I think most of us agree that this has been a unique, even unprecedented Presidential campaign — and not in a good way! In my circles, the most frequent words I hear to describe the campaign are: disturbing, unnerving, relentless, frightening and downright disgusting. One thing is for certain — no one has called this campaign “inspiring”. That is why I was so pleasantly surprised this week to find inspiration while serving as a Democratic poll observer in Nevada. Enough has been written and read about the candidates. I have my strong opinions, which for the purposes of this article, I will keep to myself. Alas, amidst all of the chaos, clutter, rhetoric, hate-mongering and overall divisive behavior, it is the voters, simply exercising their voting rights which calmed my nerves, warmed my heart and assured me that there is hope for our democracy.
In my 35 hours of poll observing, I saw hundreds of first time voters cast their ballots. As each one signed in with the poll worker, the first timer was announced and cheered by all of the voters and workers in the room. Most of these first time voters were 18 years old and almost every one of them blushed with embarrassment at being the object of our cheers. I also observed an elderly American-born man who was voting for the very first time — when no one announced that he was a first time voter, he proudly self-identified as such and he beamed with pride as we cheered his late-in-life realization of his civic duty. He left the polling place with a spring in his step and a tear in his eye. I have thought a great deal about that man over the last few days; he could have but didn’t vote in elections over the past 60 years, but for whatever reason, this particular election moved him to vote.
I witnessed several new citizens cast their very first ballots as Americans, some of whom were so emotionally impacted by their right to vote that they left the polling place cheering or crying. I observed hundreds of disabled Americans, some in walkers, some in wheelchairs, who clearly were making significant efforts to get to the polls. In one case, a van which was specially equipped to transport people in wheelchairs brought four seniors over 90 years old to vote. One of those seniors insisted, after he voted, that he could not find his candidate, one of the two major party presidential candidates, on his ballot. His wife shared out loud that she had worked on surviving long enough to cast her ballot in this election to cancel out her husband’s poor choice. She claimed that staying alive despite her failing health was easier than trying to convince him he was wrong.
Many voters brought their children to the polling place, not only because of the lack of child-care options, but, more often than not, it was clear that they wanted to teach their children the importance of participating in the democratic process. I observed a felon come into the polling place and saw that he was crestfallen to learn that he had not taken the steps necessary in Nevada for a felon to reinstate his voting rights. I observed a grandmother bring her grandson who was turning 18 the day before election day to the polling place to try to persuade the poll workers that he should be allowed to vote despite the rule that one must be registered to vote 30 days before election and her grandson had not registered. I observed poll workers spend an hour with a voter whose name could not be found on the voting rolls; after many phone calls and persistent investigation, the voter’s registration was found and she was able to cast her ballot. It was stunning to watch a group of twenty blind people enter the polling place — as there were no braille ballots, each voter was assigned a witness and a helper and each voter cast a ballot.
Most sane people cannot wait for this election to be over; I join the ranks of the sane. Maybe I was desperate for inspiration. But, desperate or not, I was unexpectedly inspired by the simple act of watching Americans vote. Yes, of course, I care who they voted for and hope and pray that my candidate prevails. But, at least I found a magnanimous moment when my heart could open to all Americans who were engaging in simple act of exercising their voting rights.