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Count Every Vote. We'll Wait

Voters wait to cast their ballots at the Cranberry-Highlands Golf Club on November 3, 2020 in Butler County, Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
Voters wait to cast their ballots at the Cranberry-Highlands Golf Club on November 3, 2020 in Butler County, Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

What was I expecting on election night?

After following the news and the polls for the last month — after watching so many friends and friends of friends phone-banking, writing postcards, and texts, traveling to battle ground states to get out the vote, and making donations (and sending mailings myself) -- I was expecting Joe Biden to have a clear and decisive victory. I was hoping for an early night.

I didn’t expect to feel such a sickening sense of déjà vu. As the polls closed and the results came in at 7 p.m. and then the 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., I texted with close family and friends: How could the polls have been so wrong? How could so many states still be too close to call?

By 11:20 p.m. I had finished all my comfort carbs — bagels and whitefish from Mameleh’s delicatessen — I’d drunk my freshly shaken Manhattan. I'd even taken a break from the screen by walking the dog in our too quiet neighborhood. And yet, I was still jumpy. Would I have to take a sleeping pill like I did in November of 2016?

Then, once in bed, the despair came.

Whatever the results of the election, I knew I’d be waking up in a deeply broken country, a country where 48% of voters chose four more years with a leader who has been fathomlessly duplicitous and destructive.

I texted with family and friends: How could the polls have been so wrong? How could so many states still be too close to call?

The election of 2016 seemed like an aberration. So many Trump voters wanted to take a chance on an outsider. Many of us Democrats chided ourselves. Were we too stuck in our bubbles, unable to see how people in red states were hurting?

But now, we’ve all witnessed what damage the president is capable of inflicting to others and to the office he holds. More than 230,000 are dead, as a result of his mishandling of the pandemic. We’ve seen migrant children ripped from their parents (545 of those children are now lost). We’ve seen Trump’s tax returns — and his lies. We’ve seen the man impeached, for chrissakes.

But still more than 67.5 million people said, yes, that’s my guy.

 How did this country become my country?

I knew it would be a long night. I wasn’t up for following the minutia examining the metrics and the different "paths to victory." Like Jimmy Kimmel asked, is this what it feels like to be awake during your own surgery?

I got out of bed, drew a hot bath and lit candles. As I settled into the hot water I tried to settle into this potential reality. Could we endure another four years? What would that look like?

Election inspector David Hopkinson works at the Emanuel First Lutheran School polling center on November 03, 2020 in Lansing, Michigan. (John Moore/Getty Images)
Election inspector David Hopkinson works at the Emanuel First Lutheran School polling center on November 03, 2020 in Lansing, Michigan. (John Moore/Getty Images)

My despair was deepened by fatigue. This year has already been so painful. We’ve already given up so much due to the pandemic. I spent three months separated from my young autistic son because of lockdown. And now, because two people have tested positive for COVID-19 in his residential home, he must spend another month quarantined.

For all the sacrifices we’ve already made to get the pandemic under control, the recent surges, and the promise of a greater surge to come, makes it feel like the sacrifices were for nothing. It’s hard to keep my chin up. And yet, I must. We must.

I woke up this morning to a different landscape, and with a different attitude.

Reading the news that Trump falsely declared victory before all the votes were tallied and that he filed a lawsuit to halt the counting of votes in Michigan (and then Pennsylvania and Georgia), has fired me up.

Reading that mail-in ballots, largely cast by Democrats, were still being counted and could turn some of the too close to call states blue, stirred my sense of hope. Instead of despair, I now feel defiant.

Let’s show our children, and their children, that preserving our democracy requires every effort we can make. And that we believed it was effort worth making.

All the time that went into the postcards and phone calls, and organizing? It worked.

More than 140 million voters cast a ballot. Turnout in 2020 was greater than in any election since 1908.

People showed incredible determination to participate in this election and to help others do the same. They stood in line for hours, for weeks ahead of Election Day, to have their votes counted. And remarkably, and against many predictions, we haven’t seen incidents of violence.

Let us count every vote.

This election isn’t a matter of one man versus another man to hold the office of the presidency for four years.

Faith in our democratic system now hangs in the balance. My daughter was 11 years old when she woke up to news that our first female presidential candidate lost to Donald Trump. She cried that morning. And for these last four years, she’s watched the president cheat and lie and degrade the office he serves. She was watching the results last night, and retreated to her room, “depressed.”

I want her to believe that our democracy works. In the next election she will be a first-time voter.

As I write this, Joe Biden has been declared the winner in Wisconsin and Michigan. Votes are still being counted in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona. He's close to the all-important 270 electoral votes required for victory.

Let’s keep fighting. Let’s show our children, and their children, that preserving our democracy requires every effort we can make. And that we believed it was effort worth making.

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Alysia Abbott Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Alysia Abbott runs the Memoir Incubator program at Grub Street and is the author of "Fairyland, A Memoir of My Father" (W.W. Norton, 2013). She lives with her family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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