By mid-afternoon, CNN was already reporting record turnout among voters in key battleground states, Virginia and Ohio. Reports from across the nation also seemed to indicate huge turnout in the earliest hours, and radio reports have featured impassioned voters talking of a sleepless pre-election night, and getting on line at predawn hours. Efforts to get out the vote and to suppress the vote have been widely reported in both Virginia and Ohio, and Democrats have been forecasting that higher turnout means new younger and minority voters and a better chance for Obama.
The historic nature of the election —the election of either an African American president or a female vice president, both unprecedented— has one social studies teacher telling CNN “It feels great to be an American today. The best hour and a half of my life” and adding that in ten years of voting in Orangeburg, South Carolina, he has usually waited no more than 5 minutes but today waited 90, despite showing up at 6:45 am. “Polling station was packed — young, old, black, white, disabled, not… It was amazing.”
One voter told press he voted as a way to honor the sacrifice of his brother, who died in a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan while serving with the army. Rick Garcia said he believes it’s the responsibility of every citizen to cast a vote, to make his or her choice, in the service of the democratic process. Stories of first-time voters have been emerging all day, as many of them don’t fit into “likely voter” profiles common in national opinion polls, and many were considered to be undecided. One Ghana-born man, a naturalized American citizen in New York, told NPR his entire family was restless last night, up early, ready to vote at dawn.
The election’s historic import —which is only partly to do with the demographics of the candidates, but largely to do with the significance of their differences on political philosophy, foreign policy and even the meaning of specific elements of Constitutional law— seems to have spurred what analysts and politicians are always hoping for, a reinvigorated interest in the democratic process. After two elections of extreme controversy and widespread disillusionment with the political process, this renewal of interest is a potential watershed moment in American history, with analysts of liberal and conservative persuasion agreeing, it could remake the electoral map for a generation to come.
Both candidates have talked of “working across the aisle”, and both have done so in the past, but it remains to be seen if the president-elect will be able to truly create a new centrist majority and diffuse the partisan rancor that has ruled for the last decade. Governing will be the main task at hand, starting most likely by tomorrow morning, as a transition team is announced, and one of the two candidates begins to fill the shoes of president-in-waiting. Whoever that is can be expected to immediately begin re-framing the discourse of active Washington politics, priming the environment for a major historical inauguration on 20 January 2009.