Woog's World: A different kind of Election Day this year

Once upon a time, I loved Election Day.

It might have been my favorite holiday. Sure, there’s the warmth and rituals associated with Christmas, or the beginning-of-summer feel of Memorial Day. You can’t beat Fourth of July fireworks, or the great taste of a big Thanksgiving turkey.

For years, I took Election Day over all the rest.

Something about the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November made it special for me. Maybe it was the randomness of the date (harking back to farming days): It pops up not on Monday like many holidays, but right there near midweek. It offers a break in routine, a respite from every other Tuesday we slog through.

Perhaps it was the anticipation. For months - even years - people pointed toward Election Day. They spent huge sums of money, asking me - personally sometimes, indirectly others, but always over and over and over again - to help them out that day. “It means so much to me,” they said.

There’s the finality of the date too. As a writer, I’m used to deadlines. There is no sharper deadline than this one. Everything said and done before this day counts. Nothing anyone does after it can help at all.

Election Day is exciting. An electric feeling fills the air, at any polling place. Voters stride briskly in, then confidently out. The ritual is short, predictable, yet pulse-quickening. The officials at their desks, the ropes that lead the way to and from the imposing-looking machines, the signs: “No Electioneering Beyond This Point.” “Voters Must Present a Valid ID.” Even the simple “Vote Here” - all seem special because we see them so rarely.

I always felt reassured on Election Day. From early morning through evening, a steady stream of every type of Americans flocks to schools, libraries and firehouses. Whether they arrive in Range Rovers or on mopeds, whether they wear suits or denim, all do the same thing. All have the same, single vote. That’s a wonderful concept and one I think about every time I vote.

Even the weather contributes to the special Election Day feeling. Here in New England, the sky may be brilliant blue. The air may be as crisp as the leaves on the ground. A Nor’easter may blow. But there’s always the same unmistakable sense that fall is coming to a close. Winter lurks around the corner, so we better enjoy the rest of November while we can.

As the day winds down, my focus shifts. I stop thinking about the action at the polls and start looking ahead to the counting of returns. News media have given veiled reports, based on exit polling. By 7 p.m., the first states have closed. Returns dribble in.

An hour later, those numbers are an avalanche. Commentators try to make sense of hundreds of different races. Some are decided early; others linger long past midnight. Some are expected; upsets, of course, are not.

I see snippets of concession speeches, snatches of victory parties. Election night is a mosaic of wins and losses, repeated in villages, towns and cities throughout Connecticut and 49 other states. Each is similar, yet entirely different. I savor each one as unique.

That was then. Election Day now is nothing like that. Like so much else about American life, the very notion of “democracy” has been turned on its head.

Early voting - begun a while ago as a means of getting more voters to the polls, now a reasonable accommodation in the age of COVID - means fewer people actually vote in person. The excitement of a shared experience is so much less.

There is a lingering dread that one’s vote may not actually count. The thrill of seeing your ballot scanned by a machine (and, years earlier, of pulling a lever) has been replaced by fears that the post office may not actually pull through, or a technicality like a wrong signature may render your vote ineligible.

And, this year, so much national news has focused on the negative. News reports of very real attempts to suppress votes or drive down turnout compete with warnings of foreign interference and hacking attempts. The mood of the country has been sour. Eager, civic, democratic anticipation of Election Day was replaced by stress, anger, uncertainty - even terror.

I voted this year in person. I wanted that frisson of excitement I’ve felt ever since I cast my first ballot. I have not missed an election - presidential or first selectman - since.

As I voted, I mourned the loss of Election Days past. And I fervently hoped that my Election Day column in 2024 would be very, very different.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.