Americans go to polls at end of long, bitter race

After a long, bitter and sometimes surreal national contest, Americans on Tuesday were going to the polls to elect a new president.

Long lines were anticipated at many polling places, as nearly 90 million Americans were expected to vote. Fears of voting problems have pushed voting rights advocates, conservative watchdogs and even international observers to monitor polling places.

Early Tuesday, voters in several states stood in long lines, from reliably blue Massachusetts to the battleground states of Virginia and Ohio.

In heavily Democratic Rosslyn, Va., just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., voters waited for more than an hour. The hangup? Multiple ballot issues on authoritizing spending for public projects — and a complicated constitutional change proposal on union organizing, officials said.

In Ohio, another battleground, voters in the Dayton and Columbus areas encountered technical problems that slowed voting and lengthened lines. Election officials there said they were prepared for the busy morning and sent roving trouble shooters to tackle problems.

"We're doing well," said Sherry Poland, director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections. "Polls are open. People are voting."

In Asheville, N.C., a line of about 25 voters greeted poll workers at Erwin High School when doors opened at 6:30 a.m. By 8 a.m., nearly 100 people had voted, officials said.

One voter, Justin Byerly, said the decision for president was difficult. "Until 11 days ago I was for Hillary (Clinton)," he said. "Then the emails happened."

Democrat Hillary Clinton and her opponent, Republican Donald Trump, are both New Yorkers. They were expected to vote Tuesday at polling places near their homes.

Voters in 34 states are also deciding U.S. Senate races, a contest that will decide whether control of the chamber stays in Republican hands or switches to Democrats. Most observers this week have considered it too close to call.

Across the USA, voters are deeply divided as the race ends, recent surveys show, and somewhat cynical about the two presidential candidates.

According to the Pew Research Center, 56% of registered voters believe Trump has “little or no respect” for the USA’s democratic institutions and traditions. More than one in three — 37% — say the same about Clinton.

Pew found that 58% of those who support Clinton say they “have a hard time respecting someone” who supports Trump. Four in 10 Trump voters say they have a hard time respecting Clinton backers.

Trump has urged supporters to watch polling stations for signs of a "rigged" election. By contrast, civil rights advocates are warning of problems, particularly in Southern states freed from federal restrictions on voting procedures. Previously, they needed federal approval to take actions such as moving polling places.

Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, warned that Tuesday's voting could shape up as "the most problematic election in 50 years," a reference to the violent protests that marked the 1968 election.

The U.S. Justice Department has sent more than 500 monitors to 28 states to determine whether voters are subjected to racial discrimination or other barriers related to language differences or disabilities. A coalition of civil rights groups said it has more than 4,500 volunteers fielding calls in Washington, D.C., and monitoring voting in 29 states.

Observers are also on hand from as far as Europe and South America to see whether America's democratic system can withstand pressures from within the political system and beyond — extending, perhaps, to efforts by Russia and others to hack into voting systems.

Voters nationwide on Tuesday are also staring down a raft of ballot initiatives, propositions and constitutional amendments — in California alone, voters today must sift through 17 measures.

Voters there, as well as in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada, are voting on legalizing recreational marijuana, while voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota are voting on whether to permit medical use for certain conditions such as cancer or chronic pain.

By Wednesday morning, nearly 60 million Americans — 40 million in California alone — may wake up to find themselves living in states that have abolished long-standing marijuana prohibitions. Another 24 million could find themselves in states with newly legal medical marijuana use.

Four states — Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, plus the District of Columbia — have already legalized recreational marijuana. Another 25 permit medical use. But none of Tuesday’s results would change the federal ban on marijuana use. Legalization advocates say the new batch of states may further pressure Congress, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration to legalize marijuana nationwide.

Voters in four states — Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington — are also weighing ballot initiatives that would raise the minimum wage over the next four years. In Arizona, Colorado and Maine, state hourly minimums would rise to $12. In Washington, it would climb to $13.50. Polls in all four states have generally shown support for the measures, which could affect about 2 million workers, according to the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

Also in California, two very different state propositions could determine the fate of prisoners on Death Row: Proposition 62 would replace the death penalty for convicted first-degree murderers with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

By contrast, Proposition 66 would accelerate death penalty cases by imposing time limits on them. It would also increase the number of available attorneys for legal challenges to death sentences.

In Nebraska, a referendum that would abolish the death penalty statewide is already proving confusing for voters. The referendum on Legislative Bill 268, which passed the state legislature last year, asks whether voters should “retain” it and get rid of Nebraska’s death penalty, or “repeal” it and keep the death penalty.

“If voters aren’t careful, they easily could become confused and vote the opposite of their desires,” the Omaha World-Herald warned recently.

In the battle for control of the U.S. Senate, Republicans currently control 54 of 100 seats and 24 of the 34 seats up for grabs today. Democrats need only win five to regain control. If Clinton prevails, Democrats need just four, as her vice presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, would preside over the Senate and could cast deciding votes.

A few notable races:

In Alaska, Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski faces three challengers, including Joe Miller, who upset her in the 2010 GOP primary, only to lose the general election in an historic write-in campaign. Miller is running as a Libertarian this time.
In California, an unusual primary system means that the top two candidates — state Attorney General Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez — are both Democrats.
In Louisiana, 24 candidates (including white supremacist David Duke) are vying for an open seat now held by David Vitter, who isn’t seeking re-election. The top vote-getters will likely face a Dec. 10 runoff that could decide which party gains Senate control.
In Arizona, Metro Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America,” is fighting for his job after a criminal indictment stemming from his immigration patrols.

Even as the sun rose on Tuesday, a sizeable chunk of votes — more than 42 million — had already been cast in early voting, according to Michael P. McDonald of the University of Florida.


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