Election Day is exciting. It’s a ritual, trying to avoid eye contact and scurry past all of the politicians, campaign workers and people camped outside trying to convince people which way to vote.
There’s always an energy that almost emanates from the precinct. People stand in line – sometimes in long lines – confident, proud, and determined to contribute to the democratic experiment.
I am always nervous. I check for my license and voter’s registration several times before leaving the house. I carry an extra photo ID, extra pens, a hand-written list of how I plan to vote.
When I finally get to the voting booth, alone with my ballot, my heart races a little. I take a deep breath, absorb the gravity of the moment, and prepare to fill in my choices.
Politics has always been emotional: heated, partisan, negative; but, today’s political climate is so much worse, so much uglier, polarizing, violent.
That’s the backdrop of today’s vote: the weight I feel on my shoulders as I try to decide which candidate is best equipped to deal with our current reality, the pressure I feel trying navigate through the twelve confusing, complicated amendments, county and city referendums.
I have done my research. I read the newspaper, visited websites, thought through the options, talked them over.
And still, as i bubble in my choices, I’m nervous.
I finish, review my ballot, assuring that the bubbles are shaded in completely, that I’ve answered each question, that I selected the correct candidates. This too is, perhaps obsessive, trauma leftover from the “hanging chad” presidential election in 2000.
Then I feed my ballot into a machine — and wait.
I wonder, does everyone feel this kind of anxiety, excitement, pressure? If they do, they don’t talk about it.
Maybe it is just me, my own baggage – a first-generation American, the child of Cuban exiles that left everything behind in search of freedom and opportunity.
My father cherished his right to vote. It was a right that he never took for granted. My grandmother never learned to drive. After my grandfather passed away, she took a bus to the voting precinct.
There is something special about voting, especially when one has lived through the condemnation of free expression, the end of democratic elections, the criminalization of a free and independent press.
I don’t know if my own nervous energy, the pressure and sense of responsibility, is learned or whether – somehow – it is in my DNA, inherited from my family’s struggle.
That may be it. I vote because I can. And because I can, I must, not just for me, but in honor of everyone who could not.