For me, election night used to mean getting together with friends to watch the returns, having a few beers, and exchanging high fives when our favorites triumphed. Actually, in 2016, there were no high fives and more beers than usual. This year, of course, COVID-19 makes it unsafe to huddle around a television with a crowd. But it’s never been more important to watch the election results with friends.
I’ll be joining some of my neighbors in a candlelight vigil outside our local municipal offices where the votes are being counted. Folks in other Connecticut communities are doing the same. If you’d like to organize a vote counting vigil, you can find out how here. Watching the votes come in used to be a form of entertainment for me. In 2020, it’s a duty.
President Donald J. Trump has refused to promise that he will honor the election results or commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses. This singular attack on democratic norms comes at a time when voting has been complicated by the pandemic. More people are voting absentee. Millions have already turned out at the polls in states that, unlike Connecticut, are supporting voter access and participation through early voting. We will not have an “Election Day” as we’ve traditionally known it. We’ll have an Election Period, while absentee ballots will continue to be counted after Tuesday, November 3. Acknowledging that will make it harder for the president to prematurely declare victory in an effort to cut short the tabulation or disallow legitimate votes.
Television networks usually race each other to declare a winner. We at home wait to see the balloons drop at our candidate’s headquarters – or call it a night if the other side makes a victory speech. This is how election night has been all of our lives. We need to get over that, right now. Holding vote counting vigils is one way to publicly affirm that the American people realize that it will likely take some time to discern a winner and that we are resolved to protect the process.
We’ll be holding signs and candles from when the polls close to when the tabulators go home for the evening, which in my small town of East Haddam probably won’t be too late. We’ll return the next morning when the last of the absentee ballots are scheduled to be counted. This is not a protest against the local officials doing the counting, many of whom are our neighbors and friends. It is an affirmation of their work – a signal that a fair and accurate count is essential to our democracy.
If President Trump presumes to declare victory when the results suggest that it’s either Joe Biden or too-close-to-call, Americans across the country quietly standing vigil as the votes are counted will underscore his hubris. The best way to handle a coup is to prevent it by making any attempt at a power grab preposterous.
As you and your neighbors keep watch to honor vote counting, you say, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” You also send a signal that Americans have already mobilized to protect a free and fair election and are ready to participate in peaceful demonstrations, general strikes and other mass actions should they become necessary. Democracy isn’t just something you watch on TV.
On Election Night you can sit home and watch some CNN hologram tell you how a sampling of college-educated, tropical fish owners, with two of more children, in mid-size cities voted and what that might mean for the candidates. Or you can do something real. You can wait for every vote to be counted, because every vote counts.
Colleen Shaddox is a writer who lives in East Haddam and co-author with Joanne Goldblum of Broke in America: Seeing, Understanding and Ending US Poverty.