By Steve Holland and Trevor Hunnicutt
President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden on Monday traded barbs and exhorted last-minute voters to turn out as they stumped in battleground states on the campaign’s final day, while Americans set early voting records.
Trump, 74, is seeking to avoid becoming the first incumbent president to lose re-election since fellow Republican George H.W. Bush in 1992. Despite national polls showing Biden with a broad lead, the race in swing states is seen as close enough that Trump could still piece together the 270 votes needed to prevail in the state-by-state Electoral College system that determines the winner.
In a year upended by the coronavirus pandemic, early voting has surged to levels never before seen in U.S. elections. A record-setting 96 million early votes have been cast either in-person or by mail, according to the U.S. Elections Project.
The record-breaking number is equal to 70% of the entire voter turnout for the 2016 election and represents about 40% of all Americans who are legally eligible to vote.
That unprecedented level of early voting includes 60 million mail-in ballots that could take days or weeks to be counted in some states, meaning a winner might not be declared in the hours after polls close on Tuesday night.
Twitter said on Monday it would attach a warning label to any tweets, including those from candidates, that claim an election win before either state election officials or national news outlets do so.
In a sign of how volatile the election could be, buildings in several cities were boarded up, including around the White House and in New York City including the iconic Macy’s flagship.
The famed shopping destination of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills will be closed down on Tuesday, police said.
Eight state attorneys general, representing Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin on Monday warned they would not tolerate voter intimidation.
“Voter intimidation is illegal in every state, whether it happens in person or from a car,” North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said in a statement. “People who witness concerning behavior should immediately report it to law enforcement authorities.”
Trump questioned the integrity of the U.S. election, saying a vote count that stretched past Election Day on Tuesday would be a “terrible thing” and suggesting his lawyers might get involved.
“I don’t think it’s fair that we have to wait for a long period of time after the election,” Trump told reporters. Some states, including battlegrounds Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, do not start processing mail-in votes until Election Day, slowing the process.
In a statement, the Trump campaign said it would fight any Democratic attempt to “subvert state deadlines for receiving and counting ballots.”
In Cleveland, Biden told voters that Trump would not be able to stop them from exercising their rights.
“Presidents don’t determine who gets to vote,” he said. “Voters determine who is going to be the President.”
Trump has repeatedly said without evidence that mail-in votes are prone to fraud, although election experts say that is rare in U.S. elections. Mail voting is a long-standing feature of American elections, and about one in four ballots was cast that way in 2016.
Democrats have pushed mail-in voting as a safe way to cast a ballot, while Trump and Republicans are counting on a big Election Day in-person turnout.
Both campaigns have mobilized armies of lawyers in preparation for post-election litigation battles.