News World US US Election Fear and waiting in critical, calm Pennsylvania before the storm

Fear and waiting in critical, calm Pennsylvania before the storm

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Dawn broke bright and cold in the carpark of the Gen. Harry Labrum School in Northeast Philadelphia this morning.

By 6.30am, more than 50 people were lined up – in a socially distanced way – along the school building, shivering and shuffling as they waited for doors to open into the tiny school gymnasium.

An elderly woman in a walker was the first inside 40 minutes later— becoming one of the first of millions of Americans to cast their vote this election day.

Some 1700km south of here, and under far sunnier skies, voters lined up for another reason: to see First Lady Melania Trump make her choice.

She stopped in at a voting centre in Palm Beach, Florida, near the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

Asked why she didn’t join her husband to vote last week, FLOTUS told reporters: “It’s election day so I wanted to come here to vote today for the election.”

A smiling and waving Mrs Trump was the only person not wearing a mask to guard against the coronavirus. Her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said the first lady was the only person in the polling site, with the exception of a couple of poll workers and her own staffers, all of whom were tested.

First lady Melania Trump walks with Wendy Sartory Link, Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections, after voting in Florida. Photo: Getty

Back here at the gym, voters were masked and keeping a distance as they waited about 30 minutes to reach the front of the queue.

By 8am all of the predawn crowd had finished, heading to work or school or back home to await the results of this epic election.

Just what they will see when they turn on the televisions this evening is uncertain.

The sheer number of early voting and mail-in ballots will mean a change in the election result metabolism. Florida, for example, whose polls close first at 7 pm, is expected to have all their ballots counted quickly.

Here in Pennsylvania, however, officials had said it could take three days to count the anticipated 3 million early and mail-in ballots.

They’ll still report today’s ballots, but how that compares to the early votes is anyone’s guess – and believe me, everyone will make one.

After a record-breaking early voting turnout, Americans head to the polls on the last day to cast their vote. Photo: Getty

At the very least, that means the endless hours of state projections and prognostications will come with even more frustration than usual.

If Joe Biden wins Florida, for example, that’s very good news for him. But what combination of states counting tonight – North Carolina, Georgia, Wisconsin etc – will be enough to comfortably predict the national outcome? Will enough of a landslide – in either direction – be enough to compensate for the silence of states like Pennsylvania?

Unless things look like an epic blowout, expect slow going. Network news desks are still cringing over the humiliating walk-back they had to make over the Florida vote count in the 2000 race between George W Bush and Al Gore.

Networks had first called it for Gore, then withdrew their projections. They then called it for Bush, only to ultimately learn it was too close to call.

Over the weekend, there was a spasm of hysteria when Axios reported that Trump was planning to declare victory before an official count, if early in-person voting (which will be counted first in some states) showed him winning.

Trump kids rally no mask
Michael Boulos, Vice President Mike Pence, Tiffany Trump, Eric Trump, Lara Trump, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. at the president’s final rally. Photo: Getty

By this morning, Trump had waved off that threat, which was laughable to begin with.

The president was asked on Fox News to address the speculation and confirm at what stage he would declare a Republican win.

“When there’s victory, if there’s victory – I think we’ll have victory,” Mr Trump replied.

“Only when there’s victory… there’s no reason to play games.”

He added he is is confident he has a “very solid chance of winning”.

“A lot of that has to do with the tremendous crowd size…there’s a lot of love,” the president said, referring to his campaign rallies.

To say there is anxiety about the count, and the result, would be an understatement.

Battalions of lawyers on the GOP side are said to be prepared to make hundreds of mail-in vote challenges, with similar forces arrayed on the Democratic side to meet those challenges.

It’s telling that the election eve message to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s poll watching volunteers on Monday night (local time) was not from either candidate, but from a prominent Democratic Party lawyer who oozed confidence about the Dems’ vote preservation legal strategy.

By 11 am in Philadelphia, there was no longer a line at the Labrum School.

This middle-class, majority white Philly neighbourhood is evenly split among registered Democrats and Republicans. The morning turnout was very heavy, a local Democratic operative said, but there were no incidents – no shouts, no intimidation, no threats.

It was, for a brief time on this cold morning, how it should be on election day in America.

We shall see soon enough how – and when – the day ends.

Larry Hackett is the former editor-in-chief of People magazine, and a contributor to the US morning television news program Good Morning America