The Most Important Election of Our Lives Has Begun …
North Carolina was the first out the gate, sending out mail-in ballots beginning on September 4. Twenty-eight states will follow North Carolina’s lead before October. Pennsylvania kicked off in-person early voting on September 14. Minnesota, Virginia, South Dakota, and Wyoming jumped in on September 18. By the end of the month, Michigan, New Jersey, Vermont, and Illinois will be right beside them.
By now, you’ve probably seen images similar to the footage aired in CNN’s tweet.
With this as the beginning of our election, what should we expect at the end? And more importantly, when should we expect it? Short answer: Don’t wait up. Election results are about to go old school.
We’ve all grown accustomed to instant answers (thanks, internet) and fast updates (thanks, TV and radio) but this time, that’s not in the cards. And we’re all going to need to sit with the discomfort of not knowing. Folks, it’s going to be excruciating.
Trump, Republicans, and the 24-hour news cycle are not going to make it easy. The GOP knows that Democrats have outpaced them on absentee voting requests. They also know that election day is primetime television. And that exit polling comes in before absentee ballots.
Do you see where this is going? If we want to beat Republicans at managing expectations on election day, we’re going to need patience. But we’re also going to need a little help.
We need transparency from our election authorities. This year will not look like previous elections and we need to understand those differences in order to account for them. That means comparing in-person turnout with absentee ballot requests. It means comparing those numbers with the primaries earlier in the year and “typical” elections in previous years. It means explaining how long it will take to count all those absentee ballots and why nobody gets the confetti until the official results are in. Whenever that is.
We also need the news media to exercise some patience of their own. That means not calling winners and losers before the polls have closed and all ballots, in-person and absentee, have been counted. Results may not be known on the night. It might be days, possibly weeks, before we know the outcome. We need the media to know that, explain it, and remind us frequently.
Trump and his henchmen are already trafficking in conspiracy theory talk around the election. We’ve seen it in the tweets and heard it in Trump’s press appearances. They are eager for the breathless coverage of election night and desperately hoping for election day turnout to favor them. All so they can pounce on the over-eager predictions and early calls of a media so focused on the horse race that they frequently lose sight of the circus performance in the middle of the track.
And what can we do? We can vote early, in person or by mail. We can encourage everyone we know to do the same. And then? We can write letters to our election authorities, to our local newspapers, and to local news stations demanding the very transparency and patience that we’re going to need for election day.
And if we’re able, we volunteer as poll workers and election observers. We make sure that these elections take place in the light of day, before the eyes of the public. We remind ourselves, and everyone around us, that the first word of “we the people,” the very first word of the Constitution, is we.
Be political. Pay attention.
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