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Listen, Counting Is Hard

Nobody said numbers would be easy!

As I type this, the internet is awash in admittedly funny memes about the battleground states that have yet to flip red or blue on most electoral maps, with officials still counting ballots and periodically releasing new totals: Nevada, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and North Carolina. The premise of most is that it should not take half a week to figure out how constituents voted.

There’s nothing wrong with blowing off some steam while we wait to see if democracy dies in darkness and all that. The content, on balance, is good, and the general confidence in a Biden victory means we (probably) won’t have to regret these jokes later on. However, the expectation of faster if not same-day results — drilled into us by 24/7 cable news media — is bad, and we ought to be more comfortable with a slower, transparent, accurate process. There are perfectly legitimate reasons for these states to take their time, and here’s a big one: Counting is hard.

Seriously, what’s the highest you ever counted? I’m betting a thousand, maybe two. That’s as far as the annoying kid who loved to count aloud at the school bus stop in first grade ever got. Right now we’re dealing with millions of ballots, and “razor-thin” margins of 10,000 to 20,000 in some places. With my mental health like it is, I’d start mixing stuff up in the low triple digits. I’m lucky I can calculate how much change I have in my wallet on the first try. And it’s not like I have a lot!

What the fuck are numbers, anyway? I have a headache just looking at them.

So yeah, I understand you’re a nervous wreck, but the dedicated poll workers putting in ridiculous hours to tally outcomes don’t need that negative energy. It’s hard enough not to lose track of this or that pile, and easy enough to start forgetting the number eight because you’re sleep-deprived. You’ve miscounted plenty of times when you got rushed and sloppy.

For god’s sake, Sesame Street has to assign a vampire Muppet to full-time counting education to make sure each generation figures it out. And if you ever asked the teacher “When are we going to use this?” in math class, you aren’t allowed to groan at the people going back to basics to determine the next president in fair and honest fashion. Respect the counters, or else they won’t do it next election, which will leave the job up to us. A total nightmare. Count on it.

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