Whether they planned to be out of cell reception deep in the woods, or will be glued to their phones and TVs today watching minute-by-minute coverage, Americans of all stripes and political persuasions are anxiously waiting to learn who the next president will be.Pressure’s been mounting in the national melting pot, with some cities preemptively boarding up windows anticipating riots or violence regardless of the outcome, while supporters of each party have been out in other cities cheering for their candidate and celebrating Election Day.
Earlier this year, the nation witnessed the growing divide between vocal, activist progressives and militant, armed conservatives as groups around the country clashed in the streets when peaceful protests against police violence turned into riots and private militias showed up in force.
Americans haven’t even agreed across the board this year on whether to wear masks during a global pandemic or follow restrictions on meeting in large groups. The science-backed measures are meant to protect everyone from COVID-19, many argue. But others claim the measures infringe on their personal freedoms, their words carrying the weight of hundreds of years of American individualism.
Regardless of whether former Vice President Joe Biden or current President Donald Trump win the election, whether it takes days or weeks to be sure who won, the gaping political divide in this country that’s only grown wider over the last four years won’t disappear overnight.
Outside of the Spokane Arena, hundreds of voters lined up throughout the day to fix last-minute issues with their ballots, get a replacement ballot, register to vote, or because they mistakenly thought it was simply a place to vote in-person.
That was the case for Dean Esgrow, 33, and Kathryn Custer, 35, who both went with the intent to vote in person.
Custer says partly, she figured media reports would claim COVID cases spiked after in-person voting happened in many places, so she wanted to be able to say she voted in person and didn’t get it. Esgrow, meanwhile, has always voted in person when he previously lived in Florida and New York and was unaware that wasn’t really an option in Washington state anymore.
“This go around for president is … the incorrect decision will be detrimental to our country, essentially. So here I am saying I hope my voice makes a difference,” says Custer, who clarifies that she’d find a Biden win detrimental. “In my personal opinion, Biden and his party, and Kamala, it’s very clear that they’re not the most honest people I’d say.”
Esgrow, who says he voted for Obama in 2008, noted that foreign policy is a big issue for him. He wasn’t a fan of Obama’s 2008 opponent, the late Sen. John McCain, who he saw as a “war hawk.” This time, he finds Trump's foreign policy matches his values.
“I’m looking at Obama/Biden foreign policy and all the things they bombed and the conflicts we got in … Libya is so much worse off now,” he says, “versus Trump’s record on getting us out of wars quietly and closing down bases.”
Both planned to watch for election results late into the night if it came to that, though they said it wouldn’t be a big deal to them if the results aren’t clear for a few days or weeks, as may be the case if the election is close.
“Even if it’s a couple of weeks away, it doesn’t matter, because nothing’s going to change for the time being, so it’s just like going on with your daily life, really,” Custer says. “My life’s gonna be the same tomorrow.”
Voter Nick Javier, 27, says his mail-in ballot never arrived, possibly due to issues entering his address when he registered to vote, which is why he went to the Arena.
“I am voting Biden to keep Trump out of office,” Javier says. “I was part of the Black Lives Matter protests and stuff and Trump was kind of threatening all the protesters through Twitter. I kind of take that personally. I don’t know, I feel like the outcome of this election has a lot to do with myself.”
Javier didn’t plan to participate in any post-election protests should they happen, however.
“Everything seems very unstable. It seems a little too dangerous to go out to protests now,” Javier says. “I’m hoping that everyone else is kind of playing it more safe this time around because I feel like everyone’s on edge on both sides.”
Voters Joe Enge, 40, and Michelle Taylor, 38, stood in line outside the Arena just before 3 pm, as Taylor had missed the window to establish residency and register ahead of the November election, after the two moved to Spokane from Southern California.
They planned to tune out media coverage for most of tonight, both because they work early in the morning, and because they felt some media reports needlessly add to the tension.
“I feel that the media is fueling the fire and prepping everyone to get edgy,” Enge says. “People maybe go off quicker than they normally would, because they’re just at home stewing on it.”
Plus, while they may have watched closely for results in the past, patience for results seems more likely needed this year, Enge says.
“This is a different style of an Election Day and we know that it’s gonna take a few days,” he says.
As people who work in customer service, Taylor says they often don’t speak about politics, but she tries to keep kindness front and center.
“I keep saying, ‘You know what, we’re all humans and we just need to remember to be nice to each other,’” Taylor says. “I keep trying to have that outlook.”
More than national politics, the two say they find local elections and politics to be a place to have a real impact on the community. Taylor notes that one issue she’s passionate about is taking care of the most vulnerable in the community, including the homeless.
“Really, when it comes down to it, the local stuff is more what affects people,” Taylor says.
Ballots must be dropped off by 8 pm tonight in order to be counted. Anyone already in line at 8 pm at the Arena who still needed help fixing issues would be allowed to vote and fix their ballot issues, says Spokane Auditor Vicky Dalton.