I must say it’s nice not to be bombarded with the rhetoric, half-truths and bombastic barbs that seem to be part of the landscape when it comes to getting elected these days. Almost a week later, I’m still uncertain what messages or trends we’re expected to glean from last week’s results.
I am sure of one thing, though. Something’s stirring with voters in this country. I stood in line at my polling precinct last Tuesday for an hour and a half. I had not witnessed any such desire to vote in a midterm election in my lifetime.
A part of me wanted to leave. What would my one vote really mean? But as I watched more and more people line-up behind me, I was determined to stick it out.
I was a college student in the early 1970s when I voted for the first time. I found myself remembering how much I anticipated that privilege. After that brief jog down memory lane, I was ashamed for earlier considering to just step out of line on this night, and leave. After all, we were all standing in the dark, looking at our phones and periodically shuffling forward as the line inched closer to the front door. No one would really know if I left.
As I watched the line grow, I took mental inventory of those people who were in front of and behind me. Some had just left work. Others commented that they dropped by earlier, but the lines were just as long, so they opted to come back later. A pleasant poll worker greeted every person in line and offered bug spray.
Retired couples, working moms, dads pushing strollers, millennials plugged into iPhones, professionals, construction workers, medical techs ... they were all there. Everyone of these folks wanted their voices heard.
At 7 p.m., every person standing in line was ushered into the school hallway. The poll manager locked the door and walked up and down the line letting people know how much longer it might take to register their vote. He estimated it would be 9 p.m., but the polls would stay open until the last person in line was served.
I engaged in a brief conversation with a gentleman behind me. His name was Martin and we talked mostly about sports and how his favorite college team was struggling this year. I also mentioned a recent news story about how the state of Oregon runs its elections. For years now, they’ve elected candidates by mail. That’s right, two-to-three weeks before an election, registered voters receive their ballots. There are drop-off boxes that receive the completed ballots or they can be delivered through the postal system. This state consistently ranks among the tops in voter turnout. Martin and I both agreed Oregon’s system seemed like a very good idea.
What it looks like
After casting my vote last Tuesday, I headed to the dark parking lot while the remaining voters behind me slowly, but surely, shuffled to their voting machines. There was no rush to hurry home to watch the returns. It would be a long night and I was comfortable knowing it would be what it would be when the dust cleared the next day.
We would come to learn that people turned out in record numbers. Lines such as the one at my polling place were duplicated all across the country.
It’s not always easy to determine what motivates a voter. Is it a chance to vote for something, or against it. Is it personal or about the pocketbook?
People far smarter than me make a living pontificating the answers to these questions.
Many times, I just grow weary of listening to the pontificators.
Elections are a mechanism for change or a call to action. We all tire of intersections cluttered with signs and the negative ads. Sometimes, that’s just part of the noise that must be navigated.
Here’s what I do know. As we look at the myriad of voters who took an interest and then took the time to exercise that vote it reveals this subtle but salient truism. This is what democracy looks like.
Reach Warren at firstname.lastname@example.org