December 1, 2000

Election Returns

Filed under: Atlanta,Family — schroder @ 12:00 pm

I’ve always enjoyed staying up late to watch election results on television. This year was no different. About 3:30 in the morning my telephone rang. It was my friend Charles, who enjoys the process as much as I do. He and I talked for nearly an hour before we agreed the presidential race was not going to be decided anytime soon.

The next morning I spoke to a civic group. After I recounted three nonpolitical humorous stories from my youth, my audience spent 40 minutes quizzing me about the media and the election. Everyone had an opinion and each took time to express it.

The next day, I traveled to Charlotte. I began the day on a MARTA bus. Despite a sign saying, “Please do not talk to the driver,” several passengers in the front of the bus carried on a lively discussion with the driver about the latest developments in “The Election Too Close to Call.”

When I boarded a MARTA train that afternoon, I walked into a car full of conversation. Passengers of different ethnic and socio-economic background were engaged in serious and humorous discussions about the voters in Florida. On any other day, these same people would have sat silently in their seats, exchanging no words between each other until one exited.

At the airport, great crowds of travelers were huddled in semicircles in front of televisions. People hurrying from other flights would stop and ask about the recount and several strangers would turn to give concise updates. Other passengers, who would normally have sat in silence waiting to board the flight, were engaged in conversation about intricacies of ballot re-counting and the merits of electronic voting.

The short flight to Charlotte seemed all the more brief when a young schoolteacher took the seat next to me and talked about her first-grade students spending the week debating the Electoral College and Constitution.
When I arrived in Charlotte, Sally, who turned 18 just days before the election, talked excitedly for an hour about her first voting experience and about which votes should be recounted.

Elections have traditionally divided us along party lines so it takes statesmanlike qualities for the winners to unite our country afterwards. Suddenly in this age of instant gratification, when we have grown used to watching returns on Web sites and 24-hour news channels, we have been transported back to the 19th century in America, when the country would not find out the winner for weeks after the vote was collected.

In so doing, the deadlock has forced Americans to return to other forgotten traditions. Instead of proceeding in silence next to our fellow citizens, we are now sparked into engaging them in lively debate.

On the Saturday after the election, while Florida election officials were holding ballots above their heads to determine if the computer punch-outs that we now know are called “chads” were partially or fully voted, Sally and I were selecting a new puppy for our household. We quickly voted for a cute male of apparent mixed chow and retriever lineage.

When it came time to name him, I suggested “Chad” in honor of the new word of the day that would no doubt dominate discussion in the next few weeks. She had her own ideas and, as of press time, there is no final decision. But one thing for sure, we will be engaged in lots of discussion on this and other matters of national importance in the weeks to come. And I for one think it is a good thing.

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