Students watched as the counts mounted onscreen at the UIC student center, periodically falling silent when a total was announced.
"Come on, Ohio," breathed Monique Bolden, 18; of the West Side. "Come on, president."
The table of students, who live in dorm rooms upstairs, wrote their predictions of state tallies on slips of paper distributed by event organizers for a raffle for prizes like Obama and Romney bobbleheads.
Ariel Jordan, 19, of Bolingbrook, leaned back and against Jayme Robinson and held out her cell phone, snapping a picture.
"This is our day," she said.
"How do you know?" Lakeisha Hogan asked.
Jordan held firm. "This is our day. We're being silly, but we're celebrating that we voted."
This was their first election, and they had voted with a sense of gravity.
"I felt so proud when I put my ballot in the machine," Robinson said.
"I almost cried," Jordan said.
Now they were waiting. They had no plans to leave. "I'll be up till 2 in the morning,” Bolden said.
At another table, Asad Movahedan kept watch, too. A post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Illinois Department of Ophthalmology, Mohavedan, 31, is Iranian and not eligible to vote. But he did some campaign work for Obama, and this night, he wanted to watch the returns in a crowd.
He had watched the election night celebration in Grant Park in 2008 on TV.
He was so moved by the sense of change in the world and by the sight of Rev. Jessse Jackson weeping that he was determined to spend election night in Chicago at a communal event.
"This is important," said Movahedan, who came here three years ago with his wife, a graduate student in physics at Northwestern University.
"I believe leaders make change."
While those inside McCormick Center cheered on Obama in a warm and dry convention hall, a small crowd of immigrants and activist rallied outside, holding lit votive candles that flickered in a steady, cold rain.
U.S. Rep Luis Gutierrez, D-Chicago, joined them at 9 p.m.
During the re-election campaign, Obama's supporters in the immigration reform movement have worked to get him re-elected, Gutierrez said, “so he could keep his promise to bring about comprehensive immigration reform.”
“And I know it won't come about unless we are here insisting on the streets of Chicago and Boston and the streets of Miami and LA and on every corner where there is somebody being separated from their wife, where there is someone being separated from their children, where there is fear,” he said. ”We will be there on every corner demanding that Barack Obama, that Democrats and Republicans keep their promises this time.”
Meanwhile, at Mellow Yellow, a restaurant in Hyde Park, two Ohio natives were closely watching the results in their state.
“Hopefully they don’t disappoint,” said Krystal Burt, 27, a Bronzeville resident and Obama supporter who was eating with five friends.
One of them, Terryl Bell, 27, had voted for Obama in Ohio by absentee ballot.
“He was leading (in Ohio),” Bell said, gesturing toward the restaurant's two televisions. “I believe it’s because I voted.”
At Valois Restaurant, a cafeteria Obama used to frequent, John Hronopoulos, 49, lingered over dessert with three friends watching the returns. He had hoped the election would be called for Obama by 9 pm, he said.
“But I’m still confident,” he said. “We’re just waiting for the key states.”
The projection that Pennsylvania would go to Obama was big news at Valois – but it meant different things to different diners.
Curtis Miller, 50, called it “huge, if the projection was correct, because it inhibits Romney.”
But Ivan Tomic, 40, was underwhelmed.
“It was actually expected to go Democratic,” he said of Pennsylvania. "A big deal would be if Obama won Florida or Ohio.”
--Tony Olivo and Heather Gillers
On Tuesday night, Mary Morris, 68, curled up on the couch in her Maywood living room to learn the results. Earlier in the night she called her relatives in Ohio to make sure they headed to the polls.
"The last four years have been unlike any I've ever seen," she said. "For a President to face so much animosity, turmoil, and hatred is unbelievable. I hope that with another four years, Obama can put some of that behind him."
Morris said she was confident Obama would win, mainly because everyone she spoke to seemed to vow support and a vote. During a second term, Obama could work harder to improve the lives of the poor, minorities and women, she said.
"I can't see why any man would want to stop a woman from having birth control," she said. "I can't see why they'd want to stop a woman from planning her family. These issues matter."
Immigrants watch election night results
At 8:20 a crowd of about 80 people streamed out of the Chinese American Service League building, marching up Cermak Road toward the McCormick Center.
“Show me what democracy looks like; this is what democracy looks like,” they chanted, as cars around them honked.
Earlier, inside the Chinese American Service League, a nonprofit group in Chinatown, immigrant advocates filled balloons and arranged seats in preparation for a rally and march that will end outside the McCormick Center.
By 7:30, an upstairs meeting hall was filling up with people, who sat before a large TV screen to monitor early returns.
Part of a series of immigrant rallies in several cities, the demonstration is meant to emphasize the sense of urgency that many people feel about convincing whoever is in the White House to take on federal immigration reform right away, organizers said.
“We're giving whoever is going to be president zero days and zero hours to move forward on immigration,” said Alaa Mukahhal, 26.
“There will be a strong reaction from the community” if comprehensive immigration reforms aren't passed and, in particular, a record amount of deportations under President Obama do not decrease, she said.
“Many people here are from families with people who are undocumented and others who are U.S. citizens,” Mukahhal said.
Isely Hernandez, 20, represents the burgeoning Latino vote that both candidates tried to win over.
She voted early, for Obama through a mail-in ballot, in her first time participating in a presidential election, said Hernandez, who is studying psychology at Northwestern University.
For her, the election is about both the economy and immigration, she said.
“My father is a construction worker,” meaning his income has taken a huge hit in the still struggling economy,” Hernandez said.
But, as someone who benifitted from the 1986 immigration amnesty, he also symbolizes the good that can come through some sort of program for legalization, she added, noting that her two brothers and younger sister are either college graduates or college bound.
“My parents both really stressed college early on,” she said.
Election night spurs spirited debate at West Town bar
"Joke time is over," Fields quipped. "Now we get serious."
Throughout the campaign season, the West Town bar has seen its share of political debates -- spirited discussions that can easily spill from one group to another in a famously narrow establishment where the barstools are just a few feet from the wall.
The participants include firefighters, steelworkers, judges, artists, political operatives, journalists and, occasionally, the Mayor of Chicago.
"Rahm stopped by again recently," Fields said. "People like to give him a piece of their mind."
While cleaning glasses during the lull between people getting off work and the late-night crowd, Fields looked up to see CNN making easy calls --Vermont for Obama, Alabama for Romney.
"I've especially tried to steer people away from politics and religion this year," he said. "The place is so small and the country is so divided that somebody is bound to overhear what you're saying. And take offense."
Voters watch results from homes, bars, colleges
Across the city, voters watched the returns come in from their homes, bars and colleges. The University of Illinois at Chicago even supplied the pizza.
Walking with a friend in a hallway at the University of Illinois Student Center West, which was hosting an election watching party, first-time voter Melisa Castillo made her antipathy toward Romney clear.
"If he wins, I am never voting again. Never. Ever," she told her companion, Christopher Lawson. She and Lawson, 18, and also a first-time voter, were about to start watching returns.
"He wants to take everything from us," Castillo explained . "Financial aid, public aid, health insurance --- everything we need."
In a large glass-walled meeting room in the student center, undergraduates and graduate students took plates of fruit and veggies from a buffet, gathered at round tables and watched the election coverage on a screen that nearly covered the wall.
One group of students sat with their laptops open, switching from pre-Calculus homework and a Spanish paper to the returns.
"I'm so nervous," said Kamille Coleman, 18, of the West Side. "It's too close to call."
They were fervent Obama supporters.
"It's a major election," said Jayme Robinson, 18, of the South Side. "Being a college student, being a woman, being a minority --- it's important."
They had settled in for a long stay.
"I'm staying until It says, 'Barack Obama is still president.' Until those words cross the screen."
In Bronzeville, dozens of South Siders crowded into Room 43 and bounced to the city's local house music as they watched the returns come in.
For Manzee Collins, 44, the night was a celebration. He was certain his hometown hero who lived only blocks away from the event center would be victorious.
"Obama has a lot of love for people in America. He not only loves white people, or black people, or rich people, he loves all people. That means a lot."
But Collins wasn't only concerned about Presidential politics, he said. He came out to support Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. too, he said. Despite Jackson's mental health battle and his absence, Collins said he wanted to see him re-elected.
"I don't discriminate against someone that is sick," he said. "It's like he had the flu. I'll (support) him."
At Sawtooth in the West Loop, Norvin Leeper, 35, stood in front of a television, nervously stirring his drink, but he said he was not a bit shook as the results were reported.
“I believe Obama will win a second term tonight,” he said. “In the case he doesn't, we will all learn first hand what we've taken for granted. “
At Hyde Park Hair Salon, Obama's longtime barber, about 50 people munched on snacks and kept an eye on two televisions broadcasting election returns.
Twelfth-grader Dushaun Powell, who cast his first vote today, was carefully watching the vote count in Florida.
"Barack up by a percent," he said. "That ain't good. He needs to raise up the percentage."
Across the room, Andria Harris, 52, was more optimistic.
"It's way way way too early," to tell who will win Florida, said Harris, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with Obama's face and the words "Yes We Can."
---Barbara Brotman, Lolly Bowean, and Heather Gillers
Voters met with rain
Voters were greeted with lines, light drizzling rain and the occasional surprise as they cast ballots across the city and suburbs today.
The chilly wet weather dampened early poll watching at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago, where CNN set up an election viewing area.
Most people bustled past the gigantic screen, stopping only long enough to snap a photo. One exception was Thomas Klausen, 34, who traveled to Chicago from Denmark so he could watch the election up close.
'I'm deeply interested in U.S. politics,” Klausner said. “I've followed it intensely since 2008.”
He and his wife were planning to visit the U.S. but decided to make arrangements for it to coincide with the American election. Klausen said he and his wife flew first to Minneapolis, where she is visiting her sister, and he flew alone to Chicago this morning.
Scanning the near empty plaza, he said it would have been fun to be part of the 200,000 throng last year. But he shrugged if off, saying “I was hoping for better weather, but I'm just happy to be here: this is exciting. This election is exciting and important.”
Also undeterred were Amy Bachmann, Beverly Preuss and Jana Chwalisz, who brought six kids in total, 8 through 12 years old. They also toted nine lawn chairs.
Bachmann, of Palatine, was still wearing the “I voted” button she was given when she voted last Friday.
After carefully positioning the chairs under the Thompson Center's massive overhang, she explained why it was important to be at the public viewing area election night.
“If I want to raise kids who are civic-minded and who care about this country and its policies, that's how to start, when they are young. That doesn't magically happen.”
An optimistic Javier Martinez was selling pro Obama political buttons, including one that displayed a fake Chicago Tribune front page with the headline "Obama Wins Again!"
---Deborah L. Shelton
Spiritual votes and Communion
In the 47th Ward, some enjoyed some spiritual sustenance after voting at the Ravenswood United Church of Christ gymnasium.
The Rev. Jason Coulter waited until members of the ward’s two precincts voted, then beckoned them to the altar next door to share Communion. He said he didn’t want to sway their votes beforehand, but hoped to bring people together as a tense and polarized election season draws to a close.
About 30 voters accepted his invitation.
“For Christians, this is something we share in common,” said Coulter, who voted for Barack Obama. “This has been a difficult subject to talk about. With this process, there's a little bit of healing.”
Mihai Done, 33, a Romanian immigrant voting for the first time, came in to receive Communion from Coulter after casting his vote for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He confessed to being a bit nervous as he made his way through a light drizzle toward the polling site.
“This was a pleasant surprise,” Done said after accepting the bread and wine from Coulter. “After I finished voting, I came to relax.”
Jane Chaman, 29, also received communion from Coulter, clasping her hands and crossing herself after the pastor bestowed a blessing.
In an effort to “keep the peace,” she didn't discuss politics with many people this season. After finally casting her ballot, she found Communion comforting.
“It's a nice balance,” said Chaman, who voted for Obama. “I'll be really glad when this is over tomorrow.”
-- Manya Brachear
At the polls
At the Historic Log Cabin in Lombard, election officials saw the highest number of voters at midday in the polling place's history, election officials said.
By 4 pm election judges had collected 793 ballots, including one from Kesha Novak of Lombard.
“I'm glad it's over,” said Novak, who said she'd grown weary of the tone of this year's presidential race.
“It was more comical than serious,” Novak said.
Similarly, Tom Seagraves, 22, of Lombard said he felt like this campaign season dragged on for years.
“I can't imagine what it would be like to be in a battleground state,” said Seagraves. “I'm just ready to move on. “
Seagraves was, however, very pleased with the polling plece designated for him: the one-room log cabin nestled on hills away from busy Main Street in Lombard.
“I just texted my girlfriend in Canada that I'm voting in a log cabin right now,” Seagraves said. “She said 'You're so American.'“
--Vikki Healy Ortiz