Hurray, Election Day is over!
Not that its arrival, after what has seemed like a 1,000-year campaign, felt like much consolation.
"The whole thing is just a gigantic nightmare," said Robin Helmericks, a scientist who voted early with her 19-year-old daughter in Charleston, S.C., on Monday.
Or, as Ian Dunt, a British political journalist, said on Twitter: "There's not enough booze in all the world for sitting through the American election results."
If the election generated that sort of distress in someone 3,000 miles away, how were actual Americans, marinating in a sea of collective angst, meant to get through the day and the wait afterward for results?
"Patience," exhorted Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney in an open letter urging residents to remain calm. "After the polls close, and in the ensuing days, we will continue to need your patience," he said. "Never in the history of this city have so many people voted by mail. By law, staffers are not allowed to start opening and counting these ballots until Election Day itself."
Kenney noted that the results in Pennsylvania — and, by extension, the rest of the country — might not be known for a while. That's the message election officials everywhere have been trying to emphasize, as they cope with a record number of mail-in ballots.
"This has been the slow-moving election from hell with all the early voting," said Drew McKissick, chair of South Carolina's Republican Party. "It's been draining."
The overriding prediction is that getting through this election will indeed take patience, although it's anyone's guess for how long.
'I bought some canned food'
The specter of civil unrest has loomed large in the mind of voters like Paulino Leon, 70, of Tucson, Ariz., who identifies as an independent. On Tuesday, he said he was confident of a Biden victory, but was not sure that President Donald Trump would accept the results.
"I bought canned food and have things set up in my house so I can stay there for at least two months," he said. "And I've got my guns."
Stationed outside a polling station in Atlanta's historically Black West End neighborhood so that he could help direct residents of a local senior center to their proper polling place at a library, Mark Robinson, 55, noticed two things in the parking lot: a big, gray-black Dodge Ram pickup festooned with flags and operated by a driver who exited the lot after being spotted, and a Chevrolet Suburban occupied by an agent from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, there to ensure that the voting ran smoothly.
Robinson said he felt as if violence was "almost assured" on Election Day. "I don't think I'm being pessimistic. I mean, the president said 'Stand back and stand by,' " he said, referring to Trump's recent comments about the far-right Proud Boys group. "I'm presuming that's what they're doing."
In Minneapolis, Justin Salz, 41, said he planned to vote for Trump, despite finding the president too brash and tweet-happy. He also said his plan was to vote and then "go dark" — order takeout sushi with his family, go to bed without watching the news and check the results in the morning.
That may have been the smart approach. According to Kate Sweeny, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, anticipatory dread only increases as waiting continues.
"Quite a lot of research suggests that the worst is yet to come as far as anxiety," she said. "Even people who are general optimists show a decline in optimism as the moment of truth draws nearer."
Contributing to the current difficulty is that no one seemed able to predict when this "moment of truth" might actually arrive. That left people fretting and obsessing even more, particularly about the direction they see the country going in.
'Like having a broken foot'
"As individuals, we've all developed more of a capacity for hate," said Angela Smith, 35, one of about a dozen people waiting to vote at the Bigler Street polling place in South Philadelphia on Tuesday. "We are all capable of hating in a way that I didn't think was possible until now."
Smith, a teacher, mostly laid the blame on the Trump administration, which she said had sent out misinformation "and all kinds of things that get people churning and burning."
Michael Miller, director and co-founder of the New York Meditation Center, said it was important not to play out unpleasant situations in one's head.
"This whole season has been focused on speculating about what is going to happen," he said. "But getting caught up in the moment-by-moment question of what results are coming in — that has never been good practice."
All day, officials exhorted the public to stay calm and not to expect a result too quickly.
Officials from a disparate coalition of groups — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; the National Association of Evangelicals; the AFL-CIO; and the National African American Clergy Network — implored people to wait peacefully until every vote had been counted.
"With voting ending today, it is imperative that election officials be given the space and time to count every vote in accordance with applicable laws," the statement said. "We call on the media, the candidates and the American people to exercise patience with the process and trust in our system, even if it requires more time than usual. … We are confident our country and its institutions can rise to this historic moment."
Mac Stipanovich, a Republican strategist and lobbyist in Florida who was involved in the slow-burn nightmare of the 2000 election (his candidate won, but still) said that in many ways, it's easier to be a campaign operative or a volunteer during stressful elections. Even if the tide is going against you, you're too busy doing your job to indulge in your distress. "It's like having a broken foot and then being shot in the other leg — you don't notice the foot so much," he said.
Things are harder for regular voters whose civic engagement consists, basically, of one moment of voting followed by 1 million moments of catastrophizing. "What is the German word for 'feeling physically nauseous from anxiety at the news but also morbidly unable to look away and stop scrolling,' " novelist Celeste Ng wrote on Twitter.
Judy Betty, a 79-year-old retired principal from Marana, Ariz., a suburb of Tucson, said her mood was swinging between manic and depressed. As a Trump supporter, she said she has been heartened by the size and enthusiasm of the crowds at his recent rallies.
She said she planned to watch the election results roll in on TV Tuesday night and intended to limit herself to "one cocktail." She also expected there to be a winner by bedtime. "If he loses," she said of Trump, "I'm just going to go to bed."
Her husband, Jim, a retired accountant, had a different plan. If the president loses, he said, he would liquidate the family's stocks on Wednesday.