Election Day is usually a moment of tension and release, of anger and some bitterness, but also the closure that comes with watching Americans choose their next president.
But this campaign is inevitably ending on a far more disturbing note. These dyspeptic final days have been marked by threats of violent skirmishes and street demonstrations in places like Beverly Hills. Store owners are putting plywood on their windows, anticipating a return of this summer’s unrest.
Democrats and Republicans are following every gyration of the last round of polls, looking for reasons for hope and posting anguished observations on Twitter and Facebook.
What makes everything even more unsettling is that Election Day might not even end with the customary punctation mark moment, when one candidate concedes and the other declares victory.
President Trump has made it clear that he will not concede even if he appears to be losing — if, for example, Florida tilts to Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee.
Speaking to reporters Sunday evening, Mr. Trump vowed to mount a legal challenge in Pennsylvania even before all votes were counted, which could take days as mail-in ballots continue to arrive after the election.
“We’re going to go in the night of, as soon as that election is over, we’re going in with our lawyers,” Mr. Trump said.
The president, who has spent months undermining public confidence in the election system, said that he would also probably mount legal challenges in other states, including Nevada, because the governor there is a Democrat.
Mr. Trump repeated his desire that all the votes be counted on Election Day.
“I don’t think it is fair that we have to wait a long period of time,” he said.
In fact, even though races may be unofficially called on election night when one candidate appears to have an insurmountable lead, no state ever reports final results on election night, and no state is legally expected to. If states were to stop counting after Nov. 3, it would be an extraordinary subversion of the electoral process and would disenfranchise millions of voters who cast valid, on-time ballots.
Mr. Trump has reportedly said that he plans to declare victory on election night if early returns show him in the lead. But while voters who turn out on Election Day tend to skew Republican, the majority of mail-in ballots have been cast by Democrats, meaning early returns may not accurately reflect the full vote.
Asked to comment on the report in Philadelphia on Sunday, Mr. Biden said, “The president is not going to steal this election.”
Court battles have already rearranged the voting process across an array of states and continued to do so on Sunday.
The Texas Supreme Court denied an effort by Republicans to throw out more than 120,000 votes that had been cast at drive-through locations in Harris County, an increasingly Democratic area that includes Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.
Republicans are now hoping for a favorable ruling at the federal level, where a judge has called a hearing for Monday morning.
President Trump suggested at a rally early Monday morning that he might fire Dr. Anthony S. Fauci after Election Day, further escalating the tension between his administration and the nation’s top infectious disease expert as the number of new coronavirus cases in the United States reaches record highs.
Mr. Trump spoke well past midnight at the Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport in Florida at his fifth and final rally of the day. At one point, he began reciting a familiar complaint about the news media’s continued coverage of the virus.
His grousing led the crowd of his supporters to begin chanting, “Fire Fauci! Fire Fauci!” Mr. Trump listened in silence for a few moments before remarking: “Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait until a little bit after the election. I appreciate the advice.”
The president’s aside came toward the end of what was a whirlwind day of campaigning across five states — Michigan, Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida — and he spoke even as a local curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus took effect at midnight. On Friday, more than 99,000 coronavirus infections were reported across the country, a single-day record. Nonetheless, Mr. Trump has maintained without citing evidence that the United States has “turned the corner” in fighting the virus, a point he reiterated at the rally early Monday.
That assertion is strongly disputed by Dr. Fauci, who told the The Washington Post in an interview published on Saturday that the United States “could not possibly be positioned more poorly” as it heads into winter. A White House spokesman later called Dr. Fauci’s comments “unacceptable.”
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee, has said repeatedly that if he were to win the presidency, he is hopeful Dr. Fauci would remain in his role and serve in his administration.
Mr. Trump’s quip about Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was part of an hourlong mix of meanspirited jokes, misstatements, hyperbole, self-congratulation and occasional on-script arguments he made for his re-election.
Mr. Trump has adopted Florida as his home turf, and it is a swing state that he desperately needs to win to open paths to another four-year term. Although he narrowly prevailed there in 2016, polls, including one released Sunday by The New York Times and Siena College, have shown him trailing Mr. Biden in a tight race.
Roughly 8.7 million Floridians had already voted as of Sunday, according to the U.S. Elections Project, almost two-thirds of all registered voters in the state. But at least as of Sunday night, turnout among Black and Hispanic voters, both key groups for Democrats, has been lagging in Miami-Dade County, the most populous county in the state.
In a sign of how important South Florida is to the Biden campaign, Senator Kamala Harris, Mr. Biden’s running mate, visited the region on Saturday, and former President Barack Obama is scheduled to campaign there for Mr. Biden on Monday.
“We win Florida,” Mr. Trump said at the rally, “we win the whole thing.”
Vehicles with Trump flags halted traffic on Sunday on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey and jammed the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge between Tarrytown and Nyack, N.Y. Another pro-Trump convoy in Virginia ended in a tense shouting match with protesters as it approached a statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond.
In Georgia, a rally for Democrats was canceled shortly before it was scheduled to begin on Sunday, with organizers worried about what they feared would be a “large militia presence” drawn by President Trump’s own event nearby.
As the nation races toward Election Day, the tensions and acrimony surrounding an extraordinarily divisive campaign, coming on the heels of a summer of protests and racial unrest, are bleeding into everyday life and adding further uncertainty to an electoral process in which Mr. Trump has not committed to a peaceful transfer of power.
Sunday’s incidents came two days after a group of Trump supporters in Texas, driving trucks and waving Trump flags, surrounded and slowed a Biden-Harris campaign bus as it drove on Interstate 35, leading to the cancellation of two planned rallies. The F.B.I. confirmed on Sunday that it was investigating the incident.
On Saturday, Mr. Trump tweeted a video of the incident with a message, “I love Texas!” After the F.B.I. announced it was investigating, he tweeted again, saying, “In my opinion, these patriots did nothing wrong,” and instead “the FBI & Justice should be investigating the terrorists, anarchists, and agitators of ANTIFA.”
In Graham, N.C., a get-out-the-vote rally on Saturday ended with the police using pepper spray on some participants, including young children, and making numerous arrests. Organizers of the rally called it flagrant voter suppression.
“These people are afraid,” the Rev. Gregory B. Drumwright, his eyes still burning, said as he assailed the police action in Graham. “There’s a climate of fear around this.”
As the national early vote climbs past a staggering 93 million and challenges to the electoral process intensify across states, President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. are barreling into Pennsylvania and turning it into the top battleground in Tuesday’s election, with Democrats flooding in with door-knockers and Republicans trying to parlay Mr. Trump’s rallies into big turnout once again.
Both campaigns see Pennsylvania as increasingly crucial to victory: Mr. Trump now appears more competitive there than in Michigan and Wisconsin, two other key northern states he hopes to win, and Mr. Biden’s clearest electoral path to the White House runs through the state. Pennsylvania has more Electoral College votes, 20, than any other traditional battleground except Florida, and Mr. Trump won the state by less than one percentage point in 2016.
Mr. Trump devoted Saturday to four rallies across the state, and he and Mr. Biden planned campaign events for the final 48 hours of the race as well, with a wave of prominent Democrats and celebrities slated to arrive. On Monday the president is set to make an appeal to white, working-class voters in Scranton, where Mr. Biden was born, while Mr. Biden is aiming to solidify a broad coalition of white suburbanites and voters of color on a two-day swing through Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and elsewhere in western Pennsylvania.
Mr. Biden is ahead with a modest margin in recent polls, and is trying to cut into the president’s turnout in rural counties. But Mr. Trump’s rallies have energized many Republican voters, and his team is already preparing legal challenges over the vote if it ends up being close. On Sunday, the president told reporters, “as soon as that election’s over, we’re going in with our lawyers.”
In Pennsylvania in particular, the possibility of extended court battles and confusion hangs over the race, with the state Republican Party hoping the Supreme Court will reconsider its decision last week to allow the state to continue receiving absentee ballots for three days after Election Day.
“Every day is a new reminder of how high the stakes are, how far the other side will go to try to suppress the turnout,” Mr. Biden said as he campaigned on Sunday. “Especially here in Philadelphia. President Trump is terrified of what will happen in Pennsylvania.”
The Texas Supreme Court on Sunday denied an effort by Republicans to throw out more than 120,000 votes that had already been cast at drive-through locations in Harris County, leaving Republicans’ only remaining option at the federal level.
The ruling from the court came without comment.
The effort to get rid of the votes from largely Democratic Harris County now hinges on a nearly identical effort at the federal level, where a judge has called an election-eve hearing for Monday.
The lawsuit contends that the 10 drive-through voting sites in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, are operating illegally and are arranged in locations that favor Democrats.
The system was put in place for the first time this year by Chris Hollins, the Harris County clerk, with unanimous approval by county commissioners, after being tested in a pilot program over the summer.
More than 127,000 voters have cast ballots at the sites and the number could grow to more than 135,000 through Election Day on Tuesday, said Susan Hays, a lawyer for Harris County. She said county officials planned to vigorously challenge the suit, which she described as an act of “voter suppression.”
“It’s nuts,” she said. “Votes should count.”
Democrats were hopeful on Sunday that the decision from the Texas Supreme Court, which leans conservative, would bode well for their battle at the federal level.
The case will be heard Monday morning by Judge Andrew S. Hanen of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, who was appointed by President George W. Bush.
In a motion on Friday asking to intervene in the case, Democrats said it threatened to “throw Texas’ election into chaos by invalidating the votes of more than 100,000 eligible Texas voters who cast their ballots” at the drive-through sites. The motion was filed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the campaign of M.J. Hegar, who is running for the U.S. Senate.
The plaintiffs, who include State Representative Steve Toth and the conservative activist Steve Hotze, argue that drive-through voting “is a violation of state and federal law and must be stopped.”
In a telephone interview on Saturday, Mr. Toth said that only the legislature had the authority to implement a drive-though voting system. He also said the arrangement of the sites was tilted toward Democratic voters, noting that Mr. Hollins is vice chairman of finance for the Texas Democratic Party.
“If Hollins is really concerned that everybody is accurately represented, why is it that nine of the 10 are set up in predominantly Democratic areas?” said Mr. Toth, who represents part of neighboring Montgomery County.
He denied that the lawsuit was aimed at blunting Democratic momentum amid record rates of early voting in Houston and other strongly Democratic areas in the last days before the election.
“We’re not the ones who are disenfranchising anybody,” he said. “This is Hollins who did this.”
In a statement on Twitter on Saturday, Mr. Hollins said drive-through voting “is a safe, secure and convenient way to vote. Texas Election Code allows it, the Secretary of State approved it, and 127,000 voters from all walks of life have used it.”
He said his office was “committed to counting every vote cast by registered voters in this election,” and that voters would be notified if court proceedings required them to take any additional steps.
Fiona Walsh, a senior at George Washington University, has spent the last month trying to locate her absentee ballot, which never arrived. So she’s going the extra mile.
Actually, 1,052 extra miles.
That’s the round-trip mileage from Washington to Ms. Walsh’s home in Walton, Ky. On Monday, Ms. Walsh plans to begin driving in the morning, sleep at her parents’ home, cast a ballot in person, then return on Tuesday.
The coronavirus pandemic and new requirements in Republican-led states created voting obstacles this year for college students, a group that leans heavily Democratic. Yet youth participation appears to be on the rise.
More than seven million voters under 30 have already cast ballots, including more than four million in 14 key states that could decide the presidency and control of the Senate, according to data compiled by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. In many states, the youth share of the early vote is higher than it was at the same point in 2016.
Ms. Walsh’s quest for an absentee ballot began in mid September, she said, when she requested a ballot from Boone County in Kentucky. By early October, it hadn’t arrived.
“The first time I called they said, ‘Give it another week,’” Ms. Walsh said, but it didn’t turn up. When Ms. Walsh called again on Oct. 16, she realized that the mailing address her local election office was using did not include her apartment number, so she corrected it and asked for a new ballot.
By Oct. 26, still nothing. Ms. Walsh called again and asked the clerk’s office to confirm her address. Her apartment number was still missing.
She talked to her property manager, who was holding an absentee ballot — for another resident.
She said she now believes her only alternative is to borrow a car and make the long drive.
Ms. Walsh said her primary goal was to help elect Amy McGrath, the Democrat trying to unseat Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a Republican who serves as Senate majority leader.
“I know it will make me anxious and sad if I don’t vote against Mitch McConnell,” she said.
At the Pennsylvania long-term care facility where Tisheia Frazier works, the coronavirus was a terror. During the most harrowing weeks of the pandemic in April and May, she said, four residents died in a matter of hours, and 70 people in a 180-bed unit died in less than a month.
Another caregiver, Ellen Glunt, recalled watching an older couple celebrate their 80th wedding anniversary. The wife held a wedding photo up to the glass window, as her ailing husband remained on the other side.
And then there is Bob Lohoefer, a nursing director in Philadelphia with almost 40 years of experience who has had flashbacks to the trauma rooms he worked in decades ago. At the height of the pandemic, he sat at his desk, a shield over his face, so frustrated by the government’s handling of the virus and his own organization’s bureaucracy that he thought to himself: “I don’t want to do this.”
Few groups have witnessed more of the virus’s horrors than caregivers — frontline workers who have grappled with the public health crisis while trying to help older people at risk of isolation, distress and, in some cases, death. The deaths of almost 40 percent of all Americans killed by the coronavirus have been linked to nursing homes and similar facilities — indoor spaces crowded with vulnerable adults. The share is even higher in Pennsylvania, where deaths in nursing and personal-care facilities account for close to two-thirds of coronavirus deaths statewide.
In interviews ahead of the election with more than a dozen caregivers in Pennsylvania, one of the country’s most important battleground states, they described how their experiences are shaping their political outlooks. It has hardened some convictions and transformed some caretakers, otherwise apolitical, into activists. It has forced others to reassess their beliefs about American exceptionalism, the role of government in their lives and their industry, and their decision about whom to vote for in November.
“Nine months ago, I would have told you that I was 100 percent behind Trump,” Mr. Lohoefer, a lifelong Republican, said of the president. “But as a result of Covid, I’m not 100 percent sure where I stand now.”