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Politics

A divided electorate, worried about the morning after

Three priests stood outside a polling place Tuesday in Timonium pondering the sacred and the secular.

"My congregation has a bunch of families divided — it's a microcosm of the larger country," said the Rev. Kristofer Lindh-Payne, rector of Epiphany Episcopal Church in Baltimore County.

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"We do stay together, even though we are divided," he said, as voters streamed in and out of Pot Spring Elementary School. "But what will the aftermath be like, if no matter who wins, a large part of our country is going to be grieving?"

The presidential campaign has been so bruising and divisive that Lindh-Payne and other priests made themselves available in polling places, churches and other venues for voters who needed a healing prayer or two.

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Husbands and wives, parents and children, office mates, real-life and Facebook friends have found themselves on opposite sides — with the ballots they cast Tuesday not necessarily resolving the standoff.

"I get to cancel out my husband," Jan Keadle said of her vote for Hillary Clinton.

Keadle, 57, ran the mile or so from her house to Pot Spring Elementary, having tucked a small American flag into her headband and wearing matching shorts.

It was a festive day for many across the state. But for politically mixed marriages like hers, Keadle, a mother of two who works for a printing company and runs marathons, domestic peace required a certain diplomacy — if not outright avoidance.

"There was a lot of changing of the subject — 'OK, let's cut it off here,' " Keadle said. "We had to cut it off in the bedroom."

Similarly, another voter at Pot Spring, Jerry Wojtowycz, 60, said he and his golfing and fishing buddies kept the peace by avoiding talk of politics.

"We decided we couldn't convince each other to vote for the opponent," said the retired Procter and Gamble tech services worker, a Trump supporter. "We basically stayed away from it."

After such an angry campaign season, there was palpable relief in the civic ritual of voting.

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"We're ready for this to be over, and hopefully the result will be conclusive and we can move on," said Mildred Charles, 43, of Upper Marlboro. She participated in early voting, casting her ballot for Clinton a few days ago so she could spend Tuesday promoting a Prince George's County school board candidate.

"At first, it was entertaining. I watched all the debates. I pulled out the popcorn," Charles, an adjunct communications professor, said of the campaign. "It's no longer entertainment. This is serious."

She now feels differently about a childhood friend who ardently supports Trump, and maintained a silence-is-golden stance toward her husband, who said he remained undecided as late as Tuesday morning. Joseph Butler, 62, liked some of Trump's truth-telling — although he also thought it went too far.

"It's only brought up the ugliness in people that's always been there," he said.

But he said the national airing of grievances will be cathartic, a necessary step before anyone can try to heal the rift.

"It's therapy for the country," Butler said.

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In Hagerstown, a couple supporting Trump also welcomed the end of the campaign.

"With the way the mainstream press has covered this, it has been nonstop — you couldn't avoid it," said Brian Robak, 43, as he and his wife, Rae, 35, left their polling place.

Robak, a business owner, decried what he considered the "overwhelming" pro-Clinton bias of their 12-year-old son's teachers.

Rae Robak, who teaches grade school in West Virginia, found a decided anti-Clinton sentiment there. She decided to stop teaching government and civics in class over the last few weeks because "every time I did, things blew up.

"You should have heard what they've been saying," she said " 'Hillary's a killer,' 'Hillary will take our religion away,' 'Hillary's worthless.' It has been almost scary. I decided, 'Let's focus on science for a few weeks. We'll come back to social studies after the election.'"

In this most dyspeptic of campaigns, there were voters who were dissatisfied with both choices on the ballot. None of the above, or at least none of the major candidates, was Edwina Harlee's choice at Hazelwood Elementary/Middle School in Northeast Baltimore.

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"If I had voted for either of them, I would have sold my soul to the devil," said Harlee, 33, who works for a medication delivery service.

For many, the campaign raised issues that were deeply personal — from the kind of sexual harassment Trump was accused of, to the question of what to do about immigration.

The latter was a concern for John Zaunfuchs, a 56-year-old Republican, who voted for Trump at Goldsboro Fire Hall in rural Caroline County on the Eastern Shore.

He's met immigrants in his community of Marydel and is concerned about those who aren't learning English or trying to assimilate into American culture.

"They're good people, but there's a right way and a wrong way," said Zaunfuchs, who is semiretired from the printing industry.

In immigrant-rich Montgomery County, the issue was particularly personal, especially among Hispanics.

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Clinton won the support of Gloria Y. Arevalo, a 27-year-old paralegal, and her mother, Gloria M. Arevalo, 58, a cook for the Montgomery County school system who moved to the United States years ago from El Salvador. They voted at James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring.

Trump's rhetoric about building a wall on the country's southern border helped make their decision an easy one.

"Donald Trump wants to get rid of all Mexicans or all Hispanics in general," the younger Arevalo said. "In general, we don't want to see families separated. It's not a good thing. People are coming here looking for a better life."

But another immigrant, J.D. Chawla, a 49-year-old financial planner who says he has "an American flag carved inside my heart," cast his vote for Trump. Originally from India, he and his wife, Tammy, brought their 8- and 12-year-old children to the polls to witness what he calls "a very pivotal election."

"It changes the dynamic of the future of this country and the economics of this country and the track that we will end up taking significantly," Chawla said.

Like others across the state, he worries about what will happen after the polls close and a victor emerges. He predicted a Clinton victory would leave the country divided.

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"I think the rift will continue, because there's a sense of despair among many," he said. "There's a sense of, 'No, not this again for another four years,' and possibly even eight years."

Richard Sherrill, 77, similarly expressed a bleak outlook at odds with the rolling countryside surrounding his polling place, the Veronica "Roni" Chenowith Activity Center in Fallston in Harford County.

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"The Constitution will be ignored if one candidate wins — Hillary," the retiree said. "If [Trump] loses, I will wear black on Wednesday. And a flag pin upside down."

In counterpoint was the thrill others felt at the prospect of the nation's electing its first female president.

"It would let women and young girls see that you can reach for the stars," said Tanya McAllister, 40, of Timonium, the controller at an area staffing firm.

That sentiment, though, was tempered by her lingering concerns over Clinton's using a private server for her emails, the subject of an investigation that kept popping up as late as last week. And yet, she said, the idea of Trump as president was worse.

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"The face of the country is at stake," she said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Liz Bowie, Erin Cox, Jonathan Pitts, Kevin Rector, Yvonne Wenger and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

jmarbella@baltsun.com


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