Terps vote — a bin of buttons in the UMD student union. I’ve collected a handful for my German friends as a U.S. election souvenir if anyone is interested.
I am writing election season because indeed the days of just one election day seem to be over. Even without trying I’ve bumped into plenty of early voting signs. On campus different student groups advocate for “Terps,” as the students are nicknamed for their university’s mascot, to vote. Albeit people can still vote tomorrow directly at their polling place, they also could have done so during past week for several days. And some states, like Washington, there are not polling places as all voting is done by mail — and you can do that early as well.
Making sure you find your polling station. At the university there even were shuttles to safely carry busy students to get their vote in without wasting time to walk.
Two of my house mates have already voted, J. has voted on the other coast, after filling out an endlessly long ballot asking him not only about picking a president but also a host of other people and issues. I’ve spend at least three nights on Skype with him, listening to political lullabies. His state, Washington, sent him a whole book with pages of fairy tales, detailing how they will balance the budget while also protecting all social programs. (This is also why the pictures of his voting material is fuzzy; they are screen shots of Skype.)
A guide for the responsible citizen and voter. 135 pages of information on people, issues, rules. Each issue that is voted upon is presented with pro and contra arguments and a background blurb. I now know all about a tax measure, legalizing marijuana, and creating charter schools. By the way the current law under debate about marijuana is tricker than you might think. It’s good there is a guide. (Not that I am allowed to vote or would tell J. who or what to vote for and urge him to vote in any case or to beg him to let me make the cross the next time…)
At a recent Halloween party we hashed out again why these awkward rules emerged such as voting on a Tuesday, a weekday and thus working day for most. The tale goes that Sunday was not good, because people attended church. On Wednesday was market day. You need a day to get to the market so you start out at least Monday, and stopping on your way, Tuesday, you could cast your vote. Voila! Between religion and capitalism, squeezing in some politics. (Of course I welcome corrections and precise historical accounts to add to this party-approved narrative.) UPDATE: J. just educated me that voting in the fall follows the logic of winter having nasty weather, spring being planting season. In the summer you have to take care of your crops but in the fall there’s not much to do so you can take a day’s trip over bumpy roads to vote.
The sacred document: the voting ballot with its little bubbles to be filled out with your choice. Pick me! Pick me! They all seem to shout. Interestingly the incumbent president is listed on top.
Another interesting tale from the party was the story of a reporter from the Baltimore Sun, who had been to an almost mystical event: the Green Party convention, in Baltimore (otherwise he told me, his newspaper would not have paid attention and coverage was scant anyway.) Were you surprised to see more than Obama and Romney on the ballot for president? Yes, there are other parties in the United States, one even having a woman-woman ticket, namely the Green Party. It is an old tale that third parties just don’t fit into the snug binary of Democrat v. Republic, blue v. red, donkey v. elephant, liberal v. conservative, pro-choice v. pro-life and so on. My colleague Elia Powers just a couple of days ago published a neat piece about the loneliness of third-party candidates. A sad tale you can read right here in the current issue of the American Journalism Review, located in my college.
Getting to know your people options: There are women running for president and vice president. You just have to find the right coverage of the election or check your local voter’s guide.
So while the excitement is spread out over several days, it is remarkably less excitement than four years ago. Sobriety and a more “normal,” if still sometimes bizarre election campaign, has been going on. The “war on women,” big bird’s projected death, bayonets and horses, binders full of women, and Sandy’s last minute twist are just the usual media-picked memes to jazz up an otherwise eventless campaign focused mainly on the economy. From a German perspective, the front-staging of candidates’ families, with wives giving speeches, and kids smiling into cameras appears a bit strange. Why would something so private matter? And doesn’t it make you into a bad parent to compromise the privacy of your children that way? Why does a wife’s celebratory message of her own husband count as a recommendation for a high political office? These are some of the thoughts some Germans might have. Personality and appearing as if the president could be the guy from next door sometimes appear to count more than concrete statements on pressing issues of the day.
It is comforting to be writing what the president is actually good for, after all the campaigning in which candidates reiterate the same soundbites. There is a purpose to the office and you can read about it in this fine booklet.
The impression here is that after Sandy, Obama is on an upswing. Listening to German media, Obama is closing in on a win. But then none of the German journalists and correspondents I’ve heard or read can imagine a country led by a Republican (as happened during the re-election of Bush when Europeans were shocked about repeating “fool me once.”)
Yard signs — a sure sign something political is going on. These are mostly about local candidates and issues, lining the street toward the polling station, a school. When I traveled into Virginia for hiking not too long ago, these cute signs grew to the size of double your bed sheet and mostly hailed Romney.
The indicator I like to look at is not a poll, not Twitter, not a certain medium, but where people who have some loose coins in their pocket like to put them within the confines of the blue-red binary. The Iowa Electronic Market, a small money futures market run by the University of Iowa, lets you buy shares “of” your favorite candidate. Money says that Obama will win tomorrow with a 75 percent chance. If you are betting on the right side, you will double your investment. it’s a winner take all market, just like the presidency.
Not only people, also issues are voted upon such as a law in Maryland to make sure everyone can marry.
So with heightened attention I will follow the election tomorrow. It’s a normal day at the university. Only an interview with a German radio station, DRadio, gives me some extra election awareness. The station hosts a “DRadio Wissen All American All Night” with burgers, coca-cola, and Amerian music until they can call a winner, while most Germans probably go to bed. A former radio colleague asked me if I could be called by phone to chime in. So I will. I am just not sure what I can tell them by 3 pm in the afternoon when they e-mailed they would call me. There certainly is little hype this time and more sobriety.
For further reading, here is an article by CNN-Berlin correspondent and German Frederik Pleitgen who’s been reporting for CNN from there since 2006. He’s highlighting the connections Germans and Americans share and how Germans are viewing the U.S. elections 2012.