Last week, after weighing all of my options, I decided to cast my ballot by mail. I had studied the actuarial tables and found that the chances my vote would be hijacked by train robbers, anarchists, pirates or an evil doppelganger were pretty low.
And so last Tuesday I tucked my ballot in the visor of my car and headed to the post office.
A very cordial counter employee took my ballot, applied the 70 cent yellow butterfly stamp to its face, deposited it in a bin with other outgoing mail and gave me 30 cents change for the dollar bill I had handed him.
It occurred to me that we had just entered into an unspoken pact. For 70 cents he and a host of other mail handlers would see to it my vote would be delivered to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections before Election Day with no interference.
I know the postal clerk felt the importance of the moment too because quite unexpectedly he said, “Thank you for trusting the United States Post Office with your ballot.”
There we were two strangers, two Americans, and we had just participated in the sacred act of voting and trust.
We don’t think much about the post office or our daily mail delivery until something goes wrong and then we take to Facebook to rail and rant.
I grew up in a gentler time when the United States Postal Service was revered and not reviled. When it was non-political and had no other motive than delivering the mail in a timely fashion. As the motto goes, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
But this year the postal service became a political tool and unwilling accomplice in election year shenanigans. That this was done in swing states was a shamelessly blatant act of partisan politics.
That this proud, still-useful, 200-year-old institution had been nearly hobbled by plans to slow delivery of mail, make the post office appear so unreliable that voters would lose faith in the “vote by mail” process made me angry.
The endgame of these machinations was to discourage people from voting by mail – which would be a lifesaver during the coronavirus pandemic. But instead it would force voters to swamp polling places and turn Election Day into a super-spreader event. Or perhaps it would discourage Americans to not vote at all.
That sounds like some conspiracy theory, doesn’t it? But, then, we are living through interesting times when the unimaginable happens on a near daily basis.
That the counter worker would thank me for entrusting the post office with my vote made me equal parts sad and angry. Voting should not be this hard.
Way back when, we simply walked into our precinct polling place, gave our name, signed the big book of registered voters, entered a voting booth, pulled a black curtain behind us and made our choices.
Today we are advised to plan our vote by weighing how we will participate in the great American experiment.
Mail in, drop off or in person are weighed against how we view the COVID-19 danger and how long we are able to stand in line without falling down, passing out or expiring.
Voting takes serious consideration of the candidates and the issues, where, when and how we will vote, and most of all it takes stamina, resolve and appreciation.
Voting has become hard. But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it will make us think more seriously about it and appreciate the right to vote a little more ardently.