A cashier at Dunkin Donuts in a strip mall in Allentown, Pennsylvania is asking every customer coming in on Election Day whether they had voted and for whom. It appears that she hasn’t yet cast her ballot. A young man with a floppy hairdo and a collection of ear piercings places his coffee order, and tells her to vote. “If he gets elected I’m scared, I’m dead-ass scared,” he says. “You should vote, she needs you.”
He expressed the overwhelming sentiment of voters I spoke to in this city of nearly 120,000 in eastern Pennsylvania. Most said they were “nervous,” “worried,” “scared” and “afraid.” Several anxious women also said they were excited about having voted for Hillary Clinton.
Voter turnout in Allentown was higher than in the past several elections, a poll worker and a state representative running for re-election told me outside the polls at St. Luke’s Lutheran church. The weather was perfect, a warm fall day with vibrant orange and red leaves against a blue sky.
But the ideal weather did not erase the anxiety and fear that dogged voters throughout the entire election season.
“My heart is pounding. I’m anxious,” said Sandi Vereen, a 56 year old customer service representative. “I’ve been having nightmares about [Donald Trump] sitting down with a ruler of a foreign nation. And the next thing we’re blown up,” she added. Vereen said she wasn’t a “huge fan of Clinton,” but was still moved to be participating. “I’m going to start to cry. We’re so fortunate to have the free right to vote, and in so many countries people don’t.”
Peter Schweyer, a Democrat who is running unopposed for re-election in the state House of Representatives (and thus taking it easy, “eating cookies and dropping off donuts”) told me that while he was feeling “extraordinarily hopeful,” he saw how fearful many voters were. “Clinton’s slogan is ‘Love Trumps Hate,’ but really I think fear is trumping hate.”
Most of the people I spoke with in this working-class city, which is one of the state’s fastest-growing because of an influx of immigrants, were voting Democratic with no particular enthusiasm.
But there were some exceptions.
Liz Bradbury, 59 who wore an engraved “Allentown” pendant, said “I’m nervous, but feeling very proud to have voted for the first woman president. I’m a lesbian, I’m very worried about the rights of my family,” she said. Bradbury is a director of training at the local LGBT community center.
“I’m afraid because women can really get beat up. I’ve been a victim of discrimination as a woman, I’ve seen Hillary discriminated against as a woman. I’m concerned.”
Jessica Santaella, 29, works at Sephora. She came out from a poll at a fire station with four young daughters, one in a baby carrier, exclaiming to a poll watcher “We were part of history!”
But when asked how she felt about the election, she said she was nervous. “For the first time, I’m scared,” she said. She was relieved the whole thing was nearly over. “To have someone who shouts to the world that girls are not equal – I don’t want that in their future,” she said, pointing to her daughters. “If Hillary Clinton is elected, she is our first woman president. It’s empowering.”
Relief was a common feeling among voters as well, even before the vote’s results came in. Everyone was ready for the election to be over. Michael Rodriguez, 56, a veteran on disability, said “I’m tired of all the BS that goes on, mostly with all the spin.”
“I just like smooth sailing, I don’t like bumps on the road. I don’t like unknowns. There’s a lot of unknowns, but Hillary is smart, she’s been around for a long time.”
And then there were the few who would not be rattled by the political circus. Mary Ann Helada’s first election was when JFK was running for president. The 78-year-old retired nurse, who would only say she was “very conservative” said: “When I was younger I would get riled up. As you get older you mellow out.”