12:30 p.m. Mount Hope United Methodist Church, Ephrata, Pa.
When Republican committeewoman Anna Mae Ressler arrived at the polling place here off a busy two-lane highway at 6:30 a.m., a line of voters was already snaking around the church. By noon, 800 of the precinct's 1,600 voters had already cast their ballots--about double a normal presidential election. But of course this is not a normal election.
"We've been hitting the election really hard at church," Ressler said, describing the voter guides and church bulletin announcements she'd helped provide her congregation. Indeed, the local GOP also provided two conservative Christian voter guides to people walking into the precinct to vote on Tuesday. One was provided by the Pennsylvania Family Institute, which billed it as an "impartial, non-partisan guide." The other was prepared by Lancaster County ACTION.
Beyond the voter guides, there was no public display of religious fervor by evangelical Christians at the precinct. But Ressler says the fervor is definitely there. As she made phone calls to remind local Republicans to vote, she prayed with them over the election's outcome, hoping for a Bush win. If he does win reelection, Ressler said, God has "answered our prayers and given us another chance."
And if Kerry wins? To prepare for that possibility, Ressler has been reading the Book of Jeremiah. "When that nation got so bad, the Lord sent them into captivity," she explained. "We've done an awful lot of things in this country that are displeasing to God."
Kerry, she says, will be a punishment to the nation.
1:15 p.m. Dove Christian Fellowship, Ephrata, Pa.
Dove Christian Fellowship sits down the road from an Agway outlet and Martin's Country Store and across from a strip shopping mall on the edge of a rolling expanse of farmland.
Here, Diana Sheehan kept a solitary vigil as part of a round-the-clock prayer session for the election sponsored by the church. She paced back and forth, Bible in hand, in the fourth-grade classroom, praying for "a godly man to be elected to office. We're praying for the future of this country. And we're praying that it's an honest election."
Sheehan had a dream five years ago that jolted her to political awareness. It included an ostrich with its head in the sand, a lion advancing against it, an American flag in the background, and a letter that read: "America, this is a wakeup call." She believes the ostrich represents American Christians, who've "turned our backs on what is going on in politics in this nation."
For the last four months, Sheehan's been leading a weekly prayer group whose sole task is to pray about the election. And in the last 40 days, she's participated in a no-sugar fast sponsored by Intercessors for America, which is encouraging millions of conservative Christians to do the same.
If the prayer and fasting work, she says, Bush will be reelected, and God will signal that "he's giving us more time to get our act together. I think this nation is going down the tubes very quickly."
If Kerry wins? "I don't know what that means," she said, drawing in her breath. "I'll be praying a whole lot more because I think it's a spiritual battle."
At the same time, she said, "I'm not really afraid. I know who's in control and his banner over us is love. My trust is in Him, not in who is President of the United States."
2:30 p.m., Martindale Volunteer Fire Co., Martindale, Pa.
Getting to Martindale, in the heart of Mennonite and Amish farm country, involves swerving around hairpin turns while passing horses and buggies, porch swings, acres of grazing cows, trees turned burnished autumn gold, and even an occasional hen strutting near the side of the road.
In this tranquil place, Philip Weaver sat assisting the day's trickle of voters--216 by mid-day out of 610 registered. He wore a T-shirt emblazoned with "One Nation Under God," and said: "As a Christian, I really don't think there's much of an option who we vote for."
Weaver is a member of the Church of the Brethren, one of the historic "peace churches." But he is not a pacifist. He believes in "non-resistance," meaning that Christians shouldn't be involved in war. Yet he supports the war in Iraq and says most of his congregation agrees. His support of President Bush stems primarily from his pro-life views. "That's an innocent life," he said, "where war is a totally different situation."
As we spoke, Lucy Zimmerman, a 22-year-old member of an Old Order Mennonite community, stepped up to vote for the first time, her heart pounding from nervousness. She voted for Bush, she said quietly, her voice heavily accented with her native Pennsylvania German dialect--"for the freedom of our people," meaning Mennonites and Amish, and because Bush supports private schools.
Zimmerman got a ride to the poll from her boss, Ike Stoltzfus, reared Amish but now a member of the politically active Worship Center in nearby Leola. His church held an aggressive voter registration drive and a three-week voter education program with conservative Christian and Republican speakers. When he heard politically active grassroots Republicans talk about "the power of one"--motivating just one extra person to vote Republican--he convinced Zimmerman to register and vote.
3:30 p.m. East Earl Township Building, East Earl, Pa.
George Platt, the cheerful township election judge, stepped into the curtained partition of a voting machine with a black-bonneted Old Order Mennonite woman and her husband. It was their first try at voting, and they didn't know what to do. Platt patiently showed them how to press the levers to register their votes, then stepped aside as they walked into the machine and cast their ballots.
Earlier in the day, an Amish family pulled up in a horse and buggy. But they spoke no English--only Pennsylvania German--and had to be led through the process by an election volunteer in order to cast their ballots.
4:45 p.m. New Life Assembly of God Church, East Lampeter, Pa.
A two-hour wait was in store for the hundreds of people pouring into the mobbed parking lot at this polling place off Lancaster's main highway. Police officers directed traffic, and the local television station parked a truck in front of the church building. Of the precinct's 5,000 registered voters, about half had voted so far, and there was no sign of a let-up.
Gene Frey of Lancaster waited in the line--his third try at voting today. He'd arrived at 6:50 to find a huge line, tried again at 1 p.m. to find a similarly long line, and finally at 4:30 resigned himself to waiting. "I'm not going to pass up this election," he said. "I want conservative politicians so my grandchildren don't have to live in a liberal country."
A Bush voter, Frey was particularly swayed by the president's stance against gay marriage. Frey is a Mennonite, but he is not a pacifist. "Some people say Mennonites don't vote Republican, but thousands do," Frey said.
He called himself a pacifist in personal relationships--but believes supporting the war is moral because war is waged by governments, not individuals.
If Kerry is elected, Frey said, he will not be happy, but he will also not be afraid. "I got through eight years with Bill Clinton, so I can wait another eight years."
Both inside and outside the church, there was no Christian political activity--just some volunteers handing out campaign literature. But once voters cast their ballots, they followed an exit sign past the church's sanctuary. A huge sign that read "Jesus" hung on the wall, and an elaborate grouping of musical instruments spanned the stage.
The doors were flung open, awaiting meditative voters. No one was inside.