U.S. Voters Go To The Polls In Historic Presidential Election
RFE/RL November 08, 2016
Americans are heading to the polls to elect a new president after one of the most contentious campaigns in U.S. history.
Following a cutthroat campaign between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican rival Donald Trump, the two major-party candidates cast their ballots in an election that has focused more on character than issues.
"I'm so happy, I'm just incredibly happy," Clinton said as she emerged with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, from the polling station near her home in the small town of Chappaqua, not far from New York City.
She added that it was "the most humbling feeling" to vote "because so many people are counting on the outcome of this election."
Trump, meanwhile, cast his ballot at a polling station in the Manhattan district where he resides after arriving with his wife, Melania.
"It's looking very good. Right now it's looking very good. It will be an interesting day. Thank you," Trump said after voting.
A crowd of at least 100 people chanted, "New York hates you!" outside the polling station after Trump arrived, while supporters shouted words of encouragement.
In a phone interview on Fox TV earlier in the day, Trump said that the presidential campaign had been "an amazing process." He also called his campaign a "movement" and added that the American people are "incredible."
The rancorous, emotionally charged campaign between the two candidates has exposed deep fault lines in the U.S. political landscape, and whoever wins will face a deeply divided electorate.
Clinton, 69, and Trump, 70, have savaged one another throughout the campaign, which some historians say has featured a level of mudslinging and overheated rhetoric unprecedented in modern U.S. history. Opinion polls have shown a majority of American voters holding unfavorable views about both candidates.
Trump, a wealthy New York businessman and former reality TV star who has never held elected office, has said Clinton would be "in jail" under his presidency over her controversial handling of e-mails during her tenure as secretary of state. Chants of "lock her up" -- a reference to Clinton -- became staples at his rallies.
He captured the Republican nomination with controversial proposals like barring Muslims from the country and building a wall on the southern border to keep out immigrants from Central America, and has vowed to upend politics-as-usual in Washington if he is elected.
Clinton is a former U.S. senator, secretary of state, and first lady who has vowed to build on the legacy of outgoing Democratic President Barack Obama and touted her decades of public service as qualifying her to lead the nation.
She is seeking to become the first female president in U.S. history, and headed into Election Day with most opinion polls favoring her to beat Trump, her closest rival.
Obama, who has campaigned for Clinton -- whom he defeated in the 2008 Democratic primary before winning the White House for the first time later that year -- voiced optimism that his candidate of choice would win.
"As long as the American people vote, I think we'll do a good job," Obama said, adding that he hoped everyone "voted early. If not, get out there."
Polling stations opened in many places on the East Coast at 6 a.m., although a few villages in New Hampshire had already cast their ballots in the election.
A record number of Americans -- roughly 45 million -- have voted early by mail or at polling stations, while Clinton and Trump spent the previous day crisscrossing crucial swing states in a last-minute bid to sway potential undecided voters.
The first results will begin to emerge shortly after polls close at 7 p.m. local time (0000 GMT/UTC) in six states -- Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Vermont, Kentucky, and Indiana.
Polls on the west coast, including California, close at 8 p.m. local time (0400 GMT/UTC).
The candidate who wins a majority of the 538 electors under the country's state-based Electoral College system should succeed Barack Obama, the country's 44th president and the first African-American to hold that post.
Trump, who says the election is being "rigged" against him, has previously refused to say whether he would accept the results of the vote if they are not in his favor, raising the specter of a postelection challenge should he lose.
"We'll see what happens," Trump said outside the polling station where he voted after being asked whether he would concede if Clinton was declared the winner.
His eldest son said on the morning of Election Day that Trump would "respect the outcome" of a "fair election."
Donald Trump, Jr. told CNN that he believes his father "will remain involved somewhat" if he loses. He added that he hopes the energy in the movement his father has attracted "goes back to the people we are trying to fight for, the people who haven't had a voice in a long time."
Trump appeared to be laying the groundwork for a potential challenge to at least some results. His campaign filed a lawsuit in Nevada on Election Day alleging that election officials in a Latino district violated state law during early voting on November 4 by allowing people to join a line of voters at a polling station after 8 p.m.
According to Nevada law, voters who are in line when the polls close at 8 p.m. must be allowed to cast their ballots.
The lawsuit asks that the ballots cast at the location be maintained separately from other votes in case there is an eventual legal challenge over the result of the election in Nevada.
But a Nevada judge on November 8 rejected the request by Trump's campaign to issue an immediate order in the lawsuit, saying Trump's team did not bring the issue first to county officials before appealing to the state court.
In an interview after he cast his ballot, Trump also told Fox-TV that he had heard reports of problems with voting machines in various places that were switching votes for Republicans to votes for Democrats.
Prior to Election Day, there were concerns about potential difficulties voters might face in casting their ballots. But while some areas of the country saw long lines at polling stations, they appeared to face few difficulties.
There were technical problems in several precincts in North Carolina, a swing state seen as crucial to Trump's possible path to the White House. Election officials there used paper roll books after computer problems involving voter check-in.
Earlier in the day at the Manhattan polling station where Trump voted, two topless female activists associated with the Ukrainian-founded feminist group Femen were detained after crashing the facility and chanting slogans critical of the Republican.
Trump has been widely criticized for lewd and sexist comments he has made about women.
Clinton's vice-presidential candidate, Senator Tim Kaine, voted with his wife in his home state of Virginia shortly after voting booths opened at 6 a.m.
"All the early vote signs are very strong in terms of people's energy and desire to participate but I just hope that that carries through the day," Kaine said.
U.S. states and election observers reported a record surge in early voting, led by unusually strong turnout among Hispanic voters, which could give an edge to Clinton.
Early voting by Hispanics was reported to have surged in key states that Trump must win to gain the White House: Florida, Nevada, and Colorado.
In Florida, a record 6.4 million early ballots were already in, or more than three-fourths of the expected vote, AP said, with Democrats slightly ahead by 39.9 percent to 38.5 percent.
In North Carolina, more than two-thirds of the expected votes had been cast. Democrats led in ballots submitted, 42 percent to 32 percent.
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said he saw the uptick in early voting as a sign that the Democratic voter base is strong and motivated going into election day.
"We saw just eye-popping turnout in Florida over the last two days, particularly in our strongholds of southern Florida, North Carolina, and elsewhere, so we're very encouraged, very positive," Mook said on ABC on November 7.
In Colorado, the two parties are virtually tied at 35 percent among early voters, with more than 70 percent of the ballots in.
Trump appears to be benefiting from the early voting surge in Arizona, Iowa, and Ohio.
In Arizona, with more than two-thirds of the expected total votes cast, Republicans led in balloting, 40 percent to 34 percent.
The first votes in the election were cast in three villages in New Hampshire, where the voting started just after midnight local time on November 8.
In predawn voting in the hamlets of Dixville Notch, Hart's Location, and Millsfield, Trump took an early lead over Clinton by a 32-25 margin.
Two third-party presidential candidates -- Gary Johnson for the Libertarians and Jill Stein for the Green Party -- are also on many state ballots, but they are unlikely to present any real threat to the major-party candidates.
Voters are also electing all of the 435 members of the House of Representatives and 34 members of the 100-seat Senate.
The U.S. elections are being observed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which sent more than 400 short- and long-term monitors.
With reporting by AP, ABC, AFP, and McClatchy News
Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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