People discuss the comedown after the political high | St. Louis Public Radio

People discuss the comedown after the political high

Nov 6, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: November 6, 2008 - It's natural to wake up the day after a presidential election - in particular this much-hyped contest - and feel exhausted. All that waiting in line to vote, tracking exit polls and staying up late to see the results are enough to make even the most energetic people sleepy at work on Wednesday.

Imagine what the day after Election Day feels like when you've logged months of 10-hour days (often for little or no pay) soliciting money, canvassing neighborhoods or organizing volunteers for a candidate.

Sometimes you end up standing on a street corner wearing your pajamas and a huge smile. That was Jennifer Meyer, a volunteer for Barack Obama in Missouri, around noon on Wednesday. She'd spent the day of the election watching results from a field office in the Central West End and the evening -- and early morning, really -- celebrating inside the Chase Park Plaza.

Meyer made it home for only a few hours before returning to the field office to begin packing up boxes. That schedule, she said, explained her morning-after wardrobe: The red pajamas, an Obama "Show Me Change" T-shirt and a blue ski hat emblazoned with the words "The President of the United States: Barack Obama."

Standing outside the office, Meyer was certain of her immediate plans. "I'm going to sleep for a while," she said.

But after that?

"People have been asking me, 'What are you going to do after the 4th [of November]?' I said, 'I have no idea; I'm putting everything into the campaign,'" Meyer said. "In a weird way I feel let down now and lost. It's kind of sad. This has been my family."

Meyer began working for the Obama campaign in August. As a full-time volunteer, she helped out at the field office front desk, canvassed in the city and in the final days managed other volunteers. Now that the election is over, Meyer said she isn't sure what's next. This was her first campaign, and she said she'd gladly work on another.

In the meantime, she'll look for a job, but she's not certain in what field -- something involving community service, perhaps.

"I'm trying to envision what stage two looks like for myself," she said.

The post-Election Day malaise isn't just limited to campaign workers. Owners of printing companies that specialize in campaign signs have to look elsewhere for business. Local news stations, flush with money from political advertisements, return to the reality of tough financial times for their industry.

For politicos, it's easy to keep busy around election time. The hard part is staying involved after November. That's the task facing Judy Kassel, an election supervisor for St. Louis County.

Kassel has been through a number of elections before. A retired Parkway School District teacher, she often volunteers for local Republican candidates and trains volunteers to help at the polls. On Tuesday, Kassel, a Republican monitor, chatted with voters at Wydown Middle School. Though deep into her Election Day duties, Kassel could predict how she'd respond on Wednesday.

"It's a downer, especially depending on the outcome," she said. "As a political junkie, my mind is racing during the election, and it's hard to come down from that."

On Wednesday, she would at least have results to follow. Kassel said she planned to check back regularly to see how her precinct voted. And she'll call the St. Louis County Board of Elections to see if they need help with recounts or other post-election work.

County election board employees worked overtime for weeks at their headquarters leading up to Election Day. Some employees stayed until 2 a.m. earlier this week, according to Dick Bauer, the county's assistant director of elections.

Over the past few days, Bauer and his staff were under intense scrutiny. Reporters from the Wall Street Journal, Fox News and CNN, among others, were calling (and showing up with cameras) to cover the story of how a county in a swing state was prepared to deal with an expected increase in voter turnout.

The day after the election, the office was filled with boxes of voter information. Scraps of paper on the floor were all that remained in the room where early voting took place.

"I'm absolutely wiped out," Bauer said Wednesday afternoon as he surveyed the office. "It's anti-climactic now, but we need the time to ourselves." Bauer sent employees home around 3 p.m.

"I don't think anyone in the office slept more than three hours the night before," he said. "People were working slow and trying to come down from the high."

In the days to come, Bauer will be overseeing an audit of the election. That means counting signatures, pouring over computer logs and looking at the number of provisional and spoiled ballots. He has until later this month to report the official vote count to the Missouri secretary of state's office.

"It's not as pressure-filled, and we're not in the public eye any more," Bauer said. "But we still have deadlines. People will be working 10-hour days until this is certified. Our work doesn't stop the midnight of Election Day."

The work also continues for Sonya Carlson, a Missouri field organizer for the nonpartisan group 1Sky, which is calling for federal action to reverse global warming. On Election Day, Carlson planted herself on a bench at Washington University, calling some of the 1,600 students who had signed an environmental pledge to remind them to vote.

Her get-out-the-vote efforts now completed, Carlson is focused on another challenge -- getting the attention of members of 111th Congress on issues relating to wind and solar power.

"Most people think [the Wednesday after Election Day] is a big relaxation day," she said. "This is when the real work begins, because we know who's in office."

Meyer, the Obama volunteer, said this is when her work begins, as well. Through canvassing and meeting fellow campaign volunteers, she said she's gotten to know her neighbors in Dogtown like never before.

"I keep thinking to myself, 'We did it,' " Meyer said. "Now I have to figure out how to keep [Obama's] vision going and what it means for my neighborhood."

Elia Powers is a freelance writer in St. Louis.