Paul Greenberg

It was restful Tuesday in the old fire station where I cast my vote among friends and neighbors. The whole day was a calm between two storms -- the wind-up of the campaign with all its last-minute appeals and fulminations, and the hullabaloo of election night with its victory statements and concession speeches as the returns came in. Election Day is a 12-hour lull between those two barrages.

From the time the first ballot is cast in the morning and the last one that evening, there's a chance that perspective will set in. On Election Day, it is all up to the people, and they make their decision in simple, orderly procession. In quiet dignity. The voices at the polling station are muted, respectful. They sink to an undertone. Yes, like in church.

In the back of the fire station there's an antique fire truck -- from the 1930s, maybe the '40s. It's behind a rope, its years of service done, but the air around the old pumper still seems charged with past alarms and emergencies. Some echo of a now gone haste and danger clings to it like smoke -- a reminder that the old machine, now a kind of sculpture resting there, once clanged through the streets on urgent, life-saving missions.

The old truck wasn't made for display purposes -- any more than free elections were intended as only a ceremonial exercise. Both were meant to perform a vital function.

This Election Day morning you want to capture the atmosphere at the old firehouse as you would take a snapshot for the family album -- as a reminder of the way we were, and are, and should be. There's nothing like an ordinary American polling place to sum up those two complementary poles of the American system: liberty and order. Those are not ordinary qualities in most of the world. But here in the old fire station, you could imagine Norman Rockwell over in the corner, pipe stuck in a corner of his mouth, painting the scene for a Saturday Evening Post cover, maybe as part of his Four Freedoms series. Here all is peace, neighborliness, simplicity as voters mark their ballots, complete their devotions.

Then it is done, the decisions made, and once again, the people rule. May it ever be so.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.