Although we missed being home, Kenya was probably the best place to be outside of the United States to watch last night’s election coverage. With the first polls closing at 3am Nairobi time, and the election viewing breakfast set to start at 5am, we knew that a victor would not be declared before sunrise. The Kenyans who had been invited, however, did not want to miss a single thing and flocked to the event in droves. Arriving at the Ambassador’s residence a quarter before five, D found a long line of invitees snaking along the pavement, waiting to go through security.
In addition to posters explaining U.S. electoral rules, maps of the 50 states, and handouts of the candidates’ profiles, the Embassy also organized a mock voting booth. Everyone who voted received an “I voted” sticker and their choice of a Democrat or Republican button. As the event drew to a close, the big red bucket with elephant buttons remained virtually untouched while the blue donkey buttons were almost gone. Given the kinship most Kenyans feel with our President, this was, of course, no surprise.
Those who are unfamiliar with the dynamics of the electoral college, as many of our invited guests were, could be forgiven for thinking the election was much closer than it actually was. With many of the early states to be called falling into Mitt Romney’s column, the crowd was abuzz with nervous apprehension. Standing in line for drinks and food, which had been graciously provided by a local coffeehouse chain, some of the guests bemoaned Romney’s apparent advantage.
Naturally, this desultory mood was short-lived. Each time CNN announced a state that was projected to vote for President Obama, the crowd responded with loud cheers. The fifteen minutes during which several battleground states were called for Obama, all but sealing his victory, were truly special. Right before CNN declared Obama’s victory in Ohio, the local news station that was broadcasting the CNN feed cut to coverage of revelers in Kogello, the tiny village where Barack Obama’s father was born and where his grandmother still resides.
When D was in training, a senior State Department official who addressed his orientation class said that his career had been defined by a series of moments when he had to decide whether a government policy with which he disagreed or the election of a leader whom he opposed was worth his resignation. We’re happy that this election season D does not have to start making similar decisions. Thank you, America, for voting and letting your voices be heard. Thank you especially to those who braved long lines and the difficult voting conditions created by Hurricane Sandy to cast your ballots and ensure that our country moves forward.