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Logistics for U.S. election run smoothly so far, defying disruption fears

  • Man carrying an unconcealed firearm arrested at North Carolina polling site.
  • U.S. judge orders sweep for any outstanding ballots at some postal facilities.
  • North Carolina to keep four sites open longer, delaying results.
  • FBI investigating reports of robocalls urging people to stay home, official says.
  • Get all the U.S. election results as they come in.
  • How to follow U.S. election day coverage on CBC.

Americans by the millions waited patiently to cast ballots at libraries, schools and arenas across the country on Tuesday, in an orderly show of civic duty that belied the deep tensions of one of the most polarizing presidential campaigns in U.S. history.

The face masks worn by many voters and the sight of boarded-up stores in some city centres were reminders of two big issues shaping the 2020 election, with COVID-19 still ravaging parts of the country after a summer of sometimes violent protests against police brutality and racism.

The FBI and the New York attorney general's office opened investigations into spates of anonymous robocalls urging people in several states to stay home.

And a federal judge ordered the U.S. Postal Service to conduct a sweep of some facilities across the country for undelivered mail-in ballots and to ship them immediately to election offices to be counted.

Civil liberties groups and law enforcement were on high alert for interference with voters at the polls, but few if any major disruptions were reported by late afternoon.

But in a troubling incident in the battleground state of North Carolina, a man legally carrying an unconcealed firearm was arrested and charged with trespassing at a polling site in Charlotte.

Voters cast their ballots at Cypress Fairbanks Funeral Home in Houston on Tuesday. The funeral home was one of a few that were used in Harris County for polling locations on election day. (Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle via The Associated Press)

Police said the suspect, Justin Dunn, 36, had loitered at the site after voting in the morning, "possibly intimidating other voters." A precinct official asked him to leave and he returned two hours later, when he was taken into custody, authorities said.

In New York City, some voting lines snaked around blocks, but in many places, from Los Angeles to Detroit and Atlanta, lines were short or non-existent. Poll workers guessed this was due to an unprecedented wave of early voting. More than 100 million ballots were cast before election day, a new record.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups said they were watching closely for signs of voter intimidation, and the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said it would deploy staff to 18 states.

Election officials and political party representatives raised worries about a spate of automated phone calls and text messages warning voters away from the polls for bogus reasons in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nebraska and Florida. The FBI was looking into the messages.

Staff at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a Washington-based advocacy group, told reporters they were concerned about voting machines not working in three counties in Georgia, forcing voters to fill in paper ballots and raising concerns that the paper back-ups would run out.

Buildings boarded up

In some big cities, buildings were boarded up over fears that violent protests could break out later, especially if there were delays before a winner is known.

In New York City, the Empire State Building and Macy's department store were among those that were boarded up. On Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, staff had stripped the display windows at Tiffany & Co. and Van Cleef & Arpels of their jewels.

Although Tuesday was unfolding with relative calm, tensions had flared around the country in the run-up to election day.

Supporters of President Donald Trump driving pick-up trucks down a Texas highway last week surrounded a bus filled with Biden campaign staff. In North Carolina over the weekend, police pepper-sprayed a group of mostly Democrats marching to polling stations, and members of an anti-government militia group were charged in an alleged plot to kidnap the Democratic governor of Michigan.

Trump supporters planned more vehicle caravans on Tuesday similar to those that jammed traffic in New York and elsewhere. Some election security experts worried these rolling demonstrations could intimidate voters or spiral into violent confrontations.

WATCH | Biden addresses Philadelphia crowd on election day:

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks to canvassers in Philadelphia on election day. 1:31

Scattered glitches

While voting appeared to be going smoothly in most places, there were some scattered glitches.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections voted on Tuesday to extend voting at four polling sites that opened late. As a result, reporting of results from early and mail-in voting statewide would be delayed until all polls were closed, the Raleigh News & Observer reported.

Likewise, Hidalgo County, Texas, said on Twitter all 74 of its polling locations would stay open an extra hour after 10 sites experienced "laptop check-in issues."

Even once votes are cast, some Americans worry about a protracted ballot count in pivotal states, forcing the country to wait for days or more before a clear winner emerges if the race is close.

Trump, whose office holds no powers over state-controlled vote-tallying, has said he thinks states should simply stop counting legal ballots once Tuesday has passed.

Voters wait in line outside a polling center on Election Day on Tuesday in Kenosha, Wis. (Wong Maye-E/The Associated Press)

Judge orders sweep of mail facilities

Meanwhile, a judge ordered the U.S. Postal Service to sweep mail processing facilities on Tuesday afternoon for delayed election ballots and immediately dispatch any for delivery in about a dozen states, including closely fought battlegrounds like Pennsylvania and Florida.

USPS data showed about 300,000 ballots that were received for mail processing did not have scans confirming their delivery to election authorities. While ballots may be delivered without scans, voting rights groups fear mail delays could cause at least some of those votes to be disqualified.

The ruling came in response to lawsuits brought by groups including Vote Forward, the NAACP, and Latino community groups.

Affected by the order are central Pennsylvania, northern New England, greater South Carolina, south Florida, Colorado, Arizona, Alabama and Wyoming, as well as the cities of Atlanta, Houston, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Lakeland, Fla.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered postal officials to complete the inspections by 3 p.m. ET and certify by 4:30 p.m. ET that no ballots were left behind.

Lawyers for the USPS told Sullivan in a court filing that the agency was not able to complete the sweeps by 4:30 p.m. but was "working as expeditiously as possible to comply with this court's orders while recognizing physical and operational limitations and the need to avoid disrupting key activities on election day."

It added inspectors would be in the identified facilities throughout the evening. 

The Justice Department said postal inspectors were still conducting daily reviews of 220 facilities handling election mail, including reviewing logs for accuracy, scanning for delayed mail, and ensuring election mail was processed expeditiously and no ballots were being held for postage due.

Many states will only count mailed ballots that are received by the end of Tuesday in their election results.

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