Spend Some Time at a Polling Place. You Will See Much to Feel Good About.
For several elections, we turned our home into a campaign house. From late Summer through election day we rearranged the entire house. We set up distribution of canvasser materials and training areas. We established reporting stations and break area for returning canvassers. While it was a crazy set up to live in the midst of, we found it a very satisfying contribution to democracy.
But we are not doing a campaign house this year. Instead, I am at early voting sites, passing out voter guides and issue recommendations. It has been an illuminating experience. I recommend it, whatever your party or persuasion. Allow me to share some of what I am experiencing.
First of all, it’s pretty cold outside at 7 AM. But one gets warmed by the sight of many people stopping by to vote on their way to work. The ballot in my area is a long and complicated one. People are using a good-sized chunk of their precious early morning time to get this done. They think it is important to do this; they are right.
Second, this type of volunteering provides an opportunity to reach across the aisle. In most places where I have been doing this, we had a small group of volunteers sharing a designated line up space. I have been representing the Sierra Club this season. I am joined in the lineup by Democrats and Republicans, occasionally Liberaltarians. Either representatives for candidates or candidates themselves also show up.
Other volunteers are inside, doing nonpartisan work running the voting site. We are all a motley crew of citizens, in the best sense of things.
With few exceptions, we have found it natural to be on good terms with each other. We even work as something of a team from time to time. The first volunteer in line offers what we have. That volunteer then passes on an introduction of the others. We encourage voters to take materials they want and ask questions as needed. Volunteers share snacks, cover for each other during bathroom breaks, etc. Close proximity to The Other Side has a humanizing effect.
Third, more voters than I expected come to the polls well informed. They are knowledgeable about candidates and issues. People on all sides seem to have given this some real consideration. Quite a few did their homework in some depth. They knew not only how they intended to vote, but why beyond party alignment.
Fourth, some people go the extra distance to vote. I have seen people with extreme mobility issues painfully make their way to the polls. They did not want to absentee vote – they wanted to do this in person. They wanted to honor this rite of citizenship. Many, when thanked for voting, noted that others died defending their rights to vote. They included both soldiers and civil rights workers in their thanks. They thought the least they could do was exercise such a hard won right.
A couple of days ago, I encountered a woman who had come to vote on her 96thbirthday. She wanted that trip to the polls as her birthday gift. I was disappointed that she was not voting as I was, but no matter. That she cared enough to make the effort at 96 was impressive.
Fifth, a lot of people took literature, then thoughtfully returned it for reuse. Most excellent citizenship. Small things count. And some said they would not recycle – they wanted to take the guides back to their home or office to share. Again, most excellent.
Finally, some people were very hesitant to walk past the volunteers passing out literature. Some go out of their way to avoid these folks, others walk past quickly, making no eye contact. It seems they feel they are running a gauntlet. Maybe some of them were ashamed of the votes they were about to cast, we churlishly hypothesized. Happily, most are not this way, but more than a few were in this mode.
If I may make a personal recommendation, engage those volunteers as you walk by. The vast majority of them are not overly aggressive; they just want to offer you what they think will help you vote. Thank them all, pretty much irrespective of what group they represent. Thank them for caring enough to stand in the cold for hours to serve the voting process.
Many voters I encountered took literature from those they agreed with. They politely but firmly advised others why they were not supporting their candidates or positions. It was democracy at the most grass-roots level, a joy to behold.
Early voting is a powerful thing this year. In my precinct, about 40% of the registered voters have already voted, a week before election day. That’s more people than voted in total at the last midterms election. Election day is shaping up to be a record-breaking day as well. I hear similar reports from all over the country. My fervent hope is that historically light turnout groups (Latinos, other minorities, young citizens) will also break out this year. They have so much at stake.
I have not known in my lifetime a set of midterms of so much importance to the country. Wherever you stand, I bet you feel the same. This one will say much about who we are and where we want to go. If you haven’t voted yet, get out there and do it today if early voting is still in effect where you are. Most areas will close out early voting this coming Saturday.
Whenever you do vote, if the lines are long, be patient, be determined. Much rides on this election, and a lot of people have sacrificed to ensure you can vote. If someone challenges your right to vote, insist on a provisional vote. Don’t leave empty handed.
Next Tuesday night is almost here. Let’s hope we come out of it celebrating a revitalized democracy and an active citizenry.
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