The silence is wonderful. After almost two years of endless campaigns, a blizzard of direct mail pieces, a cacophony of negative ads, and the constant, toxic churn of the five minute news cycle, you’ve come to the end. At last you’re standing in the voting booth, and it’s so beautifully, perfectly, finally quiet.
You exhale and pick up the marker. It’s been such a long four years. Nothing went right, nothing at all. Maybe you voted for Obama, hoping against all reason that the country would step back from the cliff we climbed during the past decade, and everyone would get some normalcy at last. It didn’t work out that way. Obama’s first term has been such a hate-fest, such a constant, stressful battle. We’ve lived through the Tea Party, Occupy, ugly racism, sexism, and so much more. Before Obama it was nothing but crisis after crisis, from 9/11 to the economic collapse. You’ve started to wonder if things were ever normal.
You know they’re saying this election is, again, the most important of our time. But you’re still worried about your job, about paying the rent and keeping the heat on this winter. The roads are cracked, the schools are bad. Your friends on the Connecticut shore were flooded out by the hurricane, and your parents in New Jersey have been living in a shelter for a week. The campaigns aren’t talking about any of that, not really. They’re not about you at all.
So what are you voting for? You’re pretty sure that Linda McMahon won’t be able to actually enact that thin jobs plan of hers, and you hate her campaign’s negativity. You’re also mystified as to what Chris Murphy will do as a Senator, except be a Democrat. You like that Esty and Roraback were both supposed to be moderates, but somehow that race descended into the same old fight between the parties. Everyone talks about getting past partisanship, and you wish they would, but sometimes it seems like Republican or Democrat is the only choice you get to make anymore.
For the big races that choice is like a reflex. It’s more about your culture, your values, your friends, and your feelings than it is about any kind of policy. How can it be about policy? After all, it’s been all this time but you still don’t know what a Romney presidency will be like, or what Obama has in mind for his second term. You don’t know what national Democrats and Republicans really plan on doing beyond a set of vague promises and shared assumptions. At this point you only know how you feel, there in that silence, alone. You know who you like, and who you are.
You mark your ballot.
Some people keep telling you that it’s not worth it. They’re sitting it out, they don’t bother. Your vote doesn’t count, they say. It’s all just companies and corrupt cronies running everything. Not voting is a way to opt out of a broken system. But you’re here every year. You couldn’t be anywhere else.
There’s always this little spark of hope, maybe it will get better this time. It’s like your own personal revolution; some countries change things through rallies in the streets or at the point of the gun. We do it by choosing. Even when it feels so hollow and fake, even when all the candidates are gut-wrenchingly terrible and the parties are lost in their respective bubbles, it’s still a choice. It’s more than some people get.
You move from president down to local races, filling in ovals. On the devastated shore they’re voting today, and you have no idea how they’re managing. You remember voting last year, after that storm destroyed so much, after the power finally came back on. It felt less like a victory than a statement of resilience, and maybe that’s what this election is. We are still here. We are still us.
You scan back to the top, consider the referendum question for your town, make your final choices, and then you’re done. You put the marker down and the silence is broken. The muted sounds of the high school’s gym return as you walk to the machine and slide your ballot in. They give you your sticker, and you walk out into the bright, crisp air, full of emotions you can’t even describe, ready for whatever might happen next.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.