Election Day should not only be a national holiday, a mandatory day off for all but essential workers, but it should be a celebration of American pride in democracy at work.
By David Todd McCarty | Thursday, October 1, 2020
I’ve always felt a strong sense of pride when it comes to voting. A powerful feeling of civic duty and responsibility, as if I had stepped forward and laid one of the blocks in the foundation of American democracy myself. It has always seemed to be both a serious as well as joyful act—solemn and exhilarating, pensive and merry. But the act of voting itself has always seemed a little anti-climatic, a little less than hoped for.
Maybe it’s related to the sleepy nature of my little polling place deep in the heart of Goshen, New Jersey, but I always felt there should be a little more fanfare. A little more pizazz. Like when I come out of the booth after having made my decisions on the fate of democracy and my place in it, there should be a fuss. And by a fuss, I mean a small crowd of people should cheer, a stately woman should kiss me on both cheeks and a man wearing a top hat and sash should shake my hand and pat me on the back and congratulate me for a job well done. A small choir should sing a brief note of gratitude. Maybe a little light confetti. Then I should push through the doors into the reception area for coffee and donuts and wait for the band to set up and the bar to open.
By the time Election Day comes around on the third of November this year, most of the country will have already voted, which will be a first in American history. The global pandemic has upended many norms and traditions throughout the world, and our election will be no different from that perspective. As a moment in time, there is little precedent for what we are living through right now, but hopefully that moment is coming to an end and we can move onto repairing this tattered nation. And as long as we’re revisiting things, to see what we can repair and rebuild, I think we should revisit Election Day and think about how little emphasis we place on this hallowed of days.
Maybe no one will buy into my idea for a bit more theatrics surrounding voting, but I think it would certainly help engagement. At the very least we could provide people those little stickers that say “I voted,” which is possibly the least we could do and yet not even worth mentioning in Cape May County, New Jersey where apparently no one thinks it is worth spending money on. I have to assume this is largely because we are entirely controlled by Republicans and they are not in the business of encouraging people to vote, but I haven’t seen the Democrats do anything about it either.
Actually most political establishment types are not all that enthusiastic about giving a voice to the masses. Democracy is not the same thing as politics. Political parties are structured to generate and maintain power, not fight for justice. They are incentivized to keep order and maintain the status quo, not disturb the peace. Even our founding fathers, the framers of the Constitution were deeply fearful and skeptical of allowing the common rabble too much say in how the sausage was made. Give them just enough to keep them from insurrection, and you’d done your job well. They might actually have been on to something, as our efforts to move closer to direct democracy have so far yielded the deadlocked and entirely dysfunctional political environment we find ourselves into today. Living under a benevolent authority may in fact be better than the chaos and anarchy of direct democracy, even if it means you get less say. It’s worth considering. But this is America and we like to complain about things we don’t understand and criticize anyone in authority because it makes us feel powerful. But we don’t especially like to vote.
I think it would be good if we took another page from history and took seriously the notion that an informed citizenry makes for good democracy. We would start with the idea that teaching civics is first and foremost. Every citizen in America should have a better than working knowledge of how our government functions, and their place in it. We also need a better, more critical understanding of history, not only the world’s but our own, and not only our achievements, but our missteps as well. How will our children know what mistakes to avoid when they become leaders if there is no institutional memory within our electorate?
So encouraging voting should start in kindergarten and continue through till you have to vote absentee from your deathbed. Let’s start with giving everyone a sticker, but I have some other ideas. They are not necessarily well-thought out, but they are more for inspiration than as any sort of roadmap to a viable future.
Why can’t we create voting machines that give us some sensory feedback. When you press a button, they should make a sound. When you have finished making your selections and hit the vote button (which should be enormous by the way), there should be a sound of cheering and fanfare and the lights should flicker. You should get that little thrill you experience when you hit the penny slots or get change for a dollar at the laundromat. A little sense of accomplishment.
When you left the polling area, there should be greeters, made up of volunteers from the local political parties, there to cheer on the voting process. Someone should adorn you with a sticker and shake your hand (if we’re still doing that sort of thing that is) and not only thank you, but congratulate you on keeping democracy alive. We should not take this act so lightly. If we can thank someone for their service in an airport, we can thank the person who just helped to keep the whole thing going for theirs.
If we’re making a patriotic celebration of Election Day, I think there should be a party. I’m not sure why elections are in November, but it’s not a great month for a party. Maybe we could move the whole thing up a month to at least October, but it’s fine, we can have a party in November. Fill the gymnasium with balloons and streamers, hire a band, set up tables with pastries and coffee and lemonade. Encourage everyone get to know their neighbors. Share stories and laughs. Remember that they’re just like you, even if they’re not. Don’t talk politics, because that’s done for the day. Talk about your grandkids, and the local football team and the vacation you have planned. Let the kids run around like maniacs and don’t leave until someone cries. You know, like a family thing.
That’s sort of my forced family fun portion of the day, and I think an important part, but we’re not through. The rest of the day should be spent with family and friends, neighbors and co-workers. Think of it as a cross between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. Oh, I almost forgot. No one wants to do anything on a Tuesday. Tuesday’s suck. Election Day should be on a Friday so everyone has the rest of the weekend off. So pile up that plate and have a nap. There won’t be anything but reruns on the television because everyone has the day off. No football or game shows. Maybe they just run Groundhog Day on a loop.
It’s not going to solve all our problems, not by a long shot, but it couldn’t hurt. For now, I just hope everyone will take this election seriously and take the time to vote. It’s a messed up country at times to be sure, but it’s the only one we have. Let’s try to take care of it.
I still want my sticker.