Attention everyone, it’s Election Day. Actually it has been Election Day since ballots were mailed last Tuesday, and it will continue to be Election Day until the County Clerk and Recorder starts to announce results on the Web site on Tuesday Nov. 3. Twenty-two days of exercising the great American experiment in representative Democracy. All of it relying almost entirely on envelopes and stamps.
I’ve reluctantly and defiantly succumbed to institutional and community pressures to use vote centers and am now allowing myself to reside on that great list of permanent mail-ballot voters. But that’s left a gaping hole in my civic persona.
Thirty years ago there was something grand and exciting about going to the neighborhood polling place as a high school senior and casting my first vote. It was an off-year (like this year), and Mother and I drove together. It was a curious process to take out that little push-pin at the end of the dog-tag chain and punch holes in those old card-reader ballots. I knew the long, important history of those cards, but I had no premonition of the infamy they would achieve during the 2000 Florida vote.
Several years ago, in a county far to the south, I was actually courageous enough to try the touch-screen voting machine. The alternative was joining the long line of anxious humanity queuing up to present themselves to the election judge. This machine gave me a cash register receipt that faded after a few days.
I guess my last “real” ballot was in 2006. That year I opted for early balloting, drove up to Fort Collins, quickly walked to the front of the line, completed my ballot, saw it run through another computerized contraption and heard “Thank you, your ballot has been counted.”
That’s a wonderful conclusion to completing our constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. Somehow, sealing two envelopes, guessing that two stamps are enough, signing the box on the back and entrusting my vote to the U.S. Postal Service pales in comparison.
It makes me wonder how many people let elections like this one slide by because the stamps and envelope routine just seems too trivial. Or, maybe it’s an extension of the no-land-line-telephone household – a no-stamps household.
The great aunt has given me temporary possession of the photograph of great-grandfather Frank Hershman the day he brought two of his mules to the polling-place in Drake. He explained that one was a Democrat and the other a Republican. American history is rich with even more extravagant rituals being played out on Election Day.
Polling places and the businesses surrounding them were a center of activity in earlier ages. Family, friends and neighbors gathered, talked, held a pot-luck, sometimes got a little rowdy, and even engaged in commercial activities – business, you know.
Those aspects of community and democracy seem to have been swept aside for the sake of economy and cost savings. But, at what expense? Are our elections still carrying the legitimacy of a majority of eligible voters having their say? Or even better, achieving as high a voter turnout as war-torn nations in the news for the past decade? At least we’re still making decisions in this country based on ballots and not bullets. Think about that when you find yourself asking if your vote is worth a stamp.
“Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower