What Does It All Mean?

We’re hours into the election coverage, and the results are on the razor’s edge. The President leads and looks like he may well win the Electoral College tally, but Mitt Romney remains within striking distance if the cards fall his way.

States have been called as predicted, and other states — those damnable “Battleground States,” like Florida and Virginia and oh-so-fickle Ohio, that swing from party to party from election to election and delight in confounding the experts — are too close to call.

Interesting, isn’t it?  This vast country, with such diversity, geographical and demographical, sends millions of people to the polls over a vast area thousands of miles across, and the election nevertheless remains excruciatingly close.

There will be a winner and there will be a loser, but is there really a message?  With such a close election, after months of campaigning and billions of dollars spent, we are left to ask: What does this election really mean?

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My Most Exciting Presidential Election Night

My most exciting presidential election night was the only election night where I worked as a professional reporter.

It was the election of 1980, and I was working for the Toledo Blade.  There were a bunch of races that year, topped by the contest between Ronald Reagan and President Jimmy Carter.  Polling was primitive by modern standards, and many people were confident that President Carter would win his race against an aging Republican whom many reporters considered a bit of a buffoon.  But Reagan won, and won big.  It was an exciting night because it was a huge surprise.

I remember sitting in the Blade newsroom, watching a cheap black-and-white TV as the networks reported the national results.  The reporters gaped at the results, slack-jawed and stunned.  It wasn’t so much Reagan’s victory — nobody cared much for Jimmy Carter — but his coattails that were a stunner.  Many liberal lions in the United States Senate went down to a surprising defeat, and Toledo’s long-time Democratic Congressman lost, astonishingly, to an upstart Republican.

Our world was turned on its axis, and suddenly a candidate whom many people had confidently dismissed was the President-elect, coming in to office with a slew of new Senators and Representatives ready to shake things up in Washington.  America had decided to change direction, abruptly and amazingly.

Ohio Goes To The Polls

I arrived at the New Albany, Ohio church where we vote a few minutes before 6:30, when the the polls officially opened.  I walked past the American flags and the signs marking the outer boundary for any campaigning, but there were no campaign workers or pamphleteers to be seen.

The parking lot was already almost full and more than 100 people were waiting in line, stamping their feet against the below-freezing temperatures on a bright, clear morning.  It was the largest crowd I’ve seen at my polling place in New Albany.  Some people said they had tried to vote early, but the polling stations were just too crowded.

We waited patiently to get inside, found the correct alphabetical lines for our last names, and waited again.  We chatted about how glad we were that the campaign was finally ending and watched the “Youth at the Booth” kids working to get the voting machines up and running.  The line moved slowly up to the registration table, where we received our vote authorization slips and then we moved to another line for the voting machines.  From beginning to end, the wait was about 45 minutes — well worth it for the opportunity to exercise our most important civic right and duty.

When I left, one of the kids gave me my “I [heart/Ohio] Voting” sticker.  I got in my car, turned on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and resolved not to listen to any pundits on my drive in to work.

A Song For The Blue-Haired Ladies At My Polling Place

Every Election Day, the same blue-haired ladies staff the registration tables at our precinct.  They’re as much a part of the voting experience as the “I Voted Today” stickers.  In their honor I wrote this song, sung to the tune of Lady of Spain:

Blue-Haired Ladies
We see you again, blue-haired ladies,
We see you, this Election Day;
For campaigns have ended, and it’s time to vote
With you whose hair once was gray
We’ll tell you our names, and you’ll check them
While your hair shines that bright blue;
Then the book we’ll sign and go stand in line
And ’til next year we’ll bid you adieu
What do you all do, we wonder
When your Election Day work is done
For you never grow older or bluer
Can you suspend animation?
We’ll tell you our names, and you’ll check them
While your hair shines that bright blue;
Then the book we’ll sign and go stand in line
And ’til next year we’ll bid you adieu
You’re always here when we arrive,
Though we’ve voted here for years long since;
We don’t know what a vote would be like
Without the blue in your rinse
We’ll tell you our names, and you’ll check them
While your hair shines that bright blue;
Then the book we’ll sign and go stand in line
And ’til next year we’ll bid you adieu

As We Reach The Finish Line, Time To Get Out And Vote!

To every American — Democrat, Republican, or Independent, Romney supporters or Obama boosters, male or female, Red Stater or Blue Stater, regardless of your ethnic or demographic group — here’s your chance to ignore the media, the polls, the pundits, the yammering talking heads, and the incessant horse race prognostications that we’ve been hearing for months.

Today, on Election Day, let your voice be heard!  Exercise the most important right we have!  Confirm that you care about your country enough to go to your local polling place if you haven’t voted already, spend however long it takes to wait in line with your fellow citizens, give your information to the blue-haired ladies behind the registration table, and push the screen, pull the levers, or fill out the ballot for the candidates of your choice.

I’ve got my preferences in this election, as we all do — but I also think we would all be much better off if more Americans were involved the process, paying attention, and holding our political leaders of both parties accountable for the course of our country.  The first step toward doing that is to vote.  — and that’s what I’m going to be doing today when the polls open here in Ohio at 6:30 a.m.