We laughed. We clapped. We cheered. We petted puppies and made smiles with kids.
All in a Key West election day’s work at Precinct 7 in the Moose Lodge in Key West. That was my day Tuesday, working the polls, checking in voters, handing out ballots, chatting with friends, triple checking the process and celebrating the freedom to cast a ballot without fear.
With almost 62 percent of eligible Monroe County voters at the polls Tuesday, there’s no doubt Key West and the Florida Keys take their country seriously. At its core, voting is about that foundation belief that my voice — your voice — matters. That regardless of outcome, the casting of a ballot is a right, a responsibility and a privilege.
From the folks waiting to vote at 7 a.m., until our favorite guy came rushing in at the last minute after work before the polls closed at 7 p.m., Tuesday at the Moose Lodge was an all-American day. We had three poll watchers during the day; respectful and unobtrusive. We had first time voters and we cheered them. There were veteran voters with four or five decades behind them. We were young and old and in between. We were a demographic microcosm of Key West and the country.
Our day neither looked nor felt like the unsettling national headlines and social media posts predicting the demise of democracy and conflicts at the polls.
Tuesday was us. The real, actual us that is America, that is the democracy we really do believe in despite our outsized bickering, our unholy 2022 polarization and our overwhelming angst that some things simply aren’t right.
I’ve not got my head in the proverbial sand. I am some days scared out of my shorts at the dangers ahead and at the nut cases on all sides — regardless of our politics or which party holds sway. I am clear-eyed aware we wobble on the edge of a cliff of differences that could take our country in dark directions.
But. That didn’t happen this week.
(Aside to my blue and red friends: Not even in Florida. Florida isn’t a bellwether, folks, though our supersized reputation and the national media’s fascination with us can skew our perceptions. We’ve always been slightly, if not entirely, off the kilter. Hanging chads come to mind. It’s unfortunate, though, that Florida’s historic dysfunction gets to play pivotal roles rather more frequently than should be fair.)
Back to my point, which isn’t politics.
Key West election | Democracy worked Tuesday
American democracy held firm Tuesday. We didn’t go up in flames or down the tubes or whatever cliche works for you. We might not have gotten the result we wanted — and that goes for all sides — but America worked Tuesday. It certainly worked at Precinct 7 and from the headlines Wednesday morning, it worked in Arizona, California and, heck, Florida and Georgia.
We voted. Not just us old folks, but two huge new generations of voters, the Millennials and Gen Z, our children and grandchildren. Voting was harder in some places; lines were longer. Not everyone gets to live in a tropical island small town where lines are short and election workers are your next door neighbor.
Sometimes, I think, we conflate voting with the results of voting. Sort of like this:
- We say: Let’s get out the vote; everyone needs to vote
- What we mean: You should vote if you vote like I do
That’s not how American democracy works, though, and that makes for dissonance when the results of elections leave us — like now — with a status quo teetering precariously practically by the minute, not falling definitively to either side, but not quite steady either.
The uncertainty is unnerving. Like the stock markets, we humans can carry on if there’s stasis. We might not like the stasis, we might abhor that status quo, but at least we know what we’re dealing with and we can get on with getting on.
So, yeah, I totally understand why Tuesday left many folks of all political stripes discombobulated. For now, I’m going to leave that to the political junkies. I think America worked fine Tuesday. I am encouraged for our country’s future. Tough times head; maybe even bad ones. But.
Precinct 7 and the voter I call “our favorite guy” leave me optimistic. He’s a seemingly delightful young man whose mom is a precinct worker somewhere not here. Twice now, he’s bounded in at the last minute, saying his mom was going to kill him if he didn’t vote. He made it the first time. Tuesday? He needed to hotfoot it to another precinct halfway across town because he’d moved. He had time, but just, to get there.
I like to think he made it.
(PS: I ran into an election worker from his new precinct. He did, in fact, make it.)