Jenkins: Your vote, and only your vote

October 31, 2012 

Early voting has made life easier, and for a lot of people with infirmities, or with jobs that don’t permit time to do the duty in the conventional way, better. It’s also lightened the load on Election Day for voters and voting place workers alike. I’ve done it a couple of times myself.

But come Tuesday, I’ll be alone in the booth in West Raleigh, hunkered down over one of those flimsy tables, holding that marker, trying for once not to go outside the lines. It feels like a powerful moment, and it is.

Consider, when in life do you have absolute, final power? No one to answer to. No orders to follow. Not even a deadline, really. And no one to please, with whom to compromise. No one can join you in your little three by three space unless you want them to. No official can look over your shoulder.

And unlike many places and circumstances in our lives, the booth doesn’t know if you’re wealthy and on the way to the Grove Park Inn for the weekend or headed downtown to forestall Progress Energy cutting off your lights. The booth can’t discriminate against you because of your skin color or your accent or the clothes you wear.

You are the boss. In fact, congratulations. You have been elected president of the booth. It happened when you registered to vote.

If you think about it, the booth is a pretty good metaphor for what Democracy is supposed to be in its purest form. Of the people, by the people, for the people. It’s supposed to be about citizens choosing their leaders unencumbered by ... anything. We’re supposed to vote by conscience. We are supposed to vote by using our own judgment. We are supposed to vote respectful of the right as designed for us and preserved for us by those guys on Rushmore.

Franklin Roosevelt was elected president at the most desperate time in the country’s modern history, a time that might well have brought revolution without drastic government action. But this great man, this leader for the ages, wasn’t anointed by divine right. He ran for election like all those before him, and the people made the choice. He won, but using that great power in the booth, the people might have chosen differently. It was, and is, their right.

This election season has brought us, individually and collectively, a bombardment of the most amazing and expensive ads and mailings ever encountered. Of the boxes of stuff received, anyway, a fraction of it has been informational in nature. Most has included emphatic claims or attacks. In one race in which I’m eligible to vote, a candidate’s supporters have in effect claimed that his opponent has raised taxes so many times you’d think there ought to be another coming of the Boston Tea Party in his front yard.

Only the “tax-raising” candidate isn’t in office.

I know the guy the mailings are supposed to benefit, and he’s a perfectly reasonable, smart, nice person. But his supporters are trying to sway me in a way that insults my intelligence.

They’re not the only ones, of course. The bombardment comes from the left and the right. The punches are above the belt and below the belt. They’re over the phone, and you can’t talk back.

Some even come, in the view of many, from On High. The Rev. Billy Graham’s image has appeared in ads clearly designed to support in a way at least conservative viewpoints and thus presumably conservative candidates such as, say, Mitt Romney. Rev. Graham is a great man and has done more good in his life than I’ll every do, but I don’t really care what he thinks about politics.

He and the mail and the television set can hit us with all the messages they want, and if we’re walking around or sitting at home or waiting for an elevator, I guess we can’t escape.

But that booth? That space they cannot enter, and in fact, the rules are they can’t even get within a certain distance of the polling place.

There, the speechifying and the preaching and the commercials and the mailings do not matter. Democracy then produces a profound silence.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com

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