More than 100 million votes cast as Election Day in full swing

After last-minute rallies, nearly 100 million early votes cast, anxious Americans bring the national election to a close.

Final voting has begun in the US presidential elections that pit President Donald Trump against challenger Democrat Joe Biden [David J Phillip/AP Photo]

United States President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden are projecting confidence on Election Day, as more than 100 million ballots have already been cast in the heated presidential contest.

Trump on Tuesday paid a visit to his campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, where he thanked dozens of staff working to get him re-elected.

“I think we’re going to have a great night, but it’s politics and it’s elections and you never know,” he said.

“Winning is easy. Losing is never easy,” Trump added, noting how important winning the battleground US state of Pennsylvania is for his prospects of a second term in the White House.

That is where Biden spent his morning, making a stop at his childhood home in the town of Scranton.

More than 100 people cheered for the former US vice president outside the white, two-storey house. “It’s good to be home!” Biden told the crowd.

Joe Biden speaks outside his childhood home on Election Day in Scranton [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

After weeks of campaigning, roughly 60 million voters are expected to go to the polls on Tuesday to choose between Biden and Trump – two candidates who are offering starkly different visions for a nation in crisis.

“Turnout is going to be high all around,” Michael Traugott, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan, told Al Jazeera.

Battleground states

Michigan is one of the three Midwest states, along with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, that Trump won in 2016 giving him a victory in the electoral college. Trump held large rallies in all three states on Monday, hoping to spark another come-from-behind win.

Earlier this week, Biden headlined a pair of rallies with entertainers John Legend in Philadelphia and Lady Gaga in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s two largest cities. Biden also visited Cleveland, Ohio and made a third stop in the Pittsburgh suburbs.

Both the candidates focused heavily on Pennsylvania during their campaigns.

Republican Vice President Mike Pence, Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris and Biden’s wife, Jill, all campaigned in the state in the closing hours of what has been a divisive contest.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence hold a campaign rally at Gerald R Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan the night before Election Day [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

At the same time, indicative of how wide the fight is, former President Barack Obama urged late voters to get out in Florida and Georgia on Monday, while First Lady Melania Trump appeared in North Carolina.

The first lady cast her vote on Tuesday at a voting centre in Palm Beach, Florida, near the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort. Trump switched his residence from New York to Palm Beach County last year and voted in person on October 24 during early voting.

Asked why she did not vote then, too, the first lady told reporters: “It’s Election Day so I wanted to come here to vote today for the election.”

She did not wear a mask to guard against COVID-19 when she voted, but her spokesperson said the first lady was the only person in the polling site, with the exception of polling workers and her staff, all of whom were tested for the virus.

Record turnout

The US has seen record early turnout in the elections, spurred in part by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly 101 million votes had been cast by 2:14pm ET (19:14 GMT) on Tuesday, according to a tally from the US Elections Project at the University of Florida.

The Associated Press news agency also said on Tuesday that early voting in several states, including Texas and Arizona, had already surpassed the total vote count in 2016. The largest gain was in Kentucky, where nearly 13 times as many votes were cast than four years ago, AP reported.

Charles Bullock, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia, told Al Jazeera that the state may see six million votes this year. “We’ve never come anywhere close to that,” Bullock said.

While Georgia has historically gone to Republican presidential candidates, some polls show it is within reach for Biden this time around – and so the former vice president’s campaign has pushed for strong voter turnout to deliver an election surprise to Democrats.

Voters line up to cast their ballots at Savannah Grove Baptist Church in South Carolina [Randall Hill/Reuters]

“We’ve not gotten this kind of attention from presidential candidates in a generation or more,” Bullock said.

Trump, meanwhile, held a huge rally in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Monday night. It is a county he won by 238 votes in a state he won by a razor-thin margin in 2016. Kenosha may well be close again.

He closed out the day with a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he had wrapped up his campaign in 2016, hoping to reignite the same supporters who gave him the White House four years ago.

“It’s always important to get your voters fired up at the last minute,” said Timothy Hagle, a professor of political science at the University of Iowa. “You like to see some energy from your candidates.”

Outcome may take days

The outcome of the election may not be known for days, depending on how close the vote is in key states and how long it takes to count the large numbers of mail-in ballots that have been cast.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has warned that counting 2.8 million mail ballots could take up to three days. Michigan plans to release interim results that may signal who is winning, however.

In Pennsylvania, state rules allow counties to collect mailed ballots that were postmarked by Election Day for three additional days. Trump has threatened to challenge those ballots in court, which could put in question tens of thousands of votes.

Biden leads Trump in national surveys of eligible voters by 51.8 percent to 43.4 percent, according to a rolling average calculated by Final polls in key battleground states suggest Trump has narrowed the gap with Biden.

Trump’s path to an Electoral College win is challenging. Closely contested states to watch for early results will be Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. Losses for Trump in any of those would signal Biden is having a good night.

Arizona, Iowa and Ohio are also states where the race for president is very close and Trump cannot afford to lose.

Potential unrest

Whatever happens, authorities nationwide are bracing for potential unrest following the results of the election.

Stores and buildings in downtown Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Philadelphia and midtown New York have been boarded up, while additional police officers have been deployed in New York. A no-scale fence was installed around the White House, as well.

Members of the Pennsylvania National Guard deployed to downtown Philadelphia over the weekend to help quell riots and looting that began after the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr [Michael Perez/AP Photo]

The National Guard deployed in Philadelphia following rioting over the weekend after the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr, a Black man.

Ten states had activated the National Guard as of last week, and 14 more are expected to activate troops this week, The New York Times reported.

Al Jazeera’s William Roberts contributed to this report

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies