Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes We Can!

I have had the most amazing day.
I got up at 4:00 a.m. to work a long, grueling day at the polls. I worked hard to get prepared for the day and get to bed early, and I got up and went to the polling place not knowing what to expect. When I arrived, I set to work right away, putting up signs outside, where a line had already started trailing down the sidewalk. Seeing those voters made me nervous. I had to perform for them with nothing but two hours of barely remembered training, and their expectations were high.
I decided that I wanted to work the poll books first because I felt more confident and secure there, calling out numbers and handing out voter cards. It was a foolish move, the mark of a neophyte election officer, but there I sat when the throng arrived at 6:00. I called out numbers and handed out cards, then switched. When I asked the voters to state their names and addresses and then verified them in a ringing voice, I talked until my jaws were sore. The great deluge of voters surged in for two and a half hours, and we processed over one-third of the voters in the precinct during that time.
After a while, however the swell of voters dropped off to a steady stream. I stayed on the polls books until afternoon, when I switched to the ballot table, back to the poll books, to the ballot box, and eventually to the voting machines, where I ended up. The ballot table was by far the easiest job, but it was an important one. I hit my stride, giving my small speech about being sure to color in the oval completely, to choose any available privacy cube, and to cast the ballot at the box. I felt as though I was at the heart of it all, making the process happen, doing my best to cordial and fair to everyone, regardless of the sample ballot they clutched in their hands. Yet at the same time, I felt strangely isolated from the outside world--cut off from news and the empty speculating the media offers on Election Day.
Then, after the greatly anticipated surge at the end never materialized, the polls closed and real work of counting the ballots began. We pulled the data from the machines, tallied up the the numbers (which was about as tedious as it was exciting), and recorded the results. There was a great deal of signing off on data and tasks as the evening wore on. It was important work and fascinating to watch, but I felt I was being powered only by sheer force of will and healthy snacks.
At long last we finished, and I got into my car. I dumped myself from the sealed bubble of making the election happen with no news whatsoever straight into the swirling vat of information. Obama was projected to win New Mexico. (New Mexico? Hadn't its polls barely closed?) The he had won Ohio and Pennsylvania. I gave a gasp of joy and relief as I drove home, but what about Virginia? When I got home I made it a point to hang up my jackets and put away the cooler--good habits cannot be neglected no matter who wins--and then I caught up on results. Obama was in the 190s, then pushed on to 202, then 207. McCain was still in double digits but started catching up. I watched for a bit and then changed into my pajamas and started fixing my daughter's lunch. I had gotten as far as the turkey roll up when my husband gave a great shout.
"He's won Virginia!"
I grabbed the roll up and ran downstairs. He had won Virginia! And after all my hard work and sacrifice when I had other important priorities and no time to spare. We'd done it! I began jumping up and down and screaming in frenzy of joy. I ran upstairs to tell my mother, in case she had gone to bed, but she already had the TV on. I couldn't take in what they were saying on TV, but I saw that Virginia had pushed up the electoral votes to 220. If Obama could only win California, which was likely, then he'd have 275!
I ran back downstairs and was stunned to see the words, "Barack Obama Elected President," across the screen. My hands flew to my mouth, my throat tightened, and my eyes filled with tears. He'd won! He'd actually won, and it had been all down to Virginia. Only after Virginia's results had come in could he be declared the winner.
"I can't believe it!" I whispered, and I hugged my mother-in-law (who had gotten soaked working over the 40-foot line at another polling place) and then my husband. I abandoned my daughter's lunch and set about making phone calls. After McCain's concession speech (which was as gracious as anyone could have hoped for) I went to wake up Sabine to tell her the news. I had meant for her to watch Obama's acceptance speech, but after her dazed exclamation of joy, she promptly fell back asleep. My mother, who was sharing the futon with her, couldn't stay awake for it either, so I went down to watch it with my husband and mother-in-law. Even now, watching the repeat, I get choked up. I wept during the speech, but the tears were born of joy and gratitude. I only wish that my father, who remained passionate about the political process until his final days, could have been with me to share this historic moment. It isn't that we have elected the first African-American president--something I'd thought was impossible--but we have elected the best candidate we've seen in decades, someone who can lead us through the difficult times we face. What an inspiration!