I’ve told this story before, but it bears re-telling on the eve of Election Day.
On my eighteenth birthday, my mom took me to the town clerk’s office so that I could register to vote. I didn’t have my driver’s license yet (that was later in the week, as I recall, on account of the governor having a heart attack and the state offices being closed). So, my mom drove me into town, and I went in to fill out the paperwork and to take the Freemen’s Oath, which is a thing you do in Vermont when you register to vote.
The Freemen’s Oath (now called the Voter’s Oath) is a pledge that no one is buying your vote or coercing you to vote in a certain way. In other words, you are voting your conscience, and for what or whom you deem to be in the best interest of the state.
It goes like this:
You solemnly swear (or affirm) that whenever you give your vote or suffrage, touching any matter that concerns the State of Vermont, you will do it so as in your conscience you shall judge will most conduce to the best good of the same, as established by the Constitution, without fear or favor of any person.
Three little lines. I said them, and then turned around and smiled at my mom, who was fighting back tears. I guess it’s that same feeling I get when I see my own child take a big step toward adulthood.
Wikipedia tells me that Vermont is the only state to require such an oath. I think that’s unfortunate because standing there in the town clerk’s office and saying those words made me feel that voting is not only a right; it is a solemn duty. Yeah, it felt a little cheesy in an era where everything solemn feels slightly cheesy. But it also felt real and important.
I can’t imagine not voting. And while I tend to vote by mail in other elections, I pretty much always vote in person for the November elections. There’s something about being there—of standing up in public and taking part in that process—that makes me feel like Election Day is a special day, and that I am participating bodily, concretely, in an amazing, important process. I like to see the election workers’ faces and the people coming out from the booths ahead of me. Here we are, doing this democracy!
I understand that some people just want to get it done, and I understand that some people are uncertain about being able to get to the polls on the actual day. I get that. You mail it off or you go in early, and you know it’s done. What I don’t get is people who don’t care—who say their vote doesn’t count, or it’s choosing a lesser of two evils, or it’s all screwed up anyhow so why bother.
I’ve voted in a state where there was no way in heck pretty much any candidate I voted for would get in. I’ve voted in a state where my vote was a drop in an ocean of support for my candidates. I voted for an outsider candidate in a national election in an urban precinct that went something like 97% for that candidate when the rest of the country said, “who?”
And I’ve seen elections in this state go to recounts that went on for days and came down to a few dozen votes.
Every vote counts that gets cast and gets counted. Whether you’re part of an ocean swell or just a single raindrop that wears away at the powers-that-be. Lesser of two evils, you say? Yeah, I vote for less evil. Because less evil is better in my book than more.
All screwed up, you say? Yup, I think that’s something that we should work on together, and the way we start (start!) to work on it is to vote.
See you at the polls.