What Election Day Tells Us

How close we are despite how far apart

Well that’s that. The votes are counted. Losers are mourning, winners celebrating their mandates, that word pundits love. The future is beginning.
    There’s a finality to those black-and-white results that’s too simple for real life.
    To see the fuller truth, read down any column of figures. Bite into any pie chart.
    You see that we are of two minds, often divided by the thinnest of margins.
    President Obama was re-elected with what could be as many as 332 Electoral Votes should he carry still-outstanding Florida. The absentee ballots will determine that winner at a later date, but the outcome from what was formerly challenger Mitt Romney’s most important state is now irrelevant in determining the victor.
    But the divide in the popular vote — the votes you and I and our families and friends across the country cast — tells a different story. The race was as close as forecast, with the president taking the popular vote, preliminarily, by some 2.5 million ballots, an approximate margin of 1.1 percent.
    In Maryland, the big news is the passage of three ballot questions, reaffirming civil marriage and the Dream Act as laws, and extending gambling way beyond the lottery and slots.
    On civil marriage and gambling, statewide margins of victory are hair thin: 51.9 percent for civil marriage; 51.8 percent for expanded gambling.
    The dream act gets a bigger piece of our pie of approval: 58.5 percent.
    Those are Wednesday morning Nov. 7’s statewide results, not yet certified.

The Point Spread
    County by county results reveal the complexity of those thin margins.
    Anne Arundel voters flipped the coin the other way on two of those three questions. If the choice were here, we’d have limited gambling (54 to 46 percent) and voted down immigrant tuition, the Dream Act (51 to 49 percent).
    To civil marriage, we gave a four-point margin of victory, supporting it by 52 to 48 percent.
    On two of those questions, Calvert Countians voted different opinions.
    Fifty-five percent of Calvert voters said no to civil marriage.
    But 56 percent approved extended gambling.
    Calvert’s disapproval of immigrant tuition was three points stronger at 54 percent.
    Look at the point spread, and you see a clearer picture.
    All three of those questions are enormous breaks with tradition. Yet on none is approval very far from disapproval. On all three, Anne Arundel and Calvert are pretty much in the middle.
    Widening our view to all Maryland adds nuance. But in only a few counties does the point spread change dramatically.
    In only one county, Montgomery, did over 60 percent of voters say aye to civil marriage.
    Civil marriage, however, got the lowest lows: approval by under 40 percent of voters in seven counties, with Garrett dropping to 27 percent.
    On expanded gambling, in only one county, Charles, did over 60 percent of voters say bring it on.
    The Dream Act got the highest peaks: In five counties, 60 percent or more of the voters approved, soaring to over 70 percent in three jurisdictions: Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

What Do the Numbers Mean?
    Self-interest makes part of the explanation. Anne Arundel, with a casino already raking in money, had more to lose in expanding gambling. Our disapproval was 10 points stronger than Calvert’s, five points higher than statewide.
    Gay marriage and immigrant tuition had their own self-interest votes.
    Self-interest is part of the story, but there are other ways to look at the numbers and the point spreads.
    One sure thing Election Day tells us is that the big we is a huge composite of differences.
    Election Day may also show us who we are becoming rather than who we are.
    Accepting gays as equal in our state and nationwide family is a pretty new idea. Extending that acceptance by law into civil unions is a huge step from where we used to be just the other year.
    Finding room for immigrants in the family is hardly a new idea, but it’s never been an easy acceptance.
    Yet in Maryland, we’re becoming people willing to make those leaps.
    President Obama could have been looking straight at Maryland as he spoke to us all early in the morning of Election Day Plus 1.
    A nation that isn’t weakened by inequality, is how he described us.
    We believe in a generous, compassionate and tolerant America, he said. That’s the vision we share.
    We will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there, he continued. But, he added, Painstakingly, we’re building consensus.
    That common bond is where we begin.
    The exceptional bond that holds together the most diverse country on earth … only works when we work together.
    Election Day tells us that’s where our future begins.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com