Outside the polling places, all across the land, Americans waited patiently to cast their vote, do their duty, make their choices. … One Norman Rockwell scene after another unfolded. The American flags came out to be unfurled and displayed. The VOTE HERE signs were unwrapped, like Christmas ornaments, and displayed at every precinct, whether fire station or school or church.
The old and younger, able and disabled, native-born and immigrant, black and white and other, waited patiently. All took their assigned places in the quadrennial pageant. It was as if the line of voters extended clear across the continent and beyond. Our differences no longer mattered, for they are only outward differences, like party or region and all the rest. On election day it’s as if the American people line up for a group portrait-to see how we’ve grown. For one day, we are indeed one nation indivisible.
The death of civility, it seems, has been greatly exaggerated. The poll workers are helpful, friendly, doing their patient best. The waiting voters talk about the weather or anything else except how they’ll cast their secret ballot. Respect reigns. After months of public posturing, a healing reticence and courtesy emerge.
Somewhere, one could be sure, there were disputes and demagogues waiting to break loose again, but at your typical red-white-and-blue polling place, this was still a republic, not a circus. Amid all the attack ads and ordinary rancor, sometimes we forget there’s a difference. But not on election day, when this mass democracy stops swirling, the great herd parts, and everything comes down to one citizen casting one vote.
Election Day no longer has all the elements that once set it apart, what with early voting and electronic voting machines. But the day still has its magic. It still has an air of political communion, of a ritual that removes the stains of the campaign, and lets us all start clean again. It’s a spirit to hold on to as all the pre-election predictions become post-election explanations — or excuses. It’s a spirit to hold onto long after the day is past.