The Convert Gets Religion for a Day

Confession: I didn’t vote till I was in my thirties.

Like most converts, though, I embraced my late awakening with something like a holy, wild-eyed fervor. You probably don’t want to be around me now. If you don’t vote in this election, I am horrified and will lecture you endlessly about how people have died, suffered and listened to interminable political debates and obnoxious TV commercials to cast their ballots. And you’re too busy or disaffected to vote?

In fact, I will fight to the death for your right to vote for the wrong person, but along the way, will try to bamboozle you into changing your mind. (I call this the American Way.)

Even though I routinely get shamed and bullied by my friends for not early-voting, I still love to vote on election day. This morning, I walked a short distance to our new urban polling place. The sky was a dazzling blue and the line was short.

Inside the voting room, it was quiet. Quiet — after so many months of talk and sound bites and attacks and word wars and billions of dollars spent.

Behind me was a middleaged man who said he’d lived his entire life at the same house in East Austin, the part of the city that has changed so dramatically in recent years, morphing from quiet, modest neighborhoods into condos, coffee shops and yoga studios. A few people ahead of us was one of the richest men in town. A young woman in short boots and leggings quietly insisted she should be on the voting roster, while the officials checked the lists. “I’ve moved,” she said. “But I’m still in the county.”

It all reminded me of the other civic duty that invariably touches me so deeply — sitting on a jury. A few years ago, I’d been on a jury in a criminal case. The accused was hapless and disorganized (exactly the same kind of loser criminal I would be if my life had gone to hell, I’d thought at the time). He’d left the bank with no money and was apprehended half a block away.

We the jury spent hours agonizing about how harsh we should be. Would two years in prison be enough? Four? He was a repeat offender; when was he going to learn? What would make him change his ways? Why weren’t more of his family members in the courtroom? Had they given up on him?

After a day and a half of heated deliberations, our formerly congenial jury was seething and pissed-off at one another. If we’d taken a vote, we probably would have sentenced one of our fellow jurors, a self-righteous loudmouth named Renee, to bonecrunching labor in Siberia. Finally, Renee gave in, pointedly noting that she was clearly the only one of us who believed in Christian forgiveness, and we gave the guy four years.

Disharmony! Arguments! Accusations! But, at the end, I was deeply impressed with how conscientious our jury had been, how much we cared, how seriously we took our civic duty.

Just like voting today. The noise fell away, The mood sobered. We waited in line quietly and took our turns at the voting machines. For a few minutes, we agreed to believe our country could work.

(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Please read one of my all-time favorite posts, Just for Today, I am Pat Robertson

14 comments… add one
  • I did not vote until my late 20s. Today I went with my 20 yr old daughter who voted in her first presidential election. Sniff. She also took it upon herself to write herself in for a town position that had only someone from the wrong party running. That’s my girl.

  • I have lived for 26 yrs in this country – I finally became a citizen this spring and voted early for the first time!!!! Yeah, there are people who try to tell me that my vote doesn’t count in Texas – they are wrong, every vote counts.

  • I love it. You’re right, at that one moment when we’re all in line, we do believe our country can work.

  • Let’s all hold onto that belief that our country can work! It’s gonna be a long night, I’m afraid…

  • While my husband and I stood in line to vote this afternoon (one hour, not bad), he was wondering about politicians scamming the system, twisting the voting (I’m officially old and cannot remember the just-right word he had for it). My thought, which he dismissed, was that somehow we hold this process sacred, as a country, even though we’re nasty and do horrible things along the political way, that somehow this is still a precious thing, and we all know it.

    He laughed. I think I’m right.

  • msue Link

    I come from several generations of people (men, actually) who either held public office or who held public service positions (Democratic County Chairman, for example). From the get-go, we went to the voting booth with our parents to observe the voting process. We attended precinct caucuses. And, once we were old enough, we helped count paper ballots. I’ll never forget my grandfather, in our courthouse, swearing me in as an official counter. It felt like I was serving my country. Voting helps me feel connected to family that is now long gone, and reminds me of the responsibility I have to pass that connection on to the generations that follow.

  • Cindy A Link

    It’s a good day to be Barack Obama. Until the R’s circle their wagons and start shooting at him again. Can you think of any other president (besides Lincoln) that people felt so free to slander in such vicious ways? I can’t.

  • Our state has become a totally mail-in-your-ballot state and I missed going to the polls yesterday and experiencing what you did. Slapping a stamp on the envelope – and why is there a “secret envelope” to put the actual ballot in anyway – and dropping it in the mail slot just wasn’t the same. But I don’t miss the TV commericials one bit.

  • Patricia N Link

    Thanks, Ruth, for another insightful post. I was in my home state of TX last weekend visiting family. I read an article in Texas Monthly that said that less than 30% of registered voters in Texas voted in the 2010 election. Thirty percent!?!?!?! No wonder some of those crazies are elected. Every vote counts!

  • What a wonderful post! It gave me goosebumps and a feeling of pride in being an American.

  • The place where I voted had a party atmosphere–it was actually loud and the election workers were having loud conversations. And there was a bake sale and a handmade scarf sale as you entered the voting place. It seemed surreal.

  • I lived in France from age 21 to 46. The only option there was voting absentee. And, only for president. So, I really savor getting to make the other choices, too. Am so happy Massachusetts voters had the good sense to elect Elizabeth Warren!

  • I think the country can and does work. When it’s not an election year, people don’t complain much, really. People are generally happy. We are freakishly all better off than, say, people in the Sudan. We’ve got it good.

  • merr Link

    I voted at 18 for the first time and have voted in every presidential election, though, I admit, not in every midterm election. As I get older, that seems to change.
    For this election my name was – for some reason no one could figure out at the Registrar of Voters – put on the inactive list. I did not receive my ballot and had to call; it was mailed to me. It made me feel a great sense of compassion for those whose ballots were not counted, dismissed, etc.

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