organization run by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, said that as of 3:30 p.m. EST, 101,167,740 Americans had cast early votes.

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That number is expected to grow as states report additional mail-in ballots and early in-person voting figures. The organization said about 26.9 million mail-in ballots were outstanding.

Of those early votes, about 35.9 million were cast in person and 65.2 million were mailed in. Some states don't differentiate between the two categories, so the figures are approximations.

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The U.S. Elections Project said the early vote turnout for 2020 represents 73.4% of all votes cast in 2016. Forty-seven million people voted early in 2016 and overall, 138.8 million voted in the election, about 60.1% of the U.S. population eligible to vote.

Several states have surpassed their entire 2016 turnout with early voting this year, including Texas (108.3% of 2016 turnout), Colorado (101%), Oregon (104.8%), Washington (105.4%), Hawaii (110.6%) and Montana (102.4%).

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The campaign pitting GOP President Donald Trump against his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, has been one of the most divisive in modern American history.

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The contest to win the Democratic nomination brought out historic candidacies of women and people of color before Biden won out, choosing California Sen. Kamala Harris as a running mate.

Besides the White House race, Democrats are looking to keep control of the House of Representatives and retake a majority in the Senate. At the same time, Republicans are aiming to pick up gains in the House, hold their Senate majority and keep Trump.

Democrats need to win four seats for a Senate majority if Trump is re-elected, and three if Biden wins the presidency.

In Georgia, a judge ordered that polls remain open until 9 p.m. in Spalding County, south of Atlanta, because of errors by election workers who incorrectly loaded information onto poll pads, causing none of them to work Tuesday morning.

Voters who are in line by 7 p.m. were able to use the regular machines to cast their ballots. Voters who arrived between 7 and 9 p.m. were allowed to cast a provisional ballot marked for extended voting times. Those votes will not be tabulated until Friday, election officials said.

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Election officials reported some problems at polling sites by Tuesday afternoon, including in North Carolina, where four precincts opened late. The affected precincts were located in Sampson, Greensboro and Concord counties.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections voted to extend voting hours at the precincts by an additional 17 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on how late they opened.

"Once all polling places are closed statewide, election results will begin to post" on the board's website, the board said. Polls traditionally close at 7:30 p.m. EST in the state, meaning the results will begin to be released at 8:15 p.m.

Early and mail voting in North Carolina was at about 95.4% of the overall 2016 turnout as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the U.S. Elections Project.

Voting hours were also extended at a precinct in Texas that had a 90-minute delay in opening Tuesday morning.

The poll location in Upshur County was to now close at 8 p.m. CST, an hour later than originally scheduled. Results won't be reported in the state until the last polls close in the western part of the state at 7 p.m. MST.

Stephen Chang, a spokesman for the Texas secretary of state's office, told The Texas Tribune the delay was due to connectivity problems with the site's KnowInk pollbook equipment. He said other counties reported similar problems, and Hopkins County Clerk Tracy Smith said some sites had up to two hours' delay.

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"We made several phone calls in to KnowInk. It's not just Texas, it's nationwide," she told the Tribune. "It was an issue on their side and it evidently hit them hard."

Polling sites in Franklin County, Ohio, also reported trouble with their KnowInk equipment and switched the paper poll books Tuesday morning, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.

Ed Leonard, director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, said the unprecedented number of early voter information in the electronic file couldn't be synced with the equipment.

Ohio early voting this year is about 53% of the state's overall voter turnout in 2016.

In Iowa, hand sanitizer proved to be problematic at one polling location, the Des Moines Register reported. Hand sanitizer residue left on the ballots from voters' hands jammed up the ballot machines, causing some to reject ballots and/or need repairs.

Kevin Hall, a spokesman for the Iowa Secretary of State, told the newspaper the situation is isolated to the polling location at Roosevelt High School in Polk County, and officials have since moved the hand sanitizer so voters aren't using it right before touching their ballots.

Early voting turnout in Iowa this year so far is about 63% of the state's overall turnout in 2016.

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The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights also reported late opening for polls in Philadelphia, and malfunctioning machines in Louisiana and Georgia.

The organization said it also had reports of voter intimidation in Florida, robocalls telling people to stay safe at home and not vote, and a rumor spread on Facebook that the mayor of Green Bay, Wis., had "rigged" the election there.

In St. Louis, voting was heavy across the city's 100 polling sites but long lines that had formed before the polls opened were moving quickly, officials said.

Long lines were reported in metro areas such as Chicago, Milwaukee, Houston and Minneapolis. Polls in Texas were to close at 7 p.m., and those in Wisconsin an hour later.

Both states have been key targets for Biden's campaign, which is particularly hoping to become the first Democratic candidate to carry Texas since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Polls close in California and Alaska were to close at 8 p.m.

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