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News Brief: After Months Of Campaigning, Election Day Is Here

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Here we are. We made it. It is Election Day, the final day of a voting season without precedent in American history. Nearly 100 million people have cast ballots early according to the U.S. Elections Project tracking database. This is a dramatic shift in voting behavior, which is in large part driven by the pandemic, but also by sky-high voter enthusiasm.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And one thing we want to be clear about - we have been saying this; it is worth repeating - this election will only be over after the votes have been counted. And based on early voting data and the number of absentee ballots that were requested, that counting period is going to stretch long past this day. And that means we might - might not have a decisive result for days to come.

MARTIN: But for Donald Trump and Joe Biden, today marks their last day out on the campaign trail. And you could hear it in what they had to say at rallies last night and into the wee hours this morning. Here was Joe Biden in Cleveland.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: It's time for Donald Trump to pack his bags and go home.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORNS HONKING)

BIDEN: We're done.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORNS HONKING)

BIDEN: We're done with the chaos.

MARTIN: President Trump, meanwhile, was in Grand Rapids in the pivotal swing state of Michigan, predicting victory.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're going to win the state of Michigan so easily.

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: We want to do it just like last tume. But let's give me a little bit more margin than that if you don't mind.

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED TRUMP SUPPORTERS: (Chanting) Four more years, four more years...

GREENE: Four more years, the chant there in Michigan. Well, they have been traveling a lot, the two candidates, as have our colleagues. NPR's Tamara Keith has been on the trail with President Trump. She joins us this morning. NPR's Asma Khalid has been on the campaign trail with Joe Biden, and she is with us from Wilmington, Del. Good morning to both of you.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: Tam, let me start with you. The president has been racing around swing states, making a big deal about how much he's been traveling. He's been keeping up a grueling pace. What stood out to you on the final day out there?

KEITH: Yeah, it was 10 rallies in two days. You know, he was quite nostalgic. He had his adult children with him last night and a lot of his inner circle who've been there with him since his surprise victory in 2016. And even though he said he was going to win, this last day, what struck me is how much he was laying the groundwork for losing, a loss that he is already blaming on Pennsylvania, where there has been a lot of mail-in voting and where polls show a close race.

The Supreme Court had said that ballots received as late as Friday there can be counted as long as they are postmarked by today. That's state law in Pennsylvania. And last night, President Trump tweeted that that decision will, quote, "undermine our entire system of laws" and said it would, quote, "induce violence in the streets." Twitter has blocked that tweet from view, warning that it might be misleading.

Now, you'll remember back in 2016, he also said constantly that the election was rigged against him. And so much of this campaign has been about trying to run the plays that worked for him in 2016, which is how he ended up in Grand Rapids last night, saying he was a little bit superstitious and wanted to go back to the place where he ended his campaign in 2016. But 2020 is not 2016. And...

GREENE: No.

KEITH: ...There's a pandemic, and he has been president for four years. And his attacks on his opponents just didn't stick in the way that they did four years ago.

GREENE: I mean, one thing that is certainly different this year in this pandemic is all the early voting that we have seen. But I mean, presumably, these campaigns are still working to get out people to vote on the Election Day itself. I wonder what the campaigns are doing to get as many votes as they possibly can today. Asma, let me start with you.

KHALID: Sure. I mean, for Democrats, David, the traditional get-out-the-vote effort this cycle has looked like nothing it has in the past. I mean, the campaign says it's contacted over 53 million people just this last weekend. But a lot of that work was digital - you know, texts and phone calls. I will say that, you know, getting out the vote on a digital platform does allow somewhat for more flexibility. You know, you can have women, say, in a very, very blue state calling people in a more competitive place.

But one last point I want to really reiterate about the GOTV effort is that today is not just about getting out the vote. It is a lot for Democrats about voter protection. You know, we've heard the president try to poke holes in the legitimacy of the election. And the Biden campaign says that it has assembled the biggest effort in recent history to assist voters and monitor complaints. They say they have twice as many staff members doing this work than they did in 2016. And that doesn't include volunteers who are, you know, manning voter hotlines, et cetera, in essentially every key swing state in both English and Spanish.

KEITH: Yeah, the Trump campaign has a poll-watching operation. You know, because the president spent so much time telling people not to vote by mail and discouraging it, the Trump campaign really has to turn people out today. It is all about Election Day for the Republicans and for the Trump campaign. You know, the Trump campaign and the Republican Party say they have a historically large army of volunteers. They did not stop knocking on doors except for a short period during the pandemic. They've been out there, and they are predicting a red wave of voters that show up today. But it is a risky bet. It is one, though, that they have a lot of confidence in because they have huge faith in their data operations and their models. And before long, we'll know whether they were accurate.

GREENE: Well, I mean, there's a lot at stake today. I think both candidates would say that the course of our country is on the line in many ways in this presidential race. There are other elections happening, though, including the Senate. And we saw President Obama out on the trail, including in Georgia, where there are two Senate races happening. Control of the Senate is on the line as well. Tam, what are the chances that Democrats could win a Senate majority today?

KEITH: There are more than a dozen races that we're watching, and Democrats do have a good shot of taking control of the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even admitted last week that it was a 50/50 proposition. Republicans are just playing more defense this time around in places than Democrats are this cycle. The most vulnerable Republicans that we're watching are Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, Maine Senator Susan Collins, Arizona Senator Martha McSally. All of these races are tight. And, you know, we may not know tonight who will be in control of the Senate when this is all done.

KHALID: And David, you know, you mentioned Georgia. Georgia's really interesting because you've got two Senate races at play there, both Senate seats that are on the ballot. You know, if no candidate gets 50% of the vote there, one or both of those races could go to a runoff, which would take place in January. But part of, you know, the reason we've seen Barack Obama, Kamala Harris and even Joe Biden campaigning in that state recently isn't just about the top of the ticket. Democrats say if Biden wins, they want to have a Senate majority to be able to give him the agenda that he wants to deliver on.

GREENE: Well, Asma, you're in Wilmington, Del. How is Joe Biden going to be spending his day today?

KHALID: Well, he is actually going to be traveling today. He'll be in Pennsylvania with stops in his birthplace of Scranton as well as Philadelphia, and then he'll end the night here in Wilmington. You know, one thing I think that's worth noting is that his running mate, Kamala Harris, is also going to be in Michigan. And it seems like Democrats are trying to go to places where they can boost the turnout, where there's going to be a lot of mail-in ballots.

GREENE: And, Tam, the president?

KEITH: He's going to his campaign headquarters in Northern Virginia. And there will be a gathering tonight, a large gathering at the White House.

GREENE: NPR's Tamara Keith, NPR's Asma Khalid, thanks for all of your work. We'll be listening as the day goes on.

KEITH: You're welcome.

KHALID: You're welcome.

GREENE: And as we've said, I mean, we have just seen an historic shift in the way we exercise this most fundamental tool in a democracy, the vote.

MARTIN: Right. So this bears repeating - nearly 100 million people have already voted. This is according to the U.S. Elections Project tracking database. So those 100 million people, that is more than 70% of the total voter turnout from 2016.

GREENE: Yeah. We wanted to check in this morning with NPR's Miles Parks, who covers voting for NPR. Miles, big day - good morning to you.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, David.

GREENE: So we mentioned this massive early voting number. How does that change something that we talk about in every election, which is turnout on Election Day?

PARKS: Well, experts still predict something like fifty or 60 million people will vote today, but it will really depend on where you are in the country. You know, some states have already exceeded their 2016 turnout. Obviously, in those places, turnout today will be lower than in a traditional presidential election year. But some places have not seen that big of a shift in voting behavior. Alabama and Mississippi, for instance, are both at still less than 20% of their 2016 turnouts. Pennsylvania is only at about 40%. So you can expect some bigger Election Day numbers there. We know generally from polling that it'll probably be more Republicans voting today than Democrats since so few Republicans ended up voting by mail this election cycle.

GREENE: Miles, can I ask you a basic question? I mean, this is the first presidential election since 2016 and - where we saw Russian election interference and so much happening. Are our voting system safer today than they were then?

PARKS: Officials say they are. They say that this will be the most secure election ever, mostly because of the changes that have taken place since 2016. There's a lot more information sharing, which is key, happening between counties and states and the federal government than there was four years ago, when it took literally months for the affected states to get information about the Russian hacking that went on. Officials also say that the historic turnout we're seeing in the early vote that we mentioned is a strike back directly against those interference efforts. Here's New Mexico's secretary of state, Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

MAGGIE TOULOUSE OLIVER: Really, if the ultimate goal is to sow enough confusion and discord basically to keep our democracy from continuing to churn forward, it's failing.

PARKS: But there is still a lot left to do. You know, Congress only allocated a fraction of the money that experts say was needed to secure all the systems after 2016. And things like rigourous post-election audits - I know it sounds in the weeds, but it's just double-checking the tallies and the results. And those are just not in place nationwide.

GREENE: All right. I'm going to put you on the spot because voting is what you cover. When do you think we're going to know who wins the presidency?

PARKS: I am expecting it to take some time. You know, a day, a few days. Just - there's so many absentee ballots that still have to be counted. And in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania - election officials in those states have not been able to start that work until today or yesterday in some cases. So voters just need to be patient and be really skeptical if anyone says, you know, a waiting game here - a day, a couple days - is a sign of something bad happening.

GREENE: NPR's Miles Parks covers voting and speaking to us on this November 3, Election Day.

Miles, thank you so much.

PARKS: Thank you so much, David. Happy Election Day.

GREENE: You, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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