This presidential election, I voted early and often. I sent my election absentee ballot via US diplomat mail pouch at the beginning of October. Apparently part of the ballot didn’t make it, so at the request of the county clerk’s office, I dropped a second ballot at the embassy October 29. In the meantime, another absentee ballot arrived for me at my mom’s house.
Because of the 12-hour time difference with the East Coast, I got to sleep through the stretch of election day, when newscasters just puffed hot air into predictions and gestured at magic boards. Wednesday morning in Cambodia brought the first wave of poll closings in the US. I woke to a Facebook feed filled with posts about getting out the vote and photos of “I voted!” stickers. But there were also rumors of voting machines gone rogue, misprinted ballots, and voting lines so long people were walking away. My election day nerves were magnified by each of the 8,000 miles I am away from home.
My friend Judy and I checked CNN, which had nothing new to report, and went to a TV-free cafe to feed our election anxiety coffee and eggs. Caffeine and protein: we were girding ourselves for a long day. Next stop Meta House, the German cultural center in Phnom Penh, host of an ex-pat election returns watching party.
Meta’s back room was jammed, excited and exciting. Everybody made new friends and jumped into overheard conversations about hometowns, adopted states, and local voting records. We all cheered every time a state’s returns were called. I set up my own mission control, one eye on the TV screen and the other online, switching between The New York Times’s graphics, Nate Silver’s updates, local news from Des Moines, and Facebook. Friends’ commentary streamed through chat.
Iowa, that swingy swing state and the place where Obama started it all at the 2008 caucus and brought it home with Bruce on Monday night, came through for its man.
And then things moved fast. On TV, people were dancing in the streets in Chicago. The top of the Empire State Building was lit blue. CNN called it. Rounds of celebratory beer appeared on our table. The New York Times called it. Facebook and Twitter shouted it. The wi-fi stopped working.
The room got quiet as we waited for our President to make his acceptance speech. Finally, Obama came out. His speech was perfect and made us feel some of that 2008 hope. We applauded and cheered at the TV. Obama sounded like exactly what he needs to be—the President for all of us. Everybody at Meta House looked a little teary.
Tuk-tuk drivers on the street saw our election day buttons and said, “Obama, hooray!”
And then we went out for lunch.
**Vote update: My second ballot was received on November 7. Better late than never.