This Tuesday it all comes to an end: The Presidential election cycle that kicked off with great fanfare about the same time that Ronald Reagan was playing George Armstrong Custer in the movie, “Santa Fe Trail.” Obviously I’m kidding. It only seems like President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney have been sparring since 1940. Actually, it wasn’t all that long ago that David Letterman’s and Jon Stewart’s lives were a lot easier, because they had Newt and Herman and Rick and Michele and another Rick battling Mitt. Nothing says late night comedy better than a Presidential candidate who has absolutely no idea how many justices sit on the Supreme Court – except, maybe, Donald Trump’s hair. (Just for the record, Donald Trump’s hair never officially ran for President. There was some issue with whether it was made in the U.S.A.) Ah, memories. Now that was great TV.
In any case, this Tuesday we vote. Finally.
The first time I voted in a Presidential election was 1980. And while my guy didn’t win, it was still a heady experience. And, the fact remains, voting hasn’t lost any of its luster. There are many things in this country I take for granted, but voting will never be among them.
Earlier this year, I was in Yerevan, Armenia, and I happened to be there on election day. The fellow showing me around was a friend of a friend, an ambitious and hardworking auto parts entrepreneur named Movses Babayan. Mid-afternoon on our second day together, we went to the elementary school near where he lives so he could vote. I stood in line with him as he signed in and presented an i.d., and then waited as he went to a card table with a three-sided cardboard curtain perhaps two feet high, behind which he could use a pencil and draw X’s on a paper ballot.
When he was done, I sensed he was a riot of emotions: On the one hand, voting to him was profoundly important – and he wanted the voting to be free of corruption. After all, he had been born in Armenia when it was still a part of the communist Soviet Union. Armenia has been an independent, democratic nation for only twenty-one years. On the other hand, Movses was ashamed at how primitive the voting procedure might seem to me – a guest from the United States.
“We use pencils and paper,” he said to me, shaking his head.
“That’s how I vote in Vermont,” I reassured him.
At first, he didn’t believe me. And so I described for him precisely how I vote here in Lincoln. “I wander to the dining room in Burnham Hall,” I said. “It’s across the street from the village’s general store. I state my name to people who’ve known me a quarter-century now, and they hand me the paper ballot. Then I go behind a curtain where there’s a wooden shelf and a wooden pencil. Just like you, I mark my X’s. Then I fold the paper, emerge from behind the curtain, and slip the paper into a metal box with a slot. When I’m done, I buy a homemade brownie from the bake sale. There’s always a bake sale.”
He presumed everyone in America used a modern voting booth. I told him no. I considered telling him that the modern voting booth might be overrated, and regaling him with terms like “hanging” and “pregnant chads.” Instead I simply reminded him of something he understood better than I: Voting is a privilege and a responsibility and an honor. It doesn’t matter how we vote – whether we use a digital kiosk or we stand behind a cardboard curtain with a pencil. All that matters is that we do vote.
This Tuesday is a symbol of how fortunate we are. If you happen to be that one person left in the nation who is still undecided, be sure and do your homework on the candidates. Then, on Tuesday, take your responsibility seriously. Don’t vote for Donald Trump’s hair. It couldn’t possibly have been made in America.
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This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on November 4, 2012. Chris’s most recent novel, “The Sandcastle Girls,” is a finalist in the Goodreads Choice Award in Historical Fiction. You can vote here.