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Gilbert: Bipartisan Election Night Party

My brother, Ken, lives in Dallas. He met his future wife at an election night party forty years ago, the night Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford. And every four years since then, they’ve hosted a bipartisan election night party.

A month ago, a friend said to my sister-in-law, “You’re not going to have the party THIS year, are you?” She said, yes they were.

My brother normally displays lawn signs for all the candidates on the ballot in their front yard: signs for candidates on the left are placed to the left of the front walk-way, and signs for candidates on the right are placed on the right. The more out there the candidates’ politics are, the further away from the walk the signs are.

There are political decorations (old bumper stickers and pins), and a fun political trivia game. The 70 or so guests vote in a mock election and the outcome usually comes close to reflecting the national popular vote. One year Ken introduced two people who, as recently-naturalized citizens, had voted that day in the US for the first time – to hearty applause.

Sometimes, not surprisingly, drink and disappointment have combined to create some awkward moments, but usually conviviality reigns.

At their last party, a first-time guest arrived late, shortly after the election had been called. Greeting him at the door, my brother said something like, “Glad you’re here; you’re just in time for my toast.” The man thought my brother was about to toast the newly reelected president. But that wasn’t Ken’s toast. Each year (along with saluting their first date, which came out pretty well) his toast celebrates three things: the importance of voting, the fact that people of different political opinions can be friends, and that disagreement doesn’t have to mean incivility.

As I watch election returns here in Vermont, I, like most people, will express my delight or disappointment as the returns come in. But I salute this rare example of American political tolerance, particularly this year.

Oh, and given today’s especially divisive politics, Ken won’t be putting up election signs in the front yard this year, but rather, he told me, “a sea of tiny American flags!”

On both sides of his front walkway.

Here’s hoping for another successful election night party and a less polarized nation in the next four years.


Editor's Note: In an interesting demonstration of the power of public radio and and social media, commentator Peter Gilbert reports that, "Nine minutes after you posted my commentary on the VPR website on Monday noonish, I got a voicemail and email from a Wall Street Journal reporter wanting to interview my brother and sister-in-law about their election night party this year."

And here's the link to the resulting Wall Street Journal article.

Peter Gilbert is executive director of the Vermont Humanities Council.
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