Democracy is exhausting. So many rules and procedures for poll workers. So many Power Point slides and swearing of oaths on penalty of perjury. So much preparation, diligence, and care. At 14 hours, my day as a deputy registrar and ballot clerk was brief compared to those who stayed well into the night counting, double-checking, making sure everything was secure and in order.
Recently, someone commented on social media that “politics is war.” My reply: politics in a healthy democratic republic is the opposite of war. However one imagines war, as glorious or, as Union General Sherman described it, “hell,” it is only about the use of force to decide who is to be in power. Politics in the democratic process is ideally about the use of language and ideas, laws, rules, and procedures to determine how power is most equitably and effectively distributed among the people and used by those we elect to represent us.
A dangerous minority of Americans wants us to believe the American Revolution was the only important event in the formation of our country; that America needs to be “won” by armed conflict. We saw what that looks like on Jan. 6, 2021. What I saw on Primary Day was what it takes to maintain democracy: everyone conscientiously doing their part.
I saw well over a thousand voters waiting patiently as clerks checked IDs against the register. Some are friends and neighbors whose political affiliations I hadn’t known before. I saw a few people understandably disgruntled when they found out last year’s redistricting changed them to a different ward, but ready to take extra time to get to their correct polling place. I saw young people happy to be registering to vote for the first time and older people using canes and crutches to power through pain and disability and vote. Clerks accompanied twenty-some people who needed a re-do on their ballot to the Moderator so they could watch their first ballot be voided and get a new one. Citizen observers sat six feet behind the ballot clerks. Someone from the State Attorney General’s office paid us a visit. City officials made the rounds. A police officer was on duty the whole time. Many parents brought children with them so they could see how democracy works. It was beautiful.
Anti-democracy extremists are working hard to undermine by intimidation, lies, corruption, and force all the good work that goes into politics. They want us to think of our political rivals as mortal enemies and government by the people as a failure. But it’s nearly impossible to believe in conspiracies about stolen elections; government takeovers by devil-worshipping cults; vote-changing Italian satellites; or even buses full of people from Massachusetts, when we see how democracy works. It’s not glorious or glamorous. It’s not “war”; it’s work. It’s work “to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,” and it’s up to us, each in our own way, to do it.