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World News

Anxiety, suspicions color U.S. post-election uncertainty

DETROIT (Reuters) - Weary from one of the most bruising U.S. presidential races in modern times, Republican and Democratic voters alike were in a state of high anxiety on Wednesday with the election outcome still unsettled a day after polls closed.

Activists march along State Street in front of the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building to protest attempts to halt the counting of ballots cast in the state for the 2020 presidential election, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania November 4, 2020. REUTERS/Nathan Layne

President Donald Trump’s false declaration of victory in the early hours of Wednesday, as ballot counting continued in several pivotal states, roiled supporters of Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

Biden supporters expressed heightened fears the Republican incumbent might not accept the election result if he were to lose. Many of those in Trump’s voter base, meanwhile, echoed his unsubstantiated allegations of widespread electoral tampering.

“Election fraud is running rampant,” said Trump voter Jimmie Boyd, 48, a North Carolina gun rights activist with ties to local militia groups. Boyd said he worries “left wingers” could “destroy entire cities,” while protesters on the right will be demonized as “racist, phobic freaks of nature.”

Judy Mowery, 60, a Biden voter from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, also worried about violence between opposing political blocs.

“Even if Biden wins, which I think he may, we as a country have lost,” Mowery said. “We are even more divided than I thought.”

The highly charged atmosphere reached a fever pitch in Detroit where about 30 observers, mostly Republicans, were barred from entering a vote-counting hall by election officials who cited indoor capacity restrictions imposed to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Police were called to enforce the decision.

Many of those excluded stood outside the hall voicing their protest and singing “God Bless America” while a second group of Republican observers who were denied entry held a prayer circle nearby. They also broke into chants of “stop the vote” and “stop the count.”

The confrontation began not long before CNN and Edison Research declared Biden the winner in Michigan, where the Trump campaign challenged the results in court.

The post-Election Day tension proved too much for some to bear.

Some Americans said they would march in the streets against Trump’s overnight call for a halt to ballot tabulations. Others turned to caffeine or distracted themselves with gardening as they fretted at home.

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“It’s like the twilight zone,” said Tanya Wojciak, 39, who reckoned she had downed 17 cups of coffee and found herself pacing the floors of her home in Cortland, Ohio, as she watched results trickle in from battleground states deluged by record-breaking numbers of early mail-in ballots.

“Trump’s scary, premature declaration of victory has me unnerved,” said Wojciak, who said she voted for Biden even though she is a Republican.

Legal experts have said the election outcome could become bogged down in state-by-state litigation over a host of issues, including whether late-arriving ballots can be counted.

PROTESTS BREWING

Activists demanding that vote counts proceed unimpeded rallied in several cities, including Oakland, California; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Atlanta; Detroit and New York City.

Hundreds of protesters waving American flags and signs that read, “Count every vote, every vote counts,” demonstrated peacefully at Washington Square Park after marching through midtown Manhattan.

“It’s very important that we make sure that our democracy is maintained,” Meira Harris, 26, a social work student. “This election has provoked so much anxiety.”

The Protect the Results coalition, encompassing over 130 groups from Planned Parenthood to Republicans for the Rule of Law, had said it was organizing a day of mass protests in about 500 cities nationwide. But late in the day, those plans were put on hold to allow time for a possible outcome to be determined.

U.S. officials said they have kept a wary eye on right-wing militias, worried that Trump’s allegations of ballot fraud could bring heavily armed groups out onto the streets. So far, they appeared to be keeping a low profile.

Enrique Tarrio, leader of the far-right men’s group Proud Boys, said he was slashed and three others stabbed early on Wednesday blocks away from the White House. One of his alleged assailants wore a “Black Lives Matter” mask, he told Reuters.

Local police said they made no arrests in the incident and could not confirm the affiliation. The Washington chapter of the anti-racism movement said on Twitter it had nothing to do with the alleged attack.

RETREAT FROM THE FRENZY

In Gibsonburg, Ohio, Tom Younker chose to distract himself from televised election coverage by tending to his tomato garden. A 74-year-old painting contractor who has served on the local board of elections for 34 years, Younker said he caught just a few hours of sleep after wrapping up Sandusky County’s vote tallies around 10:30 p.m..

“It’s mixed emotions,” said Younker, who voted for Biden. “It’s like an up-and-down see-saw. You think you’re going to win pretty big, then you see it tightening.”

In the southern Pennsylvania town of McConnellsburg, Stanley Kerlin, 66, a lawyer who voted for Trump said he lacked confidence the large number of uncounted ballots in his state would be accurately tabulated.

“Most of them are down in Philadelphia and you can’t trust those people any further than you can throw ‘em,” said Kerlin, a committee member of the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

Still, he said it was too early for the president to be claiming victory with so many ballots yet to be counted.

Arizona voter Marissa Yturralde, 32, who owns a travel agency, said she hoped the razor-thin margins in the presidential race would lead to a greater degree of bipartisan and ideological unity.

“I hope we can restore some sanity and respect for our fellow human beings,” she said. “We’ve got to regain civility and have mutual respect for each other’s opinions.”

Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Cleveland, Ernest Scheyder in Houston, Michael Martina in Detroit; Heather Timmons in Washington and Nathan Layne in McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania; Additional reporting by Nick Brown in New York and Ted Hesson in Washington; Writing by Jonathan Allen, Frank McGurty and Steve Gorman; Editing by Alistair Bell, Sonya Hepinstall and Cynthia Osterman

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