Wow. What a day. I'm exhausted and reeling and happy of course. And exhausted. We got up early yesterday to go and vote. The lines were shorter than last presidential election; we were maybe 20th in line, about 15-20 minutes before the doors opened. Behind us in line were two young women, college freshmen, who were voting for the first time. I have to say, it wasn't entirely smooth sailing. It took a minute to check me in and several to check Neel in, despite the fact that we've been voting in the same location for nearly ten years now. By the time we left the line had maybe 70 people in it, and as far as I could see throughout the day, it never got shorter than when we got there when the polls opened or right after we left. Despite all of that, it only took us about half an hour start to finish, and Callum and I had time for a morning snuggle before I carted him off to school.
My stint at the polls lasted about two hours. It was cloudy and gray and bittingly cold. Wind chill of 37°. Yikes! The line to vote was three times as long as when we were there in the morning. I couldn't find a place to park, so I left my car about three blocks away. And I left my gloves in the car. Not my best move. The woman who worked before me was an hold hand at volunteering and she wasn't pleased with our supplies ("Clearly a man set this up."). Right after I got there, a woman came up to us and said she had a blue plastic table cloth in her car and she'd bring it over because "Their table can't look better than ours!" And honestly? That was about as partisan as it got. We were there with a poll watcher with Organizing for America who had a sign to tell people how to ask questions if they had trouble with their ballots. With all the gusty winds that sign blew over again and again, and the Romney volunteers helped us put it up again and again. We joked with the Romney volunteers about how congress' next big push needs to be to move the election to a warm day in June. Oh, and sunny too. Someone brought coffee and doughnuts for the volunteers for both parties and then got in line to vote.
It was fun chatting with the fellow democrats in line though. I manned the table while a fellow volunteer went up and down the line with stickers and a sample ballot. Sometimes people would just nod and smile at me. Sometimes people would ask me for stickers for their kids. One woman, about my mom's age, came out and passed our table after she voted. She leaned into me, saying, "Good Lord, that was fun." I saw several neighbors, including some who have Romney signs in their yards right now. And I am reminded that, as always, we are all human first. I don't (mostly!) care who you're voting for. I'm just glad to chat with you for a minute in the line.
By the time I left, and really for most of the time I was there, the wait was about an hour long. Two hour waits were reported at the precinct next to ours. I was chilled to the bone. Absolutely freezing. I think I might still be cold, but it was worth it. After a dentist appointment, Neel and Callum drove past around 5 p.m. and there were two lines, doubling around the school. Throughout the night we heard stories of long lines at the polls all over, including Virginia. At one point, our state stopped reporting results to news outlets so that people could continue to vote. I even heard that lines were expected to take up to 11 p.m in parts of the state. And apparently turn-out exceeded that in 2008. I guess if there's an upside to how bitterly divided our country seems to be, it's that people are involved and participating.
We had this chili for supper and hustled Cal along on his homework so we could watch the results roll in. I was honestly never worried, but it took some work to talk my 13 year old off the ledge as those early results came in. Wth a $5 bet on the outcome, he was pretty heavily invested! This is one of those times I miss living on the West Coast. At 10:30, Neel went to bed, but I just couldn't. Maybe bad parenting, but I couldn't make Callum go to bed either. We tucked in on the sofa, cozy in our jammies. Our state was a nail biter. Our guy for congress lost, and it was called pretty quickly which was a bummer. Senate took longer, but slowly, slowly the news turned good, and Callum ran upstairs to tell Neel. It felt pretty clear which direction things were going then, but still we waited. And then this.
I thought Mr. Allen's (he ran for VA Senate) and Mr. Romney's concession speeches were both very gracious. I thought President Obama's speech was brilliant. You can find the full text of it here, but this is one of my favorite parts:
What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth. The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That's what makes America great.
I know that there are those of you reading here who are bitterly disappointed today. And I know that feeling well. Hello, 2000 election. What I hope we can all do as a country is take a cue from the people who helped me again and again set up that sign at the polling place, or the guy who brought coffee to all the volunteers. And take note of the grace in the concession and victory speeches. We none of us have all the right answers, really. And we all do better when we work together. Love and charity and duty and patriotism. That's what makes America great.