A federal judge in Houston on Monday rejected Republican efforts to invalidate more than 127,000 votes that were cast at drive-through locations in Harris County, a Democratic stronghold that includes Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.
The lawsuit was one of the most aggressive moves by Republicans in an election marked by more than 400 voting-related lawsuits. And it came as Texas, long considered reliably Republican in presidential elections, has emerged as a swing state this year, with polls showing an unusually close race there.
Harris County, the most populous county in Texas, is home to one of the state’s largest concentrations of Democratic voters. It had set up 10 drive-through voting sites to offer a safe, in-person voting option amid the pandemic, and polls were open for 18 days.
But in a lawsuit, Republicans argued that Chris Hollins, the Harris County Clerk, did not have the authority to allow drive-through voting in the county.
Judge Andrew S. Hanen, a federal judge who was appointed by former president George W. Bush, held an emergency hearing for the lawsuit on Monday and ruled against tossing the ballots. On Sunday, the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court had rejected a similar effort to get those ballots tossed out.
“We win,” texted Susan Hays, the elections counsel for Mr. Hollins.
In a motion on Friday asking to intervene in the case, Democrats said the suit threatened to “throw Texas’ election into chaos by invalidating the votes of more than 127,000 eligible Texas voters who cast their ballots” at the drive-through sites. The motion was filed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the campaign of M.J. Hegar, a Democratic candidate for the Senate in Texas.
The drive-through voting system was put in place for the first time this year by Mr. Hollins, the top elections official in Harris County, with unanimous approval by county commissioners, after being tested in a pilot program over the summer.
In a statement on Twitter on Saturday, Mr. Hollins said drive-through voting was “a safe, secure and convenient way to vote,” adding: “Texas Election Code allows it, the Secretary of State approved it, and 127,000 voters from all walks of life have used it.”
The effort to declare those votes unlawful has been receiving bipartisan backlash. Democrats decried it as among the most brazen moves to disenfranchise voters in Texas. A coalition of 150 faith leaders in the state signed a letter decrying the effort. And Joe Straus, the former Republican speaker of the state House, called the lawsuit “patently wrong” and evidence of “desperate tactics.”
Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, said in a statement after the ruling that the suit should never have been brought. “The ruling to let the nearly 127,000 drive-thru votes stand was the correct decision but it doesn’t change a simple fact: This should have never been an issue in the first place,” he said. “Texans who lawfully voted at drive through locations should have never had to fear that their votes wouldn’t be counted and their voices wouldn’t be heard. This lawsuit was shameful and it should have never seen the light of day.”
Whatever the outcome, the 2020 election is already one for the history books, with an astonishing 97.6 million ballots already submitted through in-person early voting and by mail — more than two-thirds of the number of votes cast in the entire 2016 election.
As of Monday afternoon, hours before Election Day, with some states still holding early voting, 35.5 million people had voted in person and 62.1 million had cast ballots by mail, according to the U.S. Elections Project, a nonpartisan website run by Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor who tracks county-level data.
Those numbers represent a tectonic shift away from one-day voting, the staple of the American electoral system for centuries.
And they make it likely that the total turnout for 2020 will break the record set in 2016, when nearly 139 million people voted.
They also create fresh uncertainty for two presidential campaigns facing the prospect of motivating a smaller, more-volatile reservoir of available voters to tap on Election Day itself.
Democrats, buoyed by polls showing Joseph R. Biden Jr. with small but durable leads in battleground states, have focused on turning out Black and Latino voters, who typically prefer voting in person, to offset an expected Election-Day surge by Trump supporters.
Texas and Hawaii have already surpassed their total 2016 voter turnout, and the battleground states of North Carolina, Georgia and Florida have topped 90 percent of their 2016 turnout.
In the 20 states that report the party registration of early voters, the elections project found that 45 percent of those who have voted early are registered Democrats, 30 percent are Republicans and 24 percent list no party affiliation.
Officials with both the Biden and Trump campaigns have viewed the split between early voters and Election-Day voters as highly partisan, with Democrats in most states making up a clear majority of early voters and Republicans, motivated by President Trump’s effort to undermine the legitimacy of mail-in balloting, waiting to show up to the polls.
The Trump campaign continues to wage an all-fronts fight in court to limit the time states have count ballots, while Democrats, citing the challenges posed by the pandemic, have pressed for more time and for looser scrutiny of ballot signatures that could invalidate some votes.
On Sunday, Mr. Trump falsely suggested that states like Pennsylvania, which can take days to count mail-in ballots, needed to complete vote counts on Election Day. He vowed to mount a legal challenge to the Pennsylvania vote.
“We’re going to go in the night of, as soon as that election’s over, we’re going in with our lawyers,” the president said.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. kicked off the final day before the election with a foray into a state that for four years has been a symbol of Democratic disappointment: Ohio.
“Ohio: One more day!” Mr. Biden said at a drive-in rally at an airport hangar in Cleveland. “Tomorrow we have an opportunity to put an end to a presidency that’s divided this nation. Tomorrow we can put an end to a presidency that has failed to protect this nation. And tomorrow we can put an end to a presidency that’s fanned the flames of hate all across this country.”
“My message is simple,” Mr. Biden said. “The power to change the country is in your hands.”
His remarks there come amid record-setting early in-person voting in Cuyahoga County, a major Democratic county in a Trump-friendly state that his team has watched closely. Ohio, which helped deliver the presidency to Donald J. Trump in 2016, is still seen by many Democrats as a reach for Mr. Biden, who is otherwise expected to spend the day campaigning in nearby western Pennsylvania.
But his campaign is seeking to create as many pathways to 270 electoral votes as possible, and a number of officials on Mr. Biden’s team have personal connections to the state, including Steve Ricchetti, a top Biden adviser and Ohio native.
“Ohio is like Iowa, is like Texas,” said Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, Mr. Biden’s campaign manager, in a briefing later Monday. “These expansion states on both sides that, you know, frankly, are in play. And what we’ve seen coming into this final stretch is that more states are in play than less.”
“They’re in play even further,” she added, “if we keep pushing on turnout.”
At the rally, Mr. Biden also referenced the electoral success of Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, in a state that has become increasingly challenging for Democrats. “So when Sherrod tells me to come to Ohio the day before, I come to Ohio,” Mr. Biden said.
Ohio twice voted for the Obama-Biden ticket, Mr. Biden reminded voters on Monday.
“In 2008, 2012, you placed your trust in me and Barack,” Mr. Biden said. “In 2020 I’m asking you to trust me again. I’m proud of the coalition this campaign has built. We welcome Democrats, Republicans and independents.”
In his remarks, Mr. Biden took aim at Mr. Trump’s remarks on Sunday in which he appeared to entertain the idea of firing Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert.
“Elect me and I’m going to hire Dr. Fauci,” Mr. Biden said. “We’re going to fire Donald Trump.”
In his address in Ohio, Mr. Biden hit many of the same things he has been stressing for months, even years in some cases: that Mr. Trump’s divisive presidency poses a unique threat to the nation’s character, that he does not respect even members of the military, that he does not grasp the threat of climate change and that he has mishandled the pandemic at every turn.
“The first step to beating the virus,” Mr. Biden said, “is beating Donald Trump.”
Mr. Biden then headed to Pennsylvania, where he, Senator Kamala Harris and their spouses, Jill Biden and Doug Emhoff, are fanning out across the state, seeking to promote his message to a broad coalition of voters and, in some cases, also targeting their message toward key House districts.
On the Trail
President Trump used the first of his five rallies scheduled for Monday, the last day of campaigning before Election Day, to air grievances about polls, the media, the investigation into Russian interference in the election, President Obama and Hillary Clinton, and to say people should only go vote if they’re supporting him.
Speaking to a crowd in Fayetteville, N.C., he mentioned the coronavirus only to mock China and to call on the governor of North Carolina to open the state.
“I wonder what it would have been if all the nonsense wasn’t brought up,” Mr. Trump lamented at the rally, referring to the two-year investigation into possible conspiracy between his campaign and Russian officials. He suggested that everyone in the media, and among his detractors, is “corrupt.”
He called Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, who helped lead some of the House investigations, a “psycho” and said, “I have to put up with it for three years.” He said he had seen “nothing but negative television — every night, every night, every night.” He added, “Then it’s no collusion.”
Then he concocted an imaginary conversation between Mr. Schiff and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat from California, in which she read a transcript of a call that Mr. Trump had with the president of Ukraine and realized the president was innocent, and then got angry at Mr. Schiff.
Mr. Trump said of his predecessor, Mr. Obama, and of Mrs. Clinton, “These are criminals.”
The media, he said, “should be subject to campaign violations” for coverage that he believes is partial to his opponent. Then he complained about the type of topics that trend on Twitter.
The president complained that the media wasn’t covering questions about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son, Hunter, and his business dealings. “How can you have a scandal if nobody’s talking about it?” Mr. Trump said.
At the end of the rally, Mr. Trump said that people should go out and vote. “You have the power to vote, so go out and vote unless you’re going to vote for somebody other than me, in which case, sit it out,” Mr. Trump said. And he spoke of politicians who tell voters to cast ballots regardless of who they’re supporting: “They’re such liars.”
At rally the night before — just after midnight on Monday at the Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport in Florida — Mr. Trump suggested that he might fire Dr. Anthony S. Fauci after Election Day, further escalating the tension between his administration and the nation’s top infectious disease expert as the number of new coronavirus cases in the United States reaches record highs. (Dr. Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has civil service protections, and it would be extremely difficult for the president to have him removed.)
WASHINGTON — Here is one early and unnerving election indicator: plywood.
In recent days, the ominous precaution has been evident all across downtown Washington, fanning out several blocks from the White House, spreading around Capitol Hill, transforming the nightlife corridors of 14th Street and Adams-Morgan and reaching up into the suburbs. Storefronts and office buildings were being boarded up throughout the weekend, and probably will be right up until this is all over, whenever that is.
Plywood is never a comforting sign. It suggests chaos and riots, hunkering down and hurricanes. Elections? That’s not how it is supposed to go here. Yes, the country is palpably on edge and there have already been scattered reports of ugly incidents across the country: Polling place confrontations, peaceful demonstrators getting tear-gassed in North Carolina, supporters of President Trump shutting down a New Jersey highway and reported threats of possible militia violence in Georgia.
But there’s something about seeing plywood in the nation’s capital that can seem especially chilling.
Theoretically, this should be the shining city of rituals, norms and orderly traditions. This should be a time — a presidential election — to celebrate an enduring democracy and peaceful transfer of power. Oh, but of course, this is 2020.
On Sunday, several news outlets reported that government security officials would be erecting a “non-scalable” fence around the White House complex in order to secure the area.
Nothing about the term “peaceful transfer of power” feels assured this week — neither the “peaceful” nor “transfer of power” parts.
That is perhaps the most unnerving part of this: the idea that plywood, suddenly, feels like a normal characteristic of the local architecture at certain times. That no one would flinch upon being warned that the next several days should be treated as a possible disaster.
On Sunday students at George Washington University received an email headlined “We Suggest Preparing for the Election Day Period as you Would for a Hurricane or a Snowstorm.” Reporters at The Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau were issued gas masks and orange bike helmets marked “press.” It appeared that nearly every CVS, Walgreens and 7-Eleven within at least a mile or so of downtown was being heavily fortified.
In recent weeks, New Zealand’s ambassador to Washington sent a note to embassy staff reminding them to keep 14 days of food and essentials at home. This has been embassy protocol since the Covid-19 pandemic began, but in this note the ambassador said there was a new concern: the prospect that violent protests around the election could mean that embassy staff might need to avoid venturing onto the streets.
ON THe TrAIL
Joseph R. Biden Jr. traveled to western Pennsylvania on Monday to close out his campaign, beginning with a stop outside Pittsburgh where he appealed to union workers and emphasized the importance of the election.
“What happens now, what happens tomorrow, is going to determine what this country looks like for a couple generations,” Mr. Biden said at a canvass kickoff in Beaver County. “That’s not a joke. I really genuinely believe that. There’s so damn much at stake.”
Appearing in a county that President Trump won by nearly 19 percentage points in 2016, Mr. Biden was introduced by an ironworkers’ union official, and the former vice president emphasized his middle-class roots. “I’ve never forgotten growing up in a hard-working family in Scranton,” he said, referring to his hometown in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Mr. Trump, he added, “can’t see what families like yours and mine have gone through.”
Mr. Biden also pushed back, once again, on the president’s false claims that Mr. Biden would ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, an important source of jobs in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. “No matter how many times Trump tries to lie about it, I will not ban fracking,” Mr. Biden said. “Never said I would.”
After visiting Ohio on Monday, a state that is seen as a stretch for him, Mr. Biden is devoting the rest of the day to Western Pennsylvania, a crucial region in a crucial state. His visit to the area was also slated to include a drive-in rally in Pittsburgh with Lady Gaga.
It was a full-circle moment for the former vice president, who gave the first speech of his presidential campaign at a union hall in Pittsburgh.
Mr. Trump won Pennsylvania in the 2016 campaign, and both he and Mr. Biden are focusing significant attention on the state in the final days of the campaign, underscoring the critical role that it plays in their Electoral College calculations.
Mr. Biden focused on the southeastern part of the state on Sunday, making a stop in Chester and rallying supporters in Philadelphia. His campaign said he would visit Scranton and Philadelphia on Election Day.
Mr. Trump held four rallies in Pennsylvania on Saturday, including one near Pittsburgh in Butler County, and he returned for another rally near Scranton on Monday afternoon.
Scattered incidents of illegal paramilitary groups interfering with voting have popped up around the country ahead of Tuesday’s election, according to a Georgetown University Law Center institute that is tracking such episodes.
In Springfield, Ore., a group of armed men in trucks blocked access over the weekend to a ballot drop off box near a local swimming pool and questioned voters, prompting some of them to depart without depositing their ballots, said Mary McCord, the director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection during a news conference on Monday.
After a group called Open Carry Pennsylvania threatened to deploy in Erie, Pa., the Board of Elections passed new regulations banning groups of two or more people from carrying weapons near polling places, Ms. McCord said.
Various local armed groups in Utah and Idaho, as well as one national group with chapters in numerous states, are also trying to use their promise to police polling stations on Tuesday as a means to raise money online, said Ms. McCord, a former senior Justice Department official.
Despite various rumblings online by illegal armed groups that they will police the polls, Ms. McCord and other experts said much will depend on what happens on Tuesday.
“So much really is dependent on the rhetoric coming out of the incumbent president and how he reacts to things,” said Ms. McCord. His comments praising the truck caravan that tried to drive a Biden campaign bus off a road in Texas, for example, could embolden his more extreme supporters to take similar actions elsewhere, she said.
As communities brace for protest regardless of the election’s outcome, the National Guard is preparing to be deployed in the event of any violent unrest.
Under federal law, it is the Guard, not the Army, Marines or other military service, that can enforce order on domestic soil. It has already happened dozens of times this year in cities across the country. But legal experts say the election may complicate the response, because the president has broad discretion to sidestep legal restrictions by declaring an insurrection, which would allow him not only to take control of state National Guard troops, but also to deploy the Army or Marines.
“The law is so broadly written that the president gets to decide what’s an insurrection, and there is not much local authorities or anyone else can do to stop it,” said Rachel VanLandingham, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who now teaches national security law at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles.
President Trump has not indicated he will deploy troops after the election. If he did, legal scholars and historians said it would be highly unusual. But just a few months ago, the president signaled he was willing to use the Insurrection Act to send in federal troops amid widespread protests over abusive policing.
States are already on alert for violence. On Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts ordered 1,000 members of the National Guard to be on standby in case of turmoil following Tuesday’s election. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas also dispatched 1,000 Guard troops to major cities in anticipation of violence, the San Antonio Express News reported.
Hundreds of National Guard troops already have been called up in non-law enforcement roles. Those troops are doing cybersecurity and routine election tasks like processing mail-in ballots. As of last week 10 states had activated the National Guard to help with election tasks and 14 more are expected to activate troops this week.
New Jersey and Wisconsin have both called up hundreds of citizen soldiers and airmen to work the elections. County officials in all but two of New Jersey’s 21 counties requested help from National Guard members, who also helped process ballots during the July primary, which was the first broad test of mail voting in the state. In both states, the troops helping out are wearing civilian clothes so that voters won’t be alarmed by seeing camouflage uniforms at the polls.
“It creates a sense of normalcy,” said Maj. Joe Trovato, a spokesman for the Wisconsin National Guard. “We’re not trying to alarm anyone; we are just trying to support the election.”
Tracey Tully contributed reporting.
MIAMI — Florida Democrats improved their turnout on the last day of early voting, according to state data released on Monday, slightly widening their narrow lead over Republicans in votes already cast.
About 108,000 more registered Democrats in Florida have voted early by mail or in person than registered Republicans, data from the Florida Division of Elections and the nonpartisan U.S. Elections Project shows.
Of the nearly 9 million early votes in Florida, 39 percent have been cast by registered Democrats and 38 percent by registered Republicans, according to the elections project. The rest were cast by voters registered with third parties or without affiliation.
Whom these voters actually voted for will not be known until the votes are tabulated. A voter registered with one party is free to vote for another party’s candidate.
Democratic turnout got a boost from the last Sunday of early voting, known as “souls to the polls” because Black churches bring their congregants to cast ballots.
Before Sunday, the Democratic lead stood at about 94,000 votes, down from a peak of about 487,000 votes before Republicans began casting ballots in big numbers during in-person early voting.
Mail ballots, which continue to arrive at county elections offices and must be received by 7 p.m. on Tuesday to be counted, could further increase Democrats’ numbers, given that many more of the party’s voters have been voting by mail this year because of the coronavirus. Republicans, on the other hand, are expected to outnumber Democrats at the polls on Election Day.
Going into Election Day in 2016, registered Democrats had cast about 90,000 ballots more than Republicans. President Trump won the state by about 113,000 votes.
In the swing states where the Biden and Trump campaigns are making their final appearances to turn out supporters at the polls, the candidates have already spent months vying for votes on social media.
Since campaigning began, President Trump outspent Joseph R. Biden Jr. nationwide on Facebook and Twitter during most months, according to the advertising analytics platform Pathmatics. But state-by-state spending estimates show that digital advertising dominance in battleground states flipped back and forth between the candidates in recent weeks.
Between the start of September and mid-October, the campaigns took turns outspending each other in key states such as Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to Pathmatics’s estimates. For weeks, Mr. Trump has mostly led social spending in Florida and has had a lock on North Carolina and Ohio.
In the first week of June, the Biden campaign’s nationwide spending on Facebook and Twitter more than doubled the president’s, with $6.5 million pumped into the platforms compared to $2.4 million from Mr. Trump, Pathmatics found. But the tables were turned by the end of the month, and in July, Mr. Trump outspent his Democratic rival in every state, other than for a week in Wyoming, Hawaii and Wisconsin and three weeks in Washington, D.C.
Political ad spending in the current election cycle has broken all previous records, according to the ad tracking firm Advertising Analytics, in part because the pandemic put limits on traditional in-person campaigning.
But candidates were already projected to spend more on ads compared to previous elections even before the coronavirus reached the United States. Spending exceeded $7 billion when several weeks were left before the election — an 80 percent increase from 2018, itself a record-breaking year.
The majority of the funds were spent on local broadcast television, but digital and cable platforms each claimed 18 percent of the total, according to Advertising Analytics. Mr. Biden’s spending on television has vastly outpaced Mr. Trump’s.
PHILADELPHIA — The Biden campaign on Monday moved to set a series of expectations about how Election Day results should be viewed, warning against President Trump’s inaccurate suggestion that states usually finish counting votes on election night and promising to “protect the vote.”
“Under no scenario will Donald Trump be declared a victor on election night,” said Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign manager, in a briefing on Monday.
“When Donald Trump says that ballots counted after midnight should be invalidated, he’s just making that up,” she added. “There is no historical precedent that any of our elections have ever run and been counted and completely verified on election night. We do not expect that to happen in 2020.”
Running through a Zoom presentation, she laid out the campaign’s expectations for the numbers they believe Mr. Trump will need to hit on Election Day in states including North Carolina, Wisconsin and Arizona — 62 percent, 61 percent and 60 percent respectively — and outlined a series of paths Mr. Biden has to the presidency.
She also stressed that Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, three critical battleground states, may be slower to report results.
And she made clear repeatedly that the campaign will not be over, politically or legally, just because Mr. Trump may seek to declare a win early.
Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel who is helping to lead the Biden campaign’s election protection efforts, dismissed Mr. Trump’s suggestions that he will raise legal challenges.
“The case he’s turning over to his lawyers when the voters have spoken is a case that no lawyer can win,” Mr. Bauer said. “And his lawyers will not win it. So we’re going to match them, I assure you, and exceed them in quality and vigor, and we’ll protect the vote.”
Ms. O’Malley Dillon said she expected Mr. Biden to address the country on election night.
“What we’re going to see on Election Day is going to give us a very good sense of where we’re headed,” she said. “My expectation is that the vice president will address the American people. Probably late. But we’re not really concerned about what Donald Trump says on election night or what he might want to convey.
“What he says,” she added, “might have nothing to do with the reality of it.”
Presidential elections always provoke anxiety, but this year’s campaign is closing on an especially unnerving note, with reports of pre-election vandalism, the boarding-up of stores in anticipation of rioting and the specter of voter intimidation.
On Monday morning, officials arriving at the Democratic headquarters in Harris County Democratic Party headquarters in Houston found the locks on the front door sealed with glue, and slogans and blobs of red paint smeared on windows.
In the suburbs of Pittsburgh, aides to Representative Conor Lamb, a Democrat, arrived at their storefront office to a similar scene: It was defaced with a red hammer-and-sickle sign and the words, “Don’t vote! Fight for revolution.”
Police are investigating both incidents but have not yet identified any perpetrators.
On Monday, the F.B.I. confirmed that its San Antonio office was investigating an incident in which a caravan of Trump supporters surrounded a Biden campaign bus on Friday — an act of intimidation that President Trump praised on Twitter.
Throughout the country, business owners and government officials — from the managers of Saks Fifth Avenue up to the president’s staff — are bracing for potential acts of vandalism or violence based on the outcome, or lack of an outcome.
In New York City, the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue, which have wowed tourists for decades, were boarded up on Monday morning. SoHo, where trendy shoppers once flocked to glittering stores, echoed with the sound of hammers. The sidewalk outside the Disney Store in Times Square was filled not with captivated children sporting mouse ears but with workers attaching plywood to the storefront.
The sea of plywood stretched into more modest commercial districts in the Bronx and Brooklyn, reflecting a broader national anxiety surrounding the contest between Mr. Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. There were growing fears that no matter who wins, the aftermath of the election could include violence.
The weekend saw tensions flare up. In North Carolina on Saturday, the police used a chemical spray to disperse a get-out-the-vote rally. On Sunday, cars and trucks with Trump flags halted traffic on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey and jammed the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge in New York’s northern suburbs, and a pro-Trump convoy in Virginia ended in a tense shouting match with protesters as it approached a statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond.
States are already on alert. On Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts ordered 1,000 members of the National Guard to be on standby. In Oregon, which has seen months of sporadic unrest, Gov. Kate Brown ordered the state National Guard to remain on standby in case violent protests erupt.
“We know that there are some people who might use peaceful election night protests to promote violence and property destruction,” Ms. Brown said Monday. “That behavior is not acceptable.”