The night was agonizing, a swirl of numbers and maps, blue walls and red waves.
Some of us were riveted; others couldn’t take it and headed to bed.
On Wednesday, even though it appeared to be advantage Joe Biden over President Donald Trump in the race to 270 electoral votes, it was hard to find any sense of closure to this brutal election season.
Door County resident and retiree Sandy Brown was one of those who couldn’t bear to stay up to watch voting tallies.
And when she woke up?
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“I wasn’t sure I wanted to get up and hear what the news was,” said Brown, who backed Biden. “I kind of debated that for a while and then I took a little peek on my phone, so I was glad to see it was not decided yet.”
To some degree, that uncertainty involved the numbers themselves.
“It’s not over yet,” said Rich Thom, a machinist from Menomonee Falls who knocked on 3,100 doors for the president and received a Trump-autographed MAGA hat for all the volunteer shifts he put in.
But there also was fear of what’s to come.
“I think President Trump will cry voter fraud and make all sorts of false statements and create lawsuits which will no doubt cost the taxpayers of this state a lot of money,” said Lauren Baker, a retired educator who lives on Milwaukee’s east side.
And shadowing everything Wednesday was the deepened sense that our blue-red divide is real, and that neither party reflects the body of American voters. More than that, regardless of who wins the presidency, half the country will look aghast at the other half.
That’s not a pretty picture.
Michael Orlowski, a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, eagerly anticipated watching the returns and seeing if his candidate, Biden, would win.
He wasn’t sure what to think when he watched the president falsely claim he had won the election early Wednesday morning.
“I don’t even know how to put it into words exactly,” Orlowski said.
He was still in a bit of a daze Wednesday afternoon when the Associated Press declared Biden had won Wisconsin.
“At the end of the day, I hesitate to be too optimistic, because I think there’s a much longer road ahead,” Orlowski said. “I wish I could be more positive, but you just have to be prepared for the worst, after what happened in 2016.”
Others expressed similar concerns.
“A lot of people didn’t realize how many Trump supporters have been in their immediate lives,” said Monique Liston, who runs a consulting firm. “Even if Biden comes out with the win, we have to understand that this wasn’t a landslide victory. Half of these people still voted for Trump. We can’t act like we had a victory here, we still need to work.”
Aaron Frigge, who lives in the Jackson Park neighborhood, thought Election Day went smoothly overall in Milwaukee, but he was still concerned for the nation.
“We’ve been in campaign season for two years now. I hope most people go back to their lives, but we still have the coronavirus, and people are out of work. I didn’t see any riots last night, but there is always that threat,” Frigge said. “As a Christian, I have hope in something else, but I think we’re in a dangerous spot.”
Frigge, who voted for Trump, had seen some people on social media questioning ballot results.
But he thought everyone working the polls was doing their best and there wasn’t any widespread concern.
“There is voter suppression and people who are trying to rig things,” he said. “I don’t think it’s widespread and I think there are minimal voting issues in both directions.”
He said he didn’t like that Trump had gone out to declare victory early Wednesday. He also said it was wrong for a Biden campaign adviser to prematurely declare a win.
“I think the right message is to wait it out and we’ll see how it goes,” he said.
‘What will be, will be’
Wendy Testin was eating lunch at Gilles Frozen Custard as she reflected on the election.
She didn’t bother staying up late to watch results.
“I knew I wasn’t going to know until today, so I just kind of figured what will be, will be,” she said.
She said it didn’t concern her that ballots in Milwaukee took all night to count.
“Because of the process with the absentee ballots with coronavirus happening, I knew It was going to take some time,” she said. “I just hope every ballot is counted.”
Others on the west side of Milwaukee said they thought they could trust the vote counts coming from different parts of the country.
“There are so many poll watchers, I think it’s been watched like a hawk, so I think we’re going to get a true vote,” said Margaret Adams, who was walking with her husband, Al.
The couple voted in-person for Trump.
By Wednesday afternoon, they knew Biden was ahead in the Wisconsin’s preliminary vote count. The Trump campaign said it would ask for a recount of ballots, which they said was the right move.
“I think it’s a tossup, but it’s worth doing,” Margaret said.
Phoebe Murphy, who was walking along North Broadway, said she didn’t expect the presidential race to be so close.
“I’m obviously stressed and worried, but I feel hopeful he’s going to win,” she said, referring to Biden.
Murphy said she was the only person in her family who voted for Biden. The discussions, she said, have grown heated at times.
“I’m one against 10 trying to defend myself,” she said.
And, reflecting today’s America, she knows it’s not about to end.
Reporters Nusaiba Mizan, Talis Shelbourne and Sarah Volpenheim contributed to this report.