US midterm election under way, Congress control hanging in balance

Washington, Nov 8 (EFE).- In-person voting got under way all across the United States on Tuesday, with voters heading to the polls to determine the composition of Congress and with the overall result of these individual decisions determining how the last two years of President Joe Biden’s term will play out.

The first precincts to open were in the New England state of Vermont, where voters were allowed to cast their ballots starting at 5 am and where pollworkers are scheduled to close the doors at 7 pm, although anyone waiting in line to vote at that time will be allowed to do so.

Polling places opened progressively from east to west across the continental US, with precincts generally opening their doors to waiting voters at 7 am local time.

Poll closings will also be done progressively, from east to west, with New York state precincts remaining open until 9 pm local time and being the sites that will remain open longest in terms of total hours of operation.

However, many citizens have already voted over the past couple of weeks, given that in the US it’s quite normal for people to take advantage of so-called absentee voting, where they send in their completed ballots by mail, or “early voting” to cast their ballots at a reduced number of specially selected polling places.

In Vermont, for example, according to official figures, approximately one-third of the electorate has already voted, and this will substantially reduce the length of the lines at precincts on Election Day itself.

Americans are deciding who will represent them in Congress, with all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, where lawmakers serve two-year terms, up for grabs along with 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate, where legislators serve six-year terms and about one-third of the upper house is renewed every two years.

In addition, governorships in 36 states and a huge number of state and local offices are in play, including the all-important position of secretary of state, who among their other duties and functions control how elections are managed in their states.

At present, Democrats have enjoyed a 5-seat majority in the House, while in the Senate their dominance is even thinner, with 50 senators belonging to – or adhering to the positions of – each of the country’s two main parties, although Vice President Kamala Harris, as president of the Senate, can cast a tiebreaking vote, if necessary.

Given that in the US there is no central electoral authority and secretaries of state in each of the 50 states are responsible for managing the elections and counting the votes, the results of the day’s balloting may be significantly delayed and the country may have to wait days to find out which party won certain races.

Thus, after the closing of the polls only the predictions of the big media outlets and the results of often-anecdotal, and thus not strictly reliable, exit polling will be available for some hours or days on races in many states.

According to voter surveys published in recent weeks, the Republican opposition could retain – or snatch from the Democrats – seats in areas where the economy and concerns about rising inflation have become key issues.

Although most states clearly trend toward either the Democratic or Republican parties, there are others – like Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – that are more evenly split “swing states” and will likely be key in determining which party has control of Congress.

With about 253 million people of voting age living in the US, according to the latest official census, the voter turnout figures will also be important in these midterm elections, where it is virtually a foregone conclusion that fewer voters will bother going to the polls than in the presidential elections every four years.

In the 2020 presidential vote, according to the Pew Research Center, more than 158.4 million people – or 62.8 percent of voting-age citizens – voted, while in the 2018 midterm elections just 47.5 percent voted.

In an attempt to increase the turnout this year, these elections have been touted as a trial by fire for the Biden administration and as the start of the 2024 presidential campaign cycle, with former President Donald Trump widely expected to declare a new presidential run in the coming days.

In a final campaign rally for GOP candidates on Monday night in Ohio, the former president said that within a week he will be making “a big announcement” from his residence at his Mar-a-Lago resort and country club in South Florida, a statement many have interpreted as a veiled reference to declaring his candidacy for the presidency in 2024.

EFE int-pem/hma/bp

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