2004 Election: do not panic

When I was a kid, my mother used to react to tornado warnings by rounding up her children and herding us to the basement and urging us in a panicked voice not to panic. As the sirens pealed, regardless of the hour of the day or night, she’d then scurry around to make sure all the pets were likewise accounted for, and then – she’d leave us there to go stand out in the driveway, watching clouds move overhead in horrified fascination while we huddled, scared shitless, in the cool and damp “rec room.”

That’s the way I felt going into Election day – scared shitless, and very close to panic — so I decided to overcome the feeling the same way I eventually overcame my childhood tornado siren terror: by paying painstaking attention to the movement of the storm so I could understand its workings and watch it pass us by.

So, armed with the TV remote in one hand the computer mouse in the other, on Election Night I hopped from CNN to Fox, from the Drudge Report to FoxNews.com, back and forth from about 8 p.m. until 2 a.m., watching states get filled in and re-tallying the remaining electoral votes, and watching with surprise and delight as my own state went from an early Kerry lead to a decisive Bush victory.

By the time I went to bed, only Fox had called Ohio for Bush. But that state’s Secretary of State had given us a notion of how many provisional ballots were at stake, and the President’s lead was widening, and I was confident that the Buckeye State would eventually fall to the right even if we did have to wait for the provisional and absentee count in that state*.

By closely tracking the storm, I’d been able to stem my growing fear that something horrible was going to happen by simply looking at the facts. It worked on tornados, and now I know it works on Election Night.

*ASIDE: The prospect of a wait for Ohio did not seem unreasonable to me. The Kerry team was not screeching and wailing about disenfranchised voters or hoards of hanging chads, they were merely stating that they felt they could still eke out a win by counting the provisionals, and that they felt it was important that those votes be validated and counted before they would concede. This seemed reasonable, so the prospect of having no winner on Wednesday morning did not bother me. In fact, I think the Kerry camp’s cautionary approach to Ohio speaks to an under-analyzed issue in our election process, which is the issue of how we as Americans have come to expect “instant results” in a complex and necessarily detail-focused process which spans the entire American geography and hundreds of millions of individual ballot marks. Perhaps it’s time to set a date, say seven days after Election Day, when the winners will be announced because the votes have actually been counted – instead of having the TV networks vacillate between refusing to count Ohio lest they appear overly zealous, and chalking up California and Alaska to the Democrats within seconds of the polls closing when ZERO ballots had been counted, which is precisely what happened on CNN.

Editor’s note: This post (obviously) was originally published in November 2004 on my now-defunct blog, DMweblife.

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