Americans on Tuesday are casting the final ballots in U.S. midterm elections that will determine whether Democrats lose control of Congress, and with it the ability to push forward on President Joe Biden's agenda in the next two years.
Thirty-five Senate seats and all 435 House of Representatives seats are on the ballot. Polling suggests Republicans are widely favored to pick up the five seats they need to control the House, while the Senate - currently split 50-50 with Democrats holding the tie-breaking vote - could come down to a quartet of toss-up races in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona.
More than 42 million Americans voted ahead of Election Day, either by mail or in-person, according to data from the U.S. Election Project. State election officials caution that full results may not be known for days afterward as they count ballots in close races - with control of the Senate perhaps not known until a potential Dec. 6 runoff in Georgia.
"The power's in your hands," Biden told a rally near the capital. "We know in our bones that our democracy is at risk and we know that this is your moment to defend it."
With polls showing Republicans in line to seize the House of Representatives, the increasingly far-right party eyed snarling the rest of Biden's first term in aggressive investigations and opposition to spending plans.
Returning to the White House Monday night, Biden told reporters he believed Democrats would win the Senate -- though conceding "it's going to be tough" to retain the House and that his life in Washington may become "more difficult."
With Congress out of Democrats' hands, Biden would see his legislative agenda stonewalled.
This effectively happened to President Barack Obama in the 2010 Midterm elections that saw the rise of the arch-conservative "Tea Party" Republicans who blocked Obama's legislative initiatives as a matter of course, forcing the president to administer through "Executive Orders" rather than Congressional legislation.
The key to any election is voter turnout - the sheer number of people on either side.
Across the country voters called on their fellow citizens to cast their ballot in the midterms, which historically have low turnout.
"I would emphasize vote, vote, vote," 24-year-old student Luke Osuagwu told AFP in Atlanta, Georgia.
"If you're not voting, you can't really stand for society or anything like that," agreed Alethia McClenton, a 45-year-old Georgia Aquarium employee. "It's very important that everybody goes out to do their part."
Divided government would intensify the spotlight on the increasingly conservative Supreme Court, which has already issued sweeping decisions erasing a nationwide right to abortion and vastly expanding gun rights, among others.
The Supreme Court's June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that had established a nationwide right to abortion, had galvanized Democratic voters around the country, temporarily raising Democrats' hopes they could defy history.
But in the closing weeks of the campaign, stubbornly rising prices have left voters dissatisfied, helped along by relentless attacks from Republicans over gas and food prices, as well as crime.
Along with Senate and House seats, there are also 36 governorships and scores of other state-level races on the ballot, including hotly contested gubernatorial campaigns in the swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, Arizona and Georgia.
After today's voting, the counting is expected to take days, if not weeks, in certain states and in some contests. And many observers expect a flurry of legal challenges to be lobbed against the terms and conditions of ballot counting and the certification of election results.
This report by Jeffrey Young was compiled using information from Reuters, Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse