Election Diary: Win or Lose, a Historic Day for Us All

It was dark when I woke my daughter.  Do you know how hard it is to wake an 18-year-old the night after a party? Especially when it's dark out? Then I reminded her why I was waking her. "It's time to vote."

Five minutes later we were in the car.

I've been voting since 1980. Never, in all my years of voting, have I had to wait on line, not even for a presidential election, possibly because I live in the suburbs, and probably because there are so many polling places within our one town.

But not today. Today we arrived at the polling place at 5:55 and there was a line of about 60 people waiting for the doors to open.  As we waited, more cars pulled up, more people joined the line and by the time the doors opened, the line had started to snake toward the end of the school.

The atmosphere was one of excitement. You could feel an electricity I have never felt on any previous election day, not even in the divisive 2004 race.  People were talking animatedly about who would win and how close it would be.  No one talked about a specific candidate; instead there was a camaraderie present that reminded me of waiting in line for concert tickets.

The man on line in front of us was clearly excited.  "This feels different," he said. I asked how and he replied "It's the first time I remember everyone wanting to vote. I don't know anyone who feels complacent this year and I don't know anyone who is staying home instead of voting."

Once inside, we found our sign in table and signed our names. My daughter went first.  I watched with a weird mix of emotions as she closed the curtain to the voting booth;  the wistfulness that comes with seeing your child do something so grown up, and pride, because of how proud she was to cast her vote.

Reading through my Twitter updates,  it looks as if there are similar lines in just about every state.  Some polling places have a wait of 30 minutes, some seven hours.

What's important is that people are waiting.  The media keeps calling this an "historic election" and really, every election is historic. This one is different in the way it can -- rather, it will -- make history; either the first black president or first female vice-president will be elected.

It's different because it was the first time that the speed in which ideas were circulated and momentum gathered in campaigning makes the whole election cycle an interactive, rather than passive process for the voters.  There was a passion among the people gathered on line with me that I have never felt before.  That's what makes this one different and, to an extent, historic.

When we stepped outside after voting, I asked my daughter how it felt.  She said "I thought my vote would feel insignificant. It doesn't. I feel so good about my choice and that makes it significant."

That's part of what makes this day great. No matter who you are voting for, whether your candidate wins or loses, if you are in a swing state or not: we are all part of the process.

Our vote means something, if not to the final tally, then to us, personally.  We can make our personal political statement in a private, yet profound way.  To watch my child be a part of that process is an overwhelming feeling. To stand in a long line outside a school with fellow citizens eagerly waiting to be a part of that process is to witness the most significant aspect of democracy in action.

UPDATE:

Before heading out to local polling places to get a feel for what's going on today to report on PJM, I checked out Twitter to get a feel for what's going on in other places and see if that palpable air of excitement is everywhere else, too. It seems it is, as both McCain and Obama supporters,

Lisa M, a McCain supporter from Long Island, said she "had a feeling of anxiety as I went into the booth, the same combination of fear and hope I had when I voted in 2004. This is a monumental occasion. To be a part of it is to be American."

In Illinois, first time voter Abby Miller waited in line with about 50 people in the morning darkness. "This was my first vote, and beaming at all the people waiting in line as I walked out with my "I Voted" sticker was the best part. Walking out seriously felt like a red carpet or a victory lap. So proud and excited."

In New Jersey, Dee echoed what a lot of voters are saying, "At 29, I've watched for two elections, jaded, thinking my vote doesn't matter. This time, I'm thinking differently."

That seems to be the prevailing thought in 2008: your vote matters. If not in the final count, if not in the long run, it matters very much to people personally. It matters that they were able to make a statement by taking part in the election process.

UPDATE II:

More Twitter: At a school in Levittown, New York, Lewis U., a McCain voter, stood outside after voting and said, "It's different this year. The things we need are immediate, there's an urgency to this vote. Between the war and the economy we need someone who can do things quick. I really don't feel like either candidate can wholly do that job, but I voted for the one I think is most likely to get something done."

In Bellmore, Long Island, McCain voter Barbara B. waited in a longer line than usual as a machine malfunction held things up. She didn't mind waiting, she said, as it is "just part of the process. She also said she feels there is a certain pride with voting this year. "People are very passionate about their choice. It's a matter of pride when you step into that booth, where you can pull that lever and say 'I am proud of what I've just done.' My son was a first time voter this year and even though he had to vote absentee, he still felt that same sense of pride. I don't think that was present in recent elections."

In Florida, Elizabeth F. voted not with a machine as I did in New York, but with pen and paper, filling out two double sides pages of a ballot. She writes:

I wondered about the elderly woman who had been standing in front of me in line. Would it be difficult for her to completely fill in the ovals? I thought it might. Would her vote count? How forgiving are the machines, when it comes to "filling in the oval completely?"

I then went to another line, where I had to feed my paper ballot into a machine ... that did what exactly with it? Was my vote being counted then? Was it going to be counted later?

I left, and noticed the line was wrapping around the building. If it took me about 25 minutes inside, these people could take 4 or 5 hours to vote, and the day was just getting started.

So, we have the most important election of our lives, with record voter turn-out, and they have chosen a method of voting that is TIME CONSUMING. Plus, I don't trust how the votes are counted, and how people fill out their ovals could make a difference as to whether it will be counted or not.

I am concerned that the election process may not go smoothly in Florida. I hope it does, and that I am wrong.

Like many types of voting, we have no idea if our vote really counted. But now, on top of that, we're required to be perfectionists and hope we filled in those little ovals correctly. No one examined my ballot to see if I had filled them in correctly. There was no example to show someone, "Here is how it is filled in correctly. Here is what it will look like if it is filled in incorrectly."

If anyone is in a rush, that will affect how they fill in their ovals. Age will affect it. Running out of pens and pencils will affect it. I heard one man asking for a pen. Of course, it was one the polling place had provided, so it has ink that runs.

Hopefully these are just Election Day jitters and will turn out to be nothing. But Florida has a colorful history with voting problems. Let's not make today another one of those days.

Back on Long Island, McCain supporter Alisa M. was worried. "I have a September 10th feeling right now. You know how we look back on that day and think how different everything was then and how we wish we could stop September 11th from happening? That's how I think we'll look back upon November 4, 2008."

UPDATE III:

Another visit to polls and the excitement is still there. The same feeling of electricity I experienced waiting in line this morning was evident at the five polling places I visited. There were no long lines, but each place was busy; a poll worker said she has been working the elections for 20 years and this was the busiest it's ever been for a presidential election.  Each person I spoke to was excited to be there, and excited to be a part of the process.

A first time voter: "I was thrilled to  vote. It made me feel like a bigger part of America."

Jim S. of Nassau County: "I've never seen such a turnout. I've never seen so many people eager to vote. It's a beautiful thing, no matter who they are voting for."

Kathleen, a Long Island school teacher: "This is like a final exam. The culmination of months of study and research.  When I cast my vote, I felt like I passed a very important test."

More quotes from around the country (twitter is a wonderful thing).

"I do think it's great that there's so much interest in voting this year, even though it means my guy will lose."

Elisabeth quoted a song lyric - Believe your voice can mean something. "That's how I felt when I cast my absentee ballot."

Trevlix, via email

Our polling place was not equipped with "I Voted" stickers this year. I'm pretty sure I've never seen such a beast in our precinct and I was puzzled to hear the rumblings of those who were  disappointed by the lack of the socio-political bling.

"I know I don't need the sticker to make this official," the thirty-something woman whined to the old soldier by the door. "I just wanted some sort of affirmation."

From behind the sign-in table, another ancient volunteer explained, "We don't got no donuts neither so I hope you weren't expecting breakfast."

The old folks cackled and the thirty-something woman walked out of the room with the confused and wounded air of a child who'd just received socks and underwear from Santa Claus.

Marissa, a first time voter: "I am proud to vote, proud of my country for giving me the freedom to vote. Exercising your right to vote is patriotic."

When I did this same thing in 2004 for another website, the feeling was very different.  There was a lethargy among the voters then, and those who didn't seem complacent or apathetic were openly angry and demonstrative about it. The overall atmosphere of every school or firehouse I stopped at today was the complete opposite; there was a joy involved in casting a vote that was absent four years ago.  The passion, the emotion and the hope -- from Obama and McCain supporters alike -- was overwhelming.