LITTLE ROCK – The thought occurred when I went to cast my ballot in Arkansas’ primary: Election Day is a holiday, the best kind of holiday, the quiet kind. Mainly because for one blessed day the election itself seems to stop. There is a pause in the roaring flood of jabber and accusations and talking points and all the synthetic indignation and righteous counter-attacks and general blah-blah-blah that goes with the whole, all-too-democratic process.
Yes, there were still the robocalls and the forced smiles on the faces of those waving placards and banners across the street from the polling places, and the inevitable petition-gatherers waiting for the unwary voter. But they’re all held at bay – at least 100 feet away from the polls by law. In the polling station itself, peace and quiet reign. Neighbor greets neighbor regardless of how each is going to vote, which is nobody’s business but their own.
If the apathy of the voters doesn’t eventually kill democracy, it’ll be the regular fits of apoplexy known as elections. But then, marking a blessed end to all the red-white-and-blue madness, or at least a time-out, comes this blessed day. It arrives like a pause between two storms, the campaign and the competing interpretations of the election results that night. On this one quiet day, citizens can finally cast their ballots in peace.
Election Day isn’t just a holiday to some of us, it’s an utter relief. And a reminder of what is important. May it long continue to unite and soothe. And just let us all breathe a spell in the quiet of the voting booth, alone with our conscience and an almost sacred sense of obligation.
God, I love this country! Not least for still having some respect for that primary right, the right to be left the heck alone. Especially on a golden spring day in Arkansas. What could be better?
Those with a taste for more dramatic scenes can have their Fourth of July fireworks or spread-eagle orations. I’ll take simply exercising my rights, like the right to vote, over jawing about them any time.
Election Day is a kind of democratic communion, in which each citizen rises from his place in the congregation and goes forward to cast his ballot in secret. It’s the most public and most private of our civic rites.
It was restful Tuesday in the old fire station where I cast my vote among friends and neighbors. The whole day was a calm between two storms – the wind-up of the campaign with all its last-minute appeals and fulminations, and the hullabaloo of election night with its victory statements and concession speeches as the returns came in. Election Day is a 12-hour lull between those two barrages.
From the time the first ballot is cast in the morning and the last one that evening, there’s a chance that perspective will set in. On Election Day, it is all up to the people, and they make their decision in simple, orderly procession. In quiet dignity. The voices at the polling station are muted, respectful. They sink to an undertone. Yes, like in church.
In the back of the fire station there’s an antique fire truck – from the 1930s, maybe the ‘40s. It’s behind a rope, its years of service done, but the air around the old pumper still seems charged with past alarms and emergencies. Some echo of a now gone haste and danger clings to it like smoke – a reminder that the old machine, now a kind of sculpture resting there, once clanged through the streets on urgent, life-saving missions.
The old truck wasn’t made for display purposes – any more than free elections were intended as only a ceremonial exercise. Both were meant to perform a vital function.
This Election Day morning you want to capture the atmosphere at the old firehouse as you would take a snapshot for the family album – as a reminder of the way we were, and are, and should be. There’s nothing like an ordinary American polling place to sum up those two complementary poles of the American system: liberty and order. Those are not ordinary qualities in most of the world. But here in the old fire station, you could imagine Norman Rockwell over in the corner, pipe stuck in a corner of his mouth, painting the scene for a Saturday Evening Post cover, maybe as part of his Four Freedoms series. Here all is peace, neighborliness, simplicity as voters mark their ballots, complete their devotions.
Then it is done, the decisions made, and once again, the people rule. May it ever be so.
© 2010 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
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