(ATTN: UPDATES with more information, minor changes in paras 3-4, 6-9 and 16)
By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, Nov. 3 (Yonhap) -- American voters began going to the polls Tuesday to decide who will lead their country for the next four years in one of the most contentious presidential elections in recent history and one that could turn out to be the most scandalous one as well.
Voting began in the small town of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, where its small population traditionally gathers at the turn of midnight to cast ballots, with the results often declared in minutes afterward.
Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden swept all five votes cast in Dixville Notch, according to reports.
President Donald Trump, on the other hand, won 16 votes out of the 21 ballots cast in nearby Millsfield, New Hampshire, which also participates in the traditional early voting.
About 150 million, or 62 percent, of the roughly 240 million eligible American voters were expected to cast their ballots in Tuesday's election, marking the highest voter turnaround in over a century since 1908, when the turnaround rate stood at 65.7 percent.
More than 99 million voters have already cast their ballots -- nearly 64 million in mail-in votes and over 35 million in early, in-person voting.
Tuesday's election was widely expected to be decided by the voting results in six battleground states -- Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- which together hold 101 electoral college votes.
Trump won all six battleground states in the 2016 election. Whoever wins a majority of the 538 electoral college votes will become the next U.S. president.
The race between Trump and Biden is being closely watched by many countries, including South Korea, as the stark difference between their views on nearly every issue points to drastic changes in how the U.S. will interact with the rest of the world over the next four years.
Trump has vowed to continue putting "America first" as the world's most powerful nation continues to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout.
The worst pandemic in decades, and possibly in the entire U.S. history, has consumed nearly all campaign efforts, and whoever wins the election will face a daunting task of keeping Americans safe from the novel virus and preventing the economy from falling into a deep recession.
As of Sunday, over 9.1 million Americans have been infected by the new coronavirus, while more than 234,000 have died from the infectious disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Both numbers account for around 20 percent of global tallies, while Americans account for only about 3 percent of the world population.
Biden says he will begin to tackle the pandemic from the very first day of his presidency, if elected, but also notes one of the first things he will do as president is to restore his country's leadership in the international community.
The former vice president accuses Trump of undermining the country's relationship with other countries, especially its traditional allies, with his America First policy.
Unlike in past elections, the winner of Tuesday's presidential election may not be declared for days, if not weeks, partly because of the record number of mail-in votes.
Many states do not allow the counting of mail-in ballots until after the end of the election, while some even accept mail-in votes that are postmarked on the day of the election.
Also, Trump is widely expected to dispute the election results should he find himself on the losing end.
He has repeatedly claimed the only way he is going to "lose this election is if this election is rigged," leaving many suspecting that he may challenge the outcome regardless of how many votes he loses by if he does not win.
Also at stake in Tuesday's election are 35 Senate seats, as well as all 435 seats in the House of Representatives.
Trump's Republican Party currently has a majority of Senate seats but is defending 23 of the 35 seats up for grabs.
The Democratic Party needs to take four or more seats, in addition to the 12 seats it is defending, for a Senate majority.
The liberal party currently holds a House majority of 232 seats over 197 held by the conservative party.
The winner of the presidential election will be sworn in on Jan. 20 but may face difficulties for years to come without a majority of seats in either house of U.S. Congress.
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