Voting is a Community Affair
Like so many other states, West Virginia’s primary election was postponed nearly a month. Not only is it taking place later than first planned, now “going to the polls” and voting may be more like a trip to the nearest mailbox.
That’s what I had intended to do originally. After the impact of COVID-19 settled in, I followed up on a news story and applied for an absentee ballot through the secretary of state’s office. Better safe than sorry.
However, as barber shops, restaurants, and gyms started to reopen in May, I reconsidered. We live across the street from the elementary school that is home to our voting precinct.
So, next Tuesday, June 9, that’s where I’ll cast my primary ballot.
“I think I’d rather walk across the street,” I told my wife recently. “I don’t think it’s that big a deal and there probably won’t be much of a crowd anyway.”
This election season has been the strangest of my lifetime. As May brought an increasing number of reopened facilities, I kept hoping the community center less than a mile from our home would sponsor its customary “Meet the Candidates” forums. No such luck.
Nor did the assisted living facility where I had gone for one such meeting. With outside visits halted in mid-March, I don’t expect public gatherings will be held there for a while. The loss of grassroots voter activity is huge.
In my eyes, the most important elections aren’t at the national or even state levels, even though those office holders make vital decisions concerning our lives and the direction of our nation.
Still, when it comes down to the daily, nitty-gritty details, those closest to us often make the choices that have more of a direct impact.
And this year, I almost feel like I’m trying to make voting decisions in a vacuum.
Meeting the candidates is an exercise in education, one that informs the public of their views, policies, and accomplishments.
It’s easy to take these kinds of sessions for granted—until they’re no longer there.
On the negative side, after hearing one local office holder fumble her way through an answer that I thought should have come naturally to someone in her position, I voted for her opponent. She won anyway, but at least I didn’t vote for her.
As for the plus, I remember the candidates’ forum where I heard a young congressional candidate field every question thrown at him. Some were more suited to presidential candidates, but he didn’t duck. And if he didn’t know the answer, he said so.
While he didn’t win the primary, I remember how impressed I was and that voters were likely to hear more from him in the future.
In addition, that event reassured me about the fate of our seemingly fractured nation.
Since candidates weren’t preening for the cameras or trying to build a national image, they spent their time dealing with issues and explaining their hopes for our state.
If there’s one thing that I think is vital to a democratic form of government, it’s the free and open exchange of views and ideas.
Such exchanges are best done in a community setting. Yes, I know Zoom, FaceTime, and other tools have eased connections during a time of great need. But video conferencing will never replace in-person, press-the-flesh, real-life discussions.
Call me old-fashioned, but I think our need for community is why voting is more than a solitary act. It’s deciding as a group who we want to lead us.