But as the polls began closing across the country, a portrait emerged of a far smoother Election Day than the nation had braced for amid a pandemic that upended how Americans cast ballots and a bitter presidential race that played out against a backdrop of social unrest and racial divisions.
Nearly 102 million people had cast ballots in person or by mail before voting began on Election Day, a stunning figure that put the country on a path to the highest voter turnout in more than a century.
On Tuesday, voting was largely brisk and steady, with election administrators and voters alike marveling at the relative ease with which the day unfolded after a spring and summer of chaotic primaries, Postal Service delays and multiple legal battles between Republicans and Democrats over how the election should be run.
Voters breezed through cavernous facilities in some cities and waited by the hundreds in others. Turnout was relatively light in Miami, Dayton, Ohio, Atlanta and Louisville, prompting a tentative sigh of relief from election officials who had spent months preparing for complications arising from the pandemic. But long lines formed in other places, including New York City, Las Vegas, Green Bay, Wis., and St. Petersburg, Fla. — a reminder of the historic surge of interest in this year’s race for the White House between President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden.
Voters encountered a scattering of obstacles as the day progressed, including a snow squall in Manchester, N.H., and problems with machines and voter check-in systems in cities such as Columbus, Ohio, and Philadelphia. But in one sign of just how little drama emerged in the end, the Philadelphia Election Task Force fielded more phone calls about online misinformation than actual incidents at polling sites, according to District Attorney Larry Krasner.
“I would say that it is blissfully uneventful. We have a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of engagement and high turnout,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) said on a late-afternoon call with reporters. She added that there has been “virtually no disturbance of any kind.”
In Nevada, Attorney General Aaron Ford (D) cited a few scattered “hiccups” with electronic voting machines that were quickly resolved.
“Folks are showing up. They are exercising their rights, they’re performing their duty. Here in Nevada, all is well,” Ford told reporters.
Some hitches were reported:
●Voters around the country received an estimated 10 million automated spam calls in recent days telling them to “stay safe and stay home,” according to experts who track the telecommunications industry. In Michigan, government officials reported additional attempts Tuesday to deceive the state’s voters, including one robocall campaign targeting the city of Flint that told people to vote Wednesday if they hoped to avoid long lines Tuesday.
●The U.S. Postal Service disclosed Tuesday morning that it could not trace 300,523 ballots that had received entry scans at processing facilities but not exit scans denoting they’d been delivered to election officials.
The agency said that clerks were hand-culling ballots at those facilities to expedite delivery. However, officials said they did not know how widespread that process was, or how many ballots might remain.
In 17 postal districts in swing states that account for 151 electoral votes, more than 81,000 ballots were untraceable. In Los Angeles, 48,120 ballots were missing, the most of any district. San Diego was next with 42,543 unaccounted for.
●●Poll workers at a North Philadelphia polling location raised concerns about the security of two voting machines after discovering broken seals meant to lock the area of the machines where paper ballots are stored. A city election judge said the issue was an “honest mistake” rather than foul play. Waiting voters had to fill out provisional ballots. However, city officials said they had seen minimal problems at polling places and had resolved 21 of the 25 incidents that had been reported as of noon.
●Also in Pennsylvania, Republicans sued the secretary of state late in a bid to temporarily block the counting of votes cast by people who were allowed to correct mistakes on their mail ballots.
●The Nevada Supreme Court unanimously denied a GOP request to halt the counting of some mail ballots in heavily Democratic Clark County pending the party’s appeal of a lower-court decision that found the county’s procedures lawful. The emergency motion had asked the court to stop Clark County officials from using a machine to determine whether voter signatures on ballots match the voter signatures on file, arguing that the law requires signatures to be matched by humans. In Clark County, Democrats had returned about 208,000 mail ballots as of midday Tuesday, according to data published by the secretary of state — more than twice the 88,000 returned by Republicans.
●The North Carolina State Board of Elections voted Tuesday to extend voting hours at 10 precincts in four counties because the precincts opened late or faced technical problems. The extensions meant that initial statewide results would be released at 8:15 p.m. Eastern, 45 minutes later than initially expected.
● A burst water pipe in State Farm Arena in Atlanta delayed the counting of several thousand absentee ballots that were housed there Tuesday morning, but no ballots or machines were damaged, county election officials said. Fulton County Elections Director Richard Barron said he did not expect the burst pipe to have an effect on the results, adding that the county was on track to announce the majority of early voting results Tuesday night.
The absence of other critical problems was notable in Georgia, where a June primary had been dogged by long lines and voter confusion. Officials attributed the largely uneventful proceedings Tuesday in part to the number of people who voted early.
Partisan disputes erupted in several states, including Michigan, where some Republican Party activists sought to register as official vote challengers despite being from out of state, which is not allowed. Challengers also tried to disqualify ballots that had slipped out of their security sleeves even though that does not disqualify a vote in Michigan. At one voting location in Detroit, police removed one registered challenger sporting a Halloween mask covering his entire face and another who refused to wear a face mask over her nose.
In Philadelphia, Republicans mounted an intensive effort on social media to accuse election officials of barring poll watchers and allowing electioneering inside polling locations. Election officials disputed the claims, saying misleading information was being spread online.
And in a scene repeated near several polling locations across the country, a caravan of Trump supporters waving a variety of pro-Trump flags and banners drove through downtown Anoka, Minn., honking their horns and chanting “Trump! Trump!”
For most voters, however, Election Day passed quietly, a notable contrast to the tension and conflict that marked much of the 2020 campaign.
At Louisville’s Meyzeek Middle School, there was no line as polls closed Tuesday night, with last-minute voters getting in and out quickly during the final 15 minutes.
Among the last voters was Fred Dillon, a 61-year-old taxi driver, who said he voted for Trump.
“I’m a traditionalist,” he said of casting his ballot on Election Day. Not voting on Election Day “is like having Christmas in July. You can’t do it. You know what I mean? This is what it’s all about.”
In many cities, the physical and economic toll of the coronavirus was on vivid display.
Angela Van Dyke waited with about 100 others in chilly weather as the sun rose Tuesday in Kenosha, Wis., despite her worries about exposure to the virus. “It’s a civic duty to show up, even in the midst of a massive surge” of infections, said Van Dyke, who moved back to her home state from California after losing her job in architecture because of the pandemic. She accused Republican leaders in Wisconsin of being “lazy” in their management of the crisis, and she said she was apprehensive about safety protocols in her polling station as she stood in line.
Nurse McKenna Hoffman, 33, stood in line to vote in Omaha, she said, partly because of what she described as Trump’s poor management of the pandemic. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), a Trump ally, opposed a mask mandate in the state, and on Monday, the state set a record for covid-19 hospitalizations, according to Washington Post data. During her shift in an intensive care unit Monday, McKenna said, just three beds remained open.
“It’s worse now than it was in March,” she said. “It will come down to who to intubate.”
In some states, Tuesday also marked the start of processing and counting the mountain of absentee ballots that election offices must contend with. Election officials in Pittsburgh announced the removal of ballots from a locked storage facility to begin what is expected to be a days-long process determining the final vote in Pennsylvania.
An avalanche of absentee ballots upended business as usual in Tulsa, which typically requires only three people to process such ballots in a presidential election. On Tuesday, more than a dozen sworn-in staffers were processing the returns of about 74,445 absentee ballots requested by Tulsa County voters. By midday, more than 80 percent had been returned, and the Election Board planned to return to the local post office three more times to gather late-arriving entries before the polls closed at 7 p.m.
In Green Bay, Wis., dozens of workers in a sprawling convention center ballroom were methodically making their way through tubs containing more than 30,000 absentee ballots Tuesday morning, the beginning of a process that was expected to go through the night and perhaps into Wednesday.
Green Bay is one of 39 Wisconsin municipalities that set up a central counting facility to handle the unprecedented surge of early votes. It is these sites, including in Milwaukee and Kenosha, that hold the potential to release huge numbers of votes later than some tallies from Tuesday voting.
“We have seen history-making numbers of absentee ballots come in, and as a result, election night might be just a little bit different than people are accustomed to,” Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich (D) said Monday. “We are urging people to be patient and to understand we are counting these ballots as quickly as possible.”
Many of the day’s glitches, such as machine failures, were the kind that happen sporadically every year. Others were more unusual. In Bedford, N.H., a tent set up outside a high school for those who did not want to wear masks to vote collapsed around midday in blustery winds, sending a 72-year-old poll worker to the hospital with a cut on her face.
“It flew up, fell over, collapsed,” said poll worker Bill Klein.
But it could have been worse. The falling tent narrowly missed striking the poll worker in the eye.
“It’s been one hell of a year,” Klein said. “I cannot wait until this is over.”
In a Des Moines polling place, a ballot scanner became jammed after some voters with sanitizer on their hands fed their wet ballots into the machine, according to Kevin Hall, spokesman for the Iowa secretary of state.
First-time voters were among those at the front of the lines Tuesday, more evidence of the surge of such voters already seen in the early vote.
Brian Dalley, 60, arrived at Ada Bible Church in Ada, Mich., before the sun rose and even before many of the election workers arrived. He was the first in a line of about 70 voters that stretched along the edge of the parking lot, under a waning moon, their faces illuminated by phones and their hands cradling hot coffee.
Dalley, who had never voted before, said he had been upset by the unrest this year, including protests against Trump, which he said were unpatriotic.
“You’re supposed to get behind your president,” he said, adding that it inspired him to vote for Trump — and straight Republican down the ticket.
Emma Brown, Beth Reinhard, Rosalind S. Helderman, Michael Kranish, Neena Satija, Aaron C. Davis, Jacob Bogage, Meryl Kornfield and Tony Romm in Washington; Jon Swaine in New York; Holly Bailey in Anoka, Minn.; Kim Bellware in Kenosha, Wis.; Maura Ewing and Cat Zakrzewski in Philadelphia; Annie Gowen in Kansas City, Mo.; Brent Griffiths in Omaha; Peter Kendall in Green Bay, Wis.; Keith O’Brien in Manchester and Londonderry, N.H.; Tom Hamburger and Kayla Ruble in Detroit; Bret Schulte in Tulsa; Ryan Slattery in Las Vegas; Josh Wood in Louisville; Moriah Balingit in Ada, Mich.; and Omar Sofradzija in East Lansing, Mich., contributed to this report. See the full list of The Post’s Election Day contributors here.