I voted on Saturday. Unwilling to rely on the mail, my wife and I went to our town hall on the first day of in-person voting in New York State. After a 2 ½ hour wait, we cast our ballots. It was certainly worth the wait.
While standing on line on that balmy but overcast day, I became aware of the emotional tug of the experience. It was inspiring to see so many people taking this important civic responsibility so seriously. I live in a largely Republican area and it was impossible to tell by observing the line who would vote for the President and who would cast a ballot for Joe Biden. But, in the moment, that seemed a secondary consideration. It was profoundly encouraging to see the extraordinary numbers who were turning out, mirroring news reports about lines extending up to eight hours at polling places across the country.
My second thought was that the inconvenience seemed so unnecessary. It has been no secret that the current administration and Republicans across the country have gone to great lengths to discourage voting:
In Pennsylvania, after the state’s highest court ruled that election officials should count mailed ballots up to three days after Election Day. Pennsylvania Republicans are trying to get the Supreme Court to reverse the order, so that only ballots received by Election Day will count.
In North Carolina, Republicans and the Trump campaign have asked the Supreme Court to block the state’s board of elections from extending the deadline to receive mail ballots.
The five Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court sided with Republican officials in Wisconsin, ruling that ballots must arrive by 8 p.m. on Election Day to count.
In Nevada, the Trump campaign has sued to stop the counting of absentee ballots in the Las Vegas area, evidently hoping to challenge the signatures on many ballots.
The state’s top court in Texas upheld a policy announced by Greg Abbott, the Republican governor, that limits each county to a single drop-off box for mailed ballots. Harris County, which includes Houston, is home to 4.7 million people.
And in Michigan, a conservative judge overturned an order by the Secretary of State and ruled that people could carry unconcealed guns at polling places on Election Day.
While I find all these efforts deeply dispiriting, thoughts of such ignoble attempts to discourage voting were offset by the scene before me as all kinds of “ordinary” Americans sidestepped efforts at voter suppression, wore masks in defiance of the pandemic and went to the polls early to ensure that their vote counted–more than 70 million at the time of writing this post.
While waiting on line, my thoughts drifted to feelings some 12 years ago when Barack Obama first ran for President. I was living in Jersey City at the time, a Democratic stronghold, and so the anticipation was different.
I wrote at the time, “Standing on a long line outside an old Episcopal Church in the pre-dawn light of November 4, I will never forget the feeling. I watched people coming from every direction—students and factory workers, young people and old, in sweat suits and business suits, people of every color and ethnicity, forged in a singular purpose. There was a quiet confidence in the street that, later that night would erupt into jubilation from Times Square to Grant Park. It was a confidence that we as a society had truly looked beyond race and chosen the best candidate to lead our country. The tears were close on that magical morning; hope was in the air.”
There was euphoria then as we looked hopefully to the future. This time, focus was on the past, an undertone of grim determination that the chaos of the last four years would end. Side-by-side with this focus was a quiet conviction that we as a people had been neither cowed, nor bullied, nor distracted from exercising the most fundamental right in a democracy—the right to vote.