My election day on the front lines

I know I have at least a couple (Hi, Mom! Hi, Sis!) more conservative readers here, so let me say at the start that I had no strong feelings against McCain.  He showed his his dignity and grace in concession speech, and I was honored to listen to him.  I believe in our system and its multiple viewpoints.

However, my life, my world, my family, my biracial children, my lifelong passion for inclusion, my intense feelings for this particular race made it nearly impossible to post here, and that’s silly.   You read my books–I suspect that you probably already figured out what side of the party lines I fell on.   I’m not going to suddenly start posting all kinds of political commentary. There are many other places you can find that (or avoid it).   But sometimes, maybe on Wednesdays, I’ll want to write about what we can all do to serve, to become involved, no matter what side of the line we’re on, or what country we call home.  It’s a small world and we’re all in it together.   As with all things, I’ll keep it positive.

That said, and even though it isn’t Wednesday, here is how I spent my election day:

I volunteered to be an election judge, which was a way to keep myself from freaking out all day long.  It was a long, long day.  I got up at 4:15, was at Centennial Hall by 5:30, and started driving home at about 8:45 or so.  Then I stayed up till past midnight, drinking wine and talking via phone and  chatrooms and texts to my kids and friends all over the country.   Yesterday, all I could do was stare at the ceiling.  Not much got done.

What I will remember: I was on the provisional ballots table, where there were two observers watching like hawks, until they heard me tell every, every single person who came through that they could call the number on their receipt and find out when THEIR OWN BALLOT was counted.  Then they backed off.

There were a lot of provisional ballots because there were a ton of first time voters.  Lots of young ones, but at least two women in the middle years, and a woman from Asia who was quite worried about exactly how to vote.   I’ll remember the trio of African American youths, not a one of them over twenty, coming in with their giant coats and giant shoes and the boys in corn rows, so oddly shy in this official environment, so earnest. They bolstered each other, taking it seriously.  I’ll remember the very young woman, very nicely dressed up in cheap clothes, who took a long, long time in the booth and when she came back said, “Is it okay if I didn’t vote on all the amendments and stuff? Because I didn’t understand all of it.”   No problem.

I’ll remember the Latino men who came in with their kids so the kids could translate.

I’ll remember that every single person asked me, “Will my vote count?”

I’ll remember seeing all the old soldiers and knowing how much it mattered to them that McCain be president.  I’ll remember the army of student judges, in high school, most of them doing it to get out of school and get the $140, but learning so much as we went along.

I’ll remember when the polls were closed, and all the voters were gone, and I texted my older son to say, “Any news?”

And he called me back in two seconds to say, “You haven’t heard?  Obama took Pennsylvania and Ohio and New Mexico.   He’s going to win.”  He said when he heard that, he went to his office and closed the door and burst into tears.  I said, “Wait!  I can’t cry yet, so I’ll talk to you after while.  He had called his dad and his brother already.  We were celebrating as a family, even though we were all in different cities.

I finally got out of the polling place at 8:30 and turned to NPR and they were calling Virginia, which I knew had been a swing state, and I knew he’d won, and that’s when I finally could cry.  And all this huge emotion came pouring out, and I cried all the way home, and laughed, and then laughed and cried for about three more hours, as my friends called, and my kids.  CR and I watched the acceptance speech and it was so thrilling–just looking at that crowd, white and black and brown, young and old, rich and poor.

My younger son called me from work, and he was happy and then he just broke down and sobbed.  He said when Obama first started to run, “If he becomes president, I will know America has really changed.”    On the phone he said, “it really happened,” and then he couldn’t speak through his tears.

My ex-husband and I talked yesterday morning and congratulated ourselves on raising such passionately involved children, but also on creating this multiracial family that contributed to an America that could vote a biracial man named Obama into office.

Somewhere we lost our idealism as a nation, and I’m so encouraged to see the passion returning.   We must all remember that this is not the end of our service, but just the beginning.  We can take a few weeks to recover, but then we all need to ask ourselves, what can I do now?

What was your election day like? Please share your election day experience in the comments.  (And yes, you can share no matter where you are, whether you could vote or not, or which party you supported.   If you had an experience you want to share, please do.)

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20 thoughts on “My election day on the front lines

  1. I’ve never been so proud to be an American as I was Tuesday night. Just remembering brings tears to my eyes again. For the first time ever, I cried tears of joy when our next President accepted his job. It was amazing.

    And my 14 year old son said, “So in 4 years, I get to re-elect him. That is awesome.” and all I could say was, “Yes you can.”

  2. Crying, crying and more crying. And then crying the next day when I saw AA children being interviewed about how thier dreams changed in one night – and watching them cry, too.

    We shook heaven and spilled some down here and it spread through the world. It’s a beautiful thing.

  3. it’s awesome that there has been this “problem” of long lines all over… people taking a greater interest in public issues is always a good thing

  4. I was at a friend’s place and we put the champagne in the fridge but went to bed at midnight and set the alarm for 4. My friend slept through it but I was back to the TV, watching French coverage, which was pretty difficult to understand because they weren’t showing the state-by-state tally. Then suddenly at 5 they called it and I sat there and cried and laughed, all by myself, then at 6 we had champagne and chocolate for breakfast then went to Starbucks and all the papers were out with Obama’s smiling face and strangers were coming up to me because I had on my Obama pin and they were laughing and saying “He did it!” Yesterday all the special issue magazines hit the stands–84% of French citizens back Obama. Amazing times.

  5. I went to the polls early. After the last two elections, no matter what the pundits predicted, I was nervous. I wanted Obama to win because I knew he would heal America. I feared McCain because if he won, it would indicate to me that our country, despite all the surface evidence, was still deeply racist. (BTW, I’m a white woman.) So at the polls, I tried to maintain. That was all. I started watching the news about 4 and turned it off about 10, when Obama was ahead by a good 60 electoral votes. I woke up at 2 am and wanted to run to the computer but managed to stay in bed until 4 when I got up and watched his acceptance speech on C-SPAN. Of course I cried. I cried when I read your post. I’ve been crying tears of joy off and on for a few days now.

  6. Monica

    Hello from a fellow poll worker. It is amazing that our experiences were so similar. I worked in my small town precinct outside of Seattle and had such similar observations. All the young voters, the ones who were worried if their ballot would count if they only voted for president. The provisional ballot lines and our hawkish observers. We had such a huge turnout, over 700 voters, more than double what we saw for our state primary. The atmosphere was so very different at our precinct this time, the voters much more serious than our usual election crowd.
    Even my personal reactions to the results were similar to yours, though from the losing side. Getting emotional texts from my son who was also so passionate about this election and what the outcome would mean.
    The trick now is to keep our passionately interested young people, whether their guy won or lost, to stay involved in the process. Too many of the folks who turned up Tuesday night hadn’t voted in at least 4 years, we need all these people to turn up every time there is an election to keep our democratic process strong and healthy.

  7. Daneal

    I was yet another who cried on election day. I was an early voter and sent my ballot in a week before. I spent days calling and e-mailing friends and family and reminding them how important it was to get out and vote. My grandson was upset because he won’t be 18 until Dec 3 and couldn’t vote but he went out and hung signs and worked in the Obama campaign. He had the same pasion I remember when I was his age and my hero was Bobby Kennedy. It made me proud to see so many people, young, old, white, black, hispanic, gay, straight, male or female getting out and doing something to bring about change. It gave me hope and showed once again that in this country all things are possible.

    I live in Arizona and all of my neighbors have McCain signs in their yards. At 4 in the afternoon I sat down flipped on news channels and settled in to watch history being made. I knew it was hours before the polls qwould close in my home state of California with all those electoral votes and I had a pile of brownies and a couple of glasses of wine to keep me fueled for a long evening. By a few minutes after 9 my time they announced that Obama had caried California. I let out a shriek they probably heard in California and began to dance and cry around my living room.

    Then came the concession speech – gracious and humbling from a true hero. He was so much better than his disgruntled followers and then the victory speech, gracious and eloquent. Great people and small in tears sharing the same joy. It was amazing. All I could think is why during a campaign can we not alwys see these sides of the people who would lead us. Perhaps that day may yet come.

    Oh yes and I voted for Obama!

  8. Monica, yes, I hope we can keep all the passion so high. It makes such a difference! What I also believe is that this election has kindled a fire in youth all along the political spectrum, to get out and get involved and build a world they can believe in.

    I love these stories! more and more

  9. Oh, Eva, how lovely!

  10. Melissa, I was stunned that Prop 8 passed. :( And good point on the smaller parties. It’s nearly impossible to get a position heard as a Green or Liberatarian candidate. Both parties have strong adherents here in Colorado, so I do hear about it, but you have to pay attention!

  11. Melissa Compton

    Thank you, Barbara, for sharing your experiences on Tuesday. Being a Libertarian and living in a state that almost always goes to the Dems (CA) means that my husband and I usually watch presidential elections from the outside. I voted for Bob Barr, my vote being a smaller voice, wishing for a system where more candidates and more ideas had a chance to be heard and debated.

    I waited until evening to vote so my husband and I could vote together. By that time, and really weeks before that, we assumed Obama was going to be elected and waited to read the results until the next morning. To be honest, we were more tied to the props that were on this year’s CA ballot, and are still disheartened by the results. I cannot believe the ban on gay marriage passed… *sigh* I cried for them on Wednesday.

  12. I live only a mile from my polling place, an elementary school, and the unseasonably warm weather made for a pleasant walk Tuesday morning. I passed many others en route too and from, and noted that while there was an abundance of Obama yard signs, there was only one in my neighborhood for McCain – which is pretty much in line with how Wisconsin voted. *Very Big Grin*

    I’ve never had to wait in line more than ten minutes, and this year I was in and out in five (not including the time spent circling the bake sale), despite all the warnings that lines could be longer than usual. While I was voting, a teacher brought a small group of students in and explained to them what all the people were doing in their school that day…showing them the ballots and voting booths, and how and why people were filling them out.

    In the afternoon I talked with a friend in Sweden, anxious as all our foreign friends were to see if Obama would win (almost 90% of Swedes were for Obama). She planned to stay up as late as she could and watch the reports on CNN. I heard from her again early Wednesday morning when she got up and saw the results, and all of Sweden seemed to be celebrating.

    By Tuesday evening I had a migrain, but no matter how much my head hurt, I couldn’t go to bed until the results were in. I flipped on ABC a couple minutes before 10pm. First they said that as polls were open a couple more minutes on the west coast, they weren’t ready to call it. I watched the clock tick down that final minute with Cahrlie Gibson, held my breath as he said the polls in the west and Hawaii were now closed – and became choked with emotion when he said they were calling it: Barack Obama was the president elect. I quickly flipped through the other networks to confirm…CBS, NBC, CNN. Even though all were calling it for Obama, I was still a bit surprised – what with the way the last two elections panned out – when they said McCain was conceding less than half an hour later.

    Though my head was throbbing even more, I was then too keyed up with emotion to go to bed. I listened to McCain’s excellent speech and wish his supporters there in AZ had been as gracious as he was. And then, of course, I had to stay up just a little bit longer to see Obama speak from Grant Park, wishing I could be with that crowd a mere three hours south of me on such an historic night.

  13. Kim

    Living in a red county and being surrounded by McCain/Palin and “Yes on 8” signs in my neighborhood, my husband and I were thrilled to be invited to an election night party given by the county Democratic party. The party started at 8 PM and we were running a little late, so they actually called the election when we were in the car on our way there!

    We just couldn’t believe it was called so early–just a few minutes after 8 PM. When the DJ made the announcement, we were speechless. We honestly didn’t think we’d win this time, fearful the election was going to be stolen from us again. I think I just said, “No. Is this for real?” and burst into tears. My husband cranked up the dial, muttering, “What? What!” It wasn’t until the DJ played a clip of Wolf Blitzer announcing, “Barack Obama is the president-elect” that it started sinking in. Then we saw the restaurant decorated in bunting and red, white & blue balloons and we heard the crowd cheering from the second story balcony and we broke into big dopey grins–and more tears for me. It was really real!

    We found a space and, on our way through the parking garage, people spotted my Obama/Biden T shirt and honked and cheered and we cheered back. The restaurant was packed and happy people filled the second story courtyard. It was too crowded for everyone to get in, but they’d set up 2 huge screens and we watched Obama’s speech outside, under the stars. I don’t normally like crowds, but was a wonderful thing to watch Barack’s perfect speech with a crowd of people of all ages and races–we wouldn’t have gotten that at home in front of the TV.

    It was a particularly beautiful experience for me to meet older African Americans, who had been through so much in their lives, and to share their joy. We cheered and screamed “Yes we can!” and “Yes we did!” in unison looking to each other, shiny-eyed and smiling, as he spoke. It was the best feeling to be in that crowd.

    It didn’t even matter that we couldn’t get into the party, I’m so glad we went. I’ll never forget November 4, 2008.

    Yes we DID!

    Kim :)

  14. Scarlet

    I am still overwhelmed three days later, but I am starting to feel the pull to DO SOMETHING.

    My voting day started at 7:15 when I left my house with my two first-time-voter children one eighteen and one twenty. When I went to vote in the primaries there were twice as many poll workers than voters – Michigan’s primary wasn’t expected to count – this time there was a line out the door and around the church fifteen minutes after the polls opened.

    After the work day during which the most asked question all day was “did you vote yet?” (Not, please note, “did you vote?”) I went home to the beginning of our voting party. With so many people in our lives voting for the first time I wanted to make sure it mattered to these kids, these young people, these future leaders of America. We had many, many people at the house from 18 – 23 (and then me, of course :-) ) over the course of the night. Lots of very wonderful passionate discussions about who should win and why. The invitation was clear – we don’t care who you vote for – just vote! and there were lots of young republicans and moderates along with those of us who are passionately liberal.

    Then there was lots of wonder, and awe and silent breathing and holding hands as we realized what was happening.

    Yesterday my youngest, only sixteen, turned to me and said, “Mom, it is so COOL to be living in the middle of history!”

  15. It was an extremely affecting evening! We didn’t really do anything special–sat on the couch, watched the returns, breathed a little easier as the night wore on. Strange, but I’ve spoken to many who felt the same: Even though the polls showed Obama ahead, we didn’t really believe it would happen until it did. Hubby and I both shed some tears (some more manly than others-ha). We agreed that we’ve never felt more proud of our country.

  16. These are so wonderful. Thank you.

    Why did we worry so?

  17. Deb Allen

    Chiming in late but I had a great election night. I was visiting the US from Australia and sitting with my sister and her husband in their lounge room in Indiana drinking champagne (lots!) and texting all my friends in Australia. I had this update service going on. Every one was excited and his acceptance speech was just magnificent. What a night.

  18. Liz V.

    First off, thank you for sharing your wonderful commentary about your election day.

    My husband and I were very active at one of the Obama campaign office in South Jeffco (Colorado). I actually took a picture of the NY Times website when the only county the called at 7:15pm was Jeffco! We were cheering and crying at the same time.

    I was the Comfort Captain for the office and my husband was a Canvassing Captain. I arrived at 6am with juice, bagels and coffee.

    And we were off! What an amazing day it was.

    I had the most fabulous volunteers make lunches for 36 poll workers, snacks and lunches for the staff and canvass workers. We had three little girls show up with homemade brownies and a thank you note for working so hard.

    We watched President Elect Obama’s acceptance speech with my 16 year old daughter, who’d also put in a lot time canvassing and putting together canvass packets, and cried.

  19. Barbara

    These can come in forever as far as I am concerned. Thanks Deb and Liz, for sharing your days.

  20. Barbara

    My husband and I voted early and I teared up as I gave my little card to the poll worker man. No matter who we voted for, it is still great that we live in a country where power can change hands without war breaking out.

    That being said, it is going to be SO wonderful to have an intelligent president who listens, who cares and who acts with such dignity and integrity! We had a friend just visiting from France and she said that everybody in France had been watching the election with great interest and were very impressed that the U.S. had voted for a man who was obviously needed for our country right now.

    My African American friends were either speechless, or crying. They all said that they never thought they’d see the day that a biracial person would be elected president. Thank God we, as a nation, were able to look past skin color to see what lies beneath.

    And, since I’m originally from Chicago, I cried before and during Obama’s speech when I saw Grant Park filled with people of all colors and ages. Go Chicago!!!!!

    Even though we have major problems in this country at this time, this is still a great country and I feel that it’s even greater now that we have Obama as president.

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