Election Day 2008
On the way to my voting place yesterday, Sydney decided that she wanted to learn about voting, and elections, and who was president. Since she is all about writing words right now, she asked me to tell her how to write the "two presidents." With her trusty notebook in hand ("I'm taking it to vote," she said), I told her each of the candidate's names. "Obama," she said. "I think that starts with an O." Yep, I told her, she was right. "McCain," she said. "I think that starts with an M." Right again, I said.
She had me tell her how to spell each name, and then asked me who I was voting for. She found out, then added "Mom" next to my choice. "Who does Daddy like?" she said, and then added his name (she still writes him as "Pop," even though she now calls him Daddy most of the time) next to his choice. Next she asked about Delaney and McKenna, and then wrote their names next to their respective candidates. Then she said, "I'm for who you like," and added her name to the paper. (Doodles were added and, after she finished her project, it was like a strange, hodgepodge of names and candidates and differences and similarities and creativity...sort of like America itself, I thought to myself.)
Sure, she's four and she doesn't understand the inner workings of politics (well who does, really?), but it was cool to see her little mind at work on this important day. She traipsed into the community center with me, proudly held my hand as we waited in line, and then showed the lady behind the table her "ballot" (her sheet with all of those random names and designs on it). The lady remarked about how smart she was to write all of those names. And she gave us both a pen to vote with.
As we sat down at the table (no curtain-covered booths, or voting machines for us), I handed my sample ballot to Sydney (I could remember who was getting my presidential vote, but needed a "cheat sheet" to help me with the county tax assessors and the state amendments and such) and she got to bubbling in circles with her pen. She asked where the presidents were listed and I showed her (and she "voted" for the guy "Mommy likes"), and then she wanted to know what I was doing. I explained it to her as best as I could, using words like "democracy" and "freedom" that perhaps were a little bit over her head and then finally just coming down to a pretty simple explanation. I told her to look around at the other people in the room--men and women, young and old, black and white--and told her that every one of us were choosing who we wanted to be our president. "Pretty cool, huh?" I asked her.
We finished filling in our ballots and then fed them into the machines. I proudly took my "I Voted" sticker from the friendly young guy working the machine and he asked Sydney if she wanted a sticker. Sydney is never one to refuse a sticker (in fact, it's her favorite part of grocery shopping...asking the cashier for a sticker) and jumped up and down when he gave her a sheet of about ten of them. She asked me if I wanted another one, but I told her one vote was enough for me and, by the time we got to our car, she had five covering the front of her dress.
As I walked out of my voting experience, I smiled at the people around me, realizing what a great thing I'd just done. Sure, I was excited about who I'd voted for, but it was more than that. I realized that all of us who drove in and out of that parking lot, who stood in that line, who filled in those bubbles, who wore that sticker, were part of a greater "We." Though we have differences, we participated in this thing because we felt it was important; we were a community of believers.
I came home and read up on election happenings online; talked to my Mom about what she felt about the races; picked up the girls from school and heard some interesting stories about the political leanings of twelve- and sixteen-year-olds (mostly revolving around my daughters calling out other students on their ignorance about all of the candidates; I've told you before that I have strong-willed girls); and then watching with interest the election returns as they came in.
Delaney was especially fascinated with how it all worked out. Gary and I tried to explain the electoral vote process to her, and then we talked about how amazing it is that the process runs so smoothly. We argued a little bit about the candidates--yep, even up until the very end!--and then agreed to disagree. We talked about how historic this race was; a woman or an African American would be in the White House for the first time. Delaney came to the conclusion that "people are stupid if they don't vote. There are places in the world where you can't even do this."
I took a break to get the kids to bed (Delaney was determined to stay up and watch the speeches by the candidates, but getting up for school in the morning still trumps presidential politics in our house), then read some real-time results on my computer and checked my email. My Mom, who voted for McCain but has understanding for most sides of any story (and is very intelligent to boot), had just emailed me. Part of her message said: "Obama will be my president and I will pray hard for him."
And when the night was finally over, I was struck by so many things...the classiness of McCain's concession speech...the historical significance of President Obama...the stirring optimism in his acceptance speech....the challenge of our future (it won't be easy)...but, more than anything, the power of our system.
As I had said to Sydney earlier in the day, "Pretty cool, huh?"