Early voting has been a popular topic this year. The numbers of polling stations voters are able to utilize, the hours open in proportion to the number of voters polling places serve, gerrymandering and limits on early voting have been a hot topic in this election cycle. But I don’t think I’ll ever take advantage of early voting. Throughout my life, the line to vote is always the most pleasant line I ever stand in.
The voting line is a place of humble holiness for me, and may be for some of you as well.
Walking into the neighborhood elementary school to vote, I say hello to the person seated at the front door and walk past the brightly colored short lockers or low coat hooks with small backpacks that lead the way to the rooms with petite desks. The walls are decorated with brightly colored announcements and safety guidelines. It reminds me of some of my favorite childhood teachers and some of the funny or wise things they imparted while I was losing baby and growing adult teeth. After a brief moment of recalling elementary school, I arrive in the correctly retrofitted polling room.
Waiting in line is not the pinnacle of using one’s time efficiently. I’m a pretty impatient person, and efficiency is often on my mind. But once every two years I don’t care.
While in line, I think about all the things that took place for me to arrive at this moment.
When my uncle was in the Air Force Academy, he would faint while standing at attention due to the pain caused by a leg broken years earlier. I remember my grandfather, restless after World War 2 so he put his mother’s house on stilts and shovel-dug out a basement for her. I think about Alan, the guy always I saw in sweat pants with both legs limping while at the gym, and one day I finally asked if he’d ever had his knees looked at by a doctor. He snarled in response, “I left them on top of an IED in Afghanistan.” The next time we saw one another I apologized for intruding and he apologized for taking it out on me. We became gym friends, and every so often I see him around the city with his wife and children.
While waiting for my turn, I try to remember and imagine all of the protesters throughout history who have put their lives in imminent danger, or even just engaged in the boring, repetitive work of organizing people to exercise their rights.
I gently say hello to people nearby, with my hands clasped in front of me, and nod a generous smile whenever catching someone’s eye contact. Everything is, “Yes, please,” and “Thank you ma’am,” and “Let me get the door for you.” I’m on my best behavior to vote, because it matters. I want everyone around me to have a great experience while exercising their rights.
While waiting for my opportunity to vote, I sometimes have to focus on breathing to avoid tears, because the emotions sometimes flood to the forefront so intensely for me. I feel engulfed by a seriousness and a sense of duty, which I owe to all of the people who have worked so hard for me to be standing in line at that moment. I think of voting as akin to being asked to serve as a pall bearer for the a funeral of a loved one. It is an honor to be asked to do so, and one which a person generally accepts with earnest. Waiting in line is my way of honoring the lives of all the people who worked for me to have the opportunity to vote.
The last time I voted, I was amazed to recognize a guy I’ve seen for years shuffling around on street corners working as a poll volunteer. Even the people who you may assume have nothing, can still be preciously aware that they have a vote.
Voting is often the utmost degree of high-culture civility I ever experience. And after an election cycle, and this election in particular, I usually need to have a little bit of my faith in humanity restored. On Tuesday, I look forward to waiting alongside you, whoever, wherever you are.