I was at my polling place (a beautiful old church in East Dallas) 10 minutes before the polls opened this morning, and there were already 10 people in front of me. Voting always makes me reflective, and here are some of my thoughts and reminiscences, in no particular order.
The sacred solemnity of peaceful voting always strikes me. There is just something about being surrounded by my fellow citizens, who may or may not share my beliefs, as we all line up peacefully and patiently to cast our votes. There is just something sacred about walking into the voting booth as a free man. I think voting represents America much better than fighter jet flyovers at NFL games–that’s just a show of power: our real power lies in the peaceful ritual of Election Day.
Nothing is more important than the peaceful transfer of power. There are lots of issues I feel very strongly about, issues I believe matter to God. But I don’t think anything matters more than the peaceful transfer of power. This 229 year-old experiment we have with our Constitution is exceeding rare in human history, and unless we are governed by laws with a peaceful transfer of power, nothing else is possible. I lived in West Africa as a small boy, and I distinctly remember watching from the verandah of our house, which was perched on the side of a small mountain, and looking down at the capital city below as the sirens sounded and soldiers shouted: there had been a coup attempt. Nothing is more destructive than chaos. May our system continue long into the future.
God bless the election volunteers. I remember the first time I voted (must have been November, 1998). I was home from college and I went with my dad up to our polling place, which was a school I’d attended. In the 1950s era gymnasium/auditorium/cafeteria, we checked in with the volunteers and I was surprised to see I knew all of them–they were ladies from our church. I was impressed then with their civic commitment, and I have been impressed with election volunteers ever since. These people make our freedom possible.
The longest line I ever waited in to vote was in 2004. I was living in Richmond, Virginia, off of Monument Avenue. I went to vote around midday, and the line wrapped around the city block. No one complained.
It is shameful that I don’t know more about the down ballot races and propositions. I am an educated guy. I read the newspaper every day. I care about local issues. And yet there were a few races on my ballot this morning that I knew nothing about. There was also a long and complicated proposition having to do with the pension fund for civilian city employees. I was mortified to read it and realize I didn’t know what I should do. I left it blank. That is unacceptable. I never want to be in that position again. It is my responsibility to be more informed.
But it is also shameful how our media don’t prepare us for these important races and issues. I have a good memory and a varied media diet, and yet I walked into the voting booth knowing very little about issues beyond the headlines involving our leading presidential candidates. I know that there may not be a market for journalism devoted to issues, particularly down ballot issues, but I still think it’s shameful how little space our media devotes to anything other than the presidential horse race.
I wonder if a variation of the “Bradley Effect” will play a role in this election. The Bradley effect derives its name from the 1982 candidacy of Tom Bradley for governor of California. Mr. Bradley, a black politician, was ahead in the polling before the election, but lost the actual election. Why? Political scientists concluded that potential voters were not honest with pollsters, telling the pollsters that they were going to vote for a black man (the socially acceptable answer), while not actually doing so in the privacy of the voting booth. I wonder if the same thing might happen today with regard to Mr. Trump–are there people who will privately vote for him, even though they’d be embarrassed to say so publicly?
I don’t know why cell phones are banned at polling places, but I’m glad they are. In Texas, cell phones and other “electronic communications devices” are banned within 100 feet of voting stations. I don’t really see the problem with a ballot selfie, but I’m not complaining.
Finally, the Presidency isn’t going to save us, and our future will not depend on tonight’s results. I believe it matters whom we elect–I want good people serving in office, from dog catcher on up to President of the United States. But, our ultimate hopes do not lie with our politicians, and the church does not depend on politics to carry out its mission; our hopes lie with God, and the church depends on him.
In other words, Jesus is Lord, today, tomorrow, and forever.