The Note: A referendum election arrives, with no clean answers promised
The chaos won’t end Tuesday and the volume won’t be turned down any time soon.
The TAKE with Rick Klein
It's been an election about foreign interference, racial justice, science, impeachment, health care, the economy, immigration, the Supreme Court, basic decency, the COVID-19 pandemic -- and, finally, perhaps democracy itself.
For all that, Election Day arrives as a referendum on the man who has dominated the national conversation for four-plus years: President Donald Trump. Of course, even that doesn't guarantee a clean verdict or a drama-free ending -- and some late presidential tweets aren't helping calm things down.
We know that results will start flowing in as polls close at 7 p.m. ET in a first batch of states that includes Georgia and Virginia, with numbers starting to flow out of North Carolina and Ohio a half hour later. Then will come projections and then what could be a long wait.
We don't know when or how it will end. Former Vice President Joe Biden could clinch states early and start to roll; the night or early morning could bring a narrow but decisive victory for either Biden or Trump; or it could last a long while, with a tense nation forced to wait out legal fights and presidential tweetstorms over a period of days and weeks.
To the end, Trump has controlled the campaign's wild tempo. But he has failed to control the messaging -- or, for that matter, COVID-19 -- while Biden has calculated that the nation is looking for a calmer president and more stable times.
The chaos won't end on Tuesday and the volume won't be turned down any time soon. The president may seek to take advantage of the nation's impatience.
Yet, for this one day that never seemed like it would get here and then showed up fast, it will be other voices that matter. Voters are casting ballots in record numbers, to help begin to make sense of a dizzying moment.
The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks
The politics of this moment may be national, but the process is still local.
On Tuesday, 50 states and Washington, D.C., will run their own elections and officials on the ground in counties -- and even municipalities -- have committed over and over again to do their jobs and adhere to their state laws to count all votes.
In the battleground state of Michigan, the Lansing city clerk said Tuesday, "If it does take us a couple days, it's because time is the only place that we have that we can sacrifice. We will not sacrifice the accuracy and we will not sacrifice counting every vote."
In Pennsylvania, the secretary of state underscored that every vote cast according to state law would, of course, be counted.
"There's no basis in Pennsylvania or federal law for a candidate to declare a race is done, or, you know, an election is done until the statutory requirements for that election are done and, as you know, canvassing continues," Kathy Boockvar said.
Not only is the power effectively outside of Washington Tuesday, so are many of the storylines. Democrats are hoping to flip Senate seats from Arizona to North Carolina and 11 gubernatorial races are on the ballot too.
The TIP with Kendall Karson
How high? How high will turnout reach as the vote tally stretches into Wednesday, Thursday and even Friday as expected by election officials in some of the battlegrounds that could determine the election on a knife's edge.
The final turnout might not be known for days, and certainly not on election night, but some experts are estimating 160 million -- or 67% -- which would mark the highest turnout in a century. Michael McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida and an elections expert, wrote on Sunday, "One strong signal is that turnout will be higher than in 2016, because some states have already exceeded their 2016 turnout or are close to doing so." That includes Texas, a vote-rich state that has over 9 million early votes already in.
Some experts are also predicting higher turnout in crucial states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, both of which were crucial to Trump's 2016 victory and are at the center of a pathway to the White House.
With early votes inching astonishingly close to 100 million, putting the country on track to a modern turnout record, it also means the unprecedented level of early vote will dwarf its Election Day counterpart.
"To put this historic early voting turnout into perspective, we could see record turnout of 160M total, which would be ~2/3 of eligible (a modern record by far), and actually see the LOWEST Election Day turnout we've seen in recent memory," David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, tweeted.
ONE MORE THING
Election Day is finally here. In the weeks leading up to Tuesday, more than 97 million early votes have been cast. Nationally, voters have cast 70.9% of the total votes counted in the 2016 general election. Hawaii and Texas have already surpassed their 2016 total. While polls have closed in Guam, there were some that opened in Vermont as early as 5 a.m. Check here for live election updates throughout the day and night.
ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Tuesday morning's episode features a conversation with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, who walks us through potential scenarios for election night. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger tells us how his state will be counting votes. And ABC News Deputy Political Director MaryAlice Parks previews key races that could decide control of the Senate. http://apple.co/2HPocUL
ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast. With just one day until Election Day, the question of when Americans will know the results of the 2020 election is top of mind, as President Trump insists results must be in on Tuesday night. But Ohio's Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose stressed to ABC News Political Director Rick Klein and Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl that "election night results are never final." On Election Day, FiveThirtyEight podcast producer and reporter Galen Druke joins the "Powerhouse Politics" podcast. https://bit.ly/2w091jE
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY
Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.
The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the day's top stories in politics. Please check back tomorrow for the latest.