I had planned to buy a bottle of champagne for my 18th birthday. Shortly before that day arrived, the drinking age was raised to 21. So instead, to celebrate, I went to the Town Clerk’s office and registered to vote.
The first time I voted, I went with my parents. We went to our precinct’s polling place (at one of the town’s schools). In those days, Lexington, Massachusetts, had large, gray, mechanical voting machines. I stepped into the machine, pulled the large red handle across the machine, which closed the curtains hut behind me and make the machine ready to count my votes. I flicked a series of small, gray levers next to the names of the people I was voting for, and pulled the big red level back across the machine in the other direction. There was significant mechanical clanking as gears turned, counters clicked forward, and the curtain opened again.
That was 39 years ago. I don’t remember what the races were. I assume it was a primary or a local election, because it happened before I left for college, and because it was an odd numbered year. It’s interesting that I don’t remember the races. What I remember is the gray of the machines, the mustiness of the curtains, and the emotions. I remember feeling small – the machine was big, even to this six-foot tall young man. I remember feeling small – I was only one of thousands who would vote that day. And I remember feeling powerful – my action caused the counting devices for my candidates to click forward. I was an active participant (figuratively and literally) in moving the gears of government forward.
My niece turned 18 last month. Yes, she’s registered to vote. She was registered before she turned 18. In Washington State, citizens are allowed to register before they turn 18. (I think this is true in California, too.) She is looking forward to voting for the first time this month. Her experience will be quite different from mine. Still, I trust she will feel the power of participating. I am quite excited for her.
If you are eligible to vote, I hope you will experience the power of participating, too, this month. It’s easy to fall into despair. The loudest political voices are so polarized it’s depressing.* The dangers of climate change are so clearly real and threatening and our government is moving so resistantly (or even regressively). It is easy to fall into despair. Don’t. Don’t give in to despair. Exercise your civic muscles.
Warming up is an important part of exercise. Do your civic warm ups. Research the ballot propositions.** Get information about the candidates. Think about your values. Let your sense of Jesus help you decide which candidates and which propositions will best support his compassion. Make a cheat-sheet to bring with you to the polls (or, if your using a mail-in ballot and haven’t turned it in yet, carry it to your polling place and put it in the appropriate box).
Vote. It’s a civic sacrament.
*An interesting study on who the USA is actually divided politically finds seven political groups, with the loudest groups representing the extreme ends of the political spectrum. You can read the report at https://hiddentribes.us. By the way, I’m sufficiently self-aware to know that I’m part of the noisy extreme.
**You can read my take on the propositions on my blog or pick up a print out of the column in the Fellowship Hall.
“I was hungry, and you voted for the person who will take away my food stamps. I was thirsty, and you voted for the person who will repeal environmental regulations that keep my water clean. I was a stranger, and you voted for the person who says he will build a wall. I was sick, and you voted for the person who will make it so I can’t get health insurance.”
– a riff on Matthew 25 by Reuel Nash