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Post-election 'twilight zone' puts Americans on edge

DETROIT (Reuters) - After one of the most bruising U.S. presidential campaigns in modern times, supporters of President Donald Trump and his challenger Joe Biden were angry, frustrated and fearful on Wednesday, with the result still days or even weeks away.

A man attends a "Count Every Vote" rally the day after the U.S. election in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., November 4, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Trump’s declaration of victory in the early hours of Wednesday, with ballot-counting not yet completed, roiled Biden backers, who are afraid that the Republican president might not accept the election result if Biden wins. Meanwhile, many of those in Trump’s voter base were echoing his unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud.

Either Trump or Biden could end up winning, but watching the slowly updating vote counts in multiple key states was too much for many to bear.

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

Tanya Wojciak, 39, reckoned she had drunk 17 cups of coffee through a sleepless Election Day’s night, having voted early for Biden, even though she is a Republican.

“It’s like the twilight zone,’” said Wojciak, who found herself pacing the floors of her home in Cortland, Ohio, as she watched results trickle in from battleground states deluged by a record-breaking number of early mail-in ballots. “Trump’s scary, premature declaration of victory has me unnerved.”

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

Some activists had expected Trump to flout conventions over the results of Tuesday’s election.

The “Protect the Results” coalition of over 130 groups, from Planned Parenthood to Republicans for the Rule of Law, has said it had about 500 protests organized around the country.

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“There were two criteria that were out there: One is Trump officially trying to block the counting of votes and other was falsely declaring that he won, and he did both last night,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group that supports left-wing Democrats running for office and a member of the coalition.

MICHIGAN MARCH

In Michigan, where ballots are still being tallied, about 100 people gathered for an interfaith event before a march through downtown Detroit on Wednesday morning to demand a full vote count and what they called a peaceful transition of power. The protest flyer called people to action to stop Trump from “stealing the election.”

Democrat-leaning activists were planning “protect the vote” rallies around Michigan on Wednesday afternoon, including one in front of the state capitol in Lansing.

“The message is that Michigan is fighting back and every vote must be counted,” said Kenny Williams Jr., a spokesman for Detroit Action, one of the groups organizing a march in the city. “We understand that Republicans will likely try every trick in the book to win this election. But we are making our voices heard in saying that every vote must be counted.”

In Gibsonburg, Ohio, Tom Younker chose to distract himself from the noisy uncertainty of televised election coverage by heading outside to pull tomato plants that had frosted over in his yard. A 74-year-old painting contractor who has served on Sandusky County’s board of elections for 34 years, Younker said he got only got a few hours of sleep after wrapping up the 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.”

EXTREMISTS

U.S. officials have been keeping 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 appear to be keeping a low profile.

Chris Hill, the Georgia-based leader of the III% Security Force militia group, said they had no immediate plans to join any election-related demonstrations.

Hill said he expects the issue could go to the Supreme Court, sending protesters into the streets. Legal experts said that was unlikely, however.

Enrique Tarrio, the leader of far-right men’s group Proud Boys, said that 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 had not made any related arrests and could not confirm the affiliation. The Washington chapter of the anti-racism movement said on Twitter that it had nothing to do with the alleged attack.

There are still more than a million mail-in ballots to be counted in Pennsylvania, which political analysts believe are likely to skew Democrat.

Stanley Kerlin, a 66-year-old lawyer who voted for Trump in McConnellsburg, a town in the state’s south, said he was skeptical that would be done properly.

“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. “They are just notorious Democrats down there.”

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

“You can say whatever you want to say but the ballots don’t, at this point, back that up,” Kerlin said.

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 and Frank McGurty; Editing by Alistair Bell and Sonya Hepinstall

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