Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Faith in America


"Florida's early polling was designed to make voting easier, but enormous voter turnout swamped the limited number of early polling sites. Over the weekend, people in some polling places had to stand in line for four, five, even six hours, often in the hot sun. Some of them - African-Americans in particular - surely suspected that those lines were so long because officials wanted to make it hard for them to vote. Yet they refused to be discouraged or intimidated.

Here's what a correspondent from Florida wrote to Joshua Marshall, of talkingpointsmemo.com: "To see people coming out - elderly, disabled, blind, poor; people who have to hitch rides, take buses, etc. - and then staying in line for hours and hours and hours ... Well, it's humbling. And it's awesome. And it's kind of beautiful."

Yes, it is. I always get a little choked up when I go to the local school to cast my vote. The humbleness of the surroundings only emphasizes the majesty of the process: this is democracy, America's great gift to the world, in action.

But over the last few days I've been seeing pictures from Florida that are even more majestic. They show long lines of voters, snaking through buildings and on down the sidewalk: citizens patiently waiting to do their civic duty. Those people still believe in American democracy; and because they do, so do I.

In truth, I wasn't sure what would happen in Florida this year. After all that has gone wrong with voting in that state, it seemed all too possible that many people would simply give up and stay home.

But it's already clear that the people of Florida - and, I believe, America as a whole - have refused to give in to cynicism and spin.

Far from being discouraged by what happened in 2000, they seem to realize more than ever - and better than those of us in the chattering classes - what a precious thing the right to vote really is. And they are determined to exercise that right.

And it's not just in Florida. Similar stories are coming in from across the country, wherever early voting is allowed: everywhere, huge numbers of voters are coming to the polls, determined to exercise their democratic rights.

Of course, most Americans won't get their chance to vote until today, but I have no doubt that they will turn out in record numbers. I don't think the rain that will blanket some parts of the country will deter them. Regardless of their politics, most Americans understand that this is a crucial election, and that never before has their vote mattered so much for the nation's destiny.

The talking heads on TV will no doubt frame all of this in partisan terms: light turnout favors one party, heavy turnout favors the other. True enough.

But this isn't a zero-sum game: the more people vote, the more vital is our democracy.

By coming to the polls, citizens are literally giving a vote of confidence in American democracy. And in so doing, they are proving themselves wiser than some of those they elected.

Those who govern us seem to have learned little from the 2000 electoral debacle: voting machines are still unreliable, voting officials are still unforgivably partisan.

But the public seems to have learned a lesson. Instead of becoming cynical, people seem to have become motivated. After an election in which a few hundred votes determined the fate of the nation, after four years of an administration that has demonstrated, for good or ill, that it matters a lot who becomes president, citizens know that their votes matter. And they are determined to cast those votes.

What will happen when they do cast those votes? I don't know; neither does anyone else. That's how democracy works.

Regular readers won't be in any doubt about who I want to win, though New York Times rules prevent me from giving any explicit endorsement. (Hint: it's the side that benefits from large turnout.) Above all, though, I want to see democracy vindicated, and the stain of 2000 eradicated, by a clean election in which as many people as possible get to cast their votes, and have those votes counted.

And all the evidence says that's what the American people want, too. May all of us get our wish."

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