Fri, 16 Nov 2018
30
Indianapolis

WASHINGTON - Polls have closed in 40 U.S. states, as Americans cast ballots in one of the most bitterly fought midterm elections in years, a vote that will decide which party controls Congress for at least the next two years.

As turnout in the November 6 vote exceeded many past midterm elections, early results showed Democrats picking up at least three seats in the House of Representatives, and Republicans picking up at least one Senate seat.

The elections -- including for all 435 seats in the House and 35 of the Senate's 100 seats -- were also widely seen as a referendum on Donald Trump's presidency.

There were scattered reports of problems in some places around the country, including long lines and malfunctioning computer scanners. Still, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters said there was no indication of "compromise to our nation's election infrastructure."

With Republicans holding a 23-seat majority in the House -- the lower house of Congress -- and controlling the upper house -- the Senate -- by just a single seat, many pre-election polls predicted that Democrats have a strong chance to take control of at least the House, but the Senate was widely expected to remain in Republican control.​

As of 9 p.m. EST (3 a.m. Prague Time), polls had closed in 40 states, including Virginia, Texas, Florida, Indiana, Georgia, and New Jersey. Several of Virginia's congressional districts were seen as bellwether races that would give indications whether Democrats or Republicans would take the upper hand in the House.

Florida is one of the most populated states, with 27 congressional districts and its race for governor has been particularly hard fought. Indiana is the site of a key Senate battle, and several of New Jersey's congressional seats are expected to flip from Republican to Democrats, as voters express anger over a Republican-led tax reform.

If they take control of the House, Democrats are expected to restart the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election, as well as interactions between Trump associates and Russian officials.

They're also likely to focus on the ethical problems some of Trump's Cabinet members have faced, meaning the final two years of Trump's first term as president would likely be shadowed by a stream of bad news.

If Republicans maintain control of the House, Trump is expected to push forward on legislation including more tax cuts, efforts to shrink the federal government, cutting regulations, and other things.

U.S. midterm elections usually draw fewer voters to the polls, but officials and U.S. media said early signs indicated heavier-than-usual turnout.

Even before polling precincts opened, a surge in early voting in many states highlighted how electrified the U.S. voters are about a range of issues -- first and foremost, Trump's presidency. An analysis published November 6 by the Associated Press found that more than 40 million Americans had already voted, either by mail or in person, breaking early voting records across 37 states.​

According to data compiled by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, at least 44 states had exceeded their total number of early votes cast from in the last midterm election, in 2014.

A coalition of some 100 groups monitoring polling irregularities said problems with voting machines had been reported in at least 12 states during the day.

Among the election day difficulties, long lines and defective voting machines were reported in the state of Georgia, site of a hotly contested battle for the governor's post.

In Fulton County, which includes Georgia's largest city, Atlanta, unusually long lines of voters prompted a local judge to order three polling stations to stay open beyond the scheduled closing deadline. A judge in another neighboring county also extended hours in three locations. And in the city of Snellville, technical difficulties with voting machines forced dozens of people to wait in line for more than four hours to vote, with many laying on the floor until their turn to cast a ballot.

In New York City, broken ballot scanners caused delays at several locations. Lines at one precinct on Manhattan's Upper West Side stretched down the street and around a school gymnasium.

A judge in Porter County, Indiana, ordered 12 polling places in the region to stay open late after voting didn't start as scheduled. The cities of Houston, Sarasota, Florida; and Phoenix, Arizona, were among other cities reporting confusion at polling stations.

In addition to Congress, many states are choosing governors, and new members of state legislatures. Some states also were holding referendums on specific issues such as taxes, animal cruelty, legalizing marijuana, or increasing the minimum wage.

For his part, Trump and his wife Melania voted in New York State-their primary residence-- via absentee ballot several weeks ago, according to the White House.

By all accounts, the election campaign has been rancorous to a degree not seen in years.

A strong economy and low unemployment would ordinarily be good news for a president and his party in midterm congressional elections, which occur every two years and are all called midterms when they fall at the midway point of a president's four-year term, like this year.

But Trump's hard-line approach to policy-making and social issues has dented the ability of Republicans to claim full credit for the strong economy.

On the eve of Election Day, senior U.S. security and intelligence officials issued a joint statement saying that so far 'we have no indication of compromise of our nation's election infrastructure that would prevent voting, change vote counts, or disrupt the ability to tally votes.'

The midterm campaign was roiled by a wave of attempted mail bombings, allegedly committed by a Florida man who regularly posted vitriolic statements on social media, and who appeared to be a die-hard Trump supporter. A shooting massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 people on October 27 has also darkened the national mood; the gunman allegedly shouted anti-Semitic slurs as he opened fire.

Mike Eckel

Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL based in Washington.

EckelM@rferl.org

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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