I remember when voting, even in a Primary Election, was treated as a sacred rite. Sample ballots were sent to each registered voter several weeks before the election and families would sit down together and discuss the candidates and issues. The sample ballot was filled out and prepared for voting day to make sure one didn’t accidentally punch the wrong chad. That was before the days of “hanging chads.”
I’ve never been very politicized, nor do I consider myself very well educated in American history. But I do know that people lost their lives and fought for my right to live in a free democracy and the least I can do in remembrance of their sacrifices is to vote.
When voting was sacred, your polling place was well publicized and on election day liquor stores were closed, workers got extra time for lunch break, or let out early. Polling places would stay open late to give everyone a chance to have their say in the democratic process. And when you completed voting they’d give you a sticker on your way out – I Voted – in red, white, and blue. You’d walk around town seeing many people proudly wearing their sticker on lapel, or hat, or sleeve.
Today I went to vote. I noticed that on the list of voters only three or four names per page had been highlighted as having voted. That was after it took me several hours to figure out where to go. My registration card said such and such building. I recalled that several years ago I’d voted at that location and it had taken me quite some time to figure out where it was. Today I went straight to it only to find no flag flying and no activity. I had already gone online, been directed to a Facebook page on which this same building was indicated as my polling place but also had no address. Under comments someone asked, “What is the address of this building?” There was no answer to his comment. I finally found a phone number online and called. I’d expected to have to wait, for certainly a lot of people would be calling, this being election day. But my call was taken immediately, not even a menu to have to get through. The very nice woman said, Oh that’s been changed, it’s now at the Armory – where voting used to take place.
As I drove away from inking in my ballot, on which only one vote mattered to me, the one that will cancel out my friend’s vote, I felt a kind of emptiness. We laughed that our votes would cancel each other out; that was not the cause of my emptiness. The hollowness that struck me was more about the “rite” of voting having become as empty as most church services in which candles are lit, and communion is taken but no true communion with something greater has taken place.
Leaving, walking back to my car I ran into a friend. She had just come from the liquor store where she’d mentioned remembering when liquor stores were closed on election day. The older man at the cash register said, that was to make sure that no one got you drunk and convinced you to vote as they wanted you to. The younger man stocking the candy bars said, why bother voting anyway; it’s all just decided by the super candidates. He seemed to feel that no communion between the voter and the outcome was really possible.
But what if every young person did vote? What if it is still possible to restore the tattered threads of the democracy that our forebears so fiercely believed in, a freedom for which they were willing to die? Are our souls so completely lost to the Wormtongues* of our age? I don’t know the answer. But as is said in the current vernacular, “Just saying…”
* Grima Wormtongue, "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”