Anxious Americans show up for an election like no other
VResidents cast their votes on November 3, 2020, at Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan. (Sergio Flores / AFP)
(AFP) - Whether she knew it or not, Claire D'Angelo spoke for millions of Americans as she stood in the cold after voting Tuesday, a black mask covering her face.
"To say that I'm nervous or anxious about it is an understatement," said the 45-year-old restaurant worker who voted for Joe Biden in the city of Easton in Pennsylvania, an important swing state in the election.
"I just hope people come out today and speak their voice for what they want for their children and their future."
Across the country, Americans formed lines at polling stations to make their voice heard in an election unlike any before in the United States.
Polls opened with the country shaken from the coronavirus pandemic, waves of protests over police killings of minorities and President Donald Trump's efforts to sow doubt over the counting of votes.
The choice people faced was stark, and no matter their preferred candidate, voters were galvanized by the thought that, this year, there is no question whether their ballot could make a difference.
Further illustrating the tension underlying the vote, a number of cities were taking precautions by boarding up windows in case unrest erupts.
- Protests 'likely' -
Juan Carlos Bertran, a 60-year-old Cuban-American mechanic, cast his ballot for Trump, naming the economy as his reason -- perhaps one of the real estate tycoon's strongest cards.
Bertran was voting in Miami, Florida, a vital state for Trump to capture a second term.
"Trump seems better to me for the country's economy, which is the one that governs the world," he said.
Clara Gimenez, a 49-year-old who arrived from Cuba in 1980, said that she voted for Trump "because he is anti-communist and because he is a millionaire."
"He does not need money, nor does he need fame," she said, wearing a pink hat with Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan.
But for many others, the election was nothing less than an all-out struggle to save American democracy, pointing to Trump's fear- and conspiracy-mongering, along with his failure to strongly repudiate white supremacist groups.
In Trump's hometown of New York City, one man said he waited 45 minutes in a socially distanced line to cast his ballot on Tuesday morning.
"But I've waited three years, four years. Yes, I've waited a long time," said Jess, 54, who declined to give his last name.
"I want to end this nightmare. I'm anxious. I'm worried. God only knows what's going to happen today."
Others in New York said they were concerned about violence breaking out later.
"This time I'm actually scared," said Amy Gentile, 36, who has dual British-American citizenship and voted for Biden, more as a protest against Trump than affinity for his challenger.
"That's why I'm leaving Manhattan early to hide. I don't like the violence. I don't like chaos."
- Be a 'good role model' -
More than 100 million Americans opted to vote early, either in-person or by mail, and at some polling places it appeared that had limited lines.
Some said, however, that in a year when so much confusion surrounds the election, they wanted to show up on polling day.
That was the case for Michael Murphy in Phoenix, Arizona, which Trump won in 2016 but is now considered a tossup.
"I waited to vote today so that there was no chance that my ballot was going anywhere but from my hand into the machine," said Murphy, who wore a mask and a t-shirt reading "vote."
Midwestern states -- especially Wisconsin and Michigan -- will also be key to any victory, and voters there were out at the polls early.
That included in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where two anti-police protesters were shot in August and where Trump held one of his five rallies on the eve of the vote.
The Midwest has long had a reputation in the American mind for earnestness, and some voters there spoke of their civic responsibility.
"I vote for every election," said Sharon Ciskowski, who wore a white mask while holding her daughter.
"I'm also a teacher so I'd like to be a good role model for my kids."
But she also mentioned one of the many issues that have been divisive.
"I would like to see a president that will support our law enforcement," she said.
On the West Coast, there was no doubt Biden would win heavily Democratic California, and some were envious of voters in swing states that will ultimately decide the election.
"I wish my vote could make a bigger difference, like it would in Arizona or another swing state, but I'm happy to exercise my right to vote," Harry, 52, a construction worker who declined to give his last name, said when voting in west Los Angeles.
In Portland in the country's northwest, which has been a hotbed of anti-police protests in recent months, residents were resigned to the likelihood of tensions increasing as the day wears on.
"Protests will be likely no matter who is going to win, whether it's Biden or Trump," said William Anderson, a 64-year-old security guard.
"I've never seen in my 60-plus years something like this happening."
© Agence France-Presse