Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I Voted (Early)

I have already previously (in October 2012) written expressing my ambivalence about the contemporary practice of "Early Voting." (See And I have really little to add to what I said there. Yet once again (and for essentially the same practical reason) I find myself taking advantage of the concession of Early Voting. And so, while as an individual I can certainly appreciate the convenience of Early Voting, I cannot resist wondering about its long-term social cost.

Among other things, the act of voting is a symbolic civic ritual, which signifies the voter's participation as a citizen in the society's civic life. Hence, the value of its being public and communal. Growing up, I watched my parents go to the polls on crisp autumn days – first, to register (back then when one had to register every time one planned to vote) and, later, to vote. Members of the “Greatest Generation,” my parents always set a good example faithfully voting in every election. Of course, voting is about expressing one's personal political preferences, but to me voting has always also been about participating in the process, bonding with one's fellow-citizens, and communally legitimizing the winner's mandate to govern – all very important things, that we neglect to our peril!

Nonetheless, I have, on occasion, voted by absentee ballot, when for some reason I was going to be away on Election Day. Likewise, in recent years, I have resorted to the newer and much more convenient practice of Early Voting for essentially the same reason - since I have a community meeting to attend in Washington during election week and therefore cannot vote in person on Election Day. For that reason, I appreciate the opportunity for Early Voting. But I am also conscious of and concerned about the correspondingly diminished significance of the Election Day experience itself. And I can't help but think that the resulting convenience-store approach to voting is in its own way problematic for democratic citizenship. It is like so many other things - self-service gas stations, ATMs, etc. - that our individualistic society fosters, but which may inevitably have a deleterious effect on our society's increasingly fragile  communal bonds.

And so I repeat the question I posed two years ago about Early Voting. Can the symbolic resonance of participating in the electoral process survive being reduced to what seems like yet another convenience-store transaction? As with anything else that has - or once had - a communitarian context and significance, when we align the civic ritual of voting with individual timetables rather than a common calendar, do we, in the long run, run the risk of losing even more of what little we have left of a once much more vibrant civic culture?

1 comment:

  1. I never vote early, for one because I enjoy voting on the day, with other people. It's exciting, almost festive, and I usually bring a child along to have a civics lesson and help push buttons. :-) Also, what if there is late-breaking news that might have made me wish to change my vote? It's not likely but it's possible.