Americans turn out in large numbers to vote for president after divisive, nasty campaign

New York/Washington, Nov 8 (IANS) Americans went to the polls in large numbers on Tuesday after a bitter, divisive presidential campaign that reached its peak Monday night at a star-studded rally for Democrat Hillary Clinton and at a theatrical assembly for Republican Donald Trump.

Clinton running to be the first woman president on a platform of “Stronger Together” was ahead in opinion polls by an average of 3.3 percent, a slim lead over Trump, whose message was “Make America Great Again”.

Initial news reports indicated that this election may see a high voter turnout. News programmes across the country showed long lines of voters as polling began.

Around 90 million voters are expected to cast their votes to elect the country’s 45th president.

Voters are also to cast ballots for vice president, their representatives in Congress and Senate and other elected officials. Also on ballots are various proposals, called propositions, for legal changes in several states

East Coast states have already kicked off with voting on in Florida, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee.

The three sleepy hamlets in rural New Hampshire, with their residents fewer than 100, became the first to cast their ballots.

In Dixville Notch, Clinton beat Donald Trump 4-2. Libertarian Gary Johnson received one vote, and the 2012 Republican candidate, Mitt Romney received a surprise write-in ballot.

In the slightly larger burg of Hart’s Location, Clinton won with 17 votes to Trump’s 14. In Millsfield, Trump won decisively, 16-4.

Polls in most areas open at either 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., while poll closing times range from 6 p.m. to as late as 9 p.m. local time.

Clinton and husband and former President Bill Clinton turned up at their local voting booth in Chappaqua, New York, to vote. Voters cheered as the duo arrived, but Hillary didn’t speak to media, though she waved.

Many people crowded around her with cellphones taking photos.

In Florida, the biggest swing state in the country, 50 per cent of the state’s 13 million voters have cast their vote.

The election is also a national referendum on the establishment as the media, cultural and entertainment elite along with most of Wall Street and business elite and even some traditional Republicans are supporting Clinton. Votes for Trump would be seen as rebuffs of the establishment, as he is running as an outsider with an unconventional and raucous campaign not seen in modern times.

The campaigns, till the end, centered on vicious personal attacks, with policy matters falling by the wayside. “Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt person ever to seek the office of president of the United States,” was Trump’s closing message.

Clinton hit back at Trump, widely denounced as divisive, telling a rally early Tuesday in Raleigh, North Carolina, “It is a choice between division and unity.”

Clinton’s Monday night meeting in Philadelphia rallied political and entertainment star power behind her. President Barack Obama, accompanied by his wife Michelle, told the gathering estimated at 30,000: “I am betting that tomorrow you will reject fear and you’ll choose hope.”

Defending her against the constant stream of attacks by Trump, who refers to her as “Crooked Hillary,” Obama said: “I have had to bite my tongue about a lot of the nonsense people say about Hillary in this election.”

Singers Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen entertained the crowd with music and appealed to them to support Clinton.

Trump’s rally in Manchester was a theatrical performance with laser light display, but no stars. Instead he announced the backing he said he received from two sports figures in the region.

At the rally he returned to a familiar theme that the election was stacked against him, saying, “She’s being protected by a totally rigged system.”

Later early Tuesday morning both candidates held rallies to round off the campaign, Clinton in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Trump in Grand Rapids, Michigan. While Clinton’s meeting featured singers Bon Jovi and Lady Gaga, Trump’s was a low-key event

Despite her lead, Clinton lacked outright majority in an election that has four candidates running nationally. According to RealClear Politics, which tallies different polls, she was ahead in polls with 45.5 percent, while Trump had 42.2 percent.

The conservative Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson drew 4.7 percent – some of it away from traditional Republican supporters. The liberal Green Party candidate Jill Stein had the support of 1.9 percent in the polls.

Elections are controlled by state election bodies and rules and methods vary. Some states allow early voting, either in person or by post, and in some of them a large number of citizens have already voted. In North Carolina, for example, about a third of the electorate had voted before Tuesday.

Some states still use paper ballots, while others use different types of electronic machines

(Arul Louis can be reached at arul.l@ians.in)

–IANS

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