No matter which presidential candidate you voted for, last week was a journey that veered across high hopes, deep despair, recurring confusion and waiting, waiting, waiting.
Tuesday lasted four days. Saturday morning dawned. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were the projected winners. Their supporters wanted to dance in the streets – and did in some parts of the country. But in Reno, where COVID-19 cases are soaring and the weather was blustery, distanced celebrations prevailed.
“My daughter called me this morning with the news, but I had just seen it on TV,” said Marilyn Melton of Reno. “We just screamed together and yelled on the phone, I danced up and down… It was a long wait, but here it is. This is a good day, about as good as it gets.”
It’s over, even though the loser refuses to concede and continues to make baseless claims of fraud. Since Tuesday, the week dragged on; the week was a blur. Here are some snapshots Northern Nevadans waiting on both sides of the red/blue divide:
Tuesday, a record turnout
Lines at Washoe County’s 29 in-person voting sites ebbed and flowed all day.
Dominic Perchy and Megan Walsh, both freshmen at the University of Nevada, Reno, had already voted – and for the first time. They filled out their mail-in ballots and dropped them off prior to Election Day.
Walsh said it was simple to drop her ballot in a box, but she realized the action had greater implications. “We shouldn’t just let the older generation take over the country,” Walsh said. “We have a say in our world and what we get to do in it… I now have a say in something that matters.” Both voters said they knew a winner wouldn’t be declared when the polls closed. “I wonder how long the process will take to count all the votes,” Perchy said on Tuesday.
Washoe County voters turned out in record-breaking numbers. More than 70% of registered voters had already cast their ballots before the in-person polls opened. By 7 p.m. when the polls closed, more than 232,000 people had voted as compared to 210,287 ballots cast in 2016. Then came the counting.
Democrats sleepless in Reno
“I always have trouble (sleeping) on election night,” said Sue Smith, a former Reno city councilwoman. “The world could change.” This year, she was particularly concerned. She worried that if President Donald Trump retained his office, his animosity towards critics would know no bounds.
“At one point I was concerned about the rounding up of Trump detractors,” she said. “Then I realized that all of my favorite people would be there too. If you have visited Nuremberg you realize that this is a slippery slope.”
Rebecca Morrison of Reno, also a Democrat, saw that the early returns favored Trump. “People are really restless now,” she said. “I stayed up (Tuesday) watching the numbers. We went to sleep and Trump was ahead.” Morrison saw there was no “blue wave” of Democratic voters that some polls had predicted.
“It’s super sad,” she said. “Even thinking Trump might win felt like a nightmare. I really expected that more people would have been offended by the lack of caring by the Trump administration.”
Trump voter crunches numbers
Mike Bosma, principal at CliftonLarsonAllen in Reno and host of the “Bosma on Business” talk show on KKOH-AM radio, got home from work at 5 p.m. Tuesday and settled in to watch the national returns. He supported Donald Trump.
“Knowing of the significant amount of mail-in ballots, and realized I was in for a long night,” he said. “As polls closed and results started being released, I realized I did not have an appropriate gauge on how my candidate was doing.” Bosma is an accountant. He set up an Excel spreadsheet with each state’s electoral votes, noting who won the state in the 2016 election.
“As the votes were counted, I was able to quickly discern if my candidate was simply winning a state he won in the last election, or if the opponent was holding a state (Hillary Clinton) had won,” Bosma said. “By 8:30, I recognized that if we didn’t win Pennsylvania, we were done. Since I had predicted the last four elections incorrectly, I guessed that Biden would end up winning Pennsylvania, and posted that on Facebook… I was hoping that by tempting fate, my perfect record (of wrong predictions) would hold. I watched TV until the wee hours of the morning.”
With the vast majority of mail-in ballots still to be tallied, Trump went on TV at 2:30 a.m. Eastern time. He declared himself the winner and called for votes to stop being counted. Across the nation, the counting continued.
Wednesday, watching from afar
Mimi Knudsen, a Reno resident who lives in southwestern France and was among thousands of Nevadans who voted via absentee ballots, awoke to “an exceptionally long Wednesday-after-election.”
She said many of her French friends were following the results. “I’ve tried to explain to one friend, who lives in Picardie, the strange structure of American elections. No one seems to understand the Electoral College.” Knudsen and her husband, Ken, are Democrats and mourned Sen. Lindsey Graham’s victory in South Carolina. They worried about Trump’s apparent early lead.
“We had been warned unceasingly about the ‘red mirage,’” she said, a term describing the in-person voting results being announced prior to the mail-in ballots being counted. “But it still knocked us through a loop.” She listened to non-political podcasts or watched Netflix to escape the drone of election speculation in the media, but she couldn’t stay away. “I refreshed the NPR election page on my iPad several times an hour, even in the middle of the night,” she said.
A family divided by politics
On Wednesday afternoon, Karyn Gardner of Fresno, a Biden supporter, walked along Sierra Street and took photos of ducks in the Truckee River. She was in Reno visiting her mother. “(The election) is a nail-biter,” she said. “I had to get out of the house. My mom is glued to the TV. She’s a Trump supporter, just loves him, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. She’s harping on voter fraud because that’s what he’s been claiming.”
The Associated Press projected that Biden had garnered 264 electoral votes, and needed six more to win the presidency. States that remained too close to call included Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Nevada. Suddenly, the Silver State, with six electoral votes, was the Belle of the Ball.
Thursday, Democrats ‘cure’ ballots
As counting continued in the swing states, Biden urged calm. Trump continued, without evidence, to complain about widespread fraud. Beginning on Wednesday, his campaign launched a barrage of lawsuits alleging fraud or requesting recounts. Pro-Trump protestors demonstrated outside the Clark County registrar’s office, where a full vote tally was not expected until the weekend.
At Washoe County Democratic Headquarters on Terminal Way, about 20 masked volunteers stood in line to get assignments. Their job was to knock on the doors of Democrats who voted but who had had their votes “challenged” because of problems with signatures.
“Sometimes people’s signatures change or there’s some other problem with a ballot,” said Heather Golding, a volunteer. “We go to their doors and knock or put on a door hanger if no one is home. They need to correct the error, otherwise their vote doesn’t count. We want to help them make their vote count.”
First-time volunteer Rebecca Morrison, who had trouble sleeping Tuesday night, was in the line awaiting an assignment. “I watched the video and did the training,” she said. “My daughter, who is 25, will be here after work. We wanted to take some action.”
Friday, no masks for GOP
At the Trump Victory Office on West Fourth Street in Reno, more than 20 workers sat, maskless, inside. Large maps lined one wall and people tapped on laptops. Like the Democrats, they are tracking down members of their party who had problems with their ballots. The office manager asked a reporter to call a party official to get permission to speak to workers or take photos. The reporter called. The official did not return voice mail messages.
Hour after hour, the national media reported every handful of counted votes. The longest Election Day continued at a glacial pace.
Escape to mountain meadows
“I was becoming obsessed about each incremental update,” said Kathy Baldock of Reno, a researcher, writer and speaker. She has friends around the globe and many sent her messages asking her why the count was taking so long in Nevada. She, too, was fixated on the results.
“I was immersed and anxious,” she said. Hiking provided a welcome relief. She and her dog headed up Mt. Rose Highway to a trailhead. “(We) stepped into a few hours of no internet, no questions, no updates. Yes, I would notice, the sky and mountains are and will be. The things I care most about are constant. The anxiety quieted, the tightness in my chest and throat eased, and I was ready for another round of watching and waiting.”
The counting continued into the evening. Biden and Harris had tightened their leads. North Carolina slid into Trump’s column. Biden and Harris’ margins in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada were slim, but Biden was confident during his Thursday evening TV address. “We will win this race,” he said.
Saturday: a winner, a loser
The next day, they did. Biden and Harris are president elect and vice president elect of the United States.
Mike Bosma, the Trump supporter who on Tuesday night forecast that Pennsylvania would wind up in Biden’s column, was right. The Keystone State put the challenger over the top. His correct prediction was little consolation. Bosma noted that Trump has sued several states and requested recounts. “The courts will sort it out,” he said.
Looking beyond January
Mimi and Ken Knudsen got the news in France. “I remind myself to look at the future one step at a time,” Mimi said. “The country will have to deal with what Trump is going to do between now and Jan. 20, the Georgia run-offs, and the 2022 elections. I don’t envy the job ahead of Biden, but Kamala will have his back, so there’s that!”
Former Fallon resident Richard Jernee supported Trump and thinks the election was fixed. “I believe this election was stolen by fake ballots,” he said. “I also believe the election between Bush and Gore was rigged. At the time I voted for Gore. I find this very disturbing because at some point nobody will have a voice. The elites will decide everything for us.”
Sue Smith was relived. “I just believe that government can make people’s lives better,” she said. “We need people in elected office who believe in government; not people who want to dismantle government. There are so many things to be done… In Germany they teach what went wrong; we need to teach what went wrong. Education is power. We have a long ways to go.”
Reno News & Review reporter Wenei Philimon contributed to this report.