KUT Radio, Austin

For me, Election Day is like a church gathering for the neighborhood. Like a Sunday visit to church, the journey to the poll at the school near my house gives me a physical connection to a very specific group of people  many of whom share my beliefs and concerns.

The differences between the precinct and the parish are few. In the precinct, we share a zip code. In the parish, we share a faith. But in both, we are self-selecting groups who are more alike than we are different.

Now, I’m not arguing for church-based government. Far from it. I’m only saying that voting deserves the same kind of significance in our lives as religious belief. Voting is a right. It is also, I believe, a moral obligation – an obligation for membership in our society.

I like voting. I like the process. Of course, I’m never organized enough to have my voter registration card with me when I go to the polls, so I have to show them my drivers license and then sign on the yellow sheet with upside down writing on one side.

When I get to the voting booth and am forced to choose, I’m often a contrarian. I’ll vote for people that I know nothing about, just because I like their name. Or in a race where one candidate is almost certain to prevail, I’ll vote for a person who has absolutely no chance of winning.

I don’t think of it as wasting my vote. Not at all. Instead, I’m exercising my right to support a candidate – who unlike me, whose political career ended when I lost my bid to be the secretary of my high school’s student council in 1976 – has decided to endure the ultimate popularity contest, and all the frustration and pain that comes with it.

My favorite quote about voting comes from one of my favorite presidents, Lyndon Johnson. He called voting, the “most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.”

Johnson saw voting as a way to connect people, to bind them in a common purpose, a common belief in a government of the people. And in that connection there is something that borders on the sacred.


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