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On the streets of New York on the most important day in the United States
New York holds its breath. A report from our correspondent in the Big Apple on the 3rd of November, the day of the 2020 US elections.
It’s the evening of the 3rd of November. The polls have closed, and the United States awaits to discover what future lies ahead. In the middle of a global pandemic, the 2020 presidential elections have seen a record high turnout. Even before election day, the last day of campaigning and when voters traditionally flock to polling stations, more than 100 million people have already cast their ballot, both via mail and through in-person early voting. Hours-long queues were seen in the first days of early voting in most states, and from then onwards a constant and controlled flow of ballots have been submitted up to, and including, the 3rd of November.
Little room for doubt in New York
In New York, there’s little room for doubt. Joe Biden will win, like every other the Democratic candidate since 1988. While this may hold true, a strange atmosphere permeates the city. In the West Village bar I’m sitting in, the owner complains that few customers have come in today. “People are staying home for fear of protests… but what protests?” she asks herself. In the city centre, people proudly display red, white and blue stickers that say “I voted” while strolling calmly and having lunch outdoors to soak up the sun. The atmosphere is far from charged, though things might change.
Around the Trump Tower, in the wealthiest part of 5th Avenue, shops are boarded up to prevent damage caused by potential protests. Police have advised them to remove any objects from the sidewalk that could be thrown or used as barricades. New York, a Democratic stronghold, is preparing for a sleepless night like the rest of the country.
How many people voted via mail
The principal TV networks in the US will kick off the electoral marathon at 19:00 Eastern time, when the first polls start closing. Results, however, could come in much later. To avoid the risks posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, over 65 million citizens have voted via post: a record number, considering that four years ago, 33 million people (a quarter of the electorate) opted for this method. Vote counting should continue until the morning, keeping the whole world on its toes.
For months, president Donald Trump has attacked postal voting, claiming that it is vulnerable to electoral fraud and could compromise the results. For this reason, too, one of the most widely cited scenarios for this electoral night is a “red (i.e. Republican) wave” as many states begin counting in-person votes, and then move onto those sent via mail. Therefore, if Trump may appear to be winning after the polls close, Biden could catch up in the early hours of the morning.
What New Yorkers say
We’re still in the realm of hypotheses, however. Wil Biden win? “We all know we can’t know. Of course, we hope for it,” says Sara Gronim, an activist at the 350 Brooklyn non-profit who I met in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood. Bringing together volunteers like Gronim, the group’s focus is on environmental themes, the biggest challenge of our time, obscured over the course of the electoral campaign by the health crisis that has reached record proportions in the US.
The changing climate is one of the themes on which Trump and Biden have radically different visions. “The Republican party, as it is now, denies that there is a problem with the climate and it’s totally committed to huge industrial production, particularly fossil fuels,” Gronim comments. “The Democratic party, at least parts of it, recognises fully both the seriousness and immediacy of the climate crisis, and they’re willing to take really dramatic steps and use the federal government as an instrument that helps us all become more resilient”.
At midnight on 4 November, when the elections will be over, the United States will leave the Paris Agreement, a decision taken by Trump in the first months of his presidency. Biden, on his part, has promised that, if elected, he will re-join the treaty signed by “his” president, Barack Obama, and invest billions in renewable energy and sustainability. “Given the choices between the two candidates, of course Biden’s plan is better,” Gronim points out. “But once – and if – he gets elected, there’s still a lot of work to do”.
“I think there will be protests, whatever the outcome,” says a local activist in Brooklyn wearing a Bernie Sanders campaign hat. “People in this country want to show that they want the government to ensure free and fair elections”.
The polls are closing, but the ending is far. The country will have to wait a while longer to breathe a sigh of relief, one way or the other.
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