WASHINGTON – The most vicious presidential race in modern American history will finally reach its end on Tuesday night, while its citizens and a watchful world hope for a clear and definitive result.
Trump attacks FBI in Clinton email row
Yet several unprecedented perils threaten to obstruct the finish line. The US will begin this otherwise fateful day fearing political violence; specific intelligence agency warnings of terrorist plots orchestrated overseas; attempted cyber attacks by state and non-state actors; prospective market volatility; and the possibility that one candidate, for the first time, will reject the outcome, calling into question the legitimacy of America’s democratic process.
And one last surprise greeted the candidates Sunday afternoon from FBI director James Comey, who upended the election just 10 days ago when he announced a query into newly discovered emails he said possibly related to a private e-mail server that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, operated while at the State Department.
Comey wrote to lawmakers on Sunday that a round-the-clock investigation of those new e-mails had been completed and that the FBI’s conclusions from their earlier investigation of Clinton – that the former secretary should not face any charges of wrongdoing – remain unchanged.
“Based on our review” of all new emails found “to or from Hillary Clinton,” Comey wrote, “we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July.”
State and federal law-enforcement agencies are preparing for violence on Election Day as Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, asks his supporters to police polling stations nationwide. Those taking up his cause make up a web of far-Right groups
and websites, such as the Oath Keepers, the Daily Stormer, The National Socialist Movement and chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, all of which vow to “gather intelligence” at polling sites already monitored by nonpartisan state and local systems and openly acknowledge their intentions to intimidate voters of color.
A USA Today/Suffolk University poll last month found that half of Americans fear that political violence will break out on Tuesday. “On November 8th, I’m voting for Trump,” said one conservative radio show host, Joe Walsh, late last month. “On November 9th, if Trump loses, I’m grabbing my musket.”
US intelligence agencies, meanwhile, are tracking specific leads that core al-Qaida leaders are planning attacks in three states – Texas, New York and Virginia – on or around Election Day.
“We have these concerns around every election, but I have to say that I think there is more of a concern this time than I’ve seen in the past,” Congressman Adam Schiff (D-California), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN on Friday.
The National Security Council has also set up a cyber war room in preparation for an onslaught of attacks on America’s electoral systems after several states requested aid in protecting their voting machines.
While the US government has confidence that these state-by-state election systems will remain safe from hacking – none operate online, and most rely on dated, analogue technologies – they remain concerned that reporting systems may be tampered with, and that traditional and social media organizations may come under attack.
US President Barack Obama has directly warned Russian President Vladimir Putin against any further interference in his country’s elections process, according to Obama administration officials, after 17 US intelligence agencies accused Moscow this past summer of trying to sow doubt and confusion among the American electorate.
Global markets are bracing for turbulence on Wednesday should Trump succeed or election night end inconclusively. One economist, Simon Johnson, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund who is now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, warns that a surprise on Tuesday “would likely cause the stock market to crash, and plunge the world into recession.”
Analysts at Citi warned on Friday that Trump’s victory would lead to an immediate sell-off of the S&P of at least 5 percentage points, and hedge fund managers also fear the event would push Europe back into recession. They claim conversely that a victory by Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, would largely be interpreted by markets as a continuation of the status quo.
While most polls show Clinton maintaining her lead over Trump – both nationally and in several critical battleground states – the ultimately margin of victory may very well determine whether Trump concedes defeat on Tuesday night.
He has repeatedly claimed the election is “rigged” – only if he loses – and has left open the possibility that he will decline to concede if he believes that “widespread voter fraud” affected the outcome.
Wide margins in Clinton’s favor – especially in states such as Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Nevada, all of which have Republican governors and state houses – would undercut Trump’s claims of a widespread conspiracy to scuttle his candidacy. But a closer national race, reflected either in the electoral college totals or in the national popular vote, risks increasing animosity in the losing camp.
Polls released in the last two months by The Washington Post
/ ABC News and Politico/Morning Consult found that a majority of Trump supporters believe the election will be rigged for Clinton – the personification, in their view, of a corrupt system geared to suit America’s elite. Trump’s definition of what “rigged” means is soft, however, in that he does not necessarily believe voting machines will be tampered with (he has not publicly expressed concern over potential cyber attacks, or over Russia’s purported election interference).
Trump’s warning is far more vague: That globalist forces in finance and the media, buffered by a purchased political establishment, have arrayed themselves against the people in order to maintain the status quo that enriches only themselves.
A new advertisement from the Trump campaign features clips of the candidate warning of a “global power structure” that has “robbed” America’s working class – imagery that has repeatedly drawn ire from Jewish American organizations. As Trump speaks of “those who control the levers of power in Washington,” the ad pans to several Jewish figures in the financial world.
“When I saw the ad, I thought this was something of a German Shepard whistle, a dog whistle,” Al Franken, a Democratic senator from Minnesota who is himself Jewish, told CNN on Sunday. “It clearly had a sort of Elders of Zion feel to it.”
Results on election night may come in quickly, as several of the most important battleground states are on the East Coast. An early night victory for the former secretary of state in either Florida or North Carolina – both of which offered residents the opportunity to vote early or absentee, and thus able to count those votes quickly – would effectively end Trump’s chances of winning the White House.
Likely to become the first female president in the country's 240-year history, Clinton has planned her election night speech in Manhattan, on the Hudson River, where her campaign has reportedly ordered a fireworks show. Trump plans to hold his election night event in Manhattan at a Hilton hotel in Midtown.