Do Election Night Right

It’s election night: millions of Americans are watching their television screens as pundits scramble to get the latest results, while many west-coast voters are still standing in line waiting to cast their vote. Suddenly, the clock strikes 8 p.m. and the election is over. Done. It’s called. Four more years.

See anything wrong with this picture? ’Cause I do. What happened at 8 p.m. on November 6 boosted television ratings and discouraged west-coast voters from staying in line to fulfill their right to vote. Here’s a fun fact: If you are in line before the polls close, you have the RIGHT to remain in that line until you cast your ballot, no matter how late it is. That being said, many here on the west side left the polls disappointed upon receiving tweets, texts, Facebook statuses and news updates declaring Barack Obama as our president before they even got the chance to read his name on the ballot.

Naturally, there is nothing we can do about time zones; however, there is something we can do about the Disneyland-length lines at the polls and spreading hasty election calls. Early voting — whether you like it or not — needs to be more accessible and available in every state. Not many people, especially young voters, are even aware that you can vote before Election Day. Only 32 states allow for early voting, and not every state allows for mail-in voting.

We need to make these resources readily available to all voters in the United States in an effort to curtail the long polling lines and provide for those who cannot vote during the polling hours on election day. Although long lines on election day are a positive indication of political participation, the fact of the matter is that it discourages people from voting if they don’t have the time, means or patience to wait for upwards of two hours to perform their simple civic duty. The president said it himself: we need to fix that.

The media didn’t do much to help these sentiments. With less than one percent of the precincts reporting on the west side, pundits painted their maps blue on the west side and called the election for Obama. Now, I’m not saying this was unpredictable; we all know California was going to come in with its middle fingers raised to the red heartland, knocking them out of the park with 55 electoral votes.

However, calling the election this early is not good for the people. We have short attention spans. If we’re waiting in line and the media tells us Obama won, we’ll leave. If we’re watching TV and the headline reads “270 to Obama,” we post a status about it, turn off the TV, forget about Ohio and go to bed. The issue with this is that we become too hasty and inaccurate with our political observations. Just because pundits are painting Ohio and Virgina blue (with less than 80 percent reporting) for Obama, despite the fact that only hundreds of votes separate him from Romney, doesn’t mean the election is over.

Now, there’s no denying that, statistically speaking, these swing states were probably going to go blue anyway — Nate Silver, I’m looking at you — but why can’t we stay tuned long enough to see if it really pans out that way? Our political appetite is so tiny that we get full with the media rushing to see who could spoon feed us 30-second microwaved bullshit the quickest, and we forget that there are still calories to be counted.

I’m going to play the old broken record here and say something you’ve all heard a million times: every vote counts. Now let’s start acting like it.

Sarah S. Menendez is a second-year political science and literary journalism double major. She can be reached at smenende@uci.edu.