The Joy of Voting

Today is Maryland's presidential primary day and I'm damn happy about it. Usually I make a point to downplay the importance of voting, because I believe that so much of the change we need in society will only come through our daily efforts. But there's something special about voting which I want to celebrate today.

I love the process and ritual of voting. I love driving to my local polling place at the Waldorf School, a former neighborhood elementary school and one of the places where my soccer teams have played over the years. There, each voter is welcomed by the army of campaign workers handing out literature for their candidate or slate. I used to try and avoid these folks, but now I simply smile and say, "No, but thanks!" It's true, I do not want their literature; but I deeply admire their tenacity and enthusiasm, especially as people's engagement in public life has waned.

I love standing in line to vote, where I inevitably bump into a neighbor or someone else I know – or "sort of know." Inevitably, I find myself in conversation with the person next to me in line, someone I usually don't know. But at the voting place, the barriers that often divide us, or keep us at arms' length seem to melt away.

I love the senior citizens who check my voting registration and sign me in where I vote. They always take a while to find my name, sometimes not clearly hearing me when I say my name, or they have difficulty making out the voting log. In our hard-driving consumer-minded society, we'd declare this poor customer service. But there is something quite beautiful in the interaction – the intergenerational mix, the slower pace, the welcoming smile, and the fumbling. It's real.

I love the fact that so many people bring their kids along with them to vote. Yes, they take longer to vote, as they often allow their children to mark the ballot, or they tell their children about a candidate or two. But, in our hyper-busy lives, isn't it worth the wait?

I love the little "I Voted" stickers you get after you vote. In fact, a colleague of mine walked into my office this morning proudly wearing the little sticker, saying that he always regretted not getting the sticker when he voted absentee. It is a curious badge of honor: at a time when people so dislike the condition of public life and politics, the "I Voted" sticker is a sign of commitment to our common endeavor. What's more, we all wear it on the same day, showing a kind of democratic or civic solidarity, even if we voted for different candidates representing different ideas and values.

I love voting because it causes people to talk about public life and politics in ways we often dismiss or fail to achieve at other times. For instance, my 20 buddies who buy Washington Nationals baseball tickets together exchanged 20 or so e-mails between yesterday and today arguing the merits of different candidates and exploring the different reasons for their support. It was a conversation, filled with argument, discussion, and great humor. I opened the e-mails with anticipation, and with a sense of deep respect for each individual who made their case, carefully listened, and swiftly calibrated their responses.

I love voting this year in particular because it is my 18-year old daughter's first time. Indeed, my wife and I gave her permission yesterday to skip school and go to a Barack Obama rally with two other high school friends. She got up before 6 AM to drive to the University ofMaryland to be with about twenty thousand Obama fans. Then, last night, she, her 15-year old brother, my wife, and I all sat in our kitchen for quite some time talking about her feelings about Obama, politics, her life, my work, our family.

For sure, no candidate, however hopeful, can deliver us to a promised land. So many of the challenges we face will be met in our own communities. And so much of the work that must take place will require one effort after another in order to produce results that reflect our genuine aspirations. But, that said, I want to celebrate my voting this year.

Voting is a curious event, intensely personal and yet fundamentally a collective act. Let us rejoice in our expression, find a place at the table of public debate, and do our work.