ERIE, Pa. — In sharply divided Pennsylvania, there was one thing members of both political tribes widely agreed on Tuesday: They wanted this election to be over.
But 2020 being 2020, the one desire that seemed to have consensus support was denied to everyone.
Months of waiting — and for some voters and activists, years — was met with more waiting as key states, including Pennsylvania, required more time to process the deluge of mail ballots brought on by 2020′s defining plague, the coronavirus pandemic.
Shortly after 1 a.m., several key battleground states remained too close to call, foreshadowing a long night and perhaps several long days ahead to decide a winner, with much potentially hinging on Pennsylvania.
It meant that after months of interminable television ads, years of divisions that have torn at families, friendships and neighborhoods, there was no resolution — just more waiting, more agonizing over the most emotionally charged election in memory.
“It didn’t used to be quite this way,” said Brendan Daugherty, 31, who voted in Erie, the core of a battleground county in the northwestern corner of a battleground state. He said his relationships with family and friends had been strained over recent years. “Everything has been exacerbated... it’s sad to see.”
Daugherty blamed President Donald Trump for stoking divisions, especially when it comes to the national reckoning on racial inequality. Trump supporters, meanwhile, said Democrats had widened the fault lines by opposing Trump at every turn. “Just being against it because Trump’s for it,” Owen McCormick, 61, said in Erie.
A national exit poll of more than 12,000 voters affirmed the desire for closure.
Some 90% of Joe Biden voters and 84% of Trump voters said they “just want it to be over,” according to the survey by Morning Consult. Eight out of 10 Biden supporters and more than 6 out of 10 Trump voters said the election made them “anxious.”
“I’m more excited for this to be over than anything else," said Jeff Keating, a restaurant owner in Dunmore, outside Scranton.
At the polls, voters often described deeply personal tensions. Jo Wilcko, a vocal Trump supporter in the city of Erie, said that when she put a Trump sign in front of her home, a neighbor she had been friendly with told her, “this changes everything.”
“But I’m still the same person,” Wilcko said.
In Millcreek, a suburb of the city, Tom Morgan, 38, told of a driver who honked and screamed at him while he was running in a Joe Biden T-shirt recently.
“As a Black male, I actually feel less safe now than in my entire life,” Morgan said, blaming Trump for “dog-whistling to the ugliest pieces of our population.”
Noel Moore, 31, arrived at a polling place in Dunmore, outside Scranton, with a MAGA hat. “If my side wins, I’ll be upset but I’m not gonna take to the streets or anything,” she said.
“We’re still a country and we’ve had a hard year,” Moore said. “I hope it doesn’t get crazy.”
In the opposite corner of the state, in the Philadelphia suburbs of Chester County, Dennis Kilp, a 78-year-old Air Force veteran and Biden supporter, said it was “disturbing to see businesses boarding up” in Philadelphia. “What country do I live in?”
Elaine DiMarco, a 64-year-old Trump supporter who was volunteering for the Chester County GOP, said she was concerned about potential for unrest.
“In past elections I wouldn’t care,” about a days-long vote count, DiMarco said. “People are so divided ... and we have all these anarchists running the streets.”
“All I can say,” she added, "is I hope neither side cheats.”
U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, a Democrat from the Pittsburgh suburbs of Allegheny County, urged calm in reaction to Trump’s efforts to discredit the counting of all mail ballots after Election Day.
“In the Marine Corps they have a saying, ‘slow is smooth, and smooth is fast,’" said Lamb, a Marines veteran. "So if we go slowly and smoothly and just count everyone’s vote, we’re gonna get it in the time we need it. It’s worth waiting for. The appropriate response is to keep counting people’s votes until they’re all counted.
"I don’t really care what he says,” Lamb added of Trump.
The wait for a result would cap a year of calamities and upheaval, one that came at the end of a president’s term that has divided the country like few before it. An already tense election year was interwoven with the coronavirus pandemic, an economic collapse, and protests and civil unrest over police brutality and systemic racism.
And now Pennsylvania looks likely to be sitting at the center of an election cliff-hanger.
For months, people in the state have been blasted with relentless television ads, repeated visits by the candidates and, in the final days, a last surge of door-knocking and pleading for votes.
A.J. Delmonico, 31, of Moon Township, outside Pittsburgh, said that no matter which candidate becomes the next president, he hopes Election Day brings the country together.
“We should come together a little bit and work for things to get better,” Delmonico said. “I hope we don’t have four more years of one side being angry.”
Under normal circumstances, Tuesday would have brought a conclusion and an outcome, and, while immediate healing is unlikely, at least it would have started the next chapter.
But this year has been anything but normal.
Staff writers Jessica Calefati and Julia Terruso contributed to this article.