Life

How Americans Are Spending Election Night 2020

Doom-scrolling. Lilo & Stitch. Streaking if Biden wins. Everyone has a plan not to lose their minds.

A man looking stressed at his laptop, overlaid on a collage of people running and images from Lilo & Stitch and Luigi's Mansion 3.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus, ChiccoDodiFC/iStock/Getty Images Plus, Disney, and Nintendo.

Democrats and much of the media started drilling it into voters months ago: Make a voting plan. But maybe they should have added: Make an election night plan, too. I know we’re not supposed to think of it as “election night” anymore, but let’s be real: Tuesday night is going to be rough.

You can’t go to a party (unless … ). You’re probably feeling the impulse toward limiting your access to devices coming up against your addiction to said devices. You might still be scarred from the last one of these. Your options for passing the time are not great. But they’re better than nothing. As Los Angeles–based wellness coach Jessica Schatz put it to me, “So much is out of our control, but one thing you can control is how you take care of yourself.” Here’s how some Americans are planning to get through the day.

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On the extreme end of things, Antoni Merchant, a legal assistant in Austin, Texas, is planning a full media blackout, save for one video game called Ghost of Tsushima. “Me and three friends are planning to just start playing that as soon as we’re all off work, and play it until we’re all either going to bed or the next morning,” she said. “I’m gonna let everybody know I’m not checking text messages. I’m not checking emails. I’ll only answer my phone if it’s a phone call, and it better be an emergency—and an emergency does not include who you think won the election.”

It’s not that she doesn’t care. “I already voted. I voted early. There’s nothing I can do to influence what’s gonna happen, what’s done is done, at least as far as my input in this goes,” she said. “There’s the idea that you only have so many heartbeats in your life, and every time your heart rate raises, you’re basically shortening your life—which I don’t think necessarily is true, but is a good barometer to live your life by in terms of deciding what to be stressed out by.”

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Most people either lack that kind of willpower or don’t feel the need to be that strict. Eric, a grad student in Binghamton, New York, told me he’ll probably turn off his phone at some point on Tuesday, but he doesn’t plan to go completely off the grid. “My plan I guess is just to not pull my hair out,” he said. “I feel like the best way to do such a thing is kind of to somewhat detach.”

The people who are planning for ways to distract themselves might seem on first consideration not so different from the hard-line abstainers, but there’s actually a vast psychological gulf between them. Abstainers have resolved not to be thinking about the election at all, whereas distractors know they’ll be thinking about the election and just want to have some temporary relief lined up.

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“I know myself. I’m gonna alternate between distraction and doom-scrolling,” said Maddie McClouskey. (Doom-scrolling came up a lot in interviews for this article.) McClouskey, a performer/server who lives in Queens, New York, named Lilo & Stitch as a likely comfort watch, possibly while FaceTime-ing with a friend.

Experts like Schatz, the wellness coach, have all kinds of recommendations about social media, mainly that we should turn it off: “A constant connection to news, information, updates, and social media actually drives up our stress levels,” she wrote in an email. “Consider giving yourself a time limit for how much news you’ll consume and actually set a timer.”

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McClouskey drew up her own rules. “I am being a little more realistic and [choosing] harm reduction for myself rather than cold turkey. I’m just saying no Facebook day of,” she said.

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“I’m not even going to pretend that I’ll have the will to ‘unplug’ from social media or do anything in terms of self-care,” Jenika McCrayer told me via Twitter DM. McCrayer is a policy analyst for Brooklyn’s borough president. “It looks like my husband and I will be having a video game/movie marathon with periodic doom-scrolling.” (There it was again.) McCrayer named Animal Crossing and Luigi’s Mansion 3 as possibilities, plus another vote for Ghost of Tsushima.

Lissa Leigh George said she’ll be watching CNN with her 13-year-old daughter outside Indianapolis while trying to keep an eye on both of their anxiety. “When I see it kind of getting to be too much, I’ve been known to put the TV on mute, and we’ll draw or play our favorite songs.”

The most elaborate distraction plan I came across was Kristi Coulter’s. Coulter, a writer in Seattle who is seven years sober, said occasions like Election Day can be really hard for nondrinkers. “This year, I thought, I wanted to be physically exhausted by the end of the day,” Coulter said. “I was like, ‘How can I be really tired?’ I also during the pandemic bought a really nice treadmill, so I thought, why not do a half-marathon? Basically I’m trying to beat the hell out of my body,” she said.

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She plans not to do the whole thing in one go. “I like the idea that any time I’m feeling stressed or just throughout the day, I can just go out to the treadmill or go out in my neighborhood, knock out a couple miles, and then go about my day.”

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She said her husband is supportive of her running plan, and that he has one of his own … kind of. “My husband has been threatening for years that if Biden wins—actually, originally it was when Trump dies—that he’s going streaking,” she said.

The election wouldn’t be a real 2020 affair if some of the programming for the day didn’t take place on Zoom. Zoom-based plans ranged from casual—McCrayer said she hopes she can “convince some friends to scream with me over Zoom”—to detailed multimedia undertakings.

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Paige Ingram, a Minneapolis-based community organizer for Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism, a support group for Black members of the UU church, organized an election night online hangout for members of the group and any other Black-identifying people who need somewhere to go emotionally. “We wanted to hold a virtual event that is centering the spiritual, the emotional, the mental, and physical wellness of Black folks,” Ingram said. She added that the Zoom call will have breakout rooms geared toward people who want to escape the election as well as people who are following the polls closely, plus games and spiritual support.

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“This is a very unpredictable night that we’re diving into together,” Ingram said. “We want to make sure that we are prepared to support our folks as they really need.”

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Mental health and support were also big motivators for the event professor Renan Levine is participating in at the University of Toronto Scarborough. Levine teaches Canadian students about American politics, and they too are very worried about the election. Meanwhile, professors and administrators are worried that mostly remote classes are leaving them feeling sad and isolated. “The political science students and I decided that what we were going to do, in lieu of an opportunity to get together in person, is that we will stream some sitcoms that will hopefully make us all laugh,” Levine said. The schedule so far includes The Simpsons’ monorail episode and a Parks and Rec about a city council election.

Speaking of city council elections, Morgan Witt is running in one in the 7th District of Austin, Texas, and had to figure out what she, and her campaign, should do for election night. The kind of election night party one imagines, with balloons and a stage, wasn’t going to work. “We were thinking about how do you hold an election party 1) during a pandemic and 2) in 2020?” Witt said.

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She settled on a virtual screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail—“It kind of is in its own way politically relevant,” Witt said—broken up with periodic election updates and chatter.

In Madison, Wisconsin, Jessie M. Clements is hosting one of the online trivia sessions she’s been putting on since March, complete with music, slides, and GIFs. “For the election night version, I wanted to have a fun, lighthearted distraction instead of a regular game,” she told me, which is why it will be a shorter contest, with video breaks.

Brooklynites Candice Chetta and Colin Anderson are planning an Instagram Live session for fans of the podcast they host together, The Garbage Barge. “We’ve got some surprises lined up and may or may not be doing the first hour of our hangout live from our bathtubs,” Chetta told me in an email.

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Almost everyone’s plans had a food component, too. McClouskey’s was three-pronged, and will begin the day before Election Day: “I’m ordering in takeout on Monday, so that I’m not sending a delivery person to my house on Tuesday night. Other people are gonna do that, and I don’t want to be one extra order to someone’s really busy night.”

She continued, “I think I’m going to probably make bread during the day, because when your hands are in dough you cannot scroll on your phone, and also because you have to set timers, and you have to tend to it multiple times, so some of it’s active and some of it’s inactive.” Finally, “I’m going to have some sort of special garbage food to emotional-eat specifically for late at night on election night.” Relatable.

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For the rest of us, the plan is no plan.

“I have no plan really other than I know I’m going to be just glued to the returns, waiting to hear,” said Blair Hughes in Hartford, Connecticut. Hughes is a caregiver for her husband, who was injured in the military. “We’re cord-cutters, so we kind of have to search YouTube and find different places that are doing live election coverage and that’s kind of a pain. I know we’ll have a bunch of devices going and we’ll be looking at different things. We’ll have our own map up.”

“I don’t even know that it even matters to watch every minute of it,” she said. “It just makes me feel a little bit more in control of the situation.”

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