At Large : Voting the way it ought to be
My ballot was the one hundred sixty-first cranked into the Chilmark ballot box by Jess Bradlee Tuesday morning. The box acknowledged my choices with a muted ding. It was a sweet, mild November morning, made for getting important business done early, which I hastened to do, but birds earlier than I was had gotten the worm. Could there be a moment more pleasant than the one when you implement a decision you've been picking at for two years, because finally the time has come to make your all-important mark. And when you do, someone like Jess, the town clerk, marks the moment with a cheery greeting and a bright wide smile. The workday begins full of promise.
In Chilmark, there are no chads, hanging or otherwise, no tiny ovals to fill in, no levers to pull, no mystery over whose name is aligned with what hole on the punch card. You walk into the Community Center, give your name (often you needn't bother, because the gatekeepers know your name), collect your ballot and march right up to one of the low, three-sided, varnished plywood stalls. The ballot is paper, and it unfolds in long, narrow pages. Election races are on the first few pages, questions on the reverse. In the stall, there's a yellow pencil of the sort you send with your grammar school child in his pencil box, along with the big eraser, the protractor, and the crayons, plus one GI Joe for lunchtime diversion. Next to each candidate's name or each answer to a ballot question, there is a large, vacant rectangle. It's about three feet by four feet, you can't miss it. That's where you make your X. I try to do it neatly from one corner to the diagonal opposite, no wavering lines, but it's hard.
But, despite these challenges, voting in Chilmark - in contrast with the decision making before you vote - is not hard. Indeed, it's so easy, so elementary, so human in its scale and cordiality that someone who voted for John Kerry during the last presidential election or chose this week to return him to the Senate for yet another term could probably master it. And, anyway, when you're done, and when Marshall Carroll has ticked off your name for having taken a ballot and deposited one, it doesn't matter, because good, decent, smart, honorable people are going to look at what you've done and read off the results - no titters at your choices - to other similarly qualified people during the vote counting. They'll figure out what you meant.
So, I am happy to report, and confident in doing so, that there was no hanky-panky in the Chilmark polling place Tuesday, no matter the shenanigans that may have been perpetrated or imagined elsewhere in the nation.
But it wasn't only the easy and amiable Chilmark voting ambiance that made Tuesday the very pleasant day it was. No, it was also the anticipated end of what has been a classically nasty political battle. What we mistakenly call the national conversation about the presidential choice has done violence to every characteristic that would normally attach to the word conversation, as civil participants normally experience it. The news media, the web, political advertising, even dinner parties are now occasions for every sort of disagreeable interaction. Distortion, ridicule, accusation, condescension, angry personal attacks, mockery, false accusations, insinuations - these, along with every other disreputable debating strategy, have featured prominently in the ugly national nonsense that was the long political campaign that ended Tuesday. Add this collection of incivility to the utter absence of authentic discussion of important issues and concepts for addressing those issues, and one is hard pressed to resist the conclusion that unprecedented amounts of money and months and months of campaigning time have been wasted. Worse yet, despite it all, neither side has been persuaded to abandon its root views. As market technicians might put it, there has been no true capitulation that would signal a bull market in Democrat or Republican approaches to government. Too much to hope for, one supposes.
Still, the end has come, and with it there is for this newspaper editor the hope that the most iniquitous among us, many of whom have chosen to prosecute their vicious political battery in comments posted to the mvtimes.com website, will be silenced, as they drift away in their dyspepsia and malevolence.