President Donald Trump has threatened legal action to block the counting of ballots in critical battlegrounds if they arrive after election day amid what is shaping up to be a massive turnout for a US election.
Midway through a five-state marathon that took him from Iowa and Michigan to North Carolina, Georgia and Florida, the president warned of potential fraud in vote counting, singling out Pennsylvania and Nevada — two swing states that have Democratic governors.
“I think it’s a terrible thing when ballots can be collected after an election,” Mr Trump told reporters on Sunday evening, referring to a Supreme Court decision that will allow ballots in Pennsylvania to be counted for up to three days after Election Day.
“The night of — as soon as that election is over — we are going in with our lawyers,” he added.
Mr Trump’s comments came as political scientists and election lawyers predicted that the US was poised to record its biggest election turnout figures in recent memory, allaying fears that the coronavirus pandemic would discourage a significant percentage of the population from voting.
“The one thing we know from early voting is we’re going to set a modern record for turnout,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of the non-partisan Inside Elections.
The previous modern record for turnout among registered US voters was in 1960 when John F Kennedy ran against Richard Nixon and close to 64 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots, Mr Gonzales noted. This year, voter turnout was likely to cross 65 per cent or even 66 per cent, he forecast.
“This is a 100-year flood of voters that we were seeing,” Nate Persily, a professor at Stanford Law School and former senior research director for the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, told NBC News. He predicted up to 160m Americans would vote in the election, compared with 136.5m in 2016.
As of Sunday evening, more than 93m Americans had already cast their ballots, according to the US Elections Project, a database compiled by Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida.
“It shows enthusiasm is high and fear is high as well,” said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University, the fear referring to the mechanics of voting on election day itself, and any potential problems caused by the pandemic.
Mr Zelizer said that a higher turnout was more likely to benefit Mr Biden who is drawing from a much broader coalition of voters.
So far, returned mail-in ballots have favoured registered Democrats. A greater number of registered Republicans are expected to vote in person on election day, while early voting has suggested mixed results for both parties.
In the final two days before the vote, Mr Trump has amplified his concern about the Supreme Court’s ruling on Pennsylvania. Republicans attempted to throw out more than 120,000 votes that had already been cast at close to a dozen drive-through polling sites in Texas’s Democratic-leaning Harris County.
On Sunday, Texas’s Supreme Court rejected the Republican’s argument that the drive-through polling stations were illegal in Texas and that their locations favoured Democrats. However, a federal-district court was expected to issue a final emergency ruling on the issue on Monday.
In New York and New Jersey on Sunday, caravans of Trump supporters blockaded traffic with their cars on two of the region’s busiest roadways. In Texas, Democratic officials said that a bus for the Biden campaign had been forced off the road by motorists waving Trump flags and signs, forcing the campaign to cancel some of its local events.
In a packed campaign schedule that began with an 11am rally in Washington, Michigan and was bookended with a post-11pm rally in Miami, Mr Trump projected a coming “red wave” that would catapult him to another four years.
“We’re supposed to be way down, then we catch up and we win,” Mr Trump told a snowy rally in Michigan.
While the president won all five of the states in 2016, some polls suggest he faces a more difficult path this time. A Financial Times analysis of RealClearPolitics polling averages gives Mr Biden the edge in four of the fives states that Mr Trump was visiting on his second to last day of campaigning.
Amid the surge in early voting, many state officials warned Americans to expect a delayed result — a scenario that some Democrats worry Mr Trump could try to turn to his advantage.
Some competitive states, such as North Carolina and Florida, have begun counting ballots and are expected to report results sometime on election night or the day after. But others such as Michigan and Pennsylvania are not allowed to start counting ballots until election day, meaning it could take several days for states to report their totals, given the expected volume of mail-in ballots.
A CBS News poll released on Sunday showed 66 per cent of early votes cast went to Mr Biden, while Mr Trump was expected to do better on election day itself, winning 69 per cent of the votes cast in person that day. Because of this, it may initially appear that Mr Trump is outperforming in states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania before the early vote is counted.
In a television interview earlier on Sunday, Jason Miller, senior adviser to the Trump campaign, claimed Democrats would “try and steal [the advantage] back after the election”.
“We believe that we’ll be over [the necessary number of] electoral votes on election night so no matter what they try to do, what kind of high jinks or lawsuits or whatever kind of nonsense they try to pull off, we’re still going to have enough electoral votes to get President Trump re-elected,” Mr Miller told ABC News.