In case you’ve been living under a rock, under another rock, with no phone lines or Internet: first, I have no idea how you’re reading this, but I appreciate the effort. Second, tomorrow is Election Day here in the United States. An awful lot of you have probably early voted in some way, but I know many – including me – are headed to the polls to vote in person on the actual day whether because of a preference for doing so, because they missed the deadlines to get absentee ballots, or because there was an issue with their mail-in ballots that requires them to cast a provisional ballot to ensure they will be counted. I’m not going to tell you that you must vote if you haven’t already, or who or what to vote for. Voting is a way of making your voice heard, but only one part of participating in a representative government that allows for direct access to the people who make and enforce our laws and policies. And given that we generally have to vote on those people as package deals of everything they stand for, it’s difficult to judge the many factors that go into deciding if their stances on one issue or another are more important to an individual, particularly in the context of how likely a specific stance may or may not be pushed forward due to political realities post-election. What’s important to me is that tomorrow and the following days are as safe as possible for you, given the tensions that have surrounded this year’s electoral races.
If you’ve already voted and don’t need to leave home tomorrow, you might want to stay put. Following the common theme here on OHO of avoiding possible trouble areas remains true as much now as ever. Aside from the usual spots, polling places can be full of tension. Even though campaigning isn’t allowed inside of them, we all know that supporters can gather right at the edge of where they’re allowed, requiring you to walk through a virtual gauntlet as you head inside to drop off your ballot or vote. Some of you might be among them, campaigning for the issues and candidates nearest to your heart. Obviously, telling you to simply stay away isn’t productive. Instead, I’d urge you to as much as possible not engage with folks who clearly aren’t on “your” side, and instead stay positive about what you’re there to do. I know you’re passionate and applaud that, but don’t add to any angry or frustrated language or actions around you. If you’re just voting, then this is a perfectly legitimate time to avoid eye contact and avoid responding, or simply say “no thank you” or “I’m not interested” to anyone who wants to tell you about the gospel of their candidate.
Conflict avoidance at the polls includes following the rules that have been set for your polling place. If masks are required, or if you can’t open carry a gun, then now is not the time to make a case against those types of rules. That’s for well before the event, or after and for next time. While you’re actually there, being the cause of a fight breaking out or the police being called isn’t what you want if your concern is your physical safety. Besides which, there are a lot of people gathering at most polling places – possibly the biggest crowds many of us will have been around in a while. We can argue all day long about the effectiveness of masking and properly washing or sanitizing your hands, but they’re strategies that fall pretty solidly into the “likely to help keep you from getting sick” bucket, and not just against COVID19. For this outing in particular, follow those requirements to help protect those other attacks on your body. Save any protests for another setting, hopefully when you aren’t suffering from a cold or the flu.
Remember that we won’t wake up to final results for all races on Wednesday. That’s perfectly normal, given how many people are voting and the various methods that they’re using. Paper ballots, including those mail-ins, need to be tallied and some of them can’t be until Election Day begins, and other results collated from polling places all over the country. It’s a lot of work, and we should be prepared for it to take some time even if there aren’t disputes over whether votes were properly cast or not. That means that we won’t be able to breathe a collective sigh of relief after the day is over, knowing that at least the results will be in even if we don’t like them, and that political unrest can continue to rumble, ready to boil over when the winners are finally announced. Arguing over who did or will start it isn’t important to the goal of not getting caught up in the middle of it, so make sure you keep your guard up and stay aware of potential danger zones as we move into the rest of the week and even month. As part of your strategy, keep paying attention to the news, not necessarily to see who is supporting what craziness this time around, but to keep an eye on what’s happening and the general mood of the world around you so that you aren’t caught by surprise if, say, riots start breaking out. I’m not saying they will, but we’ve already seen this year that the possibility is there, and they can end in people getting hurt and dying. I’m hoping you won’t be one of them.
Finally, in the end, remember that no matter what the results end up being, in most races, about half of the folks who voted agreed with you and about half of them didn’t. That’s an awful lot of people, and most of them are, like you, just trying to make the best decisions they can for the things they care most about. None of them are evil, faceless entities. They’re your friends and coworkers and neighbors. If you choose to discuss your votes and the results, they’re still those same friends and coworkers and neighbors and most of your everyday life with them will continue as it has been. Positive social relationships are good for you on so many levels. Be careful how you treat them, and keep the ones most valuable to you alive even if you find you’re on opposite sides of some part of this election.