America is jittery as election's outcome draws near

The charged coffeehouse conversations. The constant punching of states on computerized electoral college maps. ( Florida -- red or blue?) The mesmerizing hours in front of Fox, CNN and YouTube.

It's time for this to end.

Across time zones and political persuasions, from north to south, anxious and exhausted Americans said Monday that they couldn't wait for the interminable, contentious presidential campaign finally to be over. It's time for them, and their country, to move on.

If she didn't already know how much stress was building, it was confirmed for Caryn McVoy, 55, on Monday morning when she woke up, went for a stroll around her Denver neighborhood and burst out crying.

"Tomorrow's going to be very special," she said, hoping for a Barack Obama victory she believes would launch the country on a dramatic new course. "Everybody I know is feeling very emotional right now."

Across the country in Augusta, Ga., Howard Merry would not have disagreed. Though Merry, 36, supports Republican John McCain, he said he had found the country "just sickeningly polarized" by the nonstop campaigning. On Sunday night, the biotechnology entrepreneur and his Bible study group prayed for an end to what he called "a real bitter season."

With America in the midst of two wars and an economic crisis worse than most people can remember, it was hard to find the kind of voters Monday who in past years would say the outcome didn't matter.

The swelling emotion could be found in microcosm in an apartment in New York's East Village, where two college roommates -- one a Democrat, the other a Republican -- hid behind their bedroom doors to avoid a last-minute political discussion.

David Laska, a 21-year-old student at New York University, felt sadness that the race seemed to be slipping away from McCain, who he said "really had the capacity to be a great American president. But the political climate right now is so bad I think he doesn't have a prayer."

Still, Laska planned to drive to Pennsylvania to help with last-minute get-out-the-vote efforts.

One might expect Laska's roommate, Obama supporter Bryan Fellbusch, to be more upbeat. But the 21-year-old reported an affliction common to many of his fellow Democrats -- post-traumatic stress from losses in 2000 and 2004.

"I've been freaking out all day. I keep having these horrible flashbacks to . . . four years ago, when Bush was reelected. It was the most devastating day of my life," said Fellbusch, who had worked for Democrat John F. Kerry when the Massachusetts senator came within 118,000 votes in Ohio of claiming the presidency in 2004.

As if the endless campaign and the economic malaise didn't provide enough anxiety, many voters found themselves fretting about the very integrity of the democratic process. Perhaps that's not surprising, given the constant news reports in recent weeks: Republicans protesting fraudulent voter registrations. Democrats charging that legitimate voters were being purged from the rolls.

Election officials across the country issued rounds of assurances in recent days about their registration lists, their voting machines and their contingency plans. But many voters weren't ready to have faith.

"I am anxious, nervous, hesitant," said Dianna Dalton, a 48-year-old showroom consultant for a heating and plumbing company in Zanesville, Ohio. "We need a change. But I think the government is corrupt, and if they see Obama is gonna win, something is gonna happen. Ballots might disappear."

An avalanche of information this year -- particularly on the Internet -- has not always been a good thing.

Zachary Paul Sire, a freelance writer from Huntington Beach, dubbed the condition "Election Obsessive Compulsive Disorder" on his blog. The 31-year-old Obama supporter estimated he has spent at least 10 hours a day monitoring blogs, television and polls since the party conventions this summer.

"I genuinely feel nervous," Sire said. "I'm not being able to sleep, not eating as much or eating at strange hours of the day, being irritable toward the people I live with."

But true junkies said they had no intention of giving up their fix before one last binge. They can almost see the networks' giant electoral maps, spotted with Democratic blue and Republican red. They can hear the talking heads dissecting the urban vote and waiting for totals to roll in from Vigo County, Indiana, a national bellwether for more than a century.

Places like Manuel's Tavern in Atlanta -- a locally famous hangout for Democrats and political aficionados -- were made for them.

Signs on the door advertise tonight like a heavyweight championship fight: " ELECTION DAY 2008!!" they screamed. "OBAMA VS MCCAIN. Only One Will Survive. . ."

At this point, Sire said, he is still praying for an Obama knockout. But he will welcome an ending. Any kind of ending.

"Even if McCain wins, I will breathe a big sigh of relief," he said. "Even if my guy doesn't win, I will be relieved that it's over."

Rainey is a Times staff writer.

Contributing to this report were Times staff writers Richard Fausset in Atlanta; Erika Hayasaki in New York; Robin Abcarian in Zanesville; Nicholas Riccardi in Denver; Kim Murphy in Seattle; Ashley Powers in Las Vegas; and Raja Abdulrahim in Huntington Beach.