So how was everybody’s week?
In the midst of a mushrooming, deadly pandemic, Seattle and the country watched as an 18-month, multibillion-dollar presidential campaign culminated in days of uncertainty as key states ground from red to blue in achingly slow increments and the incumbent president sought to undermine the nation’s confidence in the process.
President Donald Trump and his allies falsely claimed that he won states that he had lost. They pleaded for ballots to stop being counted in states where he led narrowly and asked for the counting to go on in states where he trailed.
States’ election officials paid him no mind. And Joe Biden is the President-elect.
The Seattle area, which once again voted overwhelmingly against Trump, took it all in with patient equanimity, despite an undercurrent of anxiety pulsing beneath.
There have been protests, as there have been virtually every single night since May, but they haven’t been particularly large. They have been overwhelmingly peaceful. The precautionary plywood that reappeared last weekend at downtown and Capitol Hill businesses looked largely unnecessary. (A fatal shooting was reported on Capitol Hill early Sunday, near where Biden supporters had been celebrating, but police did not indicate whether the shooting involved people at that gathering or was connected to politics.)
In Seattle, where early results showed 90% of voters chose Biden, Election night left many disappointed. Those hoping for a resounding repudiation of a president they saw as racist and authoritarian did not get it. Those hoping for catharsis, after four years of a presidency they could barely abide, were left unsatisfied.
Instead, many went to bed Tuesday night with a feeling of déjà vu. How could the polls be so wrong, again? Would it really be four more years?
In the end, it may not be all that close. Biden was declared the winner early Saturday morning and appeared on track Friday to win 306 electoral votes, the same number Trump won in 2016, and he looked likely to win the popular vote by about 5 million. More people voted for Joe Biden than any other presidential candidate in history. But Trump received the second most votes in history, topping 70 million, surpassing the previous record held by President Barack Obama in 2008.
Biden’s path to victory wasn’t always so clear.
Rozella Van Meter, 75, of Seattle, spent Tuesday glued to coverage of the election.
“It’s definitely a split country,” she said.
Van Meter has curtailed her activities during the pandemic to stay safe, but her objections to Trump and the direction he’s taken the country inspired her to protest for the first time in her life. She marched in three demonstrations for racial justice this year.
“Trump’s demeanor, his treatment of the office of president, his treatment of immigrants, our Black and brown brothers — all of that stuff started way back in his term,” she said. “I don’t like the way he’s handled COVID. I feel like he’s given up and just wants older folks to get out of the way.”
She was hoping East Coast swing states would deliver a decisive Biden victory, but the race remained too close to call Tuesday. “I don’t like that it’s this close,” she said.
Things shifted in the dead of the night.
Shortly after 3 a.m. Central time, the director of Milwaukee elections commission, with a police escort, delivered the results of the city’s absentee ballots to the county. The votes vaulted Biden into the lead in Wisconsin, one of the three crucial Midwestern swing states that Trump had narrowly won in 2016.
Wednesday dawned a little brighter for Biden supporters.
Santiago Rodriguez-Anderson, an energy-efficiency analyst in Burien, took the day off work.
“I have a tendency to follow things pretty closely online and I stayed up pretty late, so it seemed like the right move,” Rodriguez-Anderson, 32, said.
He doesn’t like Trump’s denial of climate science and, as someone who buys his health insurance on the Affordable Care Act’s exchange, thinks Biden’s push for a public-insurance option represents the best available hope to bringing down costs.
“It’s a little stressful having things happening outside of my control, but this is not my first election,” he said. “I think the stress levels were similar before, if we extract the stress of a pandemic from that.”
Oh, yes, the pandemic. On Wednesday, both Washington and the United States set records for the number of new coronavirus infections in a day, exceeding 100,000 nationally for the first time.
Elise Omaki, 35, was trying not to follow election updates too closely. The endless refreshing, the scrolling, the “key race updates”; they don’t help.
“It keeps me from getting other things done,” said Omaki, a university research manager who lives in Shoreline. “I usually get my news in the morning with my cup of coffee and check up on what has happened since I last checked, then I try to put it away for the rest of the day and focus on things I can control.”
She was hoping for a Biden victory and by a margin big enough to “counter any criticism or skepticism about the result.”
“Waiting is hard,” Omaki said. “I cast my vote and I’ve done what I can and now I just wait.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Michigan joined Wisconsin, flipping back to the Democrats, after Trump won it in 2016.
That night, as the president spent the day out of sight and spreading misinformation on Twitter, protesters gathered around Seattle, in Occidental Square and Westlake Center and Rainier Avenue South, for “Protect the Vote” rallies.
The president’s false and inflammatory rhetoric didn’t stop vote counting anywhere, but it did make it more difficult.
The registrar of voters in Clark County, Nevada, said he was concerned for the safety of his staff and they were putting security measures in place. The attorney general of Michigan asked the public to “stop making harassing & threatening calls to my staff.” There was a bomb threat near where votes were being counted in Philadelphia.
On Thursday, Odessa Stevens, 31, was confident, but still a little unnerved.
She thought Biden was going to win. She wasn’t surprised that states were taking a couple days to count. She was unsettled by the strength of Trump’s support, that at least 7 million more people voted for him than in 2016.
“Having a significant percentage of the votes is crazy to me, that’s the most upsetting thing,” said Stevens, who lives in Mountlake Terrace. “What’s going to happen? Are people going to say ‘OK now we have a winner and we’re going to put all that aside?’ What is Trump going to do after this election when he knows he’s going to be moving out in early 2021? That to me is the scariest part.”
It’s really difficult, she said, to navigate conversations right now with people who have different political views. But she’s been doing it all week, talking with family members who support the president.
Her father, Don Stevens, had predicted a resounding Trump victory. He thought the president would win every state he won in 2016 and add Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada and New Hampshire. Don Stevens, 76, a retired nurse who more recently worked at the Amazon warehouse in Kent, likes Trump because he’s an outsider who battled the “deep state,” because he lowered corporate taxes and because he’s opposed to affirmative action.
He points at his own daughter, who is Asian American.
“It’s laughable to think she needs affirmative action,” Stevens said. “She needs affirmative action like Russell Wilson needs my advice on football.”
He wasn’t worried about Trump’s claims that the election was a fraud.
“Trump is going to be Trump,” he said. He’s disappointed in the results but he doesn’t foresee violence or mass uprisings.
“I’m not a vindictive person, I’m not an angry person, if Biden wins it wouldn’t be the worst,” Stevens said. “The fibers of the country are not that weak or stretched that dearly. Individuals matter, but no one is, there’s no single person who’s going to throw the country into chaos, there’s too many people that are too smart, too responsible.”
Scott Hutsell is a county commissioner and owns a Les Schwab Tire Center in rural Lincoln County, which, in early results, was Trump’s single strongest county in Washington. Hutsell, a staunch Republican, voted for Trump in 2016, but not enthusiastically. Mainly, he didn’t want Hillary Clinton appointing Supreme Court justices.
In that, things have played out as he hoped. He’s not much concerned with Trump’s allegations of a stolen election.
“Maybe some people get riled up on that; I go ‘that’s the guy I voted for,'” Hutsell said. “There’s no doubt about it, he will fight not just for himself but for the people who support him. Is it always all warranted? Sometimes you’ve got to kind of sit back and say, ‘maybe you shouldn’t quite push it that far.'”
The CARES Act pandemic relief money that Congress sent his county to distribute is running out and he worries about small businesses, local utilities and people unable to pay their bills if another round of federal relief doesn’t come.
“Hopefully, if it does play out that way, we get through this and this transition happens quickly and smoothly and we get rolling,” Hutsell said. “Sooner or later we’ve got to Kumbaya, come together and try to get things done.”
By Friday morning, the writing was on the wall. Biden overtook Trump in vote counts in Pennsylvania and Georgia.
KEXP, Seattle’s alt-rock institution, was playing Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Mister Rogers’ “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”
“I’m feeling pretty confident it’s going to be Joe, but there’s going to be lots of turmoil with lawsuits,” said Krishnan Venkata, 41, an analytics consultant in Redmond. “It’s clear that Joe Biden should get through.”
His friends and family, in Europe and India, have been asking about it.
“They say ‘what is going on over there?'” he said. “A lot of people do have opinions in terms of this one. A lot of people.”
Trump’s refusal to concede and his multifront legal battle, would have a negative impact on people’s psyches, Venkata said, but ultimately he trusted the courts to rule it out.
And, he noted, that the Electoral College doesn’t meet until mid-December.
What’s the rush?
Seattle Times reporter Patrick Malone contributed to this report.