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It's The Final Day Of Voting In An Election Like No Other In U.S. History

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Today, millions more people in this country will be voting in person at their polling stations. They will add to the almost 100 million people who cast their ballots early, according to the U.S. Elections Project Tracking Database. This is unprecedented. It's an extraordinary shift in voting behavior driven - yes - by the pandemic. But also, there is sky-high voter enthusiasm this year. NPR's Miles Parks covers voting trends for us. He's with us on this Election Day. Hi, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So massive early vote numbers, more than 70% of the total voter turnout from 2016. I guess I wonder, what does that mean for turnout on Election Day itself?

PARKS: Well, experts still predict something like 50 or 60 million people will vote today. But it will really depend on where you are in the country. You know, some states, as you mentioned, have already exceeded - you know, we're up to 70% of total turnout. But some states have already exceeded their 2016 turnout with early votes. Obviously, in those places, turnout today will be lower than a traditional presidential election year. But some places have not seen that big shift in voting behavior. Alabama and Mississippi, for instance, are both still at less than 20% of 2016 turnouts. Pennsylvania is only at about 40%. So you can expect some bigger Election Day numbers there. We know generally from polling it'll probably be more Republicans casting ballots today than Democrats since so few Republicans seem to have voted by mail.

GREENE: Let me ask you this - if we look back to 2016, I mean, that was a year when there was Russian election interference, a lot of concerns about security. Are government officials confident that our voting system is safer now than four years ago?

PARKS: They are. And, you know, on a whole, they've been saying all year that this will probably be the most secure election ever, mostly because of the changes that have been put in place since 2016. The biggest thing is that there's a lot more information sharing about threats, which helps counties and states prepare and play defense, basically. It's just a lot better than it was four years ago when it literally took months for some of the affected states to find out details about the Russian hacking that went on. Officials also say that the historic early turnout we're seeing is a strike back against those interference efforts. Here's New Mexico's Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

MAGGIE TOULOUSE OLIVER: Really, if the ultimate goal is to sow enough confusion and discord, basically, to keep our democracy from continuing to churn forward, it's failing.

PARKS: But there's still a lot left to do. You know, Congress only allocated a fraction of the billions of dollars that security experts say were needed to really fully make all of these systems secure after 2016. And things like rigorous, post-election audits, it sounds, you know, in the weeds. But it's basically just double checking the results and making sure they're accurate and fair. And they just aren't being done in a uniform way across the country right now.

GREENE: Well, we can't say this enough - this election is not over until votes are counted, period, no matter what you hear. But let me ask you - I mean, all this talk about the timing, do you know when we'll have a result, when we'll know who won the presidency?

PARKS: I can't say for certain. But it is really important that voters have patience. You know, the results could take some time - a day or a few days - because of all the absentee ballots that will need to be counted. It's really all about the margins, especially if the Electoral College is dependent on either Michigan, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania. These are states where officials have not been able to start processing absentee ballots until either today or yesterday, in some cases. So if the margins come down in those states to a few absentee ballots, then we could be waiting a couple of days for results. Either way, it's really important for voters to exercise a lot of skepticism. If people say that waiting game is a sign of a problem, it's not. Its normal election procedure. And people need to treat it as such.

GREENE: Very important advice. NPR's Miles Parks. Thank you so much, Miles.

PARKS: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.