Issue # 32
November 17, 2000
Election Day 2000
(An Open Letter
to My Pre-School Son)

By Rich Wilhelm

Dear Jimmy,

Someday you will read about the events of November 7, 2000 in a history book, so Iím going to tell you now what you didóand what happened in the United Statesóon that day.

November 7, 2000 was two days before your third birthday and it was Election Day in the United States. The presidential election was a hotly contested fight between Texas Governor George W. Bush, a Republican and the son of former President George Bush; and Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat and the son of late U.S. Senator Albert Gore. A number of other "third party" candidates were running, most notably Ralph Nader, of the Green Party, and Pat Buchanan of the Reform Party.

Mom and I had been talking about the election now and then and we always tried to include you in the conversation. We told you about Al Gore and George W., or as certain media outlets called him, "Dubya." Al Gore didnít seem to interest you too much but, much to Mom and Dadís consternation as registered Democrats, you loved to say, "Double-U." However, unlike the media folks, you were always quite precise in your enunciation. You always said, "Double-U," not "Dubya."

P>On Election Day morning, Mom and I dropped you off at KinderCare and then went off to our jobs. As we drove to work and went about our jobs, and as you ate breakfast, played with your friends, and did other school activities, people all over this country were voting.

P>Around noon, I left work, picked up Mom, and drove home. Mom wasnít feeling well, so she made an appointment with her doctor for 2:20 that afternoon. After I dropped Mom off at home, I drove over to KinderCare to pick you up. All your friends were taking naps, but Miss Sherry was reading to you, since she knew Iíd soon be there to pick you up. We drove back home, had lunch, and got ready for our dentist appointment. While all this was going on, people all over this country were voting.

Your dentist appointment at 2:00 was great! You were really cooperative with the dentist and her assistant. The assistant polished your teeth and looked at them with the little mirror you called a lollipop. The dentist checked your teeth and counted them. She told us that your last two teeth are now coming in, and gave us the great news that you had no cavities. When our appointment was over, you were allowed to pick some stickers from the dentistís big sticker drawer. You chose a Barney sticker and three Power Ranger stickers, though Iím not entirely certain you knew who Power Rangers were. You also picked a Baby Bugs Bunny sticker, but then rejected it, so I took it and stuck it on my shirt. During our entire trip to the dentist, people all over this country were voting.

When we got home, Mom wasnít back from her appointment yet. We walked up and down our street, as brilliantly colored leaves drifted lazily to the ground. After a few minutes, I decided that it was time to walk over to the high school, so I could join the millions of people who had voted up to that point in the day.

As we were about to enter the building to vote, a woman giving out sample Republican ballots noticed all your Power Rangers stickers and told you she thought they were pretty cool. She asked me if I wanted a Republican sample ballot. I said "No, thanks," but didnít think quick enough to point to the Baby Bugs sticker and say, "The rabbitís got my vote." Maybe next election. We walked into the building and, as we entered the small room that was filled with the registration table, three voting machines and a ballot box, you asked, "Whereís Double-U? Whereís Al Gore?"

At the registration table, we said hello to our next-door neighbor, Mrs. Castle, who was one of the volunteers working to help people vote. We also met another neighbor from down the street. It was a very friendly place in which to vote, no matter who was getting your vote.

After signing my name, I was handed a paper ballot and walked over to the one open voting machine. Here is something important: although I didnít know the terminology at the time, the voting machine I used employed a "butterfly ballot" system, which was sort of a booklet, with a series of holes in the middle. I had to put my ballot into a slot, and then punch in the holes of my choices. I had hoped to show you how I turned levers to cast my ballot, but I couldnít hold you and punch holes at the same time, so you wound up wandering over to the volunteerís table, where our neighbor let you play with a demonstration ballot.

I looked over the ballot for a few minutes. I ultimately decided to vote straight Democrat, so I only had to punch one hole. I removed the ballot from the machine and dropped it into the ballot box. Then I gathered you up and we walked home.

After awhile Mom got home, but she didnít feel like going back out just yet, so we wound up watching Toy Story 2. This was the first time you watched it, though I can tell you that, as I write this 10 days later, youíve watched it several times since then. I fell asleep for a while as we watched it, missing some crucial plot points in the process. Of course, the entire time we watched the movie, people all over this country were voting.

By the time the movie ended, it was growing dark and was almost time for dinner. You, Mommy and I got ready to go out. First we went back over to the high school. You and I sat in the car when Mom went in to vote. As we sat there, I watched a steady stream of people going in and out of the building to vote. After Mom was finished, we drove to McDonalds for dinner. It was a typical McDonalds dinner, which means that whenever youíre reading thisófive, ten, twenty years after it was writtenóyou can probably drive less than a mile to your local McDonalds and eat the same meal you ate back in November 2000.

After dinner, we made a quick stop at the video store and headed home, just as the polls were closing in Pennsylvania. However, even though 8:00 marked the official closing of the polls, thousands of people who were in line at 8:00 were allowed to vote, which means that during the entire time Mom and I got you ready and put you to bed, and for hours after that, people all across this country were voting.

Once you were in bed, I turned on the television. I saw the lines of people still waiting to vote and those scenes amazed me. Before too long, television stations began "calling" states, that is, making pronouncements about what states had gone for which candidates. Here is where history takes over. Very early on (too early, we all now know), the state of Florida, which was a key "battleground" state for Bush and Gore, was called for Al Gore. Not long after that, our state of Pennsylvania, another battleground state, was called for Gore, which made Mom and me happy.  

Then, all hell broke loose. The networks retracted their call of Florida for Gore, which Bush had already contested. Thus began one of the most amazing roller coaster rides the American electorate has ever taken two presidential candidates on.

Mom had gone to bed by midnight, but I was still watching TV when we both heard you moaning from your bedroom. We met in your room to investigate. After awhile, you stopped moaning and began counting in your sleep! "OnetwothreefourfivesixseveneightninetenÖ" Were you counting sheep or anticipating nearly two weeks of ballot recounting? Only you knew.

I finally headed off to bed around 1:30. At that time, Florida was still up for grabs. The next morning when we woke up, we found out that Florida (and the election) had been given to Bush not long after I went to bed. Gore called Bush to concede, and then the networks took Florida back from Bush. Gore called Bush to un-concede. Soon enough, the recounts and the political posturing on both sides would begin.

Here we are now, nearly two weeks later, and we still donít know who is going to be our next president, although Iíd suspect most people figure now that it will be "Dubya" and Iím inclined to agree. Yeah, Iím somewhat disappointed that itís probably not going to be my guy going to the White House, but Iím mostly OK with that thought at this point. However, the main feeling I have right now is not one of exasperation or cynicism or fear for this countryís future. What I keep thinking about is those millions of people who voted that day and who waited to vote, long into the night. Iím thinking how my vote and Momís vote really did count in this "battleground" state. Mostly Iím thinking about how democracy, as practiced in the United States in the late 20th/early 21st century can be messy, just gloriously messy, but that ultimately, it works. Maybe in future elections, weíll work out the kinks of the 2000 election, but for now Iím just satisfied to experience this historic moment.

So that was November 7, 2000. Actually, thereís more, but Iíll tell you about the first First Lady to win elective office, the dead governor from Missouri who won a senate seat and the guy who spent over sixty million bucks to get to the Senate another time.



(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print a hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2000 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing, please let me know so I can sue you or something.)