A crescent moon hung low in behind the house and the stars stood out bright in a cold night sky when I left the house, breath catching at the taste of winter in lungs, burning my nose and watering my eyes. Frost clung thick to the car; I waited on the defroster and I waited long for it to clear enough to see.
And later in the day the air was still cold but the sunshine bright and the sky clear when I wandered from polling place to polling place all around the borough, out into the township edges just a little.
Why did you vote today? I asked them on their way in or out. A race in particular? An issue?
And most of them looked at me, surprised.
“I always vote,” they said. Old men wavering between the bars of walkers; old women with sweaters pulled tight against the wind, curls of white hair stand up high above bare foreheads; here and there a younger man or woman out over lunch, a dog’s head hanging out truck windows or whining toddler pulled along behind.
“It’s our civic duty,” they all said.
Most of them didn’t seem to understand the question. I don’t think they’d ever thought about it. Of course you vote.
They spoke of duty, and privilege, respect for something much older and much greater than the candidates for whom they voted.
“Even if there’s no one I want to vote for,” one man said to me. “I always vote.”
In past years elections were exciting to me. I campaigned for my uncle when I was 11, and was crushed when a voter ripped up the brochure I handed him right there in front of me. My first bad test grade in college was the direct effect of taking time out of classes to make phone calls and wave placards outside polling locations.
But lately they’ve only been depressing. Do I vote in Republicans to cut Democratic spending when we’re fresh out of eight years of a Republican-led spending frenzy? Do I do my part to keep Democrats in so they can spend even more?
My choices don’t look that different. I wonder if I should vote at all, if there’s no one I actually believe in enough to vote for.
I look at the low turn-out of younger voters, my peers, and wonder if we’re all thinking the same sort of thing.
I grew up focusing on the men and women whose smiles are plastered on bill boards and names sprout like weeds in yards and roadsides everywhere come November. Elections were about the candidates.
But for these old men and women making their way slowly under the chilly sunshine of a November morning, elections were about democracy, freedom, an entire way of life.
Candidates come, and go (some more quickly than others). But elections – well, they’ve been around here for more than two centuries and will go on for generations to come, if we treasure them.
“It’s a privilege,” one woman said outside the Methodist church turned voting location. “It’s a privilege I hope we never lose.”
So do I, ma’am, so do I. Even if I’m voting for the crook’s right hand instead of his left, if I get the chance to help choose, there’s always the hope that an honest person will throw his hat in the ring.
And so I filled in the ovals on my ballot and slipped it into the machine; number 431 and the election judge was thrilled.
A good turn out for a midterm election, she said. A good turn-out for any election.
And I don’t know that the men I voted for (they were all men running my district, this year), I don’t know if they will do good or evil for us and for this country. But I’m grateful for the chance to be stand up and be counted.
And I’m hoping we treasure this enough to keep that chance for years and years to come.