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US early voting continuing on historic pace, tops 70 million

PHILADELPHIA: Voters wait in line on the last day for in-person early voting at the Alain Locke School satellite polling station on Tuesday. – AFP

WASHINGTON: More than 70 million Americans have cast ballots in the US presidential election, more than half the total turnout of the 2016 election with one week to go until Election Day, according to a Tuesday tally from the US Elections Project. The tally, which shows a record-breaking pace that could lead to the highest voter turnout in percentage terms in more than a century, is the latest sign of intense interest in the contest between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

It also highlights voters’ desire to reduce their risk of exposure to COVID-19 as the pandemic regathers strength heading into winter. Democrats hold a significant advantage in early voting due to their embrace of mail balloting, which Republicans have historically cast in large numbers but have shunned amid repeated and unfounded attacks by Trump, who says the system is prone to widespread fraud.

Overall, Democrats hold roughly a two-to-one advantage in early voting numbers. However, Republicans in recent weeks have narrowed the gap in early, in-person voting, data shows. The high level of early voting has led Michael McDonald, the University of Florida professor who administers the US Elections Project, to predict a record US voter turnout of about 150 million, representing 65% of those eligible to vote, the highest rate since 1908. US voters have already cast far more early votes during this presidential campaign than they did in all of 2016 when they passed the 47 million mark earlier this month, data shows.

In another development, hackers briefly broke into Donald Trump’s campaign website on Tuesday, just a week before Election Day, officials and reports said. “This site was seized,” said a message that popped up on donaldjtrump.com, which normally carries details of rallies and fundraising appeals. “The world has had enough of the fake-news spreaded daily by president donald j trump”, the message went to say, US media reported.

Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said the site was quickly fixed and no sensitive data was compromised. “The Trump campaign website was defaced and we are working with law enforcement authorities to investigate the source of the attack,” Murtaugh said. The technology website Techcrunch said the hack appeared to be a scam intended to collect hard-to-trace cypto-currency Monero. In their message, the hackers claimed to have confidential information on Trump and his relatives. They instructed people to send crypto-currency to one address if they wanted the information revealed and to another to keep it secret.

Biden vows to tackle virus
Meanwhile, Joe Biden flayed Donald Trump on Tuesday with accusations the US President has surrendered to a surging pandemic, as the Democrat took his campaign to the Republican stronghold of Georgia one week before the election. While the former vice president went on electoral offense, seeking to expand the campaign map and his state-by-state path to victory on November 3, Trump barnstormed the Midwest in a last-gasp bid to shore up states that voted for him in 2016 but which polls show are tilting Biden’s way.

And with the campaign narrowing down to its final days, Biden tapped one of his top surrogates, popular former president Barack Obama, to deliver a closing argument for Democrats in Florida, a must-win swing state for Trump if he is to defy the odds and earn reelection. Biden, buoyed by poll numbers that show him leading the incumbent, drilled in on Trump’s coronavirus response, reminding voters that Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows conceded at the weekend that “we’re not going to control the pandemic.”

Speaking in Warm Springs, Georgia, Biden branded the response “a capitulation” by a White House that “never really tried” to halt a pandemic which has now killed more than 226,000 Americans. Instead of acting as a wartime president to battle Covid-19 as he promised, Trump “shrugged, he swaggered and he surrendered,” Biden said. “I’m here to tell you: We can and we will control this virus,” he added.

‘Working my ass off!’
Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by five points in Georgia in 2016, but polls have the 74-year-old running neck and neck with Biden in the Peach State. Georgia last voted for a Democrat for president nearly three decades ago-Bill Clinton in 1992 – but the Biden campaign has high hopes of flipping the state, and also winning its two US Senate seats which are up for grabs. Biden, 77, held a socially distanced drive-in rally later in Atlanta, Georgia’s largest city, where he repeated some of the same attacks on Trump but also urged voters to recognize how vital the state suddenly is to winning the White House.

“We win Georgia, we win everything!” Biden said, his voice rising. “These are the final days, so keep that sense of empowerment with you, that sense of optimism.” Trump meanwhile maintained his hectic campaign pace, holding an open-air rally in Michigan followed by a similar one in Wisconsin and then Nebraska. Attendees did not practice social distancing, and many were maskless.

Michigan and Wisconsin are Midwestern battlegrounds which he won by razor thin margins four years ago, but Trump insisted “we’re leading almost everywhere” thanks to his frantic campaign schedule. “I’ve got to say I’m working my ass off here!” he boomed in Lansing, Michigan, eliciting a huge cheer.- Agencies

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